The Braque Francaises are two closely related breeds of gun dog native to France. The two breeds are very similar in appearance, usage, and temperament, but the Braque Francais (Pyrenees) is significantly smaller than the Braque Francais (Gascogne) and is also more numerous, especially outside of France. Both breeds of Braque Francais are known to be excellent upland bird dogs which are especially skilled at hunting woodcock. These breeds are not strictly pointers, but also flush, retrieve, and scent trail game. The Braque Francaises are known for being a very trainable and responsive breed, that is said to be “born half trained.” The Braque Francais (Pyrenees) is also known as the Braque Francais de Petite Taille, Small French Pointer, French Pointer (Pyrenees), French Pointer (Pyrenean), and the Pyrenean French Pointer. The Braque Francais (Gascogne) is also known as the Braque Francais de Grand Taille, Large French Pointer, French Pointer (Gascony), French Pointer (Gascon), and the Gascon French Pointer.
Very little is known for sure about the origin of the Braque Francais, as it was developed prior to a time when written records were kept of dog breeding. All that is known for sure is that the breed was developed in France before the late 1700’s, and that it was primarily used for tracking, pointing at, flushing, and retrieving game. Although it is impossible to be sure without more evidence, the Braque Francais (Gascogne) was probably developed in the French South. The Braque Francais is thought to be closely related to a number of similar European pointing breeds such as the English Pointer and the German Shorthaired Pointer, but the exact relationship between these breeds remains unclear.
There are two primary theories regarding the origin of the Braque Francais (Gascogne). The most widely held theory is that the breed descends from the Chien d’Oysel. There is great uncertainty surrounding the Chien d’Oysel. Some sources seem to imply that the breed is extinct, while others seem to identify the Chien d’Oysel as the modern German Wachtelhund. Either way, this breed was a medium-sized, Spaniel or Spaniel-like breed that was usually brown or white/grey with brown markings. The Chien d’Oysel was primarily used to hunt partridge and quail. This breed is so old that it was developed prior to the invention of hunting guns, likely prior to the 1400’s. The Chien d’Oysel would locate its quarry and then either flush the birds from cover or alert the hunter to their presence. The hunter would then throw a net to capture the birds. The Chien d’Oysel spread rapidly across the Mediterranean Coastlines of Western Europe. The breed was regularly crossed with local dogs after its introduction to a new environment, giving rise to many unique breeds in the process, allegedly including the Braque Francais (Gascogne). If the Chien d’Oysel is truly the ancestor of the Braque Francais (Gascogne) is was almost certainly heavily crossed with local French Scenthounds. These dogs would have significantly increased the size of the Braque Francais (Gascogne), and also provided greater strength and stamina. Hound blood also would have enhanced the breed’s sense of smell and possibly introduced its coloration and coat patterns as well. Although it is impossible to say what hound breeds played a role in the early development of the Braque Francais(Gascogne), it is very likely that either the Petit Bleu De Gascogne and/or the Grand Bleu De Gascogne were used.
It is also widely believed that the Braque Francais (Gascogne) was developed from Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian pointing dogs which had previously been introduced to Southern France. Such dogs are thought to have been originally bred from scenthounds that were bred to hunt birds. It is widely believed that these same Mediterranean pointing dogs, especially the Spanish Pointer, were also used to develop the English Pointer.
However the Braque Francais (Gascogne) was first developed, it was well-known throughout France by the end of the 17th Century. One of the earliest breed descriptions was provided by a French hunter named Selincourt. Selincourt described the pointing gun dog that was popular across France in 1683 by saying that it was, “Tall in size, strongly built, large-headed with long ears, square muzzle, large nose, hanging lips and a brown and white coat.” This description is remarkably similar to the modern Braque Francais (Gascogne). The breed proved to be extremely influential across France and neighboring countries. Hunters across France crossed the Braque Francais (Gascogne) with local gun dogs and scenthounds to develop new localized pointing breeds, most of which were named after the region of their origin. Some of the best known of these breeds include the Braque Saint-Germain, Braque du Bourbonnais, Braque de l’Ariege, Braque du Puy, and the Braque d’Auvergne. The Braque Francais was also imported into German-speaking lands, where it is believed to have heavily influenced the development of German pointing breeds.
Because most regions favored their localized pointing breeds, the Braque Francais (Gascogne) became increasingly rare. However, the breed remained one of the most popular, and probably the most popular gun dog in France until the 19th Century. Until that time, the large and specialized Braque Francais (Gascogne) was primarily kept by the nobility who were the only ones that could afford to feed a big dog that they would only use at most a few days a week. The French Revolution and its immediate aftermath saw most of the French nobility either slaughtered or stripped of their lands, wealth, and power. As a result of the loss of its owners, the population of Braque Francaises (Gascognes) fell dramatically. Luckily for the Braque Francais (Gascogne), the dog is capable of working alone which made it possible for some of the new middle class hunters to keep it as well. However, many of these new hunters greatly preferred the English Pointer, which is strictly pointing specialized, as opposed to the versatile Braque Francais (Gascogne). As a result, the English Pointer began to replace its French counterpart across most of France.
There was one part of France where the English Pointer never supplanted the Braque Francais (Gascogne), the Southwestern regions of Gascony and the Pyrenees Mountains. Until the late 1800’s, there was only one type of Braque Francais. However, increasing urbanization meant that the French population came to prefer a significantly smaller dog, one that could be a suburban pet during the week and a hunter on the weekends. Hunters in the Pyrenees began crossing their Braque Francaises (Gascognes) with smaller pointing and scenting breeds. This smaller variety was named the Braque Francais (Pyrenees) after the region where it was developed. It was at this time that the larger variety, which was still primarily kept in Gascony became known as the Braque Francais (Gascogne). Standards for both breeds were first written in 1880, and both dogs have traditionally been represented by the same breed club in France. By 1920, the two sizes were formally split into two breeds (before they were merely considered two varieties of the same breed), and cross breeding was no longer allowed. The first president of the French Braque Francais Club, Dr. C. Castets, was a fancier of the Gascogne variety, and the second president, M. B. Senac LaGrange was a fancier of the Pyrenees variety.
The two World Wars proved very difficult for both types of Braque Francais. Their populations plummeted due to hardships brought on by the conflicts. Both breeds have subsequently recovered, although the smaller Braque Francais (Pyrenees) is now significantly more common. Until recently, both types were almost exclusively found in France. That began to change in the 1970’s.
In 1976, Mr. Michel Gelinas of Quebec imported the first Braque Francais(Pyrenees) to North America. He named this first female, Maffia de l’etang du Marcenac. The Gelinas family has subsequently imported several more breed members and has begun a breeding program. To further popularize the breed in Canada and the United States, Mr. Gelinas wrote an article describing the breed in 1992. This greatly increased interest in the breed and numbers have begun to grow. A few dogs were subsequently imported into the United States. There are currently at least two breeders of Braque Francais (Pyrenees) in the United States and another two in Canada. The breed was granted full recognition with the Canadian Kennel Club and the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVDHA). In 2006, both varieties were given full recognition by the United Kennel Club (UKC) although that organization chose to use the names Braque Francais de Petite Taille and Braque Francais de Grande Taille. It is unclear if any Braque Francais de Grande Taille have been imported into North America, but if so it has only been a few isolated individuals. At this point, the Braque Francais(Pyrenees) remains a very rare breed in North America, and it is estimated that there are currently fewer than 200 breed members alive in North America. Unlike most modern breeds, both types of Braque Francais remain primarily working dogs. Although many breed members are beloved family companions as well as hunting dogs, the vast majority of these dogs are at least casual hunting companions.
The Braque Francais (Pyrenees) and the Braque Francais (Gascogne) are very similar in appearance, with only a few minor differences other than size. In general, these breeds are very similar in appearance to the German Short-haired Pointer, for which the Gascogne variety is often mistaken for. The primary difference between the two breeds is size. The Braque Francais (Gascogne) is a large breed. Males usually stand between 23 and 27 inches tall at the shoulder, and females typically stand between 22 and 26 ½ inches. Although weight is largely dependent on height, most breed members weigh between 45 and 80 pounds. The Braque Francais (Pyrenees) is a medium-sized breed. Males usually stand between 18½ and 23 inches tall at the shoulder, while females typically stand between 18½ and 22 inches. The average Braque Francais (Pyrenees) weighs between 35 and 55 pounds. Both breeds are very lean and incredibly muscular, appearing every bit the incredible athletes that they are. One of the few differences between the two breeds is in the belly. Both breeds typically have flat bellies, but the Pyrenees has a slightly greater amount of tuck up. The tails of both types are traditionally docked to a few inches in length. However, this procedure is falling out of favor and is actually banned in some countries. The natural tail of the Braque Francais is either of medium length or naturally short. One of the few differences between the two varieties is the skin. The Gascogne has relatively loose skin while the Pyrenees has tight skin.
The head of the Braque Francais is very refined in appearance and proportional to the size of the body. The head and faces of the Gascogne are usually somewhat narrower than those of the Pyrenees, but this is more of a generalization than anything else. The head and muzzle blend in mostly smoothly with each other, but remain quite distinct. The muzzle itself is slightly shorter than the skull, but very broad, creating the illusion of being square. The muzzles of many breed members are slightly concave with the nose pointing upwards. The nose is broad and brown. The lips of the Gascogne are slightly pendulous while the lips of the Pyrenees are usually tight-fitting. The eyes of this breed are chestnut brown or dark yellow in color. The ears of both varieties are medium in length, folded down towards the sides of the head, and slightly rounded, although those of the Gascogne are slightly longer relative to body size than those of the Pyrenees.
The two breeds exhibit slight coat differences. The coat of the Gascogne is thick and well-furnished, with finer hair on the ears and head. The coat of the Pyrenees is short and fine all over. Both breeds come in two color schemes and patterns. Some breed members are solidly chestnut browns, while others are white and chestnut brown. The breed may exhibit any amount of white or brown in markings of any size and shape. The white may either be pure white, or have brown roaning and/ticking. In practice, most breed members are brown and white, with heavy ticking and solid brown markings on the head. Some breed members may be born in alternate colors. Such dogs are penalized in the show ring and should not be bred, but are otherwise identical to other breed members in terms of working ability and companion suitability.
Both breeds of Braque Francais are known to be affectionate and loving companions and highly skilled natural bird hunters. These are definitely people-oriented breeds. The average Braque Francais is very devoted to its family and highly affectionate, often fawningly so. This breed wants to be in the constant company of its family, and can develop severe separation anxiety. When properly trained and socialized, most of these dogs are very good with children, and many become incredibly attached to them. This is not a dog that necessarily knows that it needs to be gentle with young children, however, and some breed members may play a little bit too rough for toddlers. With training and socialization, most breed members are very tolerant of strangers, and many are eager to meet them. Shyness and nervousness can be a problem in some lines, although outright aggression is rare. These breeds would make very poor guard dogs as most individuals would warmly welcome a stranger and follow them home before they would ever show aggression.
Braque Francaises were bred to be hunting dogs, but they were bred to locate, flush, and retrieve game, not to attack it. As a result, most of these dogs are driven to chase other creatures, especially birds, but most will be not be aggressive towards other creatures when trained an socialized. With socialization, most breed members do not develop major issues with other dogs, but it is always advisable to exercise caution when introducing two strange dogs.
These breeds are natural bird hunters. It is said that Braque Francaises are born half-trained because they take to hunting so easily. These breeds are driven to perform their tasks and seem to greatly enjoy it. Many say that these are best breeds for a first time gun dog owner because they take to being a bird dog so easily.
In general, the Braque Francais is considered to be a highly trainable. These dogs are very eager to please and usually trains quickly and willingly. Experienced gun dog owners do need to be aware that these breeds are highly sensitive to correction. Training techniques necessary for breeds such as German Shorthaired Pointers and Brittanies will often make a Braque Francais extremely nervous. These dogs respond much better to calm training methods that emphasize rewards. These breeds are said to be among the least dominant of all dogs and respond very well even to inexperienced owners. Although the Braque Francais is almost exclusively used as a hunting dog, it is thought that these breeds would be highly skilled competitors at most canine sports.
The Braque Francais is a very energetic and driven breed, which means that it requires a substantial amount of daily exercise. These breeds require at least 45 minutes to an hour of vigorous daily exercise. This dog makes an excellent jogging companion, but is also very eager to run around off-leash in a safely enclosed area. Unless provided a proper outlet for their energy, these dogs will almost certainly develop behavioral issues such as destructiveness, over excitability, hyper-activity, and excessive barking. That being said, the Braque Francais tends to be a laid back indoor companion after it receives its exercise that will laze around on the sofa for hours at a time. The Braque Francais would be difficult to keep in an apartment because of its needs but makes an excellent suburban house pet. The breed has a reputation in France for being ideally suited to casual hunters who only have the ability to hunt once or twice a month and want a fun loving pet the rest of the time. Owners who are looking for a dog that will go on any weekend adventure with them no matter how extreme, but that will also be satisfied with a daily jog or bicycle ride on week days, will probably be very satisfied with one of these dogs.
Both breeds of Braque Francais have very low grooming requirements. Neither needs professional grooming, only a regular brushing. Other than that, only those routine maintenance procedures which all breeds require such as nail clipping and ear cleaning are necessary. Braque Francaises do shed, although these breeds are considered average shedders. The Gascogne is thought to shed more than the Pyrenees both in terms of total amount and relative to body size, but this is probably more of a generality than a rule.
It does not appear as though any health studies have been done on the Braque Francais which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements about the breed’s health. Most fanciers seem to believe that this breed is in very good health. The Braque Francais has been bred almost exclusively for working ability, and any health defects that would impair this working ability would have been quickly eliminated from the gene pool. The breed has also benefitted from its lack of popularity, which means that it has not been subjected to commercial and backyard breeding practices. None of this means that the Braque Francais is immune to genetically inherited health conditions, but it does mean that the breed tends to suffer from fewer of them and at lower rates than most modern dog breeds. The very few American and Canadian breeders seem to indicate that patella issues such as luxating patella are most common, although still relatively rare.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in closely-related breeds (hip dysplasia is quite commonly seen) 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.
Although health studies have not yet been conducted on the Braque Francais, they have been for closely related breeds. Some of the issues which have been discovered include: