As with most of the European hunting dogs, and more specifically the hunting dogs from Germany, the Weimaraner was bred with a very specific purpose, right from the inception of the breed. The history of the breed, apart from the 19th century is a bit foggy, with the exact origins of these dogs open to a fair amount of speculation. Exactly when the Weimaraner breed came into existence is also unclear, however in a portrait by Van Dyke painted in the 1600's there is a dog that looks similar to the modern Weimaraner. Some breeders and historians believe this may indicated there was a type of dog similar to the modern Weimaraner at the time, while others believe it is more of a mixed breed dog that just has similarities.
Most people that are familiar with the breed believe that the earliest Weimaraners were definitely being bred by the mid 17th century, although specific breeding records and stud books were not kept. Many also believe that the original breeds used to create the breed include the Continental Pointer group as well as some infusion of mastiff bloodlines. There are also some breeders and researchers that feel that an older type of European Bloodhound, known as the German Braken or Bracken, may have been instrumental in enhancing the dog's scent and tracking abilities. There were likely many other pointer type dogs and other hunting dogs used in the multigenerational breeding programs to develop the ideal hunting dog.
The unique gray color of the breed combined with the unique amber, gray or blue-gray eyes of the Weimaraner is also a mystery. It is often assumed that coloration is a result of an incomplete expression of an albino gene that was selectively bred for early in the breeding programs. Since no other dog breeds have this specific coloration and eye color pattern it is likely that some mutation did occur in the pointing or hound breeds used in the original breed development. Which foundation breed is responsible for the coloration is not known, however it is interesting to note that most Weimaraner hybrids do not inherit the gray coat color, although slightly lighter eyes may be found in the offspring.
Originally the Weimaraner breed was considered a breed for nobility. The leading breeder of the time was the Grand Duke Karl August of Weimar, which is where the breed obtained the name. As a dog of royalty the Weimaraner was bred to be a hunting dog but also a prized and loving companion. Unlike other dogs in Germany the Weimaraner has traditionally been a companion pet, allowed to live with the breeders inside the castles and houses, not relegated to the outdoor kennels of the other hunting breeds.
In addition the royalty very closely monitored the breeding programs for Weimaraners. Unless you were a member of royalty or had connections, getting a Weimaraner was impossible, even for German citizens. Nobility prided themselves in their possession of such a unique looking dog as well as such as terrific hunting animal.
Historically the Weimaraner was used to hunt both birds as well as small and large game. They were selected for their ability to stay within reasonable distance of the hunter, but also to point, flush and retrieve, making them what is now regarded as a versatile hunting dog. Even though they were originally used for mammals and upland game birds, they very easily transitioned to retrieving waterfowl since they have such powerful swimming abilities.
During the 18th and 19th centuries the Weimaraner was unknown outside of its native land. Occasionally other breeders, dog lovers, hunters and other royalty would see these beautiful, skillful dogs when visiting Germany. They were, however, not allowed to buy or use the dogs in breeding programs, nor were any dogs sold to non-members of the German Weimaraner Club. The exclusivity of the dogs made them even more in demand, and it wasn't long until an American by the name of Howard Knight was allowed to join the German Weimaraner Club in the early 1900's that the breed became available in the United States.
Mr. Knight brought the first Weimaraners to the United States in 1929. He continued to import breeding stock to the USA and gradually, over the next 10 years, the breed became more available to other breeders and those interested in hunting dogs. It wasn't until 1943 that the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed and accepted the written breed standards. Within just a few years the end of World War ll saw an increased number of Weimaraners imported to the USA by soldiers and military servicemen returning from the end of the German conflict.
The late 1940's and up to the early 1960's was a very interesting time for the Weimaraner breed. Their popularity increased and Weimaraners became all the rage for families and individuals as companion dogs. Unfortunately this rapid rise in popularity led to very poor breeding choices and health and temperament issues became an issue in some American bred Weimaraner lines. With this came a decrease in the popularity of the breed, but also a chance for reputable breeders to breed out some of the issues that had developed.
Currently the Weimaraner is ranked about 30th in the list of all AKC dog registrations, proving that the breed is once again in to top third of the most popular dogs in the United States. Like with many of the hunting dogs, typically most Weimaraners bred in the USA are used for show purposes, not for hunting. Interesting enough the hunting instincts are so strong in this breed even show bred lines are able to compete in international and German based hunting trials with very high rankings and placing.
Historically the Weimaraner was bred to be a regal, unique and very successful hunting dog and companion. The Weimaraners bred today continue to demonstrate these traits, especially their need for ongoing human companionship. Strong foundation stock and strict breeding guidelines by reputable breeders have corrected the temperament and conformation problems noted earlier in the breed, resulting in a spectacular dog for the right family.