Before You Bring Home a German Wirehaired Pointer
A German wirehaired pointer (the breed that I went with) is not a good fit for a first-timer (which I am), especially not a first-timer who also happens to have a cat and chickens (which I do).
I got my dog Baldur when he was eight weeks old and raised him from a puppy. He's two years old now and pretty well behaved. But if I could change the past, I would not have picked this dog.
In case you're thinking about German wirehaired pointers, and you likewise are a small-animal-loving, first-time-puppy-adopter, here's what you should know.
This breed is friendly, yes, but also strongheaded and bossy
Long after Baldur understands what I want from him, he just, kind of, doesn't think he actually sort of has to. So I have to keep one eye on him all the time and correct any rule-bending right away, or else his obedience slides sideways and he starts doing whatever comes into his head.
This is not what you call a "sensitive" dog. This is a dog who won't listen unless he knows you're not going to let him get away with not listening. When he's clear on that, he does well, but it takes effort to keep him clear—and the amount of work and pushiness this requires isn't what I'd call fun.
He's extremely—God, believe me—extremely energetic
I wanted a dog with enough energy to be my jogging companion. An adventure-dog. I was specifically interested in a "medium energy" puppy; neither the wildest nor glummest member of the litter. I read that German wirehaired pointers are "high energy," but the breed descriptions did not prepare me for what they mean by that.
My dog Baldur has no natural chill. He's a sweatered dope with a mind like a coiled spring, ready to cannonball into action at any moment. As a result, he has terrible judgement. He's the type of animal that makes old-timey farmers in YA novels curse, "That fool dog!" He's always ready and never prepared; say anything to him when he's riled up—say, "Sit!"—and he'll cycle through every last trick he knows before calming down enough to hear the words you said.
He's good at learning tricks, not so good at following rules
When they say, "This breed needs a consistent handler," what they mean is, "This dog is not easy to train."
When they say, "This dog is easy to train," they mean, "This dog learns tricks quickly."
They say both things about German wirehaired pointers.
Baldur is a quick study. Teach him a cue, and he'll pick it up right away; but when it comes to following household rules on the daily (i.e. "behaving" rather than "performing"), he is not naturally an awesome housemate.
I've spent the last two years teaching this dog not to pingpong around the house, knock people over on the stairs, jump all over strangers, pull on the leash, or devolve into a shivering, whimpering mess of joy and desire at the sight of any other dog.
At this point, I can pretty well expect him to be a good citizen. I can let him roam around the house (mostly) unsupervised. I can bring him places. I can walk him past the dog park on heel. I can (mostly) expect him not to crawl all over people in groups. But there have been many times on the way to this point that I've hit my limit: of creativity, of patience, of hope in the process. Long story short, training this dog has not been "easy."
He has a force-of-nature prey drive
I grew up with a Labrador retriever. The friendly, chicken-loving nature of my childhood dog did not prepare me for the wider world of hunting dogs.
I knew that my German wirehaired pointer would have an instinct to go after fur and feather, but being a believer in diligent training, I assumed that this inclination could be moderated by raising him near my cat and chickens and socializing him to leave them alone.
I had no idea how difficult it would be to get Baldur to see these animals as "off limits." He will probably never see them as "not prey." There have been many moments I've worried he might kill one of them at some point. The other day, I had to pull him off my cat, whom he's been pretty decent with for months. Last year, I nursed a chicken back to health after Baldur got his teeth on her. I've honestly questioned whether I could safely keep this dog. I'm continuing to work with him on this, but I do recognize that I may never be able to relax when he and my other animals are in the same space.*
Update: I could not. I did my best with Baldur for a solid three years, but beyond that I just couldn't make it work.
Don't get me wrong, Baldur is a really sweet dog. He's an affectionate marshmallow in a muppet suit, and two years of "consistent handling" is paying off. He's emphatically friendly, completely safe with my two young kids, deeply attached to me, and endearing in all kinds of ways.
But it hasn't been easy, and in hindsight, this breed was definitely not the right pick for a person with cats, chickens, and the desire for a chill, easy-going companion. If you've got your eye on the same, be sure you're ready for this ride.