English pointers: The dogs that are full of energy and fun, with a history that includes one of the great canine heroes of the Second World War

English pointers are graceful, elegant and can run for hours.

‘The Pointer is an athlete, a series of flowing curves, with a slightly concave muzzle to lift his nose and aid the scenting powers,’ runs a very evidently heartfelt description of the English Pointer on the Kennel Club website.

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.

An English Pointer with its unmistakable profile.

But don’t be fooled by the dainty steps: pointers have truly amazing stamina, and can quarter the ground at terrific speed.

For that reason, prospective owners need to bear in mind the amount of effort they’ll need to put in. ‘The Pointer is an active, intelligent dog who needs daily exercise and stimulation,’ say the Pointer Club, which celebrates it’s 60th anniversary this year.

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‘They were bred to be hunting dogs who could work all day long so they must have at least an hour of exercise a day.’

If you have the time and space to deal with those demands, you’ll find the dog a superb pet.

‘When they are given the exercise and training they need, they are quiet and mannerly house dogs,’ adds the club. ‘Energetic and fun loving, they are well suited to active homes where they will be a member of the family.’

An English Pointer in a field in Hampshire.

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 before and during the Second World War, was awarded the Dickin Medal in 1946 for saving the lives of British troops after she was stranded, torpedoed and incarcerated in a prisoner-of-war camp with them.

Judy saved sailors’ lives on several occasions, helping push bits of wood towards those who couldn’t swim after the prisoner-of-war transport she was on was torpedoed in 1944. It wasn’t her first such effort: she’d previously helped sailors of the HMS Grasshopper and HMS Dragonfly find the fresh water which kept them alive after they were stranded on an uninhabited island.

‘Judy was lost one day and we couldn’t find her so we went to search for her,’ British seaman Leonard Walter Williams told the Imperial War Museum in a later interview. ‘She had found a patch where she dug a big hole and she had found fresh water for the survivors of the Dragonfly and Grasshopper.’

5th August 1946: Leading Aircraftman and ex-prisoner of war Frank Williams (1919 – 2006) grooming Judy the English Pointer (1936 – 1950) at a camp in Ascot, Surrey, in preparation for a trip to London, where she was awarded a Dickin Medal, the PDSA’s version of a Victoria Cross, for her heroism during World War II. Photo by Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A Leading Aircraftsman named Frank Williams (no relation to Leonard Water Williams) ended up as Judy’s nominal owner, taking her with him (hidden in a sack, at one point) as he was sent to various prisoner-of-war camps. At one, Medan, he successfully convinced the camp commandant — who’d taken a shine to the dog — to register her as a PoW, the only dog to to be so-recognised during the Second World War.

It was no mere whim: at one point she was scheduled for execution by the Japanese, but the legal protection afforded by her official PoW status saved Judy’s life. Frank Williams, pictured with Judy above, kept her after the war, looking after her until she died in 1950.

Reporting: Toby Keel / Emma Hughes

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