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Breed of the Week: Slovakian Rough-Haired Pointer

Craig Koshyk


Despite fanciful tales of medieval kings and claims of ancient lineage, the continental pointing dog breeds are relatively recent creations — most of them are less than 150 years old. some are even younger than that. One of the newest kids on the block is a grey wire-haired gundog from Slovakia. It is the culmination of an effort, begun in the early 1950s, to combine three well-regarded and established breeds in order to come up with something greater than the sum of its parts.

HISTORY
In the early 1950s, several unusual puppies appeared in litters of Cesky Fouseks whelped in Slovakia. They had the same rough-haired coat as their Fousek parents, but they were grey in color. The first was a single grey pup that popped up in a litter bred by László (Ladislav) Gresznarik in Šaľa, Slovakia. How and why a grey puppy ended up in a litter of Cesky Fouseks is, of course, open to speculation. But we do know that Gresznarik was instrumental in the development of the Wirehaired Vizsla and may have used Cesky Fouseks, German Wirehaired Pointers, and Weimaraners in some of his early efforts. The grey wire-haired coat probably occurred by chance when just the right combination of recessive genes happened to line up.

Gresznarik named the grey pup Bobi Selle. Koloman Slimák later used Bobi to breed to an Austrian-born Weimaraner bitch named Monika ad Haraska. A dog from that litter, Hlas z. Karpat, was eventually bred to another Austrian Weimaraner bitch from the Wastlhütte kennel.

Around the same time, two more grey rough-haired pups appeared in a litter of Fouseks whelped in the town of Pila. They were eventually crossed with the dogs bred by Slimák. Early on, an experimental stud book for the dogs was established by the Slovakian Hunters Union. At first, the dogs were registered as Hrubosrstý Weimarský Stavač (Wirehaired Weimaraners). At some point — it is not clear exactly when — the Slovakian Hunters Union asked the Weimaraner Club of Germany to recognise their dogs as such but according to Dr. Werner Petri, a former president of the German Weimaraner club, the request was refused in 1964. Other sources state that it wasn’t until 1975 that the official position of the German Weimaraner club was made public. Nonetheless, by the end of the 1970s it was clear that the breed would not be recognised as a variant of the Weimaraner, and that it needed a new name. So, efforts got underway in Slovakia to convince the FCI to recognize the breed as the Slovenský Hrubosrstý Stavač, the Slovakian Rough-Haired Pointer.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the first application submitted by the breed club was refused. Apparently the FCI requested that the club increase the breed’s population and widen its genetic base before reapplying. By the early 1980s, breeders in Slovakia had registered over 400 Slovakian Rough-Haired Pointers and developed three distinct lines. They had also established a commission with the expressed goal of gaining recognition for the breed. Finally, on the 6th of June, 1983 at the general meeting of the FCI held in Madrid, Spain, the Slovakian Rough-Haired Pointer, the most recently created breed in the extended family of Continental pointing dogs, was announced.

Since that time the SRHP has become a relatively popular gundog breed in Slovakia and has attracted interest in France, the Nether- lands and the UK. But the breed is still very much a work in progress. A number of important issues need to be addressed before it can be considered completely stabilised.

SELECTION AND BREEDING
The majority of Slovak Pointers are bred in Slovakia where approximately 30 to 50 pups are whelped annually. There are also breeders in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, France and the UK.

Since its very beginning, breeders have sought to combine the qualities of the Weimaraner, the German Wirehaired Pointer and the Cesky Fousek in one breed. After nearly 60 years, they have succeeded in producing excellent all-around hunting dogs and a national pointing dog breed for Slovakia. But breeders are still trying to stabilise the quality and color of the coat and struggling with certain health issues. Performance aspects are also undergoing some modifications as some breeders work toward faster, wider-ranging dogs while trying to maintain the SRHP’s excellent reputation as a tracking and retrieving breed. The club has therefore kept an open mind in terms of allowing crosses to the original founding breeds and others. Michal Urban, secretary of the national breed club, explains:
It is only in Slovakia that we are allowed to breed to the original breeds. There are very strict rules in the program. We opened the register because we needed to create a wider base for the breed.We only keep the best working dogs with the appropriate look. We use mainly German Wire- haired Pointers and Weimaraners. We try to avoid too much Cesky Fousek because of problems with the coat (alopecia). We have also used German Shorthaired Pointers and Pudelpointers in the past. In 2005, we started to work out the new line for this breed as a combination of three foundation breeds, like it was at the beginning. All this work is strictly organized by our club in keeping with FCI regulations allowing these crossings to be done only in the country of origin. 
Nicolas Elder, a breeder in Ireland, adds:
Hunting in Continental Europe is far more structured and traditional than in the UK and Ireland. Each country would have a hunting union that would police and protect the hunting and, in some countries, ensure that there are dogs available. These unions would organise dog training, give out proficiency certificates, keep records of their pedigrees and generally ensure that all the working ability in the breeds were maintained. They were not restrained by kennel club rules and the desires of people showing the dogs. If a bit of hybrid vigor was needed to improve things, then crossbreeding was accepted.
WHAT'S IN A NAME
If there were a contest for the hardest breed name to pronounce, the Slovenský Hrubosrstý Stavac would probably win. Despite my Ukrainian heritage, I had a heck of a time learning to properly pronounce it. But when I was in Slovakia, I discovered that a shot of the local whiskey, Slivovica, loosened my tongue just enough to help me get around the rolled r’s. So, you may want to pour yourself a stiff drink first, and then say: Slo-VEn-skee H’roo BoSS risty STaV atch.


Slovenský means “Slovakian”. The literal translation of Hrubosrstý is “strong”, but in this context it means “wire-haired” and refers to the breed’s harsh coat. Stavac is the Slovak word for “pointing dog”. In some publications the word Ohar , the Czech word for “pointing dog”, appears in brackets after Stavac. Its inclusion in the breed name reflects the fact that, until 1992, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were one nation—Czechoslovakia—with two official languages. According to the FCI, the official name for the breed in English is Slovakian Wirehaired Pointing Dog. But breeders and owners in England and the US refer to it as the Slovakian Rough- Haired Pointer, abbreviated to SRHP.


It is easy to why the original breeders of SRHPs wanted to call them Wirehaired Weimaraners. They do indeed look like Weimaraners with a wire-haired coat, beard and moustache. They are roughly the same size as Weimaraners, and they have the same powerful, athletic build. Slovak pups are also born with black stripes on their back and have blue eyes that eventually change to an amber color, just like Weims. The ideal Slovak coat consists of a short, fine undercoat covered by a flat-lying, harsh topcoat of approximately 4 cm in length. Facial furnishings include a well-developed moustache, beard and eyebrows. The hair on the ears is short and soft. The tail is usually cropped to half-length. As with all the wire-haired Continental breeds, the ideal coat can be difficult to achieve.

Since the Slovak Pointer is still more or less a work in progress, coat quality varies more than in older, more stabilised breeds such as the German Wire- haired Pointer. Slovak coats range from nearly smooth to very woolly. Colors range from a very light silver-grey to a darker grey-brown shade referred to as “sable”. In some litters, pups are born with mixed grey and liver roan coats with or without patches of solid liver on the flanks.


MY VIEW
When I first started to read up on the various breeds of versatile pointing dogs, I would occasionally come across references in books and magazines to a grey wire-haired gundog from Slovakia. The information provided was usually fairly vague however, and there were rarely any decent photographs to accompany the text. Even with the help of the Internet — still rather primitive back then — I had a hard time finding anything in-depth. Eventually, I managed to contact a Vizsla breeder in the Netherlands who had a pair of Slovak Pointers. She graciously sent me photographs of her dogs and provided me with some good background information on the breed.

Years later, I saw my first Slovak Pointers in the flesh. But they were not in Slovakia. They were in France at the home of the president of the French Slovak Pointer club, Annie Pescher. When I saw them, my first thought was “That’s a Weimaraner with a wirehaired coat”. Unfortunately we were unable to arrange a photo session in the field, but Anne and her husband did provide me with a great deal of information on the breed’s character and hunting abilities. My first opportunity to see Slovaks in the field came three years later when my wife and I travelled to Slovakia. There we met Michal Urban, a breeder of SRHPs and the secretary of the national breed club. Michal welcomed us into his home and provided us with an excellent opportunity to get to know his dogs and the breed.

For our first photo session, Michal took us to an area of open fields bordered by some fairly tight cover. One of his dogs was due to have puppies any day, so he brought Cema, a 14-month-old female still in training. As we made our way out into the field, I realised that despite all I had read about the breed and the conversations I’d had with breeders in the Netherlands and France, I was still not quite sure what to expect. Even Hana, our Czech interpreter familiar with most of the European gundog breeds, had never seen a Slovak hunt. She, too, was quite curious to see how the young dog would do. Cema was certainly good looking. Graceful and athletically built, she had a coat that fit the standard to a tee. It was harsh, flat-lying and silver-grey. As she and Michal walked in the field, she remained perfectly at heel with a relaxed, carefree attitude. I asked Michal to pause about half way across so I could take a few photos. I distinctly remember snapping away, marvelling at just how relaxed the two of them were. I’m used to seeing dogs straining at their leashes, whining, even barking in anticipation of the hunt as their nervous handlers try to control them long enough for a few quick snapshots. But there was none of that. Michal and Cema waited patiently as I shot frame after frame.

The field we were in was well over 100 acres in size. It was covered with what looked like spring wheat. Narrow hedgerows lined each side. At the far end, there was low spot choked with willows and dried cattails. It looked like ideal pheasant cover. As I worked my cameras, trying to get just the right shot, I began to wonder if Cema would have the same calm, cool attitude when she was let off leash. Would she work at a leisurely pace a few yards in front of the handler? Or would she cover the field at a gallop? And what about that low spot down at the end? Do they even have pheasants in Slovakia? I soon found out.

From the moment that Cema was let off her leash she absolutely blazed through that field. For the next hour and a half Lisa and I were treated to one of the finest demonstrations of dog-work we’d seen in a long time. At one point, I glanced over at Hana, our interpreter. The expression on her face was priceless. It was one of those awestruck looks you get when you see something way beyond your expectations. And I must have had the same look on my face because as we exchanged glances, we both laughed and said, “Wow!”

Cema covered a beat of about 150 meters on either side of us. She kept up a furious pace. In the tighter cover of the slough, she worked closer in, plowing through the cattails, her tremendous desire obvious to everyone watching. She ran with a powerful, athletic stride, head held relatively high but lower if she came across a trail of a running pheasant. Her points were solid, her retrieves snappy and to-hand. At the end of her run, I concluded that if all Slovak Pointers were like Cema, then whatever the creators of the breed used to develop it, they must have used some very high-quality ingredients.

The next day we travelled to another area to observe a few other Slovak Pointers hunt small game in a vast series of winter wheat fields. Cema was there along with several other dogs from other breeders. Once again, we were quite impressed with what we saw. All the dogs hunted well and showed a good deal of desire. But there were obvious differences among them in terms of appearance and working style. Their coats varied from flat-lying and wirehaired to much longer, softer and woolly. There was also at least one dog there that showed clear signs of alopecia—a genetic condition that causes bald patches on the flanks. There were even two very handsome SRHPs with roan coats: a mix of grey and darker “sable” plates on the flanks.

The running and hunting style of the dogs varied as well. To my eye, Cema was the best dog there. She continued to impress me with a dynamic run and stylish points. The other dogs ranged from very good to so-so. At the end of the day, I was left with the impression that the best Slovaks are world-class, but the breed as a whole is still in the development stages.




Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals
http://www.dogwilling.ca/index.cfm