From Rough Shooting to Conservation

Rough Shooter c 1934Rough Shooter c 1934

When WW2 ended, no longer were we rationed to two gallons of petrol per month. With no large supermarkets, small shops stocked some meat, albeit expensive! So rabbiting and hunting on foot in our wild open spaces with a 'Rough Shooters' dog was as much of a necessity as it was a recreation. Today, the instincts of some of these the gundogs is concentrated on conservation projects.

A variety of Setters, Pointers and English Springers usually accompanied shooters in those post war days when rabbits and game birds certainly made up a large part of the staple diet in many Australian homes, city and country. Then Retrievers were used to bring the shot game back and began their rise to popularity. By 1957, Weimaraners were also introduced here.

Jack Thompson & a Ship's Official and Australia's first GSP's (1962)Jack Thompson & a Ship's Official and Australia's first GSP's (1962)

But it was the entrepreneur Jack Thompson who had the vision to import the Utility Gundog, the German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) into Australia specifically as a 'Rough Shooter's dog'. Because of memories of the Nazi regime and holocaust horrors, it was a bold move on Jack's part. Many Australians were still readjusting after the War and hated anything German - just like the English who even re-named the German Shepherd Dog the Alsatian! Added to this, dogs had to be brought here by ship and then endure 6 months quarantine!

Imports of GSP's came into NZ in 1957. But in November 1960, when Jack Thompson led two GSP's off a ship at Port Melbourne, the 'Dunfrui' dynasty was created. These were Australia's first pair, carefully selected by the legendary Scottish breeder Michael Brander. By 1962 Jack advertised he had another eight bitch imports. Jack was a clever breeder and carefully selected breeding stock based on their ability to hunt. By the end of the next decade, the GSP Club of Victoria reported 3,000 GSP's had been registered across Australia. By 1987, the GSP in New Zealand had become the third most popular of all breeds.

German Shorthaired PointerGerman Shorthaired Pointer

So the Australians and New Zealanders were remarkably resilient. But there was a need for one dog which could find game as well as point and retrieve it. So, the GSP quickly flourished here, despite its 'German' nametag. They not only filled the need of the 'Rough Shooter's dog' that would put meals on the family table, they were also winning in the show ring and at Field Trails. So Utility Field and Retrieving Trials were set up so the GSP's were not competing with specialized Pointers and Setters!

But times change. After all, our dog show entries at Melbourne Royal are now around 3,000 compared to the 1990's when they were over 7,000. Similarly, entries at Field and Retrieving Trials have also dropped dramatically. But they are is still followed by a small band of enthusiasts. They are still an ANKC recognized activity with dozens of qualified Field Trial and Retrieving Trial judges to choose from. Formal activities and trials are still being conducted, some even with 'National' status. But the 'rough shooters' of today have political correctness and anti-gun lobbies to contend with!

Conservation Projects

German Wirehaired PointersGerman Wirehaired Pointers

But here is a way forward. In Germany, the JGHV (German Hunting Association) is still active. They were first formed in 1899 to meticulously breed shooting dogs for trainability and working instincts by policing every mating and culling through all resultant litters. Only those dogs who had passed tests for trainability and practical hunting instincts were selected as breeding stock. So serious and professional shooters can still look to Germany for working gundogs.

One way forward for our working Gundogs is in Conservation. In Australia, the eradication of rats and rabbits on Macquarie Island off the coast of Tasmania is one of Australia's real success stories. Eleven English Springers and a couple of Border Terriers were first trained to be focused on rabbits, leaving our native species alone. After the rabbits had been completely eradicated, a team of Labradors was brought in, focused on rats. After two years, the Island had been declared completely free of all introduced species.

German Hunting (Jadg) TerrierGerman Hunting (Jadg) Terrier

Similar work is currently being undertaken on mainland Australia. Recently I met Alex, from 'Wildpro' Victoria, a professional hunter. He uses registered German Wirehaired Pointers and German Hunting (Jagd) Terriers like the one pictured to detect and passively indicate the presence of introduced predators like foxes and feral cats. His dogs have also been trained to leave alone any Australian native species. Although more difficult in wide open spaces than on the confines of an Island like Macquarie, Alex has had great success using imported German JGHV dogs, meticulously selected over many generations to hunt.

But for the energetic dog owner, the way forward for our adaptable gundogs is other activities like Obedience and Agility. Additionally because of their trainability and athletic beauty, they are also fit into our modern society as showdogs and household pets.

References and Further Reading

Also published in Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral NSW) Issue 8, 2016 Page 10