Country Life’s Favourite Dogs: English pointer

Favourite dog: English pointer
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No other working dog has a more distinctive silhouette: standing stock still, with one paw raised and its nose jutting forwards in the direction of its quarry, the English pointer is unmistakable. Wonderful to watch, they seem to prance elegantly, rather than walk, carrying their heads high – the breed standard praises their ‘aristocratic’ bearing. But don’t be fooled by the dainty steps: pointers have truly amazing stamina, and can quarter the ground at terrific speed.  

Several other European countries have their own breeds of pointer, including Germany, Slovakia and Portugal, but the English variety, which made its first appearance in the 17th century, is probably the best known. It’s thought these early dogs came about as a result of experimental crosses that included English foxhounds, greyhounds and types of ‘setting spaniel’. Unusually, today’s English pointers look very similar to their ancestors, with well-defined stops, muscular hindquarters and smooth, hard coats, which can be lemon, orange, liver or black, intermingled with white.  

To start with, English pointers were used to locate hare for greyhounds to chase, before being drafted in to seek out game on shoots. Their combination of remarkable air-scenting abilities, steadiness on point (very important in the days of slow-loading flintlock guns, when game would need to be held for quite some time) and speed has won them sporting fans all over the world. Although they weren’t specifically bred to retrieve, with the right training they’ll take to it well, and they shine in field trials.

One English pointer famously distinguished herself in very a different arena. Judy, who served as a Royal Navy ship’s mascot during the Second World War, was awarded the Dickin Medal in 1946 for boosting the morale of British troops after she ended up in a prisoner-of-war camp with them. She became the only dog to be officially recognised as a Prisoner of War, and was well-known for leaping to prisoners’ defence by hurling herself at the guards.

At home, pointers are gentle, affectionate and biddable. They get on well with children, though can occasionally be a little too bouncy around smaller ones! Although they adapt well to non-working environments, they’re happiest in the country, and will need at least an hour of vigorous exercise every day.

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