The Braque du Bourbonnais is a breed of gundog native to the Bourbonnais region of France where it was used as a pointing specialist, skilled tracker, flusher and retriever. The Braque du Bourbonnais was driven to the brink of extinction by World War II and stringent breeding standards, but has subsequently been revived by a group of fanciers led by Michel Comte. More recently, the breed has been introduced to North America where it is gaining popularity as a versatile gun dog. The Braque du Bourbonnais is also known as the Bourbonnais Pointer, Pointer of Bourbonnais, French Pointer, and Braque de Bourbonnais.
The Braque du Bourbonnais is one of the oldest of all pointing breeds. This dog was developed no later than 1598, when descriptions of the breed begin to appear in French hunting and cultural writings. The earliest Braque du Bourbonnaises were already described as excellent hunting dogs and agreeable companions. All agree that the breed was developed in Bourbonnais, a historic province located in central France that achieved great importance due to its location almost directly between Paris and Marseille. Because the Braque du Bourbonnais was developed long before written records were kept of dog breeding, it is impossible to make any definitive statements about its ancestry. It is almost universally agreed that the Braque du Bourbonnais was developed by crossing the Braque Francais (Gascogne) or Large French Pointer with local hunting breeds from Bourbonnais. The origin of the Braque Francais(Gascogne) itself is somewhat disputed, with some claiming it was developed by crossing the Spaniel-like Chien d’Oysel with larger scenthounds and others claiming it was developed from Spanish and Italian pointers. Either way, the French Pointer was well-established throughout France by the end of the 15th Century. Many different regions developed unique local breeds from the Braque Francais (Gascogne), including Bourbonnais.
Although the Braque du Bourbonnais was one of the oldest breeds of French Pointing dog, it was apparently never especially common. The breed was well-known to sportsmen across France by the end of the 17th Century, but relatively few kept and owned the breed. This was probably due to the rigid breeding standards placed upon the dog even from its earliest days as a breed. Braque du Bourbonnaises were required to be born either tailless or with a short natural tail. Additionally, breeders put extreme focus on coloration; wanting to highlight a coloration unique to the breed, known as faded lilac. Faded lilac is defined as a white coat covered in fine lines, lightly colored ticking, or light tan. Dogs that did not exhibit the desired tail or coloration were not considered pure or used for breeding.
However in spite of these stringent breeding practices and the relatively few individuals that kept the Braque du Bourbonnais, the breed managed to survive in substantial, if not large, numbers until the 20th Century. Breed numbers, however, did start to decline during the 19th Century as French hunters came to prefer the English Pointer, a strictly pointing dog, over native French breeds. Although this served to reduce Braque du Bourbonnais numbers, it was not to the extent suffered by some other breeds such as the Braque Francais (Gascogne). World War I proved very challenging to the Braque du Bourbonnais, and breeding almost ceased. In the postwar years, Braque du Bourbonnais breeders banded together to save their beloved hunting companion. The first breed club was founded in 1925, and the first standard was published in 1930. By World War II, the Braque du Bourbonnais was well on its way to a full recovery.
World War II almost drove the Braque du Bourbonnais to complete extinction. So little breeding activity took place in World War II and the years immediately following it that the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) dropped the breed from its organization. A large reason for the breed’s decline was the very strict appearance standards placed upon its breeding. Breeders began to place such an emphasis on its appearance that the dog’s working ability was compromised. The Braque du Bourbonnais was a much less skilled working gun dog than it had been prior to World War II, and most sportsmen lost interest in the breed. From 1963 until 1973, no purebred Braque du Bourbonnaises were registered, and the breed was very close to total extinction.
In 1970, a French hunter and Braque du Bourbonnais became determined to save the breed from extinction. He gathered together several other interested breeders and began to scour the French countryside for any surviving breed members he could find. Despite an exhaustive search, no dogs that were thought to be purebred Braque du Bourbonnaises were found. A number of dogs that were known or thought to be Braque du Bourbonnais mixes were located, and these animals were entered into a breeding program designed to restore the breed to its former glory. These breeders decided that while appearance conformation was very important to their efforts, it should always take a back seat to hunting ability and drive.
In 1982, Michel Comte and other Braque du Bourbonnais breeders founded a new Club du Braque du Bourbonnais Club. In 1985, the breed was reregistered with the French FCI affiliate, the Society Central Canine (SCC). The Club du Braque du Bourbonnais developed a looser standard that allowed for docked tails and sizable spots. This new standard was officially accepted by the FCI in 1992, when that organization re-recognized the Braque du Bourbonnais. The efforts of Braque du Bourbonnais breeders in restoring the dog’s hunting ability and drive proved very successful and the revived breed quickly gained a reputation with breeders across France. By the end of the 1990’s, the Braque du Bourbonnais had spread to several other European nations including Germany, Greece, Belgium, and Italy.
In the 1980’s, Bonnie Wilcox DVM and Chris Walkowicz were conducting research for their book Atlas of Dog Breeds: Dogs for all Reasons. During the course of their research, they contacted Francois Serret, a French breeder of Braque du Bourbonnais, for information on the breed. The two became very interested in the recovering breed, and in 1988 composed an article for Dog World Magazine entitled “Renaissance of a French Breed in America.” This article inspired several American fanciers to make an attempt to establish the breed in the United States. This group contacted French breeders who were very interested in establishing an American population to help stave off the Braque du Bourbonnais’ extinction. Later on in 1988, a Louisiana couple imported a pair of Braque du Bourbonnais to their home. The first American litter was whelped to this pair by the end of that year. No further breeding of these dogs or their offspring has subsequently been recorded. In 1989, Beth Cepil of New Tripoli, Pennsylvania imported one female and two male breed members. These dogs produced their first litter in 1991, the second Braque du Bourbonnais litter to be whelped in North America.
The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) recognized the breed and became its primary registry in the United States. NAVDHA events greatly increased the breed’s exposure among American hunters and gained it a number of new fanciers. More and more American sportsmen began to keep and breed Braque du Bourbonnaises. America quickly became the breed’s second home, and almost all breed members bred outside of France are now born in America. In fact, in some recent years, more Braque du Bourbonnaises were registered with NAVHDA in the United States than in France. Although most American breeders have chosen to remain affiliated in some way with the French breed club, a few decided to form the Braque du Bourbonnais Club of America (BBCA). Although the Braque du Bourbonnais remains a very rare breed in the United States it is well-established in that country, and its future there looks to be secure for the foreseeable future. In 2006, the breed was granted full recognition with the United Kennel Club (UKC) as a member of the Gun Dog Group. In 2011, the Braque du Bourbonnais was entered into the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS), the first step towards full recognition with that organization. At the same time, the BBCA was chosen to be the breed’s official AKC parent club. If the BBCA and the Braque du Bourbonnais breed can reach certain benchmarks, the breed will enter the AKC’s miscellaneous class and eventually earn full recognition.
Unlike most modern breeds, the Braque du Bourbonnais remains primarily a working gun dog. The vast majority of breed members in both the United States and France are either working or retired hunting dogs. Many of these hunters are also treasured family companions, and a few families are beginning to keep this breed primarily for companionship.
The Braque du Bourbonnais is very similar in appearance to other French pointing dogs and generally similar to German and British pointing dogs as well. This is a truly medium-sized breed. The average male stands between 19½ and 23 inches tall at the shoulder while the average female stands between 18½ and 22 inches. Weight is influenced by height and build. Males typically weigh between 39 and 55 pounds, and females typically weigh between 35 and 50 pounds. The Braque du Bourbonnais is a generally well-proportioned dog that is either squarely shaped or slightly longer than it is tall. This is first and foremost a working dog, and should always appear as such. The Braque du Bourbonnais should always be extremely lean and muscular, without any exaggerated feature that would impede its working ability. The Braque du Bourbonnais tends to be slightly stockier than most pointers, but is definitely not stocky when compared to most dog breeds. The tail of this breed is one of its most important features and has long been one of its defining characteristics. The ideal tail of the Braque du Bourbonnais is either very short or essentially nonexistent. The tail of this breed is often naturally short or bobbed, but docking is also acceptable. Standards have recently been changed to allow longer natural tails on this breed, although they should never be held above the top line when the dog is standing.
The head of the Braque du Bourbonnais is considered another essential breed feature. The proportionally small head of this breed should always be pear-shaped. It is said that the head is round when viewed from any angle. The head and muzzle connect very smoothly to each other, though they remain somewhat distinct. The muzzle itself is very broad at the base and only tapers slightly to the end, forming what fanciers refer to as a truncated cone. The muzzle is usually slightly shorter than the skull and may be either straight or slightly convex. The upper lips of this breed fully cover the lower lips and may hang down slightly farther, but they are not noticeably pendulous. The muzzle ends in a broad nose that should be fully pigmented in the same color as the dog’s coat markings. The ears of the Braque du Bourbonnais are on the larger side of medium. They are rather wide and hang down either close to the sides of the head or with a slight inward curl. The eyes of the Braque du Bourbonnais are large and fairly round. Their color is either hazel or dark amber, depending on the color of the dog’s coat. The overall expression of most breed members is intelligent, kind, and gentle.
The coat of the Braque du Bourbonnais is short, fine, and very thick. The hair on the back is usually somewhat courser and longer than what is found on the rest of the body. The hair on the head, face, and ears must be shorter and finer than the rest of the coat, and the same is true to a lesser extent of the hair on the fronts of all four legs. The primary color of the Braque du Bourbonnais should always be white. This white is ideally accompanied exclusively light brown of fawn ticking. Ticking is a term used to describe dogs with a large number of very small and light spots that make it look as though the dog is covered in ticks. Overall roaning is also accepted and not penalized, although it is somewhat disfavored. Standards have been recently changed to allow solid patches of color, although it is desirable for them to be as small in size and few in number as possible. These markings are most common on the head, and a large percentage of these dogs have solidly marked ears. Occasionally a Braque du Bourbonnais will be born with a different coat or color scheme than the standard. Long, coarse coats, too large patches, and black hair are among the most common. Such dogs are penalized or disqualified in the show ring and should not be breed; otherwise they make just as acceptable companions and working dogs as any other breed members.
The Braque du Bourbonnais has been bred almost exclusively as a working gun dog and has a temperament one would expect of such an animal. This dog is known to be highly affectionate, often fawningly so, and devoted to its family. These dogs want to be in the constant presence of their loved ones. This breed does very poorly when kept in a kennel environment and also is known to develop severe separation anxiety when left alone for long periods of time on a regular basis. When properly socialized, most Braque du Bourbonnaises are very tolerant of children and often become incredibly attached to them. However, many Braque du Bourbonnais puppies may be too rambunctious for very young children and may bowl them over accidentally.
With proper training and socialization, most breed members are very accepting of and polite with strangers. Though many individuals are quite friendly and eager to meet strangers, substantial degrees of reservation and shyness are present in some lines. Braque du Bourbonnaises are alert and generally make acceptable watch dogs that will notify owners of a stranger’s approach. This breed would make a very poor guard dog as most individuals would either warmly welcome a stranger or shy away from them before they would ever show them aggression.
Although this dog is generally a solitary worker, it is capable of working in groups with other dogs as well. Braque du Bourbonnaises generally get along very well with other dogs when they have been properly trained and socialized. This breed usually exhibits low levels of dog aggression, and many would greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one other canine companion. This breed is somewhat more mixed with non-canine animals. When raised with other creatures from a young age, most of these dogs will be quite trustworthy with cats and other pets. However, this dog also has a very strong natural hunting drive, and will pursue and potentially attack small creatures with which it is not familiar.
The Braque du Bourbonnais is considered a highly intelligent and very trainable breed. Most of these dogs are eager to please and learn very quickly. This breed is also generally neither dominant nor challenging. Potential owners do have to be aware that Braque du Bourbonnaises tend to be considerably more sensitive than most versatile gun dogs. This breed tends to respond very harshly towards excessive correction, which often makes them nervous and fearful. Training methods that emphasize rewards tend to be much more affective. The Braque du Bourbonnais is said to be a natural hunter that trains itself. Many puppies instinctively locate, point at and retrieve game, even if they have never been taught to do so. Up to this point, the Braque du Bourbonnais has been used almost exclusively as a hunting dog, so its abilities in other training aspects have not been fully tested. However, it is very likely that this breed would be able to compete at high levels of most dog canine sports such as competitive obedience and agility.
The Braque du Bourbonnais is capable of working long hours in the field and is an energetic and playful breed. This is not a dog that will be satisfied with a couple of daily potty walks and should receive at least 45 minutes to an hour of vigorous activity every day. This breed makes an excellent jogging companion but greatly prefers to have an opportunity to run around off-leash in a safely enclosed area. Because of this dog’s exercise requirements, it generally adapts poorly to apartment life and does much better with a sizable yard. If a Braque du Bourbonnais is not provided a proper outlet for its energy it is likely to develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, excessive barking, hyper activity, over excitability, and nervousness. That being said, this breed has far from extreme exercise requirements. A committed, active family would probably be able to meet this dog’s needs without being run ragged. Once this breed is adequately exercised, most owners say that they make very relaxed house pets that will relax on the sofa for hours on end. The Braque du Bourbonnais would be an excellent choice for families that enjoy going on long outdoor excursions on the weekend but that only have time to provide a long walk the rest of the week.
The Braque du Bourbonnais has very low grooming requirements. This breed should never require professional grooming, only an occasional brushing. Other than that, only those routine maintenance procedures which all breeds require such as bathing and nail clipping are required. Owners do have to make sure that this breed’s ears are regularly cleaned. Otherwise, dirt, grime, and other particles may get trapped in them, which can lead to irritations and infections. Braque du Bourbonnaises do shed, although individual dogs vary greatly in the amount. Some breed members are very light shedders while others are quite heavy shedders.
It does not appear as though any health surveys have been conducted on the Braque du Bourbonnais which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements about the breed’s health. Most fanciers seem to believe that the breed is in relatively good health compared to most pure bred dogs, and the average life expectancy for this breed is thought to be quite long, between 12 and 15 years. There are several problems which breeders of these dogs are concerned about. The most common problems are thought to be hip dysplasia, Ectropion, Entropion, and pulmonic stenosis. Pulmonic stenosis is a heart problem whose symptoms and impacts vary widely depending on the condition’s severity. Some dogs with the condition are completely unaffected while others die of heart failure at a young age. Pulmonic stenosis has been detected in several American lines of Braque du Bourbonnais. Although the actual percentage of affected dogs is probably much lower, at least 43% of American breed members are at least partially descended from lines affected with Pulmonic Stenosis.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
A full list of health problems which the Braque du Bourbonnais and closely related breeds are susceptible would have to include: