Some lovers of sporting dogs insist that pudelpointers are the Rolls-Royces of sporting dogs. It's estimated there are only about 200 of them in the United States, and Bodo Winterhelt was looking at 10 of them.
He looked over his collection, in the kennel area at his hunting dog training center in Quartz Hill, near Palmdale. The dogs, seven of which belong to him, squirmed in their kennels, figuring the morning inspection meant they were about to do some field work.
"OK, Dazzler, let's see what you remember," he said, and flipped open the latch on the kennel door of a 2-year-old female. The sleek dog with the brown coat bounded onto the cement floor of the kennel and onto the fenced three acres of low-cut brush behind Winterhelt's house in the Antelope Valley.
"Dazzler, sit," Winterhelt commanded. The dog skidded to a stop, and sat, motionless, about 50 yards away from a quail coop. Winterhelt released a dozen quail, with clipped wings, and the fat little ground birds scurried off to high grass near a fence. Seated patiently 50 yards away, Dazzler couldn't see this activity. But her posture and erect ears indicated she knew a drill was forthcoming.
"High-on!" Winterhelt commanded, with a hand motion aimed roughly near where the quail were hiding. Dazzler ran across the brush, snorting and sniffing, then went into her "actin' birdy" mode, the motion a bird dog makes when it first smells a bird. The turns become shorter, the motion less smooth and slightly herky-jerky.
Then, Dazzler froze into a perfect point. Well, almost perfect.
"Aw, Dazzler," Winterhelt, muttered, slightly disgusted. Dazzler's tail drooped.
Winterhelt lifted it gently to an erect position, with both hands, and it stayed there.
Dazzler maintained the point for a full minute, while Winterhelt watched. The dog's eyes began to wander. Then its head turned slightly toward Bodo and the ears drooped, as if to say: "Come on, what do I do now?"
"Ah, ah . . . " Winterhelt warned, and the point was resumed.
Dazzler held the point for another full minute. When Winterhelt said "High-on!" she broke and ran, running with nose to the ground, in search of more quail.
Bodo Winterhelt, a 59-year-old Canadian who could pass for 39, is a canine guru to dozens of Southern California sporting dog owners. He controls the sale and breeding in Southern California of all pudelpointers. We're not talking mutts here. We're talking doggies with major league price tags--$5,000 to $6,000 for a fully trained pudelpointer pup.
Providing Bodo likes you, that is.
"I sit down and talk to a prospective pudelpointer buyer," Winterhelt said. "I want to know why he wants the dog. I won't sell a pudelpointer to someone who won't use it as a hunting dog. And I want to make sure a buyer understands he can't breed the dog without my permission. In fact, it's in the contract--if I find out an owner has bred his pudelpointer without my permission, he owes me $10,000.
"The breed is absolutely pure now. There're only about 200 pudelpointers in the United States and they're all good dogs. You can't buy a bad pudelpointer and I want to make sure the breed stays that way."
That factor, the consistency of excellence throughout the breed, is what makes pudelpointers so coveted by hunters of upland game birds such as quail, chukar and pheasant. Not that pudelpointers don't do water work, of course.
"They are excellent waterfowl dogs, also," Winterhelt said. "In fact, their name implies that--in German, 'pudel' means puddle."
Pudelpointers resemble wirehaired pointers in their physiques, but most are slightly longer haired than wirehaireds. Some pudelpointers are born shorthaired, but they typically have slightly shaggy coats, most visibly displayed by a beard under the chin and prominent eyebrows.
Winterhelt, who charges $300 per month to train a field dog, doesn't say that pudelpointers are superior dogs. He does maintain, however, that with pudelpointers you get the best of two worlds, the field and home.
Pudelpointer owners who have owned other breeds say pudelpointers have an excellent blend of the aggressiveness desired in a field dog, but also a laid-back, sweetheart disposition in the home.
Says Lloyd Derby, who owns a 7-year-old pudelpointer: "Most guys wouldn't think of letting their hunting dogs in the house, because they're so high strung. A lot of them knock lamps over and jump on people. My Addie changes the moment she comes in the door. She can be still excited about having just gone hunting, but a minute later she's lying down in front of the fireplace, going to sleep."
Says Dave Whiteside, owner of the Leona Valley Hunting Club in the Antelope Valley: "I'd drive a hundred miles to see a pudelpointer work."
Winterhelt--who trains other breeds in addition to pudelpointers--began breeding pudelpointers in 1949, in Germany.
In World War II, he fought in the German Army, at the Russian front. He was recovering from a stomach gunshot wound when the war ended.
"I was in a field hospital in Germany in the final days of the war, when an officer walked in and said: 'All of you who can walk, had better begin doing so right now. The Russians will be here in an hour.' I hadn't eaten in four days, and I had no gun. The men who couldn't walk, they wanted to kill themselves but they had no guns, either. I thought I was finished.
"We heard noise outside. We looked, and it was an American convoy of trucks rolling through this little town. We couldn't believe those trucks, how nice and new they were, and what beautiful, new tires they had. Our trucks, you can imagine what they looked like, after the campaigns in Russia. They were wrecks. Most of them were running on bald tires in 1945, and some of them were running on the rims. I've never forgotten how beautiful those new American trucks looked that day."
After the war, Winterhelt became involved in the breeding and training of munsterlanders, a small field dog breed that resembles a Brittany spaniel.
Winterhelt: "I had a good business, raising munsterlanders. But they had a problem with distemper, they were extremely susceptible to it. It's hard on you, to train a dog and then watch it die of distemper. You see, in Germany in those days, there was no such thing as distemper shots. One time, a friend had a pudelpointer at my kennels and we were horrified to see it licking that nasty discharge from the nose of one of my dogs, sick with distemper.
"We were certain my friend's pudelpointer would die also. But it didn't. It didn't even get sick. That told me that here was a special dog, and from that day on I was in the pudelpointer business. Pudelpointers are descendants of a 19th Century breed, now extinct, called a water-poodle, that was a highly successful water dog breed in Spain and Portugal. It was crossed, in 1881, with English pointers to create pudelpointers."
Winterhelt moved to Canada in 1954, and began breeding and training pudelpointers in Ontario. In 1962, he sold a pup for $250 to Bing Crosby.
He moved his business to eastern Washington, near Spokane, in 1979. For years, Winterhelt was in complete control of the breed. You couldn't own a pudelpointer in the United States unless Bodo liked you and you bought it from him. Furthermore, you had to agree not to breed the dog without his permission.
Now, two other breeders of pudelpointers exist, in Iowa and Montana.
"I got tired of all the battles, trying to protect the breed," he said. "However, I work closely with the other two breeders at protecting the breed, to keep it small in numbers. One of the things we keep a close watch on is owners who might want to show the dog at AKC (American Kennel Club) shows.
"That would be disastrous. AKC-oriented people are interested only in appearance, not performance. The moment pudelpointers wind up in AKC shows, the breed is finished."
In 1969, Winterhelt founded the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Assn. (NAVHDA), an organization that teaches hunting dog owners how to train their own dogs. A pudelpointer owner is required to join, and train his pudelpointer through the organization.
Winterhelt, since 1962, has bred 59 pudelpointer litters. Always, he or one of the other two breeders decides which dogs are to be bred. The seven pudelpointers he owns are kept at his Quartz Hill facility for breeding purposes.
"You have to be careful," he said. "You try to match up desirable characteristics. At field dog competitions, in the more numerous breeds such as shorthairs, I'm seeing a lot of bad dogs--that is, dogs with bad temperments and the like. It's the fault of owners, who breed their dogs non-selectively."
He moved his operation to the Antelope Valley a year and a half ago, he says, to ease the burden of rising airline shipping costs.
"For an owner to ship his dog from the East Coast to me for breeding or training, the airlines are now charging $320 one way. When I lived near Spokane, it was even worse. This way, I'm close to a major airport and it's reduced my shipping costs somewhat. Also, most pudelpointer owners are in Southern California."
Winterhelt, a bachelor, is a man with a lifelong devotion to dogs who talks as if he gave up searching for a wife long ago.
"To find a woman who loves dogs like I do, a woman who would be willing to help me with all the long hours, to be around the dogs so much . . . aw, that would be a rare woman," he said.