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The New Country Life Magazine
November 1917

 

The Wire-haired Pointing Griffon

by Walter A. Dyer


        I think that it was no longer ago than 1915, at the show of the Westminster Kennel Club in New York, that I had my first sight of a wire-haired pointing griffon.  It was a new one to me, and I judged it was a new one to the majority of the spectators at the show.  Some one informed me, with a great show of wisdom, that it was a cross between a pointer, a setter, and an Airedale terrier, a statement which even then I took with a grain of salt.  Some one else said that it was a sort of otterhound, and I myself noted the resemblance, though I soon discovered marked differences.  It was some months before I got at the truth of the matter, for there were then only a few persons in this country who really knew anything about the breed, and it was not my fortune to come into contact with them at the time.  

        It is still spoken of as a new dog, though we have had specimens of the breed in this country for ten or fifteen years.  But its fame is spreading rapidly, owing to the well directed efforts of its friends and admirers, and I fancy it won't be considered a new dog much longer.  The time has come, I think, to spread a little correct information about a dog that stands a good chance of taking its place alongside the pointer and the setter as a tip-top sporting dog for America.  

       As a matter of fact, the term "a new dog" was never more inappropriately applied.  For though it may be no disgrace to us that we have so long been ignorant of it, the breed is as old as any of the gun dogs - perhaps older - and has been used for centuries in France, Belgium, Germany, and other European countries.  And since it is our purpose to learn all that we can about the breed, it will be worth while to glance at its history, which, it seems to me, is in no way a dull one. 

        It should hardly be necessary to remark that the breed is in no wise to be confused with the Brussels griffon or the basset griffon.  The term griffon is a generic one that has been applied to a number of rough coated dogs in France.  Nor should it be confused with any of the French hounds which in some respects it resembles. 

        A word about these hounds will serve to keep the matter straight.  There are two varieties of the Vendéen hound, a rough and a smooth.  The latter is really a separate breed, being probably descended from the St. Hubert bloodhound.  The former, called the griffon de la Vendée,  resembles the English otterhound, though some what smaller.  Similar, but usually darker in color and longer in body, is the griffon Nivernais.  Both of these breeds have probably been crossed with the griffon de Bresse,  producing a hound so like our wire-haired pointing griffon as to lead to natural confusion. 

        The main distinction to be kept in mind is that our griffon is not a hound at all, but a pointing dog, more closely allied to the spaniel-setter family.  Indeed, it has sometimes been called the French spaniel, and many of its setter characteristics are marked. 

        Fortunately, the history of the pointing griffon has been faithfully recorded by G. F. Leliman in his book, "Le Griffon á Poil Dur," which has been translated into English by Mr. Percival L. Rosseau, the judge and animal painter, and by Dr. E. B. Ilyus, one of the foremost American importers and breeders.  The hound or coursing griffon was probably older than the pointing griffon, but the latter family is as old and as useful as the French pointer or bracque,  and was perhaps the first of all gun dogs. Doubtless it was used for various forms of sport before gun powder came into use. 

        The word griffon appears to have been first used toward the end of the sixteenth century.  It is cited by Henry IV of France in a letter to de Montmorency in 1596.  The breed is mentioned in a book by Charles d'Arcussia in 1598 in reference to partridge hunting, showing that the pointing griffon was distinguished from the hounds at that time.  J.E. de Selincourt, in "Le Parfait Chasseur."  In 1683 gives descriptive details of the breed and refers to it as a gun dog (chien d'arquebuse)  and pointer, stating that it had its origin in Italy. 

        The pointing griffon was taken up by sportsmen and fanciers in a scientific manner about the middle of the last century.  About 1847 the Marquis de Clerville established a strain in France that became famous.  In Germany, about 1865, E. Bontant of Frankfort began breeding a strain of pointing griffons known there as the dirty-bearded Hessian, and exhibited them in 1878 as stichelhaariger  (bristly-haired)  Vostehunde. 

        The family, in fact, has been well known for many years over a large part of continental Europe where its useful qualities have long been well recognized, several groups being developed in different sections which have varied slightly under the influences of climate and diverse breeding.  All came originally from the same source and all possess in common great endurance, keen scent, the rough, wire-haired outer coat, and the fine, downy inner coat.  These groups are to be found as far east as Syria and the Danube country.  The three principal branches are the spin one of Italy, one of the oldest groups, the French strains, which are the most numerous to-day, and the German Stichelhaar. 

        In France the full name of the breed is even more cumbersome than our English title - griffon d'arrét á poil dur.   It is believed to be allied to the French barbet, a rough-coated water spaniel.  There are several strains or varieties in France alone, all probably descended from the now practically extinct but once famous griffon de Bresse. 

        The griffon de Bresse  is described by Veto Shaw as one of the most ancient breeds of France, a favorite with sportsmen for centuries.  It closely resembled the English otterhound, he said, though it is to be suspected that he has again confused the breed with the wire-coated hounds of France.  Tradition has it that these griffons were prized by the Romans and Gauls, while the Greeks considered them lacking in beauty.  I suspect, however, that this is mere tradition.  The griffon de Bresse, according to Shaw, had the hard, wiry coat with which we are familiar.  

        The modern varieties of French pointing griffons are fully described by Robert Leighton in "The New Book of the Dog."  He particularly mentions three strains or types now prominent, each associated with the name of a breeder.    First, there is the griffon d'arrét Picard,  of which A. Guerlain of Crotoy, the Marquis de Clerville's successor, had the first famous kennel.  Second, the griffon Korthals,  a Dutch and German rather than a French strain, of which E.K. Korthals of Amsterdam and Biebesheim was the earliest systematic breeder.  Third, the griffon Boulet,  brought to perfection by M. Emanuel Boulet of Elbeuf. 

        Leighton describes these three as more or less alike.  Superficially they resemble the otterhound, but on close examination prove to be less hound-like.  In some respects, he says, they are compact dogs, straight-legged, and wire-haired. 

        "The griffon Guerlain  strain,"  writes Leighton,  "is perhaps the most elegant in shape and appearance, owing to its shorter and less rugged coat and lighter build.  This breed is usually white in color, with orange or yellow markings, rather short drop ears, and a docked tail, and with a height of about 22 inches.  The nose is always brown, and the light eyes are not hidden by the prominent eyebrows so frequent in the French spaniels. 

        "By far the most attractive of all the foreign setter-spaniels, however, is the griffon Korthals,  a dog symmetrical in contour, with a noble head not unlike that of our Airedale terrier in its length and squareness of muzzle and determined expression of eye.  The coat is wiry, crisp, and harsh, never curly, with a dense undercoat.  The color is steel gray with dark brown patches, often mingled with gray hairs; or white-gray with lighter brown or yellow patches.  The height may be 23 inches and the weight  fifty-six pounds. 

        "The griffon Boulet  has many of the same characteristics as the Korthals griffon, the chief difference being that his coat is much longer and not so hard in texture.  He is at present the favorite purely native spaniel in France  A decidedly rugged, coarse-looking dog, he is evidently meant for work rather than for ornament, yet his expression is friendly and intelligent, in spite of his wild and ungroomed aspect, with his broad, round head, square muzzle, heavy mustaches, and strong, overhanging eye-brows.  The iris of his eye seems always to be yellow and the nose always brown.  The ears are set on low and hang slightly folded, well covered with wavy hair.  The shoulders project somewhat instead of sloping. The loins are slightly arched and end in a straight stern nicely carried, and not too shortly docked.  The coat is fairly long and semi-silky, with out being glossy, flat rather than wavy, and never curly.  Its color is that of a dead chestnut leaf or a dark coffee brown, with or without white; never black or yellow.  For dogs the height is given at 21 to 22 1/2 inches, for bitches a little less.  The weight averages fifty-six pounds." 

        The dog which we have imported into this country and which we have begun to see more and more frequently in the bench shows, is the Korthals griffon.  Edward Karel Korthals, born in Amsterdam in 1850, began breeding this strain in Holland about 1870.  He used his dogs for hunting in the marsh and dune country, where he found them to be more effective than any other gun dogs.  The breed was then called, in his country, the smousbard Hollandais.  Korthals began showing his dogs in Uttrecht in 1875 and in Amsterdam in 1877.  He raised seven great prize winning dogs which he called the patriarchs of the breed. 

        Korthals then moved to Germany where Prince Albrecht de Solmes-Braunfels became his friend and patron.  The Prince leased the hunting grounds of Biebesheim in 1881 and installed Korthals there.  Many fine dogs were raised here and were distributed throughout Holland, France, Belgium, and Germany.  In 1886 Korthals drew up a standard of characteristics of the breed, on which our American Standard is based, and in 1889 the first Griffon Stud Book was published.  In 1907 it was decided to class the German Stichelhaar  and the Korthals griffon together as one breed, and a new Standard was drawn up. 

        This Korthals griffon is the only kind, so far as I know, that has been imported to this country.  It is the dog that we know as the wire-haired pointing griffon.  Personally, it would seem to me more sensible to change the name in our American registry to the Korthals griffon, since that is what it is.  The name is less cumbersome and would lead to less confusion in case we would ever import any of the softer-haired Boulet griffons from France.  With its long and honorable history, it is evidently absurd for us to refer to it as "a new dog." 

continued........

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