Breed of the Week: The Weimaraner Part 2

Members of the Austrian Weimaraner Club circa 1946

In the early days, the Weimaraner struggled for survival, coming close to extinction several times. But by the mid-1920s the situation had improved, largely due to the efforts of Major Herber, who first hunted with Weimaraners in 1915 and wrote extensively about them for many years afterwards. He was elected club president in 1922 and ultimately became known as the father of the Weimaraner for his untiring efforts to promote the breed.

Major Robert Herber and his wife
The interest generated by Major Herber and others eventually reached across the Atlantic to America, where New England sportsman Howard Knight first heard about the breed in the 1920s. In 1929, Knight became the first non-German to be accepted into the Weimaraner club. He even managed to convince its German members to sell him breeding stock, thus becoming the first person to import Weimaraners to the US. By 1941, he was the president of the newly formed Weimaraner Club of America. Meanwhile, in Germany, Weimaraner breeders suffered the terrible effects of the Second World War. Prior to the conflict, an average of 100 Weimaraner pups were whelped in Germany annually. By 1945, that number had fallen to an all-time low. Club records indicate that in the final year of the war, only ten pups were whelped.

After the war, the few Weimaraner breeders that survived found a willing market for their pups among the hundreds of thousands of foreign servicemen and women occupying their country. Thus, a steady stream of exports began in 1948 and continued throughout much of the 1950s. Eventually, alarmed by the declining quality of the breed and the exodus of good stock to the US and elsewhere, the German club passed a resolution forbidding its members from selling more than half a litter for export. These new regulations, along with a reestablished testing system, soon helped to stabilize the situation in Germany. However, the breed continued to grow rapidly outside the country. The demand for Weimaraners proved to be strongest in the US, thanks mainly to the efforts of publicist Jack Denton Scott, hired by the Weimaraner Club of America to stimulate the market for the “Grey Ghost”.

James Spencer, in his excellent book POINT! Training the All Seasons Birddog wrote that: 

Mr. Scott and his numerous imitators created the “Wonder Dog” myth, which first lifted the breed to great heights of popularity and then plunged it almost into oblivion in America. Soon after WWII, fast-buck breeders were crawling out of their holes everywhere to hawk Weimaraners. Many made fortunes from the breed. But, of course, the dogs couldn’t perform up to their Wonder Dog billing. What breed could? Gullible Americans realized they had been had. Demand (and prices) fell to near zero. The party was over. The breed was in shambles. To the few serious Weimaraner fanciers, it must have looked like the party site on the morning after a world-class New Year’s Eve bash. First, they had to get the drunks (fast-buck operators) up and out. ...Then they had to clean up the mess these “guests” had left.

The few serious fanciers managed to clean up some of the mess of the early days and by the 1960s some of the damage had been repaired. For hunters, however, the recovery was not without a price. By the 1970s, the Weimaraner was quickly becoming yet another breed of gundog transformed from hunter of game to hunter of blue ribbons. If it were not for a small, dedicated group of field trialers and hunters, Weimaraners could have faded completely from the field, forest and waters of North America.

Then, in the 1990s, the breed was dealt another blow as a new generation of fast-buck operators rediscovered the lucrative market for grey dogs. And once again it was largely due to one man—this time, a photographer named William Wegman—that the breed captured the imagination of the general public. But instead of touting it as a wonder dog for hunters, Wegman’s work portrays Weimaraners as cute dress-up dolls. The artist made a fortune flogging all manner of kitsch featuring photos of his Weimaraners dressed in humiliating costumes, and the market for the Grey Ghost became red-hot again as tens of thousands of Weimaraner pups were bred and sold. Inevitably, many were dumped into rescue shelters (or worse) as new owners realized that a rapidly growing adolescent Weimaraner is anything but a cuddly dress-up doll. 

For Wegman and the eager breeders riding his coattails, it was a gold rush. For the Grey Ghost, it was yet another disaster.
Current Situation: First, the bad news: most Weimaraner breeders do not hunt. Most Weimaraner breeders do not participate in field trials or prove their dogs’ ability in hunt tests. Most Weimaraner breeders focus their efforts on servicing a massive and growing market of non-hunters seeking sleek grey dogs for companionship or showmanship. As a result, for every decent, hard-hunting Weimaraner in the world today, there are at least 100 others that range from mediocre to completely useless in the field. As a lover of the breed, it pains me to admit such things and I expect to receive some hate mail for doing so, but I would be less than honest if I did not point out the fact that most Weimaraners being bred today are not really hunting dogs. They may be great pets, beautiful blue ribbon champions and loving members of the family, but the hunting heritage of most lines has been neglected for so many generations that dogs from them no longer have enough natural ability to do a decent day’s work in the field.

Now, the good news: A great hunting Weimaraner is not that hard to find! The comparatively small number of breeders that continue to hunt and test or trial their Weims produce dogs that can hold their own against any other breed of Continental pointing dog in the world. Ninety-nine percent of the Weimaraners born in Germany, for example, are from proven, tested stock. Outside of Germany, the largest group of field-oriented breeders is in the US were dedicated individuals have made tremendous progress in 
the last 30 years. They produce top-notch hunting dogs, even a few that are competitive in all-breed field trials. There has also been a significant increase in the number of Weimaraners being tested in NAVHDA and, while only a few of them have earned the title of Versatile Champion, that number will surely increase as a new generation of NAVHDA-oriented breeders develops more lines based on fully tested dogs. Other areas showing progress in producing good hunting stock are France, Holland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

Of course, the Weimaraner is not the only breed dominated by non-hunting breeders and owners. And, to be fair, some Weimaraner breeders do select for “dual” dogs capable of winning in the field and the show ring. But the fact remains: the majority of Weimaraners in the world today are not bred to hunt. Anyone seeking one as a hunting partner needs to keep this in mind. If you deal only with breeders who actually hunt and/or prove their dogs in tests and trials, you stand a good chance of getting a great Weim. 

If you don’t, then all bets are off.