Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

The delightfully unkempt and shaggy Wirehaired Pointing Griffon is often called “the supreme gundog”, and with good reason. Developed by a Dutchman, Eduard Karel Korthals, toward the end of the nineteenth century, the breed excels at flushing, pointing, and retrieving game, making it an exceptionally useful all-round hunter. As well as its qualities as a working breed, it is good-natured, gentle and very human-centric, and so it has become a popular choice of pet in recent years. Like most gundogs, it is extremely energetic, and needs regular walks and plenty of off-lead exercise.

For this reason, it is more at home in the country than in the city, though it can do well with active owners who are able to take it running and/or swimming regularly. The Wirehaired Pointing Griffon is an intelligent breed, eager to please, and easy to train. Though naturally shy of strangers, its gentle character means that aggression is extremely rare, though it will perform an adequate job as a noisy, yet harmless, watch dog. Its coarse, tangled hair provides it much-needed protection when working in hedgerows and on rough terrain, and it is said to shed very little. This is generally a very healthy breed with a life expectancy of 12–15 years.

About & History

In 1874, Eduard Karel Korthals, the son of a wealthy Dutch broker and ship owner, began a programme of breeding that would lead to the recognition of the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon within fifteen years. Until this time, rough-haired gundogs were abundant throughout Europe, but had not been bred in a strategic way to improve their hunting abilities, and were known as slow, clumsy dogs. This “type”, rather than breed, was known as the Griffon in France. Korthals undertook to create his ideal gundog from these Griffons, with the stated aim of producing dogs of resilience, vigour, and devotion. Though he began with a small population of Dutch Griffons, it is believed that spaniels, pointers, and probably Otterhounds, were also used in the first few generations to introduce and refine these traits. Dogs matching up to his standard were kept as part of the breeding programme; however, the vast majority were shot when they were found wanting.

In addition, it seems that a lot of his pups succumbed to neonatal illness, for reasons that are unclear, but may relate to inbreeding. Because of these losses, it appears that only 10% of the dogs bred by Korthals actually made it into his stud book, but the result of these ruthless selection practices was that by 1887, he was producing successive generations of dogs that were consistent in appearance and personality, and was able to establish a first breed standard. The Wirehaired Pointing Griffon has being internationally recognised for over one hundred years, and has changed very little with its temperament and hunting prowess having stood the test of time. As well as always being in demand as a gundog, its popularity as a pet has grown steadily, and its future appears bright.

Appearance

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Large Photo

This is a solid, medium-sized dog, with a noble, square head in proportion to the rest of the body. The head is reasonably broad, and is divided equally in length between the top of the muzzle and the skull. Though square in side profile, the skull is slightly domed between the ears, which are medium in size, set high, and lie flat to the head. The friendly expression of the round eyes, which range in colour from yellow to brown, is accentuated by the generous eyebrows and moustache. The nose is always brown, and has large nostrils.

The neck is long and arched, leading to a firm back that slopes gently from withers to croup. The tail is set on medium, and is usually carried straight. The chest is reasonably wide and deep, extending to the elbows, and the abdomen does not exhibit an obvious tuck. The forelimbs are well angulated, with well laid back shoulders and prominent withers, and the hindlimbs feature long muscular thighs and well angulated hocks. The breed has heavy bone structure, which is evident in the lower limbs, leading to round feet with arched toes.

As one would expect, the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon has a hard, coarse top coat with a fine, dense undercoat. The top coat is quite long, especially around the face and upper body. It is usually a steel grey colour with brown patches distributed throughout, though dogs with solid liver, liver-roan, and mixed liver and white coats are also seen. A predominance of black in the coat is strongly discouraged by the breed standard.

The breed ranges in height between 50 and 60 cm (20–24 in), with males being at the upper end of this range. Weights for males and females overlap tightly with males weighing 24–27 kg (53–59 lb) and females 23–26 kg (51–57 lb).

Character & Temperament

The breed has an endearing soft and gentle personality that is reflected in its facial expression. It is very devoted to its owners, and craves attention from them. As a result, it does not tolerate isolation, and needs to live indoors for the most part, at the heart of family life – nor does it like to be treated harshly. A Wirehaired Pointing Griffon will learn more quickly from gentle correction than harsh criticism, and this is an intelligent breed that is quick to figure out what its owner wants, and is eager to please.

Because of its gentle nature, it is usually very good with children, especially if raised with them. However, some can be unreliable with cats and other small animals, because of their strong hunting instincts. It is also very sociable with other dogs and with people that it does not know well; so, although it is alert and will bark when appropriate, it is far too friendly to be considered a guard dog of any merit.

Trainability

Photo of Wirehaired Pointing Griffon puppy

The Griffon lives to please, and so is usually very easy to train. As mentioned above, it does not respond well to harsh correction, and can become shy and withdrawn should the owner lose patience during training. Like any true working breed, it enjoys being given a job to do, and likes to be kept busy, so training can extend beyond simple obedience to teaching useful chores around the home or garden. Though it is a genuinely friendly and gentle dog, these traits should never be taken for granted, and Wirehaired Pointing Griffons, like any other breed, need plenty of positive socialisation experiences from a young age, being introduced to other people and to patient, well-mannered older dogs on a regular basis.

With insufficient socialisation, any pup is capable of growing into a nervous and fearful adult. The breed is generally easy to house-break, but individual puppies that are slow to learn can be crate trained, by providing them with an enclosed space, such as a dog carrier, in which to sleep at night. This greatly accelerates the house-training process, as well as giving the pup a secure space into which it can retreat when it is tired or frightened.

Health

Perhaps due in part to Mr. Korthals’ ruthless selection practices when establishing the breed, the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon has a remarkably low incidence of inherited and degenerative disease. In fact, barring routine visits for annual health assessments and vaccinations, many individuals go through much of their lives without needing to visit the dreaded veterinary hospital.

Of the conditions listed below, hip dysplasia is the most common, and anyone thinking of buying a Griffon should insist on seeing hip, and preferably elbow, scores from both parents. Apart from genetic influences, hip and elbow dysplasia may be exacerbated or even triggered by excess exercise and poor quality nutrition in young, growing puppies.

  • Elbow Dysplasia – Growth deformities of one or both elbows can arise in puppies from around five months of age. Though elbow dysplasia is more commonly an inherited condition, it can develop in pups from parents with healthy elbows as a result of poor feeding, inappropriate amounts of exercise, or purely through chance genetic mutation. The condition can be quite debilitating, and if anti-inflammatory medications do not adequately control discomfort, radical elbow replacement surgery may be considered.
  • Hip Dysplasia – Like elbow dysplasia, this is usually first seen in young dogs, though it can go unnoticed until the development of early onset osteoarthritis in middle age. Again, both medical and surgical approaches to treatment can be taken with hip replacement being a well-established and increasingly successful mode of treatment. However, any dog with a diagnosis of hip dysplasia based on x-ray examination should never be used for breeding due to the risk of passing this painful condition on to their offspring.
  • Myotonia Congenita – A very rare and unusual condition, in which genetically affected pups show the classic signs of prolonged muscular contraction and rigidity. It can be of varying severity, though is often fatal, as neonatal pups with the disorder struggle to suckle.
  • Otitis Externa – The Griffon has very hairy ear canals, and hence, is prone to developing wax and hair plugs. These prevent normal aeration of the canal, and can often lead to ear infection, known as otitis. The best way to prevent this problem is by including regular ear cleaning and plucking in the dog’s grooming routine.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy – This is degenerative condition that affects the nerve cells of the eye, causing them to become non-functional and to waste away, and is a common cause of sight loss in many breeds. Night blindness is often the first sign of its onset with progressive visual loss that can result in total loss of vision in dogs as young as five years of age.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Plenty of exercise is a must for this energetic breed. Owners must allow for at least one to two hours of walking every day, and the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon is a more than capable companion on runs or hikes. It ideally belongs in a rural setting, where it can be allowed off the lead for some free running, and unlike some hunting dogs, it usually exhibits good recall, meaning it is less likely to disappear into the woods at the first sight of movement.

In addition to its walks, it will enjoy having access to a garden in which to occupy itself for periods during the day. Because of its background as a gundog, it thrives on the company of other dogs, and if given the chance, will expend a lot of energy in playing with canine friends, which is something worth considering if you have friends or family with similarly sociable pets.

Grooming

Though many people believe that the breed does not shed, owners will attest to the fact that it does lose a small amount of hair throughout the year. Nonetheless, it may be a little less allergenic than some other breeds, in leaving less hair around the house. The top coat is prone to tangles, but they tend to be loose and easily removed, so weekly brushing is usually adequate for routine grooming. However, it does need hand stripping, which involves pulling loose and damaged hairs using a special comb, several times a year. This can be done either by the owner or by a professional groomer, though it tends to be a quicker and less uncomfortable procedure if done professionally. Excess washing can soften the coat by damaging its structure, and so is discouraged.

All dogs need their nails clipped on occasion, and this should certainly be done if they can be heard to click or scrape on hard flooring. While a groomer will be happy to perform this task, most owners will be capable of clipping the Griffon’s nails by using an appropriate clipper and taking care not to remove too much nail at any one time. Ear cleaning and plucking, as outlined above, is important to prevent the development of ear infections, and should be done at least weekly.

Famous Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

Mouche, the Griffon bitch from whom all modern Wirehaired Pointing Griffons are descended, remains probably the best known of this breed. She was said to possess a wonderful nose for game and to be tireless over a range of terrain, hence her selection as the founding mother.

Cross-Breeds

Perhaps because of its unkempt hair-do, there are not too many recognised Griffon cross-breeds.

  • Great Wirehaired Gryfenees – Wirehaired Pointing Griffon crossed with a Pyrenean Mountain Dog
  • Wirehaired Pointing Griffondor – Wirehaired Pointing Griffon crossed with a Labrador Retriever

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