Small Munsterlander – Heathland Quail Dog


Dive deep into the Small Munsterlander’s journey from obscurity to a top hunting breed. Discover its rich history, unique traits, and why it’s a favorite among hunters.

Small Munsterlanders, fortunately for me, are one of the pointing dog breeds I’ve gotten to know in person. Feisty, handsome, and highly energetic, this breed is the tenth most popular bird dog breed in the Project Upland community, according to our annual survey. It’s also the third most popular versatile hunting dog breed in Europe. This is likely due to their broad skillset that includes searching, pointing, flushing, retrieving, tracking, and water work.

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“Here in the U.S., the breed is continuing to enjoy growth in popularity,” said Nancy Anisfield, the creative director of Ugly Dog Hunting Company. “However, it is important to research breeders and lines to get the best package of size, coat, and fundamental hunting instincts.”

When it comes to owning a Small Munsterlander (SM), they are friendly and dynamic companions. “Working and hunting with Rogue has been an experience, to say the least,” said Justin Bubenik, a Small Munsterlander owner. “The game drive and energy level I’ve witnessed is unmatched. My Small Munsterlander is constantly on the hunt, and it’s difficult for her to turn that off. That said, she’s still an excellent family dog and knows when to turn it down a notch indoors.”

Small Munsterlander does water work with a water retrieve.

Pointing Dogs Volume One: The Continentals and Pointing Dogs Volume Two: The British and Irish Breeds author Craig Koshyk explores Small Munsterlander as a breed in Volume 1. See pages 269 through 276 for Koshyk’s chapter on Small Munsterlanders.

Spoiler alert: The next chapter is on Large Munsterlanders. However, although Large Munsterlanders share a name with Small Munsterlanders, they are not a size variant. “The small Munsterlander – the smallest German pointing dog – is a breed separate from the large Munsterlander, not merely a size variant. Both breeds are skilled pointers, trackers, and retrievers, but their temperament, conformation, and coat colors differ,” said Anisfield.

Small Munsterlander Characteristics, Training, and Ability

Small Munsterlander size Small Munsterlander – Heathland Quail Dog

Smart and attentive, Small Munsterlanders are very trainable dogs. “A firm but gentle hand is what most Small Munsterlander breeders recommend when it comes to training,” wrote Koshyk. Truthfully, some can be somewhat stubborn.

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“They are a hugely intelligent breed, but with those smarts has come challenges,” said Justin. “This includes a tendency to try to take advantage of an inattentive or overly sympathetic handler and a certain stubbornness that is less than endearing at times.”

American breeder Chris Gosch has gone on the record about what you can expect when training your Small Munsterlander. He says owners looking for cookie-cutter training programs will likely feel disappointed. Train at your hunting dog’s pace instead of adhering to a generic program. “Most of my dogs were like a light switch,” he said. “You could see when they finally figured it out and started hunting versus just running around in the woods.” If you have the patience to wait for the moment when all the training finally clicks, even if you have to wait a few seasons, you’ll be rewarded with an excellent hunting partner.

Small Munsterlanders tend to be close-working dogs with an animated search. The breed’s average range is 50 yards. However, they might go out as far as 200 yards. “Like range, there is some variation on the pointing ability and style among ,” said Koshyk. This is because some dogs develop their pointing instincts quite late compared to others. Chris Goesch has seen some of his dogs point at four months and others at 15 months. He also has dogs that are natural backers and others that have no backing instinct at all. In the water, some Small Munsterlanders will take to water work more slowly than others. In other words, each Munsterlander may vary.

Unlike field searching and pointing, the Small Munsterlander’s retrieving and tracking instincts are reliably strong. Most of them show the desire to retrieve very early in age. Additionally, they’re known around the world for their ability to track. “Today in Germany, the breed is used to track big game,” said Koshyk. “In North America, Small Munsterlanders have been proven to be excellent trackers of wounded birds and hare.”

Small Munsterlander coats Small Munsterlander – Heathland Quail Dog
Their coats can be liver and white, liver-white ticked, or roan.

Small Munsterlander Clubs, Tests, and Trials

The Small Munsterlanders parent club is the Verband fur Kleine Münsterländer Vorstehhunde. You can also find European clubs in Denmark, France, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

The Small Munsterlander Club of America (SMCA) represents the breed in the United States and Canada. The North American and the American Kennel Club recognize Small Munsterlanders as a breed.

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“In Germany, most breeders participate in the Jagdgebrauchshundverein (JGHV) testing system and follow similar testing and breeding regulations as other German breeds,” said Koshyk. Germany also conducts tracking, retrieving, and independent forest search tests in addition to JGHV. North American breeders, especially those in the SMCA, participate in North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) tests. Some SMs have even become Versatile Champions.

A Small Munsterlander retrieving a game bird.

Small Munsterlander History

Small Munsterlanders were originally known as Spion, Spannjer, or Wachtelhund, which means Heathland Quail Dog. Think about the word espionage; the original names of this little German pointer meant “spy” or “snoop,” which “may come from the fact that these dogs were known for their ability to work their way into the thickest cover in search of game,” said Koshyk.

In the pre-1800s, Spions were bred to be trackers. This was because any game not recovered meant one less meal on the table. When this style of put-meat-on-the-table hunting started to die out in the mid-1800s, other dogs, like English Setters, Pointers, and French spaniels, rose in popularity. It was fully believed that the little spy dogs had gone extinct.

That remained the case until 1900. Hermann Löns, a poet and sportsman, published a public call to action in a magazine; he was looking for the Red Hanoverian Heath Hound, another nearly extinct dog breed. He traveled to Lower Saxony in search of the breed. To his surprise, what he found living on a few farms in Westphalia wasn’t a Red Hanoverian, but a Spion!

Heitmann, a Westphalian Spion breeder, had been breeding his own line since 1877. “He had even used German Longhaired Pointers from time to time, keeping only those pups that had Spion traits,” said Koshyk. In 1911, Löns found another pool of Spion genes in Dorsten, a town in Westphalia. They were related to Heitmann’s dogs but hadn’t been crossed with them in a long time. Each breeder used the other’s dogs to strengthen their own lines, perpetuating the little spy dog into the future.

The first club was founded by Löns and called the Verband für Kleine Münsterländer Vorstehhunde (Club for Small Munsterlander Pointing Dogs). It established the first Small Munsterlander stud book. However, the members couldn’t agree to allow or not allow a roan version of the brown and white coat, so it split. Löns started another club, the Deutsch Heidewachtel Club. Eventually, the two clubs rejoined, but they split again in 1947. They rejoined in the 1950s to form the Verband für Kleine Münsterländer Vorstehhunde. An international Small Munsterlander club was formed in 2006, and it helps to “broaden the genetic base of the breed, improve its health through shared information and experiences, assist in the importation and exportation of puppies and create an international stud book,” according to Koshyk.

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A Small Munsterlander bird hunting on the American prairie.

However, there was a secret in the Small Munsterlander’s history. It was recently revealed that Löns had bred a Brittany to his line of Small Munsterlanders in 1918. He bought it from a ragpicker’s cart almost immediately after recognizing it as a Brittany (and creeping on the man and his dog as they hunted together). He intentionally did this to achieve a small, fast-moving, brown-roan-coated dog. Löns made it even worse; he registered the stud in the Small Munsterlander stud book. He lied about the dog, saying its coat was a genetic mutation, and later changed his story and said it was a German Long-haired Pointer.

Löns had only disclosed this information to one person: Elizabeth Brand-Böhmer. He asked her to keep his secret until his death, which she did when Löns died in 2006. She had kept it to herself for almost 40 years.

Whether you’re looking for your next Small Munsterlander or are thinking about getting your first one, adding a Small Munsterlander to your bird hunting family means you’re helping support the next generation of this once-nearly-extinct breed. “At the end of the day, there’s no other dog in my life that has given me more in terms of gratification and reward for the work put forth by both the dog and myself than my SM,” said Bubenik.

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