It is generally accepted that our modern pointing breeds originated in Spain around five centuries ago, but not all dog scholars believe this to be true. Some feel that pointers' roots first grew in central France even earlier.
It's highly likely we'll never know for sure, but what we do know is a contender for the oldest pointing breed came out of the Cantal Region of France, and while the Braque d'Auvergne might not be a household name to most of us, there is a compelling argument that it should be.
Two people who can make a strong case for recognition of Braques are David and Roslyn Johe, owners of Chenil d'Allegheny in northwestern Pennsylvania. I spoke extensively with the couple about how they came to not only own Braques, but also how they became one of the few breeders where hunters could find a well-bred pup, considering how rare the breed is in the states.
When asked how they came to breed Braques in the first place, Roslyn's answer should come as no surprise to long-time GUN DOG readers. "We were into German shorthaired pointers for years, and at one point we read an article in GUN DOG about the Braques," she recalled. "It wasn't until we needed to find a replacement for one of our GSPs in 2000 that we thought we'd try to find a Braque d'Auvergne."
That's when David and Roslyn realized how rare the breed really is, and how finding a puppy is nothing short of a serious exercise in research and patience. "After looking for quite a while, I finally found a breeder in Homer, Alaska, of all places," Roslyn said. "They ended up shipping a puppy down to us, and it didn't take long before we realized how amazing these dogs really are."
From their first puppy, the Johes have expanded their Braque holdings to include six dogs, so I asked David exactly what it was about the dogs that won them over so strongly. "They are such pleasers by their nature, working best with positive reinforcement," he replied.
"They thrive on praise. They truly assimilate into the family and their temperament is impossible not to love."
Can They Hunt?
Johe provided a pretty strong endorsement for Braque demeanor but finding a likable bird dog is only part of the equation, which is why I next asked him how they are to hunt with. He had plenty to offer in response.
"With our original pup, it didn't take long to see his natural abilities come out while training," David said. "It also became clear that he wanted to work for us, but it wasn't until we started hunting that we saw the natural abilities really start to blossom." The Johes live near some tracts of public land that provide solid pheasant hunting, and they've spent plenty of time hunting ringnecks with their Braque d'Auvergne.
Pointers are good at covering ground in the pheasant habitat, but what about in the woodcock or grouse woods where closer-ranging dogs are considered an asset? "They go out about 50 to 60 yards, and then they check back and find you," David noted. "They'll look back for confirmation or guidance. They are excellent for grouse and woodcock because they stay close."
It's not only the ability to stay nearby in the thick stuff that makes a Braque a quality companion in the field, however. Take a close look at their muscle definition and the shape of their heads. They are built to hunt all day with a running gait, but they also have some subtle hound characteristics in their facial features, most likely because somewhere deep in the breed's history, hounds were bred with pointers.
Anyone who has hunted with a hound or used one to track wounded game knows their olfactory abilities are second to none. Now imagine combining that scenting ability in a close-ranger able to hunt all day for you and you'll start to understand why, when hunters go to a Braque, they almost never go back.
(It is important to note, however, that while the Braque is ranked among the versatile breeds, it is short-coated and therefore not ideally suited for late-season duck hunting. They will do water retrieves just fine but are somewhat intolerant of extremely cold temperatures.)
Braques don't just excel in the woods and fields. The Johes have sold puppies to people looking simply for a great family pet as well as others looking to develop therapy dogs.
To find out how Braques take to training, I called quite a few trainers. What wasn't terribly surprising was that most of them had no experience with the breed, so they couldn't offer any useful information. I did chat with one well-respected trainer who said he had trained one and while the dog was highly likable and driven, it was also a slow developer.
Now, I know one experience does not a trend make, but I thought it worth exploring.
That led me to Patrick Hecht, who owns Maison Des Bleus Kennels in Virginia and has had plenty of experience with the breed. When I asked him what it's like to train a Braque, he said, "They are super laid back and don't take to heavy-handed training at all.
You can shut them down simply by raising your voice, so they don't take to the same kind of training other bird dogs might tolerate. They almost seem to become resentful of you if you get too harsh with them, as if they aren't being treated as an equal.
"As long as you know that they won't take to harsh training and heavy corrections, they take to lessons easily," he continued. "They are intelligent dogs, but they aren't GSPs or Labs so they have to be trained differently. In fact, I've only ever used a shock collar once to train my dogs on anything, and that involved them taking an interest in the neighbor's cows, but we got it squared away quickly."
Hecht went on to explain that since the Braques are intelligent and readily willing to work for you, they benefit most from training they enjoy. Catering lessons to be as much fun and as encouragement-based as possible is a great way to bring out the full potential of these dogs.
Finding A Puppy
While David and Roslyn Johe picked up their first pup in Alaska, they've also imported dogs from Hungary, Poland and France. This doesn't bode well for the average dog owner hoping to find a litter close to home, but to be honest, most Braques aren't going to an average owner in the first place, which is something David stressed several times in our conversation.
"We are very selective in our breeding, but also who gets on our list for a puppy," he stated. "We want these dogs to go to the right people, so it takes time and it takes patience on their part. There are very few of these litters, which means it might involve a two-year wait once you get on the list. In fact, I've got eleven people waiting for our next litter alone."
I also asked Hecht, who currently owns four Braques, what is like to try to get a puppy, and he echoed Johes' comments pretty closely. "I always tell people to be prepared for a serious wait," he said. "I've had people put down a deposit and then get ticked off when they don't have a puppy eight months later, but this isn't something we want rushed."
Of course, there is also the possibility of importing a dog, something in which Hecht also has had plenty of experience. As he explains, this is not a cheap or easy process.
"You're going to spend at least $2500 to get a puppy back to the States, and that's not including a bunch of other expenses," he cautioned. "And just because you're importing a dog from Europe, that doesn't mean you'll be guaranteed a good dog. A lot of times the breeders over there won't let their best dogs go to the U.S., which means you'll be getting one of their lesser-quality dogs."
Add in the fact that importing animals has become more difficult in recent years due to stricter regulations, and while it's a possibility, it's best left to someone with the funds and the willingness to jump through plenty of hoops.
As with any choice when buying a new hunting dog, it's always wise to be truly honest about what you're looking for in a breed before taking the plunge. If that list includes the need for an uber-friendly, close-working, handsome black-and-white pointer that can handle a variety of upland game, then you may want to get yourself on a waiting list for a Braque.
Just prepare to be patient and recognize that it may take a while before the right litter is born.