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Everything you need to know about the pointer dog

By G. John Cole Content Writer

Updated on the

There are several pointing dogs or pointer dog breeds, some of which have ‘pointer’ in their name, others which have simply been bred or trained to point. These ‘gun dogs’ were used for their ability to work independently and as part of a team. It is this impressive CV that makes them a good family dog today.

Origins and history

As long ago as the 1650s, hunters on mainland Europe would use dogs to sniff out birds to hunt. Possibly the ‘Old Spanish Pointer’ was one of the first of these breeds.

A pointing breed is special among dogs, and even among other hunting dogs, for his courage, patience, and independence. He can sniff out a nest at distance, and rather than chase the bird himself will ‘point’ at it with his muzzle.

It seems like certain dogs were good at this when they were hunting for their own meals. Human hunters picked out the best pointers and bred and trained them to pause even longer between smelling prey and going for the kill.

Today, pointing breeds include: the Brittany, English pointer, English setter, German Longhaired, Shorthaired, and Wirehaired pointers, Gordon setter, Irish Red & White Setter, Italian Spinone, Pudelpointer, Small Munsterlander, Vizsla, Weimaraner, the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, and simply, the Pointer.

Physical characteristics

Pointing dog breeds all have their own particular look. Their fur may be short, silky, or wiry. It is often spotted and dappled, but may be red, brown, or tan and white.

Pointers are necessarily hardy creatures. They are usually mid-large breeds. Hunting breeds have to be physically strong and brave to last long days outdoors in the cold and rain.

Dogs that are considered pointers are sometimes said to have a regal or proud look. This may be because, today, many human hunters are of the upper classes and enjoy the pomposity of the hunt, so they favour royal-looking dogs. Or it may just be that the strong discipline that comes with being a pointer requires a certain grace and restraint.

It is difficult to generalise about size and lifespan for such a broad category of dogs, so you should check details on specific breeds before inviting a pointer into your life.


Personalities differ from dog to dog, and pointing breed to pointing breed.

But if you’ve ever seen a non-pointing dog spot a squirrel or bird in the park and instantly launch into a chase, you can begin to understand just how patient and circumspect a pointing dog must be!

The pointing dog is a searcher. He must think and work independently, but also know when it’s time to bring his human companions on board.

They love to be outdoors, with those human companions, playing or exploring. This is an independent, inquistive, up-and-at’em type dog.


Pointing breeds are generally healthy dogs without too many genetic worries. However, it is important that you check out the particular breed of pointer you are interested in, as well as his immediate family.

In particular, larger pointers may suffer from hip dysplasia or other leg and joint conditions. This is partly hereditary, and partly to do with the pointer’s combination of weight and an active lifestyle.

Eye health is another common concern among multiple pointing breeds.

Feeding guidelines

Pointing breeds are very active dogs. Therefore you should feed yours with plenty of protein.

Martin Coffman, DVM and Sporting Dog Veterinarian, suggests a “nutrient-dense diet that allows enough energy in a small quantity of food.” Your pointer needs lots of energy but his belly shouldn’t be too full when he’s running about.

If you’re using manufactured dog food, think about a formula that’s especially developed for active dogs. And if yours is one of the larger pointing dog breeds, you should also make sure that his diet is appropriate to his size.

Experts also recommend paying special attention to your pointing dog’s water supply, since he burns so much off with his active lifestyle.


Pointing dogs are not especially grooming-intensive. Weekly combing or brushing should help keep his fur clean and healthy. You should do additional grooming after a particularly muddy adventure.

You should trim his nails regularly as with most dogs. And keep a careful watch on his eyes and ears, which can pick up dirt and bacteria through all that exploring. Again, every pointing breed is different, so check the grooming needs specific to your dog.


Pointers are intelligent but independent creatures who love to work with humans. However, he is also very strong-willed, so it is important that your training regime is pro-active and thorough. Just because he’s clever and independent, don’t expect him to train himself!

Pointer puppies

Pointer puppies are adorable, but they can be a handful. If you have a small home, small children, or you're not used to handling dogs, consider getting a non-pointing dog.

Ensure your pointer puppy is socialised early on, and give him the diet and exercise suitable to his size and particular breed.

Pointing dogs were bred to love and work with humans. But you need to put that work and love back into your dog. If you think you can, it's time to look for the pointer breed that's right for you!

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