April 18, 2021
Houndy heads and big-boned bodies. Huge feet. A trotting gait, terrific nose, and moderate range: The modern Spinone and the Bracco Italiano—the two true Italian pointing breeds—share much in common owing to the mountainous terrain of northern Italy in which they were developed. Both are deep-chested endurance trotters with large, well-arched, thickly-padded front feet. To handle steep, rugged topography, these breeds needed to be sure-footed, instinctual hunters predisposed to a medium range and pace.
Besides their easily observable hunting traits, Spinoni and Bracchi share characteristics of temperament. Being lovable tops the list. I’ve watched a couple of Bracchi sidle up to their owners for a little love during a mid-hunt break—the moments when my German shorthairs would be seething with impatience. I’ve also felt the pleasurable weight of a heavy Spinone head in my lap while I repaired gear on a tailgate. In hunting and training, both breeds tend to be described as “soft,” responding better to praise and variety than pressure and repetition.
When asked to pick the top bird hunting characteristics of the Bracco Italiano, owner Tyler Webb replied, “Patience in hunting, efficiency in both the use of their nose and energy associated with their unique gate, and an overwhelming desire to please. They take so much time to pause and scent the air while hunting—guiding their movement through scent not just reacting to it as they race around. Their actual movement is graceful and it seems they can do it for hours and hours.”
Chad Walz, who hunts his Bracco, Stella, with Tyler and his dog, Bridgett, agrees. “Bracchi slowly work the scent, stopping to sniff the air, sniff the ground to trail, even changing the pace of that unique gate to work more slowly. I've had Stella patiently work running grouse for distances on the order of hundreds of yards, adjusting angles and doubling back on the way.”
Chad also commented on the Bracchi’s intelligence and temperament. “They really exist just to please,” he said, “And they can be very soft. Stella sometimes needs to be reassured that she is doing the right thing. Training through long walks in the woods and exposure to birds with captive pigeons had to be made as fun as possible, with lots of praise. When I was training Stella, I found just saying 'no' gently or just stopping training and moving on to something else were far more effective than any sort of sternness.”
Matt Tinker, a professional guide in the western mountains of Maine, hunts with Spinoni. Similar to the Bracchi owners, his views of the Spinone hunting traits support the objectives of the breed’s original developers. “Here, the cover is thick. I like that my Spinoni hunt fairly close. They are a hearty, larger dog that can hunt a variety of terrain and conditions, which is important where I live.”
Gocki Andrews not only hunts her Spinoni but tests them extensively in the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association system. She concurs with the other Italian pointer owners. “They have extremely good noses and are excellent trackers. Spinoni and the Bracchi trot while hunting. This trait means the Spinoni possess fantastic stamina and can hunt the whole day. They are also very methodical in the field.”
The other owners said pretty much the same about the Bracchi and Spinoni. Matt notes that although they appear to be just big loveable dogs, they are versatile hunters that need exercise and stimulation to keep them from getting bored. Tyler adds that for the Bracchi, a reward-based approach leads to greater success and trust between hunter and dog. Likewise, Gocki added, “Training sessions with a Spinone should be short and happy as they get easily bored and will not cooperate if the session is too long.”
The Difference Between the Bracco Italiano and Spinone
So how do these breeds differ, apart from the obvious differences in physical appearance? Consensus among breeders and owners finds the Spinone has stronger water drive and retrieving skills. Overall, the Bracco trot is a bit faster, and they tend to hold their heads higher than Spinoni. While both breeds have strong pointing instincts, the Spinone is considered less stylish on point. The Bracco has a much more brush-resistant coat, thus requiring less grooming. The Spinone has a human-like expression, whereas the Bracco has a more muted expression, mostly characterized by its droopy jowls and sad eyes.
With both breeds, it is important for hunters to make sure the pups they are considering come from solid hunting lines, not ones developed for the show ring or strictly for companion dog owners.
To the majority of upland bird hunters, these lesser-known breeds are something of an oddity. Chad’s response sums it up well, though, for both breeds. “One misconception that I have seen, especially in the ever-toxic social media world, is that a Bracco is little more than a basset hound on stilts and is useless as a bird hunter. This is categorically false. Bracchi are definitely effective hunters—I’ll happily show anyone my freezer—and one needs to remember the geographical and cultural context in which the breed was developed. With that in mind, hunters will see that they are wonderful dogs, have a wonderful demeanor, are relaxed in the house, and love to hunt with skill and enthusiasm.”