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In Aesop’s ancient fable about the hare and the tortoise, the flashy, fast, head­ strong rabbit lost the race to the slower but steady turtle. The moral demonstrated the virtues of a methodical, well-thought-out approach to life. In the canine sporting world, flash and speed certainly play an important role, but it can also be said that wisdom, caution, and determination are just as critical. When hunters must depend on their dog as a full-fledged partner in, the pursuit of game, that dog must display all its inherent, instinctive qualities in a dependable manner at all times. The versatile Spinone, an ancient Italian breed descended from the Griffon, more than fills the bill.

In antiquity, identification of this distinct type of Griffon can be traced back as far as 2,500 years to 500 B.C. Reliable documenta­tion of the breed is available from the Italian Renaissance onward. In every instance, consistent mention has been made of pointing dogs with rough, bristled hair and incredible physical stamina that hunted with careful, deliberate precision for their masters rather than for themselves.

By the 15th century, the Bacco Spinoso was well-respected in Italy and other European countries. Along with other conti­nental hunting dogs, the Spinone was bred for versatility. It could perform any task required during the hunt, including tracking, pointing, retrieving, and even bringing down quarry, whether on land (in mountains and forests) or in fast-running or marshy water.

World War II had a devastating effect on the Spinone, and British sporting breeds had begun to displace this once-popular gundog. Few litters were produced, and the breed went into steep decline.

During the 1950s, a serious attempt was made to revitalize the Spinone. Through systematic crossbreeding, the Spinone reemerged in its full historical image and functional capa­bility, claiming its heritage and its future by its sure and steady performance as a hunter and companion.

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Structure and Soundness

The Spinone is both a marvel and a machine. Designed as an efficient and effective hunter, the physical conformation of the dog must match its function. The Spinone’s conformation and working standards illustrate just how strong the marriage of structure and natural ability is in the breed.

With nature providing the basic blueprint, Spinone breeders molded the dog mentally and physically to produce an intelligent field partner. Although the dog is perfectly capable of thinking for itself, its bond with its hunting companion — and for that matter, its family — ensures the utmost cooperation.

This dog not only wants to interact with humans, but has to in order to perform its job properly. In the field and at home, this urgency translates into an intimate relation­ ship between dog and owner. The sociable Spinone thrives when interacting with other dogs and companion animals, as well as with responsible adults and children.

Often described by breed experts, serious hunters, and pet owners alike as easygoing, enthusiastic, kind, and sensitive, this breed is a fast learner. With a high aptitude for activities ranging from obedience to therapy, the Spinone is dedicated to getting the job done.

As with many intelligent creatures, an occasional streak of stubbornness can be channeled positively by the trainer or handler who provides a reason or a motivation for the task to be done. Once it understands this, the dog will accept it as part of the necessary routine, whether incorporating it into retrieving, heeling, or playing a game at home.

The traits a Spinone exhibits in the hunt also serve to reflect this breed’s mental atti­tudes and physical aptitudes that judges will see in the show ring. The Spinone gaits at a purposeful trot, following a diagonal pattern of straight lines, allowing the dog to make full use of its superb sense of smell. Body movement is matched by side-to-side tail movement. As the dog picks up the scent of game, the trot slows until the final steps before pointing become excessively deliberate.

The rough-and-tumble environment the Spinone is designed to hunt is echoed in the breed’s appearance. The Spinone, so named for the — a thickly growing, seemingly unpenetrable thorn bush — has tough, thick, close-fitting skin and rough, dense, dry hair only 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long. This highly adapt­able sporting dog is comfortable in all conditions of weather and terrain. Skin and coat texture help define the ideal breed type for field sport, as well as for breed competition.

Other physical characteristics key to breed type include a square build, substantial bone, deep chest, and a long head with low-set, hanging ears. One particular aspect of the Spinone topline is truly unique among sporting breeds. Jim Channon, longtime breed expert and former president of the Spinone Club of America, describes the unusual slope, evident from below the withers to the well-muscled hindquarters, as “a dip at the 11th vertebra. This dip accounts for the rear to be as high as the withers. It also helps keep the dog’s head up so that it can air scent as well as ground track. ’The Spinone’s ability to keep an eye on the prey and the hunter sets the breed apart from other pointing dogs.”

The distinctive trot that defines Spinone movement also differs from the speedier gaits of sporting breeds. Those who know the breed well describe it as sturdy. With powerful but relatively short musculature, the dog is built to cover ground steadily and consistently. From the forward thrust of its neck, through its very specific angulation, to its back propulsion, the Spinone has been developed as a trotter rather than a galloper. Channon believes that judges will be truly fascinated by the Spinone.

AKC Library & Archives

Marrying, Motivation, and Training

Show-ring flash is not instinctive to the Spinone. Rather, this dog is a methodical worker who always gets its bird or its ball. This does not mean that the breed is devoid of impressive traits that are just as striking. Many sporting breeds are so highly attuned to the excitement of the hunt that little else holds much importance in their lives. In essence, they come to life for and during the hunt.

Again, Spinone steadiness sets the scene and the tempo for this breed.

Happiest when in the company of its family, the Spinone displays a steady temperament, making it highly suitable for family interaction. At the same time, not every household may be equipped to handle the breed. Although moderate exercise and activity can satisfy its physical needs, the average Spinone may send an overly fusty housekeeper around the bend. The scruffy beard, so useful a tool in the heat of a hunt, can drip water around the house, and the bristly coat goes through an annual shedding.

However, the loyal and lovable nature of this breed wins the appreciation and devotion of all who come in contact with it. For a hunter, calmness is an unexpected quality. As a family companion, this personality trait helps in all aspects of socialization and training. Naturally affectionate and trusting with people it knows, the dog will exhibit some caution with strangers; early and consis­tent socialization helps to combat any tendency toward shyness. The Spinone should not be shy, says Channon.

Capable of displaying a high degree of intelligence, the Spinone still requires human interaction to bring out its best abilities. Gentle training based on positive motivation will erase any sign of stubbornness and reinforce the breed’s easygoing character. So used to working in partnership in the field, the Spinone is not geared to be a protection breed.

Eager to please and barking only for good reason, the Spinone remains youthful in appearance, temperament, style, spirit, and ability for all its long life of 12 or more years. Bothered by few health problems, this breed has an aptitude for just about every perfor­mance event and can excel at such canine endeavors as search and rescue, assistance work, backpacking, and carting. As a sporting dog, the Spinone receives top marks in tests of natural hunting ability.

Related article: Belgian Sheepdog History: Becoming a Breed of Its Own
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