As a type of dog rather than a specific breed, there are more similarities between the pointers than there are differences. The American Kennel Club recognizes several breeds that are called pointers including the German Shorthaired Pointer, German Wirehaired Pointer, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon and the Pointer, sometimes known as the English Pointer. There are also many other dogs within the sporting group that also point, however they are not specifically classed as pointers.
Generally as a type of dog the pointers tend to be very loving and affectionate and extremely eager to please their owners. This is one of the traits that make these dogs so well suited to their role as a multipurpose hunting dog. Not only do they alert or stand to show or "point" in the direction of game for the hunter, but they are also outstanding at retrieval as well. This requires a keen sense of smell as well as an ability to problem solve and work out ways to get in, around and through natural obstacles and obstructions that may be present.
Pointers are also typically very friendly dogs, although they are usually not overly boisterous and attention seeking. Unlike the retriever group, as a whole pointers tend to be more aloof and reserved around strangers. Around their family they are likely to be very playful and even puppyish well into their senior years, although the pointers used for hunting tend to be less clownish than those that are strictly kept as companion dogs.
Training pointers needs to incorporate the unique temperament and characteristics of these types of sporting dogs. They do best with gentle yet firm training programs and should never be trained using any type of punishment based methods. The natural tendency of these breeds is to become submissive and timid if treated harshly, which makes them ineffective as hunting dogs as well as companion pets. With firm yet consistent positive rewards training these dogs will learn quickly and will thrive on praise and knowing that they are doing the right thing.
One of the challenges in working with many of the pointer type of breeds is that they do not work close to the human or hunter, rather their natural instinct is to range ahead and beside of the person. This behavior is bred into hunting breeds, particularly pointers and setters, however it can make training a challenge. Some pointers are notorious for being a bit headstrong and difficult to train on the recall, especially if they are interested in flushing out some birds or chasing that elusive squirrel.
Teaching basic obedience at an early age is a key component of a well behaved mature pointer type of dog. Always, if possible, get the puppy into an obedience class. This will help with close obedience work plus it will also provide the necessary socialization to prevent these dogs from becoming high strung and timid around other dogs. Occasionally pointers can also be dominant, so obedience training will also help to establish the human as the leader.
Depending on the breed of pointer, retrieving may or may not be a natural instinct. The English Pointer is not a natural retriever and is not expected to do so in hunting trials or competitions for the breed. Other types of pointers are natural retrievers and will work well in both the water and on land. Knowing what type of pointer you have and what the traits are for that specific breed will help in training. It is important to keep in mind that not all dogs of a specific breed will be naturally gifted or even competition level trainable. However, selecting from a proven field line or hunting dogs as parents will have the most important impact on how many natural skills the dog will have.
All pointers also have a great sense of smell. They typically don't need to be taught to track, however training them to recall when tracking can be another story. Pointers that have a strong sense of smell and a natural flair for tracking need to be trained to return on a given command. This goes against the natural instincts of the dog so the reward for returning has to be greater than the reward they would have for continuing on the track.
Teaching a dog to point is another skill that you won't have to worry about. Most pointers will take the stance with their muzzle pointed towards game by about four months of age. Teaching the dog to hold the stance is something that comes with experience. In addition not all pointers actually hold their foot up with the knee pointed towards the spot, although this is the common stance seen in most pictures and artwork that includes hunting and pointer breeds.
The best option when working with your pointer type dog as a hunting dog is to go to a gun dog club or organization. This will allow you to work with experienced dog owners and hunters as well as to participate in club sponsored events and trainings. Plan to bring your dog out to lots of different events as this helps with socialization and also desensitization to larger groups of people. Doing this will help you dog become comfortable and able to focus and concentrate when their turn to compete comes around.
For individuals and families that want a great family pet, training your pointer type breed in obedience or agility is a great match. Expect that they will still be high energy dogs, and this training is ideal for both physical and mental exercise and stimulation. It will also help the dog gain confidence and increase socialization.
Even dogs that are never trained as hunters will have some natural instincts. A pet pointer that has not been in the field may still point, chase and love to retrieve, it is all instinctual within the dog type. Plan to incorporate these natural activities into your training routines as they are both rewarding for the dog as well as great tricks for the owner to build upon.