While people today are used to the sight of a dog performing a number of different tasks, like watchdog, therapy dog, companion, and participant in a number of organized canine competitions, among other things, dogs were not always seen as such versatile animals. This was especially true regarding the hunting dog, a prized possession for pre-19th century nobility, who counted their dogs among their vast wealth. Indeed, in Europe hunting became viewed as a sport only for the wealthy, who essentially owned all the land and so were the only ones to have the right to hunt on any given patch of land. To further advertise their wealth, nobles would breed a number of different dogs who all had different tasks: there were hounds to track and trail prey, pointers to point out prey to the hunter and retrievers to bring back prey once it was shot.
This situation changed, though, with the coming of the industrial age, the social and political transformations that swept across Europe and the increased presence of the sporting gun. These changes, among other things, led to the decrease in importance of the upper class and the creation of a new middle class; many members of the middle class became interested in the sport of hunting, but could not afford to buy and maintain a large number of dogs in order to have a complete hunting party. This led to the need for one breed of gun dog that could do it all, a jack-of-all-trades. Hunters in Germany got to work, crossing a variety of different dogs with different qualities, including the old Spanish Pointer, the St. Hubert Hound and English Pointers, to finally arrive at the German Shorthaired Pointer.
The GSP breeding has led him to be considered the most versatile gun dog available. He can find virtually every type of game, ranging from the smallest rabbit to the largest deer (some have even been used to hunt bears), he is an excellent pointer and setter, excelling at holding game, and is an extremely efficient retriever, able to tackle any kind of terrain under both low and heavy cover; he is even an excellent water dog, aided by his webbed feet. Though the inclusion of Bloodhound into the breeding lines is still in doubt, the GSP can boast an excellent nose and is a great tracker, thanks to his scent hound ancestors. The breeding program was such that a dog was created who barely needed any training to do what he was built for; the convergence of some of the most important European gun dogs of the time assured the GSP an inborn hunting instinct.
Its inborn gun dog instinct means that it is a dog that requires a great deal of exercise and multiple outlets for its energy. If you don't plan to hunt with your dog, it is definitely a good idea to get him involved in one of the many organized competitions offered, such as obedience, agility, or field trials. Be prepared for constant demonstrations of its strong instinct, though, as many GSPs have been known to bring home dead strays; firm, consistent training should drastically curtail, if not eliminate altogether, this kind of behavior.