"The Gray Ghost Weaves Its Spell"

By Kim D.R. Dearth

This article is reprinted with permission from Dog World and the author and is protected by copyright.

INTRODUCTION

Aristocratic, noble, fearless, loving. Headstrong, stubborn, domineering. All these terms can be used to describe the magnificent gray hunting dog, the Weimaraner. Sweet-natured yet assertive, usually eager to please yet stubborn when the request does not make sense to it, the Weimaraner is multifaceted and definitely a challenge. But with the right owner, one who understands the breed's idiosyncrasies completely and is willing to work with them, this dog will be a loyal, dedicated friend for life. 

MYSTERIOUS BEGININGS

As with many breeds, the Weimaraner's beginnings are shrouded in mystery. Although the breed as we know it dates from the early 1800s, there are numerous theories as to its ancestors. Some trace the Weimaraner back to the Chien Gris de Saint Louis--the Gray Hound of Saint Louis--of the 13th century. These dogs were obtained by Louis IX of France (1226-1270) after he learned of them during his captivity in Egypt. Similar gray dogs can be found in artwork throughout the 14th to 18th centuries, leading some to believe these canines are the Weimaraner's forebears. 

 Other theories look to the Spanish and English Pointer; the Bloodhound-related St. Hubert Brache, Leithund and Schweisshund; the German Shorthaired Pointer; and the Great Dane as having some influence on the modern Weimaraner. Some believe the breed's distinctive coloring is the result of the mating of two black dogs, such as the St. Hubert Brache, or the result of a recessive gene in the breeding of red or tan dogs, such as the Schweisshund, which can dilute to a silvery taupe. While each of these theories has its proponents and detractors, we can pick up with certainty the modern tale of the Weimaraner in the court of the Grand Duke Karl August (1757-1828). The duke was a vital champion of the modern Weimaraner and holds the key to the beginning of the breed as we know it. Again, however, there is some controversy. Did he invent the breed himself, as some believe, or did he import the breed after he was introduced to it by Prince Esterhazy on his estates in Bohemia, as others report? Either way, August nurtured this noble hunting dog from about 1810 in his court in Weimar, the capitol of Thuringia, a principality in central Germany. 

 Here, August used this silver-coated dog to hunt big game, such as deer, wild cat, wolf, bear and mountain lion, found in the great forests of the area. The Weimaraner was bred to be intelligent, courageous and quick, with superior scenting and trailing abilities. 

 As the numbers of large game gradually declined, the breed was adapted to hunt smaller animals and birds. With this change in prey came a need for Pointerlike characteristics such as pointing and retrieving game. 

 The duke tried to keep his breeding formula secret and only gave Weimaraners to his family, his court and visiting nobility. Luckily, a few of these dogs found their way to the homes of a small group of sportsmen who kept breeding records and worked to hone the breed's hunting abilities. 

 Weimaraners were recognized as a breed in Germany in 1896, and in 1897 the Weimaraner Club of Germany formed in Erfurt in Thuringia. Although a description of the breed was used by amateur sportsmen of the time as a breeding guide, the first official standard wasn't adopted until 1935. This standard was developed as a joint effort between the Weimaraner Club of Germany and the Weimaraner Club of Austria. 

 Although many people had a hand in developing the breed in the early years, Maj. Robert aus der Herber is credited with playing a vital role from 1921 until his death in 1946. He served several terms as president of the German club and wrote many articles as well as the book "The Weimaraner," which was revered in Germany as the bible on this dog. Many view him the true father of the breed. 

 As with all German breeds, the breeding of the Weimaraner was controlled closely by its parent club. Only those individuals who had reputations as honorable sportsmen could join the club, and only club members could own a Weimaraner. Members were bound to conform strictly to all rules and regulations of the club. Puppies not meeting the club's standards were banned from the stud book, and those believed to be unhealthy were culled. 

 The rule prohibiting the sale of Weimaraners to nonclub members was broken summarily after World War II, when many members of the occupation forces bought puppies to bring home to their native countries. The German club quickly passed a bylaw stating that only one-half of all litters could be sold outside Germany. 

ARRIVAL IN AMERICA

As with many breeds, the Weimaraner's beginnings are shrouded in mystery. Although the breed as we know it dates from the early 1800s, there are numerous theories as to its ancestors. Some trace the Weimaraner back to the Chien Gris de Saint Louis--the Gray Hound of Saint Louis--of the 13th century. These dogs were obtained by Louis IX of France (1226-1270) after he learned of them during his captivity in Egypt. Similar gray dogs can be found in artwork throughout the 14th to 18th centuries, leading some to believe these canines are the Weimaraner's forebears. 

 Other theories look to the Spanish and English Pointer; the Bloodhound-related St. Hubert Brache, Leithund and Schweisshund; the German Shorthaired Pointer; and the Great Dane as having some influence on the modern Weimaraner. Some believe the breed's distinctive coloring is the result of the mating of two black dogs, such as the St. Hubert Brache, or the result of a recessive gene in the breeding of red or tan dogs, such as the Schweisshund, which can dilute to a silvery taupe. While each of these theories has its proponents and detractors, we can pick up with certainty the modern tale of the Weimaraner in the court of the Grand Duke Karl August (1757-1828). The duke was a vital champion of the modern Weimaraner and holds the key to the beginning of the breed as we know it. Again, however, there is some controversy. Did he invent the breed himself, as some believe, or did he import the breed after he was introduced to it by Prince Esterhazy on his estates in Bohemia, as others report? Either way, August nurtured this noble hunting dog from about 1810 in his court in Weimar, the capitol of Thuringia, a principality in central Germany. 

 Here, August used this silver-coated dog to hunt big game, such as deer, wild cat, wolf, bear and mountain lion, found in the great forests of the area. The Weimaraner was bred to be intelligent, courageous and quick, with superior scenting and trailing abilities. 

 As the numbers of large game gradually declined, the breed was adapted to hunt smaller animals and birds. With this change in prey came a need for Pointerlike characteristics such as pointing and retrieving game. 

 The duke tried to keep his breeding formula secret and only gave Weimaraners to his family, his court and visiting nobility. Luckily, a few of these dogs found their way to the homes of a small group of sportsmen who kept breeding records and worked to hone the breed's hunting abilities. 

 Weimaraners were recognized as a breed in Germany in 1896, and in 1897 the Weimaraner Club of Germany formed in Erfurt in Thuringia. Although a description of the breed was used by amateur sportsmen of the time as a breeding guide, the first official standard wasn't adopted until 1935. This standard was developed as a joint effort between the Weimaraner Club of Germany and the Weimaraner Club of Austria. 

 Although many people had a hand in developing the breed in the early years, Maj. Robert aus der Herber is credited with playing a vital role from 1921 until his death in 1946. He served several terms as president of the German club and wrote many articles as well as the book "The Weimaraner," which was revered in Germany as the bible on this dog. Many view him the true father of the breed. 

 As with all German breeds, the breeding of the Weimaraner was controlled closely by its parent club. Only those individuals who had reputations as honorable sportsmen could join the club, and only club members could own a Weimaraner. Members were bound to conform strictly to all rules and regulations of the club. Puppies not meeting the club's standards were banned from the stud book, and those believed to be unhealthy were culled. 

 The rule prohibiting the sale of Weimaraners to nonclub members was broken summarily after World War II, when many members of the occupation forces bought puppies to bring home to their native countries. The German club quickly passed a bylaw stating that only one-half of all litters could be sold outside Germany. 

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

The Weimaraner is a true working breed, and its composition should reflect this. The AKC standard states the Weimaraner's "conformation must indicate the ability to work with great speed and endurance in the field." 

 Male dogs are 25 inches to 27 inches tall at the withers, while bitches are 23 inches to 25 inches. One inch over or under the specified heights are allowed but penalized in the show ring. 

 The Weimaraner's head is noble with aristocratic features. Its expression should reflect its kindness and keen intelligence. The breed's ears are long, slightly folded and high-set. The eyes range in color from light amber to gray or blue-gray, while the nose always is gray. 

 The distinctive coat is short, smooth and sleek and ranges in color from mouse-gray to silver-gray, with lighter shades often apparent on the head and ears. A small white marking on the chest is permitted, but any other naturally occurring white spots are penalized (white spots that are the result of injury are not to be faulted). Although a long coat is accepted in many countries as a variety in the breed, it is a cause for disqualification in the AKC's eyes. A blue or black coat also is a disqualifying fault. The Weimaraner's body should appear strong with a deep, well-developed chest. The tail is docked to measure about 6 inches at maturity. The dog's gait should be effortless and coordinated. Finally, the Weimaraner temperament should be friendly, fearless, alert and obedient. 

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

Because of the Weimaraner's strong working heritage, novice owners may jump to the conclusion that it should be housed in a kennel to preserve its working drive. In this breed's case, nothing could be further from the truth. 

 "If you want a breed that is an integral part of your life and that never leaves you alone, this may be the breed for you," says Dorothy Derr, executive secretary of the WCA. "But if you want a dog that is content on its own until you can spare the time for it, this is not the breed for you." 

 The Weimaraner is a true companion that thrives on human contact; kenneling only destroys its spirit and will to work. Indeed, the Weimaraner is willing to go wherever you want. Cathy Garvey, secretary of the Long Island Weimaraner Club and a Weimaraner enthusiast for 16 years, recommends buying a home-raised puppy for this very reason. "These puppies need to be socialized from the moment they come out of the dam," she says. "Many times you can tell the dogs that were raised in a kennel because they are shy or skittish." Garvey makes sure she exposes her dogs to a variety of situations while they are young. 

 Derr believes, however, that good dogs can be obtained from a kennel providing they are well-socialized and the breeder is caring and responsible. "[A breeder] can be reputable and breed multiple litters a year, or can be unethical and raise a litter at home. You have to trust your gut instincts when you visit a breeder, whether they are a kennel operator or a hobby breeder." 

 As people-oriented and willing to please as this breed is, however, it will take advantage of you if you are not careful. The Weimaraner is a strong, willful breed that must be taught to obey every member of the family or it will seek the role of top dog. Even a small puppy quickly will test its limits and seek to dominate a household if it is not taught its place. 

 Because this breed is so powerful, games such as tug of war, play fighting and general roughhousing are not a good idea. These games may seem cute in a puppy, but they encourage aggression and may make a dog believe it is the pack leader. "The Weimaraner's energy level is phenomenal," says Garvey. "They are constantly testing and trying to dominate you. I always tell puppy buyers to go to obedience school, as much to teach the owner how to handle the dog as for the dog itself." The easiest time to obedience train a Weimaraner is between the ages of 2 and 4 months. It should be obeying all family members consistently before it becomes an adolescent (4 to 5 months) and starts to challenge authority seriously. But remember, although this breed is powerful it has a sensitive personality-harsh training methods only will serve to ruin its temperament. Use gentle but firm methods and you will be rewarded with a well-behaved dog that lives to please you. 

 In response to the Weimaraner's willful, inquisitive manner, crate training is advisable. If left to its own devices, a puppy quickly can add its own decorating touches to your home, such as teeth grooves in the coffee table or shredded pillows. "They are intelligent dogs," says Derr. "If you leave them alone without supervision they will find something to do, and chances are it will not be something you would have chosen for them to do." 

 A crate also will aid in housetraining your new addition. If you believe crate training is cruel, realize that some day your pet may need to be crated at a veterinarian's office, and a Weimaraner that has not been exposed to crates from an early age could become frantic when confined as an adult. Weimaraners also can be canine Houdinis when it comes to escaping from crates or latched fences; it is important to teach confinement to puppies so they will accept these limitations. 

 When deciding household limitations for your puppy, picture it as an adult. If you won't mind sharing your bed or couch with a full-grown dog, then by all means let your puppy up on the furniture. But don't let a puppy sleep with you for "just a few nights" thinking you will stop this habit as the pup grows-once it is in your bed it never will leave. 

IS THIS BREED RIGHT FOR YOU?

Weimaraners are large, athletic working dogs that can hunt for hours on end. If they are not given an outlet for this energy they can become destructive. They also are extremely human-dependent and can develop separation anxiety if they do not receive enough attention and are left alone for long hours on end. This is not an independent breed--the Weimaraner is extremely loving and loyal but will not tolerate being ignored. All this adds up to a need for an owner who has plenty of time to exercise and bond with a Weimaraner. 

 "If someone works full time and is away from the home for 10 or 11 hours a day, I would not recommend this breed," says Garvey. "Leaving these dogs alone any longer than 7 or 8 hours is not a good idea." One option for people who work full time but would like a Weimaraner is to have a pet sitter or neighbor let the dog out during the day. Although a retired couple may have the time to spend with this breed, Garvey does not recommend the Weimaraner for the elderly because of its exercise requirements. A tall fence around your yard is a must with this breed, as it will not hesitate to take off after a good scent. If you do not have a fenced yard, don't think a walk around the block once or twice a day will do. This breed is brimming with energy and must be given ample room to run in an enclosed area. If this cannot be provided on a regular basis, the breed must be given another outlet such as hunting or other canine sports to keep it content. 

 Weimaraners can be very good with children if socialized early. Derr says that for a Weimaraner to respect children, it must respect its owner and recognize its place in its "pack." "This breed wants to be top dog," she stresses. "If the adults of the family are top dog with the dog and the children, things will be fine. But if the dog and children are running around doing whatever they want without any discipline, there are going to be problems." 

 Remember also that you are dealing with a large breed, so set limits accordingly. The cute little puppy that chases your child and nips at his or her coat sleeve soon will be a powerful adult that easily could knock a child down. Never allow a Weimaraner to chase or play bite a child--this behavior could lead to disaster. In general, Weimaraners get along well with other dogs, but you as the owner must understand pack dynamics fully to know when to let them sort out their differences and when to intervene. Cats and other smaller mammals may present more of a challenge, as the Weimaraner's urge will be to hunt. Birds also bring out the breed's natural instincts. However, if introduced to these other pets as a puppy, a Weimaraner can learn to live a peaceful coexistence. 

 While the Weimaraner itself needs a lot of attention, its coat needs very little. A once- or twice-a-week brushing with a short-bristled brush or a hound mitt is all that is needed to keep this breed looking sleek. "This is truly a wash-and-wear dog," says Derr. 

AFIELD AND BEYOND

As mentioned above, the Weimaraner needs outlets for its energy; luckily there are a number of energy-burning pastimes at which this breed excels. The Weimaraner's first love is, of course, hunting. Its well-rounded hunting style puts it on a short-list of AKC breeds that are called versatile hunting dogs, which is defined as "a generic term applied to a dog that is bred and trained to dependably hunt and point game, to retrieve on both land and water, and to track wounded game on both land and water." However, there is an interesting distinction between the Weimaraner and other hunting dogs. While many breeds hunt because they live to get their prey, Weimaraners hunt because they live to share this exciting game with the people they are close to. This underscores the need for the Weimaraner to be a pet as well as a working dog. 

 This desire to work and live with its human partner makes the Weimaraner an ideal hunting dog for the novice. It needs a soft touch during training, and indeed it often learns best by being given the opportunity to hunt with a more seasoned dog. AKC field trials provide a competitive way to test your Weimaraner's hunting skills. Other options include AKC hunting tests, North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association tests and WCA rating tests. 

 If hunting doesn't appeal to you, there are many other sports you can try. Weimaraners have proved adept at tracking, Schutzhund and agility. The same skills that help them excel at sports make them excellent working dogs. Many have found careers as search and rescue, narcotics, bomb detection, assistance and police dogs. 

BEFORE THE CAMERA

A few Weimaraners have found more unusual work--as canine supermodels. And none of these are more famous than William Wegman's Weimaraners. Who hasn't been fascinated by the photos of Wegman's dogs clothed in outrageous costumes, striking bizarre poses and appearing to love every minute of it? It all began in 1970, when Wegman, a well-known artist and photographer, gave in to his wife's pleas for a puppy and acquired Man Ray. The Weimaraner, true to breed form, did not like being ignored while his human partner worked and made quite a nuisance of himself until Wegman decided to train his camera eye on the puppy. Man Ray proved to be a ham and was willing to put up with almost anything to be the center of his owner's attention. Photos of Man Ray began appearing in Wegman's exhibits and in magazine articles. The dog even appeared on television shows including "Saturday Night Live," "The Tonight Show" and David Letterman's "Late Night" show. 

Wegman was hooked and made stars of his subsequent Weimaraner Fay Ray and her puppies. His dogs have graced calendars, T-shirts and even a line of children's books based on famous fairy tales such as "Cinderella." His latest book, "Puppies," was published last year. 

HEALTH ISSUES

Before acquiring your own Weimaraner star, you should be aware of some health problems the breed is susceptible to. Like many large breeds, hip dysplasia can strike the Weimaraner. This condition causes pain and lameness and occurs when the head of the femur fits improperly into the hip joint socket. Before purchasing a puppy, be sure the breeder has had its parents' hips checked and registered as being healthy with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Another malady that strikes the Weimaraner and other large, deep-chested breeds is bloat, an abnormal distention of the stomach with gas. This can lead to gastric torsion, a twisting of the stomach with blockage of the intestine and esophagus that can lead to death. Although it is not known exactly what causes bloat, it often seems to be triggered by gulping food or water or vigorous exercise before or after eating. Feed twice a day, always have water on hand and avoid exercising your dog one hour before and two hours after eating as preventive measures. Symptoms include panting, salivation, retching without vomiting, rolling in pain and pawing at the abdomen. If your dog experiences these symptoms bring it to a veterinarian immediately, as emergency surgery almost always is needed. 

 Another malady, hypertrophic osteodystrophy, tends to strike puppies between the ages of 3 to 7 months while they are in a growth spurt. This disease affects the long bones in the legs. Lameness may be accompanied by symptoms such as fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. HOD has been linked with excessive calcium in the diet (a rich diet and supplementation should be avoided in the Weimaraner unless prescribed by a veterinarian). It usually is treated with restricted activity and aspirin to reduce pain. Most puppies recover in a few weeks with brief, less-severe recurrences, although some dogs have experienced permanent bone deformities. 

 Other medical problems to ask a breeder about include von Willebrand's disease (a bleeding disorder), the spinal condition wobbler syndrome, elbow hygromas (a cystlike subcutaneous swelling of the joint) and entropion (inversion of the eyelids). Despite these conditions, most Weimaraners live about 12 to 13 years, but it pays to do your research to increase the odds your dog will be healthy. 

CHOOSING A WEIMARANER

To ensure you are obtaining a well-bred Weimaraner, it is essential you seek out a reputable breeder. Contact a local breed club for a list of breeders, and be sure to check references. Personally inspect the kennel facilities to be sure they are clean and that the breeder is providing a nurturing environment for those important first few weeks of a puppy's life. 

 When choosing a puppy it is important to tell the breeder what activities you intend to pursue with your dog. The puppy that will make an excellent working dog may not be suited as a pet, and vice versa. For example, a bold, inquisitive puppy may make a wonderful hunter but may be a handful as a family pet. Listen to your breeder's suggestions; he or she has been observing the litter for weeks and is best qualified to match prospective owners with the puppies best suited for them. 

 Derr recommends studying a puppy's pedigree and asking questions about its relatives if you want to engage in a specific activity with that dog, such as field trials. "If you're looking for a dog to do a particular task look at its parents and grandparents to see if they did that task and if they did it well." Titles attached to a dog's name are a good indication of a working heritage. 

 Garvey says you can expect to pay an average of $800 to $1,000 for a puppy, whether it is a show or field prospect or just being sold as a pet. Of course, cost should not be your most important criteria in choosing a breeder from whom you will purchase your puppy. "Buying a puppy is like buying a used car," says Derr. "The reputation of the dealer is as important as the vehicle itself. A reputable breeder will ask you as many questions as you ask him or her. A reputable breeder also will promise to take the dog back at any time in its life." 

 Derr says the proliferation of backyard breeders has brought an influx of dogs to the national breed club's rescue coordinator. "When Becky Weimer [rescue coordinator] first started working in rescue, she saw about three or four dogs put down a year because of temperament problems. Now she sees three or four a month put down." The key to finding the right dog is to do your research. Be sure the breed will suit your lifestyle before ever visiting that first litter of irresistible pups. While the Weimaraner is not the breed for everyone, it can make a wonderful, loving, loyal companion to an owner who understands and appreciates its needs. And if you do decide the Gray Ghost is the dog for you and your lifestyle, this breed will prove an enthusiastic partner, whether you hunt, trial or just enjoy its company. 

WEIMARANER RESCOURCES

Resources:

Books:

Virginia Alexander and Jackie Isabell, Weimaraner Ways, SunStar, Germantown, Md., 1993. 

 Vicky Bambridge, The Weimaraner Today, Ringpress, Letchworth, Herts, England, 1991. 

 Gillian Burgoin, Guide to the Weimaraner, The Boydell Press, Boydell & Brewer Ltd., Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, 1985. 

 Patsy Hollings, All About the Weimaraner, Pelham Books, Viking Penguin, New York, 1992. 

 Patsy Hollings, The Essential Weimaraner, Howell Book House, New York, 1996. 

 Anna Katherine Nicholas, Weimaraners, T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, N.J., 1995. 


 
 

Additional Sources:

National Breed Club, Weimaraner Club of America, Rebecca Weimer, executive secretary and rescue coordinator, 324 Sundew Drive, Belleville, Ill. 62221; (618) 236-1466. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kim Dearth, editor of DOG WORLD's new annual issue, PUPPY GUIDE '98, writes about issues concerning dogs and cats. She and her husband live with one canine and two feline research assistants. 

 

Copyright © 1998 Kim Dearth 
This article is reprinted with permission from Dog World and the author