Small Münsterländer

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Small Münsterländer

This versatile hunting/pointing/retrieving German breed is extremely rare in the United Kingdom, but is a popular sporting companion in Central Europe. It is a favourite of continental hunters for its even temperament and ease of training as much as for its ability to track, flush, and retrieve on both land and water, and it is a dog that must always be treated as a pet when not working. Confinement to a kennel or being kept only in the company of other dogs are devastating to the Small Münsterländer, as it is almost unique among the gundogs for the strength of the connection between it and its master. Good natured and jovial, it makes a great family pet, but it has an exuberant, boisterous personality that can be a bit much for the very young or elderly to handle.

Managing this exuberance requires a great deal of regular exercise, and in fact, this is a dog that should ideally be allowed to do what comes naturally – to hunt. Because of its scarcity, breeders tend to be very selective, and to avoid selling their pups into non-hunting homes. The Small Münsterländer’s moderately long coat tends to attract burrs and seeds when it is out in the countryside, and it does need regular brushing and washing to prevent matts forming. It is a spectacularly healthy dog – a fact attributed to breeders adhering to a rigorous self-enforced screening programme, and it has an average life expectancy of around 12 to 13 years.

About & History

Although the similarities in their names may cause confusion, the Small Münsterländer does not share its ancestry with the Large Münsterländer – though both originated in the area of western Germany around the city of Münster. Etchings and other evidence point to a medium-sized pointing dog of similar appearance being in existence from as early as the twelfth century, but in fact, there is no solid proof that the Small Münsterländer was developed as a breed until the late nineteenth century. Around this time, the Löns brothers, one of whom was a famous German poet, gathered a group of similar dogs in the region and began to breed them to achieve their desired type of all-round gundog. At the time, such dogs were most commonly employed by the nobility, who hunted using them with falcons. The dogs would flush prey from cover, at which point the falcon could be released to make the kill. They would then stand and point to the site where the prey had fallen, allowing the hunter to retrieve it from the bird.

The foundation of the German Republic in the early twentieth century allowed commoners to take up the sport of hunting, and the Small Münsterländer, and breeds like it, were much in demand in the following decades. Although most native breeds of Central Europe suffered heavy losses during the wars of the twentieth century, the Small Münsterländer survived in sufficient numbers to allow it to continue as one of Germany’s most popular hunting dogs. It can also be found in reasonable numbers in the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Czech Republic, but it is an extremely rare breed in the United Kingdom, with only a handful of imported dogs having been registered by the Kennel Club since the breed gained official recognition in 2006.

Appearance

Small Münsterländer Large Photo

The Small Münsterländer is a medium-sized, well-proportioned dog of obvious strength and elegance. Its lean and athletic outline is enhanced by its elongated back and its habitually upright stance, with its tail being held in an extended horizontal position. It has a distinguished head, with a flat skull, subtle stop, and long, powerful muzzle. Its lips are tight, with no droop, and are pigmented brown, as is the nasal cartilage, eyes, and the eyelids. There is prominent muscling in the temporal and cheek regions, and the teeth are large and set square to the jaw bone.

The neck and back are balanced, muscular, and feature prominences around the withers and loin, which then slopes gently into the croup. The Small Münsterländer’s tail, which is important in its work to signal to the hunter, is set high, and is reasonably long and well-feathered. The dog’s chest is more deep than broad, and very long, with a sternum that extends unusually far backwards to meet the slightly tucked abdomen. The breed’s far-reaching, parallel gait derives from its upright, well-formed limbs, the lower portions of which do not deviate from vertical when viewed from any angle.

The Small Münsterländer’s dense coat is medium to long, and very slightly wavy. The tail and rear of the limbs are generously feathered. It is either a mixture of brown and white, or a flecked brown roan in colour, and the tip of the tail should always be white to enhance its visibility amongst dense vegetation. Males are 52–56 cm in height, and weigh 24 to 27 kg; females are slightly more dainty at 50–54 cm in height, and weigh 22 to 25 kg.

Character & Temperament

In its role as a hunting dog, the Small Münsterländer exhibits a remarkable attentiveness to its handler, while simultaneously managing to track its prey using all of its senses. The most successful of its owners use a combination of verbal and non-verbal cues to direct their dogs, and as a result, the breed is incredibly attuned to human communication and emotions, making it a wonderful family dog. This is also an extremely affectionate breed, and fond of nosing its way into its owners’ laps or lying on their feet when seeking attention. A natural socialite, it delights in meeting people, and shows no territorial or aggressive behaviours, even when meeting strangers.

Other dogs are treated in exactly the same way, and although the Small Münsterländer above all else needs human company, it enjoys the playful interactions that other dogs can provide, making it ideal for a multi-dog household. However, it should only be allowed to mix with cats under supervision, as it retains a strong hunting drive, even if in dogs that have never been allowed to exercise this in the field.

Trainability

Photo of Small Münsterländer puppy

Small Münsterländers are among the most easily trainable of any pedigree dogs. They are known for their intelligence, eagerness to please, and amazing memory. Even from as young as two months of age, a pup is capable of learning basic commands, and with an owner who is willing to devote the time and energy to more advanced training, it can become a very able competitor in events such as agility and tracking trials.

Health

The Small Münsterländer is renowned for its good health, which is owed to the great care taken by its breeders to prevent the propagation of preventable illnesses through irresponsible breeding practices. Although there are at present no conditions to which the breed is known to be susceptible, registration of a Small Münsterländer with any of the international breed associations requires that it has undergone screening for the following:

  • Behavioural abnormalities – The temperament of breeding adults is tested to ensure they exhibit no signs of inappropriate aggression, nervousness, or compulsive behaviours.
  • Elbow dysplasia – Seen in many other pedigree lines, this is a heritable deformity of the elbow joints that causes significant discomfort and lameness from a young age.
  • Hip dysplasia – In a large proportion of other breeds, this is a very common cause of hindlimb lameness and arthritis.

Exercise and Activity Levels

This is a hugely energetic dog that is boisterous and exuberant when excited or under-exercised. It should, ideally, be exercised in the manner for which it was developed, spending several hours roaming off the lead while following scent trails, but where this is not possible, it must be given at least two hours of vigorous exercise every day. Failing to provide this is a recipe for frustration and problem behaviours, and the Small Münsterländer should not be considered a suitable breed for anyone fond of their box sets and lazy weekends!

Grooming

Twigs, leaves, and grass seeds are among the items that readily become entangled in the Small Münsterländer’s hair, and regular brushing – at least three times a week – is needed to prevent these tangles growing into matts. On top of this, the coat benefits from being washed with a suitable dog shampoo every six to eight weeks, and while clipping is not essential, keeping the limb and tail feathers to a shorter length can simplify management of the coat.

Famous Small Münsterländers

Because the breed is almost invariably used for hunting, it has never made a name for itself in celebrity circles.

Cross-Breeds

To the best of my knowledge, there are no recognised Small Münsterländer cross-breeds at this time.

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