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9 Winning Facts About the German Shorthaired Pointer

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This amalgamation of dog breeds is one of the most versatile working dogs out there. Learn more about the spotted German shorthaired pointer.

1. SURPRISE: THEY COME FROM GERMANY. 

Although pointer-like dogs can be traced all the way back to Ancient Egypt, the German shorthaired pointer was first bred in Germany (as the name suggests). 

2. LOTS OF BREEDS WENT INTO ITS CREATION.

The German shorthaired pointer was bred before the first studbook was created in 1870, so the exact breeds that went into its bloodline are unknown. Most people believe that the foundation of the breed is the German bird dog. Other dogs thought to have contributed to the breed include the Spanish pointer, the English pointer, the Dalmatian, the Weimaraner, the tracking hound, and the Vizsla. (The German shorthaired pointer shares its long snout and floppy ears with most of those breeds.)

3. THEY WERE BRED TO HUNT …

No one knows who specifically spearheaded the breeding of the GSP, but we know a dedicated group of German hunters were behind efforts to shape the breed in the mid-19th century. At the time, hunters were in search of the perfect hunting dog, capable of catching game on both land and water. GSPs were bred to hunt a variety of animals, from small game like squirrels and opossum, to larger game like boar and deer. 

4. … BUT THEY HAVE OTHER TALENTS, TOO. 

German shorthaired pointers have also been used to guard homes, pull sleds, and sniff for bombs. They have a variety of different attributes that make them perfect for any job in and out of the water. Their water-resistant coats repel debris as they swim, while their spoon-shaped webbed paws act as paddles. On land, their heavy nails help them get traction on even rough terrain. 

5. THE AIR FORCE USES ONE. 

Haus is a German shorthaired pointer that was donated to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing by American Legion member George C. Evans. The well-trained pooch is used for sniffing out explosives. “Our primary mission is to search vehicles and packages for explosives upon entry to the base,” one of his handlers, Staff Sgt. Zerrick Shanks, has said. “We also conduct random walking patrols for suspicious packages and activities.” Haus is a hard-working dog with an important job, but it’s worth noting he also happens to look pretty spiffy in goggles.

The Air Force isn’t the only organization capitalizing on the pointer’s ability to sniff out explosives. The TSA also uses the dogs, including one named Pina. As part of the official canine explosives team, she sniffs boxes and crates in New York and New Jersey for any suspicious odors. Luckily, she has yet to find any potentially dangerous scents that weren’t placed there for training. 

6. THEIR NAME COMES FROM THEIR STANCE.

Pointers, as the name suggests, naturally use their bodies to point when they find game. They lower their heads, keep a steady gaze, and lift one of their front paws—taking the shape of an arrow directing hunters to the prey. This pointing behavior is so innate, even puppies that have never been on a hunt will sometimes do it. 

7. THEIR NOSES MATCH THEIR COATS.

According to the American Kennel Club, the GSP comes in eight different colors, including white, liver, and black. If you’re unsure what color your dog is, just take a look at its nose. Liver colored dogs have liver noses; black colored dogs have black noses.  

8. THEY PERFORM WELL IN AGILITY EVENTS.

Agility is a popular canine competition in which well-trained dogs are led through an obstacle course. Due to the nature of the obstacles (which include tunnels and jumps), the events require a strong bond between dogs and their handlers, as well as natural motivation and conditioning. The German shorthaired pointer’s speed, grace, and willingness to learn make them an ideal breed for the sport. The AKC has been holding prestigious Agility tournaments since 1978, and the highest title, the Preferred Agility Champion (or PACH), was instated in 2011. As of 2015, there are 8 PACH-titled German shorthaired pointers. 

9. ONE JUST WON 'BEST IN SHOW' AT WESTMINSTER.

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The winner of "Best in Show" at the 140th Westminster Dog Show is a German shorthaired pointer named C.J. He and his owner, Valerie Nunes-Atkinson, are currently making the rounds as part of their media tour, showing up on programs like Good Morning America and The View. Nunes-Atkinson told The New York Times that she's always known C.J. was a winner: "At 6 weeks, he walked across the living room floor and we said, 'Oh, my.' He has that sparkle that makes you stop and look at him. We expected great things from him from the start."

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated. 

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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Animals
15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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