Six sleek mouse-gray dogs stood waiting on the tie-out chain, muscles tensed as they watched one of their number work the field. Back and forth he traveled in a pattern guaranteed to cover every inch of the area, nose aquiver as he searched for a whiff of bird. There! The big gray dog froze; the handler moved in close, and the quail flew from its hiding place. The Weimaraner, the sporting dog born in the German Duchy of Weimar, had done his job.
Known as the Weimar Pointer in the early days of the breed, the Weimaraner was developed by the noblemen of the Court of Weimar to hunt large game. When boar, elk, and deer became scarce in Germany, he was converted to a bird dog. As with all German breeds, the Weimaraner was tightly controlled by its creators; strict rules governed who could own and breed the silver-coated canines, and a "Breed Warden" evaluated all potential breeding stock and determined which pups were to be culled from each litter.
Developed from the Red Schweisshund, a scent and tracking dog itself descended from the Bloodhound, the Weimaraner is a cousin of the German Shorthaired Pointer. He reached his modern configuration in the early 1800s, but was seldom seen outside his native province.
Then in 1929, an American named Howard Knight was admitted into the German Weimaraner club and was permitted to bring two of the dogs to the US. This pair and the six additional dogs he imported later were the foundation of the breed in the US.
Fourteen years later the breed was accepted into the American Kennel Club, and it gained considerable popularity a few years later when President Dwight D. Eisenhower brought his pet Heidi to the White House.
The Weimaraner is a large dog, 23-27 inches at the withers (top of the shoulders) and 55-75 pounds, with bitches smaller than males. He is always mouse-gray to silver gray, often blending to lighter shades on the head and ears. A splash of white is permitted on the chest, but larger white markings are prohibited here and no white is permitted anywhere else on the body. His coat is short and sleek.
A long-coated variety is possible, but it is not accepted in the breed standard, and many long-coated puppies are culled at birth. (Before World War II, some fanciers of the long-coated Weimaraner tried to get this coat type accepted, either as an addition to the standard or as a different variety of the breed, much as the varieties of Dachshund or color varieties of the Cocker Spaniel. Efforts failed, and the long-haired dogs almost disappeared. However, a few occasionally show up in otherwise smooth-coated litters.)
The Weimaraner head is aristocratic, with muzzle and skull being the same length, and the stop -- the rise from muzzle to skull -- is moderate. Eyes must be light amber, gray, or blue-gray; ears are fairly long and are set high on the head and folded over; and nose is gray. His tail is docked to reach six inches in length in the adult dog. This is a powerful-looking dog, capable of spending the day in the field. He is well-muscled for strength and stamina and deep-chested for endurance. His long reach, forceful drive, and great energy make him an ideal hunting companion.
The Weimaraner Standard describes the breed temperament as friendly, fearless, alert, and obedient, but this is but the half of its personality. Assertive, bold, loyal, and headstrong also fit, giving the dog a loving attitude with a willingness to take the upper paw in the family if the opportunity presents itself. Housebreaking can be a problem, as can destructive chewing.
Like most large hunting breeds, the Weimaraner needs lots of exercise and must be kept in a fenced yard to prevent him from ranging in search of game. Because he was developed as a hunting dog and still maintains those instincts, he may be dangerous to birds and small mammals. Unlike many hunting breeds, however, the Weimaraner is definitely a house dog and does poorly when confined to a kennel.
This is a breed that definitely needs obedience training to control his rambunctious nature. Owners should definitely have a crate for the new puppy for help in housetraining and to protect furniture and woodwork from puppy teeth when the little rascal cannot be watched. Puppy classes or control exercises at home are essential for the Weimaraner the moment he enters the family. He must be taught that all members of the family are to be obeyed. Training methods must be gentle and firm, for harsh treatment will sour his attitude.
Like all other large breeds, the Weimaraner is subject to hip dysplasia and should be purchased only from breeders who certify their stock with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). This registry gives ratings for dogs with healthy hips and provides a number to prove that the dog has been certified free of this potentially crippling genetic disease.
The breed is also susceptible to von Willebrand's Disease (vWD), a bleeding disorder, and bloat, tumors, allergies, and hernias.
Bloat is a disease common to deep-chested dogs that can involve twisting or torsion of the stomach with a subsequent blockage of the esophagus at one end and the intestine at the other. Bloat can happen quickly and is often fatal without immediate veterinary attention. Its symptoms include retching with no vomiting, extreme salivation, obvious discomfort, and distention of the abdomen. Gulping food can bring on an attack of bloat, so Weimaraners should be fed twice daily to avoid the hunger pangs that lead to eating too fast. Some breeders believe that foods that contain soybeans shouldn't be fed to breeds that are susceptible to bloat because the beans can produce gas. Many cases of bloat occur in the evening, after the dog has perhaps shared the family snack of pizza or some other highly-spiced food and then had some exercise. Treatment is expensive and not always successful.
The Weimaraner's short coat requires brief brushing once or twice a week. If the dog is trained to hunt and spends some time in the fields, he must be examined for ticks during the spring, summer, and fall, and for grass awns between the toes in late summer and fall. Otherwise, this is an easy-care, wash and wear dog.
Exercise is a must for the Weimaraner. He loves to hike, play ball, and romp and enjoys nothing more than a day in the field. Deprived of sufficient work-out, he may become frustrated and get his exercise with boisterous indoor activity. Daily brisk walks will keep his mind and body in good condition, and obedience training will keep him under control.
Although it is a large breed, its unusual color makes the Weimaraner a target for puppy mills and backyard breeders. Some backyard breeders may advertise "rare" blue or black Weimaraners to attract buyers, but these dogs are less valuable than the gray dogs, for they are disqualified under the breed standard. Although disqualification does not detract from the dog's value as a pet, the blue or black dog should never be bred, for its perpetuation dilutes the purity of the breed. Those who want to own a blue or black dog can choose a breed in which those colors are common or acceptable.
Since hip dysplasia can be a big problem, a prospective buyer should look only at puppies from parents who are certified free of the disorder. This eliminates pet stores and indiscriminate breeders from the start, for they do not test their stock for hip dysplasia or any other disease. Buyers should also search for puppies from kennels that test for vWD. Pedigrees should also include dogs with obedience, conformation, or field titles, for these designations indicate that the dog is a good example of the breed, has the brains to earn at least a Companion Dog obedience title, and has the instinct and working ability of his ancestors.