The Spinone Italiano is a multi-purpose hunting dog native to Italy, and along with the Bracco Italiano is one of only two gundogs native to that country. While very little is known for sure about this breed’s ancestry, it is certainly one of the oldest breeds of gundog, and perhaps the oldest of all. This breed is known for being somewhat slow moving, but is one of the only breeds capable of working in the rough vegetation native to some parts of its homeland. Although the breed is most often kept as a determined and capable working breed, its excellent temperament and generally good nature have found it growing in popularity as a companion animal. Following Italian grammatical conventions, the correct plural form of the breed’s name is Spinoni Italiano. This breed is also known as the Italian Spinone, the Italian Wirehaired Pointer, the Italian Griffon, and sometimes simply as the Spinone.
The Spinone Italiano is one of the oldest breeds of gundog, and possibly even predates the use of guns in hunting by over 1000 years. This breed was created long before written records were kept of dog breeding and as a result, virtually nothing is known for certain about this dog’s origins. Additionally most of what currently touted to be fact is largely speculation or myth. Of the few things to be known with relative certainty is that this breed is definitely native to Italy, and most likely developed into its current form millennia ago in the Piedmont region. The limited evidence that is available suggests that this breed may have been developed almost to its modern form by the early Renaissance, although some experts claim it may have developed as long ago as 500 B.C.
There is substantial debate among dog experts as to how to best classify the Spinone Italiano. This breed is commonly placed in the Griffon family, a group of wire-haired scent hounds and gundogs native to continental Europe. In fact, this breed is often suggested to be the ancestor of that entire group. Other experts claim that the breed is more closely related to the giant wire-coated coursing breeds of the British Isles, the Irish Wolfhound and Scottish Deerhound. Still others claim a close relationship to terriers, Styrian Hounds, Middle Eastern dogs, Greek dogs, or other sporting breeds. Until new genetic or historical evidence comes to light, this mystery will probably remain unsolved.
The first descriptions of a wire-coated hunting dog in Italy come from around 500 B.C. The Italian standard for the Spinone claims that the famed ancient historians Xenophon, Faliscus, Nemesianus, Seneca, and Arrianus all included the Spinone in their works over two-thousand years ago. It is very probable that these writers were not describing the modern breed, but rather its ancestors. The Celts were known to have a number of wire-coated hunting dogs. The Celts in Gaul, a Roman Province which consisted of modern day France and Belgium, were known to have had one such breed known as the Canis Segusius. The Celts were the primary inhabitants of large portions of what is now northern Italy before being conquered by the Romans. It is quite possible that Italians first acquired these dogs from the Celts at this time. As hunting guns would not be invented for many centuries, these dogs would most likely have hunted in a manner similar to pack hounds.
Adding additional confusion to deciphering the true origins of this breed is that there is no further mention of the breed or type until sometime after the beginning of the Renaissance around 1400 A.D; leaving a gap in the Spinone Italiano’s historical record of over a thousand years. This is not overly surprising as most learning and record keeping ceased during the Dark Ages and Middle Ages. Beginning in the 1300’s in northern Italy, this began to change, during a period of newfound enlightenment which came to be known as the Renaissance. It was also around this time that guns were first being used in hunting, particularly bird hunting. This necessitated the creation of new breeds as well as the modification of old ones to create dog with the correct canine skill-sets necessary to work alongside now armed hunters. Most of the breed’s chosen to use as base stock were pack hounds. Chosen not only for the fact that they had excellent noses, but also because they were very friendly towards people; both desirable qualities in an effective gundog. Beginning in the 1400’s the Spinone Italiano reappears in the historical records in the paintings of Italian artists. The dogs shown are remarkably similar to the modern Spinone Italiano, and are almost certainly the same breed. Some of the most famous painters to include this breed in their works were Mantenga, Vecellio, and Tiepello. It is very likely that the wealthy aristocracy and merchant classes of Italy used this breed on their bird hunting excursions.
Due to the gap in the record, there is substantial debate as to whether the breed depicted in Renaissance paintings is the same one mentioned by the ancient historians. Some dog experts claim that the Spinone Italiano is descended from the now-extinct Spanish Pointer. Many French experts claim that the breed is a mixture of several French Griffon breeds. Others claim that this dog is descended from rough-coated Russian Setters. However, there is almost no evidence to support any of these theories. Additionally, none of them account for the earlier records of this breed. In fact, the Spinone Italiano is often suggested as a possible ancestor to the French Griffons. For the time being, it is probably best to label these theories as unlikely. It is very possible that Italian breeders may have mixed any number of other breeds to improve their dogs; however, even if the Spinone Italiano was first developed in the 1400’s, it would still be one of the earliest gundogs.
It is generally agreed upon that the modern Spinone Italiano was developed largely in the region of Piedmont. One of the first written mentions of a modern Spinone Italiano comes from 1683, when the French author Selicourt wrote “La Parfait Chasseur” (the Perfect Hunter). In this work, Selicourt describes a griffon breed native to the Piedmont region of Italy. Piedmont is a region in the northwest of Italy, bordering France and Switzerland. In particular, white and orange Spinoni Italiano from around the city of Alba are believed to have been especially influential in the development of the modern breed. The Spinone Italiano developed several primary differences from Italy’s other gundog, the Bracco Italiano. The Spinone Italiano is significantly slower moving and not as flashy or refined in appearance. However, the Spinone Italiano is quite skilled at retrieving game from water, unlike the Bracco Italiano. Also, the course coat of the Spinone Italiano allows the breed to work in very dense or dangerous vegetation. In fact, the Spinone Italiano is one of the only dog breeds capable of working in some especially tough vegetation without suffering severe eye and skin injuries. The Spinone Italiano actually gets its name from a type of thorn bush, the Pino. The Pino is very dense and is a favorite hiding place of many species of small game. It is impenetrable to humans and most dogs, as the many thorns tear up skin and poke the eyes and ears. The name Spinone was not uniformly used until the late 1800’s. Before that time, the breed was also known as the Spinoso in many areas.
The Spinone Italiano found a new use during World War II. During the War, Italian partisans fighting German occupying forces used the breed to track German troops. German troops used a different boot polish than their Italian counterparts, and the partisans trained Spinoni Italiano to trail the German’s polish. This ensured that the dogs would not mistakenly track Italian troops. This breed proved to be invaluable to these patriots, as it has an incredibly keen nose, the ability to work in any terrain no matter how harsh or wet, and is remarkably quiet when working even in the densest of brush. Spinoni Italiano served primarily in mountainous or heavily wooded areas, locating hidden German troops. This allowed for partisans to avoid ambushes or to plan their own.
Although this breed served heroically, World War II proved to be devastating for the Spinone Italiano. This breed had been slowly falling out of favor to English gun dog breeds since the beginning of the 20th Century and was not especially common before the War’s outbreak. Many dogs were killed while serving partisans, and many others starved when their owners could no longer care for them. Perhaps most importantly, breeding virtually ceased as people were not able to hunt. By the end of World War II, the Spinone Italiano was almost extinct. In 1949, a Spinone fancier named Dr. Ceresoli toured the entire country trying to determine how many dogs had survived. He discovered that the few breeders who remained had been forced to cross their dogs with other continental wire-coated gun dogs, such as the Boulet, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, and the German Wirehaired Pointer. Although the breed would remain uncommon, the good doctors efforts would fuel the restoration effort responsible for saving this ancient breed.
The first Spinoni Italiano began to arrive in the United States in the closing decades of the 20th Century. These dogs were imported by both sportsmen and those looking for a unique and rare breed. While their population across the Atlantic grew slowly, the breed developed a number of dedicated followers. The Spinone Club of America (SCA) was founded to both protect and promote breed interests. In 1995, the United Kennel Club (UKC), a registry devoted primarily to working dogs, became the first major American kennel club to grant full recognition to the Spinone Italiano. The American Kennel Club (AKC) followed suit 5 years later, placing the Spinone Italiano in the sporting group in 2000.
The Spinone Italiano remains a rare breed in the United States, but it is slowly increasing in popularity, both as a versatile hunting dog and as a family companion. While it is impossible to get reliable data on such things, it is thought that the Spinone Italiano is roughly equally popular in the United States as a working gundog and as a companion animal. In 2010, the breed ranked 118th out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations. This breed is more common in its homeland, although the Bracco Italiano is currently the more popular breed in Italy. This dog is also developing a very good reputation in several other European countries as a working gundog.
The Spinone Italiano is generally similar in appearance to other wire-coated gundogs such as the German Wirehaired Pointer, but is considerably more robust. This is a large and substantial dog. AKC standards call for males to stand between 23 and 27 inches tall at the shoulder, and for females to stand between 22 and 25 inches tall at the shoulder. UKC standards desire males which are between 23½ and 27½ inches tall at the shoulder and females which are between 23 and 25½ inches tall at the shoulder. AKC standards do not give an ideal weight for this breed, but UKC standards do. According to the UKC, males should weigh between 70 and 81 pounds, and females should weigh between 64 and 75 pounds.
The Spinone Italiano is a bulky, powerfully-boned breed, and looks more like a slow plodder than a fast runner. This breed is also very-thick bodied and thick-necked. It would not be unfair to say that the Spinone Italiano is the tank of the sporting group. This dog is generally well-proportioned, and overall rather square in appearance. The tail of the Spinone Italiano is traditionally docked to a length of six to ten inches, and some kennel clubs require it for showing. When undocked, this breed’s tail is very long, and is usually held very low, paralleling the legs. The tails of many undocked Spinoni Italiano actually look as though the dog is cowering. The last few inches of this breed’s tail often go the opposite direction of the rest of the tail.
Most people find the face of a Spinone Italiano to be very charming and gentle. It is frequently said that this breed looks like a grandfather, which is probably as accurate a description as any. This breed has a large, oval-shaped head and ends in a long muzzle. This muzzle is very deep and wide, and looks almost square. The muzzle looks even larger than in is due to the breed’s wiry fur. This breed does have some jowly lips, but it is hard to see them underneath the fur. The breed’s face seems to droop somewhat, but is certainly not wrinkly. The Spinone Italiano’s eyes are set widely apart and are almost round. The color should be ochre, but the shade is determined by the dog’s coat. This breed has long, pendulous ears that are almost triangular in shape.
The coat of Spinone Italiano is perhaps the breed’s most defining characteristic. Somewhat surprisingly, this is a single-coated breed. (It does not have an undercoat.) This dog has stiff, dense, and flat hair, which is coarse to the touch, although not as course as those of a typical terrier. This fur should be between 1½ and 2½ inches long over the body. The hair is shorter on the muzzle, head, ears, fronts of the legs, and feet. The hair on the face forms a mustache, eyebrows, and a tufted beard. The Spinone Italiano comes in a number of colors; pure white, white with orange markings, white speckled with orange, white with brown or chestnut markings, roan/roan brown or chestnut. It is unacceptable for dogs to have any black in their coats, nor are tri-color dogs acceptable.
The Spinone Italiano has a temperament similar to that of many other gundogs, but is somewhat gentler and less biddable. This is a breed that very much enjoys the company of its family, with whom it is very affectionate. This dog is also known for being very loyal and devoted. The Spinone Italiano is not necessarily a needy breed however. This breed is known for being very friendly and polite with strangers, to whom it very seldom shows even slight aggression. Many breed members very much enjoy making new friends, and this breed often assumes that any new person is a potential new friend. While a Spinone Italiano could be trained as a watchdog, this breed would make a very poor guard dog.
This breed is known for being exceptionally gentle and loving with children, with whom it often forms very close bonds. This breed will take a great deal of abuse from children, who should be taught to properly behave around this dog. This breed is known for being easy-going and adaptable, and fits into a somewhat more urban setting much more easily than many sporting breeds. When not properly socialized, some Spinoni Italiano may become shy and timid, so owners must make sure to carefully work with their dogs from a young age. However, if you are looking for a dog that you could take to places with strange people, such as a soccer game, most breed members will give you few issues other than perhaps excessively slobbery kisses.
This breed gets along very well with other dogs. Dominance, aggression, and possessiveness issues are relatively rare in this breed. When properly socialized, the average Spinone Italiano is probably much more interested in making friends than starting fights. This is a breed that greatly prefers having another dog in the home, and is more than happy to live with several other canines. Although it is always advisable to use caution when introducing new dogs to each other, the Spinone Italiano would probably be a good choice to introduce to a home with existing dogs. This breed is definitely a hunting dog, but still gets along very well with non-canine animals. The Spinone Italiano was bred to locate game and to retrieve it once shot, but never to attack it itself. As a result, this breed shows relatively low levels of animal aggression and can live in a home with other animals provided it is properly socialized. Some breed members, particularly puppies, may excessively pester cats in an attempt to play, however.
When compared to dogs in general, the Spinone Italiano is regarded as being easy to train, but when compared to sporting breeds specifically, it may be somewhat more challenging. This breed is exceptionally intelligent and is capable of learning very complex tasks and solving problems on its own. This breed is also generally willing to please, and will learn quickly. However, this breed is not exactly a Labrador Retriever and can be somewhat stubborn. These dogs are more than capable of figuring out what is important and what is not, and are not willing to do something only because their master tells them to. For example, several owners have commented that their dogs have learned when a hunt is real or not, and will always retrieve actual birds but rarely dummies.
This is also a breed that only obeys those it respects. While definitely not a breed that will constantly challenge your authority, you do have to establish that authority. In particular, this breed may not obey children, whom it has realizes are low on the pack hierarchy. Owners must also be aware that this is a breed that likes to work at a slow pace. If you want a task done by a rapidly running dog, look elsewhere. If you don’t mind a dog obeying you at a trot, this breed will probably give you few problems. This dog is somewhat sensitive and does not respond well to negative training methods. For the best training results, owners should positively reinforce and heavily treat Spinoni Italiano. One area where the Spinone Italiano certainly does not train easily is in the area of housebreaking. These dogs are generally slow to pick this up, and owners should expect extra months of crating and regular accidents.
As is the case with all sporting dogs, the Spinone Italiano is a relatively energetic breed. This dog needs a thorough and long daily walk, and preferably some time to run off leash in a secure area. Remember that this is a working dog, and has the exercise needs of one. As is the case with all dogs, unexercised Spinoni Italiano are very likely to develop behavioral issues, especially destructiveness, nervousness, and over excitability. However, adult breed members tend to be substantially less energetic than most other gundogs. While this breed is certainly capable of working long hours, it also is not one that necessarily needs to. This is a generally relaxed dog who likes to go at a slower pace. This breed is regarded as an exceptional jogging partner as it does not particularly like to run. This breed also is an excellent hiking companion as it is able to tolerate very difficult terrain, but is not going to be straining at the leash. Like all dogs, a Spinone Italiano would love a big yard, but it is perfectly happy with a small one and adapts very well to suburban life provided that it gets plenty of walks and play. If you have are a member of a family with an average activity level, you should be able to meet the exercise needs of this breed without too much effort. Potential owners must be aware that everything written above does not apply to Spinone Italiano puppies. The puppies of this breed are very rambunctious and may be quite a handful.
Potential owners must be made aware of one tendency of the Spinone Italiano. This breed is a drooler and a slobberer. While not on the level of an English Mastiff or Newfoundland, a Spinone Italiano will almost certainly get some drool on you, your furniture, and your houseguests from time to time. If this thought absolutely disgusts you or a family member, a different breed should be considered.
The Spinone Italiano has much lower coat care requirements than most breeds with similar hair. This breed may require occasional professional grooming, but not very frequently. This breed needs to have its coat stripped two or three times a year in much the same manner as a terrier. While it is possible for owners to learn this process on their own, most choose to avoid the hassle. Other than that, this breed needs a thorough weekly brushing, and that care which all breeds need: nail clipping, teeth brushing, and the like. Some special attention must be paid to this breed’s ears, as they can collect debris. As a result, owners must regularly clean the ears to prevent irritation and infection.
The Spinone Italiano is regarded as a generally healthy breed. One study conducted by the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom suggested this breed has a life expectancy of 8.7 years, but most other research has concluded that this breed lives much longer, on average 12 years or more. However, because this breed is very new to the United States and is still relatively rare, not many breed-wide medical studies have been conducted yet.
One very serious problem which is known to affect Spinoni Italiano is cerebellar ataxia. Cerebellar ataxia is a fatal condition which strikes puppies of this breed. This condition is recessive, which means that only dogs with two carrier parents can develop it. This condition is always fatal, and no dog which has been diagnosed with it has lived longer than 12 months. Most are humanely euthanized between 10 and 11 months. A test with 95% accuracy has been developed to detect carriers and breeders are beginning to use it to ensure that no further puppies develop this disease.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
Those problems which this breed is known to suffer from include: