The Italian Spinone is a very old gundog breed. As always with these things, there are disagreements about the origins and derivations, but most authorities agree that it dates back at least to the 15th Century, and in particular point to a famous picture painted by Mantegna in a fresco at the Ducal Palace at Mantua, which is said to show a Spinoni with a ‘typical Spinone head’. Thanks to the power of Mr. Google and wikimedia.org, you can decide for yourself: is that Ozzie’s distinguished ancestor peering out from the corner?
There were a large group of ‘Griffon’ and ‘Wirehaired pointers’ throughout Europe, from which most modern Hunting/Pointing/Retrieve (HPR) breeds, including the Italian Spinone, emerged. It is important not to forget how important hunting dogs have been throughout history. Hunting was important across the social spectrum. At the lower end, hunting (or poaching!) was important for food as well as recreation, whilst great status was attached to hunting further up the social ladder. It was a serious business. Good dogs were valued highly, as were good mounts. One specialist declared in 1683 that ‘the best Griffons come from Italy and Piedmont’ and referred directly to the Spinone in his book ‘The Perfect Hunter’ (Le Parfait Chasseur, Selincourt.).
In the late nineteenth century, the modern obsession with categorising and labelling caught up with the Spinone. Breed standards were written in Italy by the Societa Braccofilia and later by the Italian Kennel Club. The name of the breed seems to have evolved from Bracco Spinoso to Spinone, which means (apparently) ‘very prickly’, which might either refer to the texture of the dog’s coat, or possibly to the type of ground which the breed is happy to work. We can certainly confirm that our Spinone is quite happy to plough through thorns and briars (and even, much to our horror, barbed wire) in pursuit of an interesting scent. Of course, Spinones don’t all have the harshest wire coat. The brown roans seem to have the coarsest coat, and the whites and white-and-orange (like Ozzie) are generally quite soft.
The Spinone is is used regularly as a hunting dog in Italy. There are also large numbers working or kept as family pets in North America, Germany and the Netherlands. Spinone have been around in the UK in small numbers since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that they began to be bred here in any numbers. The Italian Spinone Club of Great Britain (www.italianspinone.co.uk) was set up, and in 1994 the Kennel Club granted the breed Championship status, meaning it was no longer considered a ‘rare breed’. We can heartily recommend going to meet a large group of Spinones and their enthusiastic and friendly owners and breeders, at a meeting like Crufts or the national gundog meetings.
We read somewhere that the Italian breed standard concentrates mostly on the head of the dog and confines itself to requirements for good general health and strength elsewhere. The UK Kennel Club, has, needless to say, produced a detailed breed standard, as befits an organisation which seems to be populated with more than its fair share of control freaks and obsessive-compulsives. Apparently, it was revised in 2007. We won’t rant here about the problems the Kennel Club has allowed to develop in numerous breeds – plenty of others have done that, not least the RSPCA – and they now want us to believe that the health of dogs is their primary objective. Lets hope so. By way of a taster of the breed standard how about this delicious morsel:
“…Hind feet showing all the same characteristics as the front but slightly more oval”.
The standard ends with the following injunction:
“Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault…”
Its a good job there isn’t a Kennel Club for people, isn’t it? However, this is now moderated somewhat by the ending:
“the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.”
That is all well and good, but unfortunately, many would argue that some of the breed standards themselves affect the health and welfare of the dog, particularly in breeds where heavy modification of the eyes, ears, nose or general stance of the dog are seen as desirable. Thankfully, the Spinone seems to have escaped the worst of this madness, and long may it continue. You can read the full current breed standard at the Kennel Club site, if you like that sort of thing.
Ozzie is from a well-known and well respected Spinone line – Bannonbrig. He is Kennel Club registered and his ‘real’ name is Bannonbrig Mr Bojangles, and he has a posh pedigree. We expect that if we stripped his coat more often and tidied him up a bit, and tried to keep him out of the mud and bushes for a while, he would probably look quite presentable. As it is, we fear his breeder, Nicola Spencer, will have to avert her eyes for now, and be satisfied that he is having a rollicking good time.
We don’t pretend to be authorities on the breed or it’s history, just ordinary dog owners. If you are an expert, and something is factually wrong, please leave a message and we will correct it. Also, our opinions about the Kennel Club are just that – our opinions.
We put this together with help from Mr. Google but more importantly from Carolyn Fry’s Spinone book (more about it on the ‘Useful Stuff’ page) and articles by Nicola Spencer, who, besides being Ozzies’ breeder, is a Spinone authority. She judged the Spinone class at Crufts recently. Come on Nicola, isn’t it time we had that Spinone book from you?