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Pointing Dog Blog

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Breed of the Week: The Bracco Italiano!

Craig Koshyk

Of all the breeds I've studied, the Bracco Italiano may be the most least by North Americans. In much of Europe the breed is fairly well known and well respected for its outstanding nose and unique working style. In Italy it has a very loyal following among hunters and field trialers and there are breeders in the UK, Holland, Germany, France and elsewhere on the continent. But in North American it is a different story. In most areas, the breed is almost completely unknown and where it is known, it tends to baffle most hunters. They have a hard time getting their head around a big houndy looking pointing dog that hunts at a fast, powerful, rhythmic trot. 

You can read about the breed's history and development in my book and find plenty of photos of the breed on line. What I would like to do is try to demystify the breed's unique trotting pace for my readers and explore the other aspects of the breed's hunting style. Let's start with a video that shows a Bracco Italiano in training. It is a very interesting clip, albeit very home made and pretty shakey. It shows the progress of a young dog figuring things out. At the beginning he looks like a typical adolescent trying to figure out how to get all four legs working together. But he does show a bit of the trotting pace that is natural to the Bracco.

A bit later on from about 1:10 to the 2:50 mark he gallops. This is tolerated in a young Bracco; handlers and trainers allow them to just get out there and run. But from about 2:55 on the dog really starts to get into the rythm of the characteristic "flying trot" known in Italian as the Trotto Spinta. And there are flashes of sheer brilliance in there, note how beautifully high he keeps his head most of the time and how he really seems to float across the ground. Now remember, this is a young dog just figuring things outs. Older dogs on the field trial circuit range out much wider (up to a couple hundred meters or more on either side), and even faster but with the same high head and quick, flying trot.

I've seen Bracchi (that's the plural of Bracco) trot that way in field trials in Italy and the first time I did,  I was stunned. In fact, I am still blown away each time I see a top notch Bracco do its thing now. And even though the video does give some idea of how fast the dogs can move, you really have to see them in person to understand. Remember, these are dogs are in the 60 to 70 pound range, some can be 27 inches at the shoulder! They are probably move across a field at the same speed as a smaller dog running at a gallop does. Yet the trotting pace is said to be much more energy efficient and therefore easier to sustain all day in often hot/dry conditions -- like power-walking compared to running or jogging.
Bracco Italiano showing the famous "trotto spinto"
Here is how I describe the breed's performance characteristics in the Bracco Italiano chapter in my book:

Field Search
Hunters whose only experience is with dogs that gallop may find the appeal of a trotting style difficult to understand. But this naturally gated pace is a very important aspect of the Bracco Italiano, and is much valued by hunters and field trialers in Italy. Jonathon Shaw, a Bracco breeder, trainer and field trialer from England, explains:
A Bracco on an extended trot is wonderfully impressive, astonishingly fast and reminiscent of a Tennessee Walking Horse; head held high, legs well-extended, but not the hackney gait of a Pointer. The Bracco certainly doesn’t “amble”. The gait is very purposeful and flowing—whatever the terrain.
Italians call it a trotto spinto, litterally a “thrusting trot”, with speed and power coming from the powerful back legs. When I asked Bracco expert Cesare Bonasegale about the trotto spinta, he replied:
The trot is not the fastest gait of the Bracco; they can gallop, after all. But the trotto spinto is the natural gait of the breed, and the one that best matches its nose. During this type of trot, there is an instant in which all four paws are off the ground at the same time.
The Bracco is reputed to have great stamina, much of it due to the fact that it is able to sustain its trot from dawn to dusk, under a variety of conditions. Today, most breeders continue to select for a natural trot but if a dog has too much of a tendency to gallop, trainers sometimes resort to a device called a braga. 
The braga is a figure eight arrangement made up of a collar and strap around the chest. The top of it sits on the withers and has a small ring attached. Through this stretches a cord, and at either end is some form of attachment, either Velcro or a broad rubber band which is affixed to the dog’s hock. It can then be adjusted for length. It encourages the dogs to trot and inhibits galloping. (Jonathon Shaw, pers. comm.)
As with many of the Continental breeds, the forces of modern competition have had an influence on the development of the Bracco Italiano. The current trend is toward dogs that gallop more and have a bigger range.
Game is not as abundant as it used to be. Dogs must search larger areas. A Bracco should hunt in a range that is suitable for the terrain. In large, open areas, he may range up to 150 meters or even further on either side. Of course, when he is hunting in dense vegetation, he should stay closer. (Cesare Bonasegale, pers. comm.)
Most Bracchi have a very strong pointing instinct. Some back naturally. The pointing style is classically Continental. An interesting document called the Pastrone Working Standard, published in 1937, describes it in detail: 
Upon detecting a scent the dog gradually slows and returns extremely prudently towards the presumed origin, head held high... ears cocked to the maximum and the tail stiff and lowered a little. ... And when motionless he holds still, his tail raising slightly. This stationary position requires that the dog be horizontal, either slightly lower or slightly higher. … Later, when he senses to be suddenly upon the game (and only in this case), he stops immediately, staying more often than not upright, or with the limbs a little flexed...
The average Bracco Italiano is a natural, soft-mouthed retriever. But the breed is mainly an upland game specialist, and its traditional retrieving duties involve small game, mainly birds. The retrieval of (and aggression towards) fox and other predators is not considered a normal part of the Bracco’s job description in Italy. 

The Bracco has always been bred and trained primarily as a hunter of small game, so there is little to no emphasis among breeders on selecting for dogs that show good blood-tracking abilities.

Water Work
Unlike the Spinone, water work has never been high on the list of priorities for most Bracco breeders, and there are no water tests for the breed in Italy. Nevertheless, a well-bred Bracco from hunting lines should be relatively easy to train for some kinds of water work. Breed expert Lucio Marzano told me:
The Bracco Italiano has a very sweet, affectionate personality and bonds very tightly to his owner, sometimes excessively so. They naturally keep in contact with the handler, always hunting for him. So a Bracco is very easy to train. All you have to do is take him hunting. Within the breed, it is more common to see timid dogs than aggressive dogs, but both tendencies should be penalized. 
For more information on the Bracco Italiano, visit the breed club website in Italy or in the US, UK, or Holland

Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals