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Filtering by Tag: Spanish

Breed of the Week: The Majorcan Pointer

Craig Koshyk

Of all the breeds I’ve seen and studied, the Majorcan Pointer came as the biggest surprise. Despite finding a good number of historical references to it in the old literature, I was unable to determine if the Balearic Islands’ native pointing breed was still being bred today. And since Googling its name in English, French and Spanish only turned up the same old quotes from the same old books, for a long time I assumed that the breed was extinct. 

But only a few weeks before flying to Spain to photograph Burgos Pointers and Pachónes Navarro, I decided to give it one more shot. This time the words I entered into the Google search field were in Catalan, the other official language of the island of Majorca. I typed ca de mostra and ca de caça, then hit return. Less than an hour later I was on the phone to Sheryl Marchand, my very understanding travel agent, telling her that Lisa and I would need to extend the Spanish leg of our trip. Majorca’s native pointing dog was still alive!

The Balearic Islands are an archipelago off the east coast of Spain.They have been inhabited from at least the time of the ancient Phoenicians and Greeks who probably introduced hunting dogs to the four major islands of Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera. Even today, Podengos —a type of hunting dog used throughout the Mediterranean in ancient times—are still found on the islands, used by their owners to hunt rabbits by sight and scent.

We know that pointing dogs have been present on Majorca since at least the 14th century. A number of documents surviving from that era clearly indicate that hunters armed with crossbows used pointing dogs to help them take small game. In fact, the practice seems to have been so widespread and effective that game populations may have been adversely effected. Royal ordinances banning it were issued in 1383 and again in 1392. How pointing dogs got to the island is unknown, but it is reasonable to assume that they were brought over from the mainland and that they share a common origin with the earliest types of pointing dogs that were then being developed on both sides of the Pyrenees Mountains. They were probably bred in fairly small numbers on Majorca and the other Balearic islands, and developed in similar ways to pointing dogs elsewhere. 

By the late 1800s they had gained a reputation as excellent hunting dogs. At least one hunter thought they were the best dogs to be found anywhere. Jules Tallien de Cabarrus was a French doctor and diplomat who had hunted in many parts of the world. In the 1860s he fell ill and was sent to Majorca to recuperate. There, he hunted over Majorcan Pointers and wrote about them in his book, Chasses et Voyages, published in 1863: I repeat and will continue to say that the Majorcan pointing dog is the best and most accomplished that one could possibly find.1

In 1882 he published another book, El Mejor Perro de Muestra, in which he wrote: The Majorcan worth more than all the beautiful spaniels, setters or pointers. I speak from experience since I have used them for over 25 years, nine of which I spent on Majorca, three in Trieste [a city in Italy, but under Austrian rule at the time], and the others in America. And of the 49 dogs that I have had, 29 of the Majorcan breed have passed through my hands, and I have also seen many more besides mine at work.2

Another high profile person who described pointing dogs on Majorca was Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria (1847- 1915). He wrote a nine-volume book on the Balearic Islands in which he mentions local hunters using pointing dogs to hunt quail.

In 1911, the Real Sociedad Central de Formento de las Razas Caninas in España (later renamed Real Sociedad Canina de España) was formed. In some of its earliest stud books there are listings for Perdigueros Mallorquínes (Majorcan Pointers). But then the breed seems to fall into near complete obscurity. While a few references are found in the Spanish sporting literature of the 1940s and ’50s, it was not until the mid-1990s that any efforts to establish Majorca’s native pointer as a recognized breed got under way. In 1996 the Club del Ca Mè Mallorquí was formed and a standard drawn up. In 2002 a stud book was established, and in 2004, after six centuries on the island, Majorca’s native pointing breed was officially recognized—sort of. Recognition was granted by the Minister of Agriculture of the Balearic Islands but not (yet) by the Real Sociedad Canina de España or the FCI.

Before travelling to Majorca, we spent several days on the Spanish mainland with the people involved in the revival and growth of the Pachón Navarro and Burgos Pointer. We discovered that both breeds had faced difficult times in the recent past but were now in the hands of well-organized clubs and were becoming more popular throughout the country. The Majorcan Pointer seems to be following in their footsteps, but efforts to revive it did not really get going until the late 1990s. And the relative isolation and small population of the island mean that it will probably never reach the level of popularity that the Pachón Narvarro and Burgos Pointer now enjoy. Nevertheless, supporters of the Majorcan Pointer are every bit as dedicated to their cause as supporters of Spain’s other indigenous pointing breeds. They also have had the opportunity to observe the progress of the other breeds and to learn from them. 
After we had photographed a number of dogs in the field, Lisa and I went to diner with members of the breed club. While discussing the future of the Majorcan Pointer, club president Francesc Mir Tomàs had this to say: We are very happy with the progress we have made so far. We know this is a long-term project and we want to do it right. We also understand that the most important thing is to breed dogs that are born to hunt, that are authentic Majorcan Pointers. They are an important part of the heritage of this island and the local people support our efforts. Pedro Salva Vidal added, “We are a patient bunch. We will make progress poco a poco.”

1. Jules Tallien de Cabarrus, Chasses et Voyages, quoted in Referencias Históricas, (April 13, 2009)

2. Jules Tallien de Cabarrus, El Mejor Perro de Muestra, quoted in José Manuel Sanz Timón, Origenes e Historia Antigua, (August 19, 2010)

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

Breed of the Week: The Burgos Pointer

Craig Koshyk

Following the ancient trade routes that have criss-crossed the Pyrenees mountains for millennia no longer requires a dangerous trek through steep mountain gorges. Nowadays it’s a pleasant drive on a modern highway. But as we traveled across the stunning landscape dotted with the remains of ancient fortresses and timeworn shepherd trails, we could imagine what it must have been like in the 14th century when hunters in the area first began to hunt with pointing dogs.

Lisa and I had left cool, green, humid France in the morning and by mid-afternoon we were in hot, arid Spain. We were traveling through the very birthplace of the pointing dog on our way to photograph Spain’s native breeds. Stopping at a roadside gas station, I decided to reprogram our GPS unit to allow a short detour. I wanted to pass through the province in which Spanish hunters developed one of the breeds we were going to see. When the device asked me to spell the name of a major town in the area, I punched in the letters B-U-R-G-O-S.

It is tempting to conclude that the Burgos Pointer is the granddaddy of all pointing dogs. After all, it looks like an old breed, it comes from the very region where all pointing dogs originated, and
 it is even called “Old Spanish Pointer” in some publications. However, according to veterinary geneticist and breed expert José manuel Sanz Timón, the Burgos Pointer is a relatively modern descendant of the Old Spanish Pointer that is so often referred to in the old literature.

Sanz Timón points out that all too often, people simply assume that any historic mention of a Spanish Pointer automatically means it was from Burgos, or that any painting that includes the image of a hunting dog represents a Burgos Pointer. He suggests that it is “patriotic enthusiasm” that has caused breed supporters to claim that the Burgos is the original pointing dog.

According to Sanz Timón, the first time that words Perdiguero and Burgos were mentioned in the same sentence was sometime after 1808. He writes that an inventory drawn up by an official of the King’s Ger- man Legion includes a list of supplies and materials that were to be shipped out. On the list, it is said, is mention of dogs that “are called Perdigueros in Burgos”. He also cites another reference to the breed in the 1907 book, Geschichte der Königlich Deutschen Legion (History of the King’s German Legion), in which author Bernhard Schwertfeger writes about large brown and white dogs from the area of Burgos that were given as gifts. Based on these and other documents, Sanz Timón concludes that the region of Burgos has only recently been associated with a specific type of pointing dog. If the Burgos Pointer were the original Spanish Pointer, there would be much earlier references to it by name. Furthermore, the Burgos Pointer has a white and brown coat while many of the early English references to the Old Spanish Pointer indicate that it was often black, or even tri-colored.

In Spain there are remarkably few references to any kind of generic, widely distributed pointing dog. But there are mentions of local varieties that went by names such as Pachón de Navarra, Pachón de Vitoria, Perdiguero Navarro, Perdiguero Leonés, Perdiguero Gallego, Perdiguero Portugués, Ca Mè Mallorquí and Gorgas. In some cases, these local varieties differed in name only. In other cases, the dogs were clearly different in size, shape, coat or other important aspects. The largest contributing factor to these differences was the ratio of blood from the original types of dogs used to create them: the Sabuesos, a type of tracking dog, and Pachónes, the earliest type of pointing dogs.

No matter what the name or variety, all the local varieties of Old Spanish Pointers were already in decline when William Arkwright traveled to Spain in the 1890s to research the history of the English Pointer. Since he makes no mention of any type of dog from Burgos, it is assumed that the breed now known as the Pediguero de Burgos represents a comparatively recent branch of the Old Spanish Pointer that developed in the relative isolation of the Burgos region.

In modern times, we find references to the breed in 1912 when the first two Perdigueros were registered with the newly founded Real Sociedad Central de Fomento de las Razas Caninas en España, the Royal Spanish Canine Society. The pedigree record indicates that during this time breeders were practicing either extremely tight inbreeding or they were crossing to other breeds. As a result, there was very little uniformity in the breed. In fact, until the 1950s, there wasn’t even an official standard for the Burgos Pointer.

The civil war that engulfed Spain in the 1930s had dire consequences for all dog breeds in Spain. For the Burgos Pointer, there was the added difficulty that many of them were taken out of Spain by German soldiers stationed there as “volunteers” and advisors. Members of the so-called Condor Legion are said to have purchased many Burgos for shipment back to Germany and there are several eyewitness accounts of planes being loaded with large numbers of adult dogs and pups.

In a symposium on Spanish dog breeds held in 1982, José Manuel Sanz Timón presented an account from a Spanish military officer. Don Raúl García Bengoechea, who was assigned to the capital of the national zone at that time, personally saw how this emigration was carried out.
They bought adult females, pregnant (females) and puppies, as well as males. One can not say how many dogs the Germans took, but it is assumed that it was many and the best. The war was a hard blow to the breed.
By the end of the civil war, there were very few Burgos Pointers left in Spain. Those that remained were very heavily inbred and inbreeding depression be- came a serious issue. By the late 1960s only a dozen or so Burgos Pointers were registered each year with the Spanish Canine Society and articles with titles such as “Farewell Burgos Pointer” began to appear in the Spanish sporting magazines.

Then, in 1972, José Manuel Sanz Timón decided to take action to save the breed. His first step was to search the area of Castilla y León for any remaining Burgos Pointers that he could use in an intensive breeding program. He managed to find several good specimens that would eventually form the pillars of his breeding program. By the early 1980s Sanz Timón had developed seven separate bloodlines. In 1983 he and a number of fellow breed supporters formed the AEPPB (Asociación Española del Perro Perdiguero de Burgos). Their goal was to establish a long-term breeding and testing system designed to raise the level of field ability and conformation in the breed.

Inevitably, some breeders disagreed with the program and its strict requirements. Eventually a second club was formed, the CEAPPB (Club Español de Amigos del Perro Perdiguero De Burgos). More recently a third club was formed, the AECPB (Asociación Española de Cazadores con Perdiguero de Burgos). I have no idea what the divisions are between the various clubs but it does seem that there has been a certain amount of mud-slinging between them. So I can only suggest that anyone looking to find a good Burgos Pointer do a LOT of homework first and check into the breeding approaches being practiced by the various clubs.

Today the Burgos Pointer is well established in Spain and in recent years has enjoyed an increase in popularity. However, it is still more or less unknown outside of its native land, with only a few in Portugal and France. In a previous post I wrote about seeing a Burgos Pointer for the first time and posted a link here to a gallery of photographs of the dogs we saw on a more recent visit to Spain (all dogs featured courtesy of the Asociación Española del Perro Perdiguero de Burgos).

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

Breed of the Week: The Pachón Navarro

Craig Koshyk

Published in 1938, The Dog in Sport is a wonderful collection of charming tales describing days spent afield with gundogs. In it, author J. Wentworth Day wrote: 
"There were Ponto and Tanto, the two great, solemn-eyed, double-nosed Spanish Pointers who lurked in a dignified way about the house, a gentle gloom upon their countenances. They were the grandchildren of the Spanish Pointers owned by my great grandfather, Robert Asplan, the little, old, dapper gentleman who wore black knee-breeches with stockings and silver-buckled shoes."
When I first read those lines I almost said aloud, “what the heck is a double-nosed Spanish Pointer”? Did it have a nose that did double duty, air scenting and tracking? Or did “double nose” describe a physical feature? Searching the literature, I eventually found out. Freeman Lloyd, a noted American journalist, wrote in an issue of the AKC’s Gazette magazine published in the 1930s that some dogs had noses like the double barrels of a shotgun.

A nose like the double barrels of a shotgun? Was that even possible? I checked a few veterinary textbooks and soon learned that dogs – and people – can be born with what doctors call a bifid nose. The condition ranges from a slightly deeper than normal crease between the nostrils to a completely cleft nasal structure resulting in the double barreled shotgun look described by Lloyd. And it turns out that Spanish Pointers are not the only gundogs that can have such a nose. Even William Arkwright mentions double-nosed gundogs from Portugal and France and wrote that he knew of a family of double-nosed Irish Red Setters.

Once I had figured out just what a double nose was and understood that dogs from various regions could have them, I was determined to find out if there were any double nosed Spanish Pointers left in the world. Re-reading The Dog in Sport did not give me much hope.
I think those Spanish Pointers knew that their day was done, that they were the last of their race -- gone with the hand-sickle and the centuries of the long September stubbles, where partridges had sit like quails.
Even so, from time to time I would surf the web looking for information on “Old Spanish”. I rarely turned up anything new so I stared to believe hat the breed really had gone the way of the Dodo bird. Then one day, more or less by accident, I came across a photograph that stopped me in my web-surfing tracks.

I had somehow stumbled onto the website for the Spanish magazine Perros de Caza, and found myself looking at the image of a dog with an orange and white coat, amber eyes and a nose like the double barrels of a shotgun! I was stunned. This wasn’t some dusty old painting, it was a recent photograph. The dog was a modern dog. The double-nosed Spanish Pointer was still alive!

Five years later, Lisa and I drove down a narrow road to a Spanish hamlet nestled into the side of hill near Pamplona. We were on the final leg of a journey that began with e-mails and phone calls and would end with a fascinating photo shoot in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains were the Spanish Double-Nosed Pointer, known locally as the Pachon Navarro is still bred.

The Pachon Navarro traces back to the very first pointing dogs that developed on both sides of the Pyrenees Mountains in the 13th century. But until fairly recent times there were remarkably few written references to it. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that the breed began as a blend of the two most common kinds of dogs used for hunting in Spain during the middle ages —tracking dogs and indigenous mastiff breeds.
About the middle of the 15th century, images of pointing dogs began to appear in Spain. Among the best-known are a miniature falconry scene in the cathedral of Toledo and a much later painting of Prince of Asturias Baltasar Carlos by Velázquez that features a dog that looks remarkably like the modern Pachon Navarro. 

Over the centuries, Spanish hunters refined the various types of local pointing dogs and named them for the area in which they were most common. By the 1800s, dogs of the Pachon type were found throughout northwestern Spain and went by a variety of names: Pachón, Perdiguero Navarro, Pachón de Vitoria, Pachón Español, Perdiguero Común or just Navarro. But when dogs shows began to be organized in Spain in the 1890s, they were all grouped under one name: Pachon Navarro.

By 1911, the Pachon Navarro gained the official recognition of the Real Sociedad Canina de España (Royal Canine Society of Spain). Thanks to influential breeders such as D. Gregorio Martínez López and several others, the Pachon Navarro made progress in terms of conformation and performance and continued to be bred by and for hunters until the 1950s. But when myxomatosis, a virus affecting rabbits, all but eliminated one of the main quarries of the Pachon Navarro, hunters abandoned the breed and turned to the specialist bird dogs, especially Pointers and Setters. By the early 1970s, the Pachon population was so low that most people believed it had gone extinct.

Then, in 1978, concerned with the dire straits facing many indigenous dog breeds in Spain at the time, the Central Canine Society of Madrid created a special Commission for Spanish Breeds and appointed José Manuel Sanz Timón as overall director. In 1979 the Commission asked three young veterinary students, Luis M. Arribas, Luis A. Centenera and Carlos Contera to locate and catalog any remaining Pachones they could find in the Narvarra, Rioja and Alava regions as well as parts of Portugal. The project was intended to be a relatively short-term effort designed to produce a written report and census of the breed. But it ended up being much more than just a research project and anything but short term. Today it is seen as the turning point in the history of the Pachon Navarro since it sparked a renewed interest among Spanish hunters for their native breeds of gundog.

When I finally got the opportunity to meet Dr. Carlos Contera near Guadalajara, Spain, I asked him why he became interested in the breed. 
 It was great fun for a young student, but it was a lot of work. People in other countries had undertaken similar surveys for horse breeds but there was never much interest in searching for hunting dogs except for some work done in finding Spanish Mastiffs. We used the same methodology to find Spanish Alans later on, but with the Pachon Navarro, I saw it was a noble cause, something that would enrich our culture. We put in an enormous amount of work without any outside help. We were criticized by many and ignored by others but my father, uncles and cousins all worked on the project. It took us a long time - our hair is now grey - but we’ve succeeded. The young hunters today don’t even realize that the breed was once considered to be almost extinct!
Today the breed continues to gain ground among Spanish hunters. The number of Pachon Navarro pups whelped each year continues to climb. With a dynamic club working to gain full recognition for the breed, the future of the Pachon Navarro seems bright.

The Pachon Navarro could never be accused of looking like just another gundog. While it shares many of the features common to most Continental breeds, there are some significant differences. The most obvious, of course, is the nose. All dogs have a slight crease between their nostrils but it is usually no more than a very shallow line. But many Pachones have nostrils that are clearly divided by a much deeper furrow making it look similar to the business end of a side-by-side shotgun. This is the famous “double nose” referred to in the old literature.

Anatomically, it is actually a cleavage in the structure of the nose itself. It is not unique to the Pachon Navarro. In fact a good number of breed standards mention a split or double nose but when they do, it is always listed as a serious or disqualifying fault. The Pachon Navarro standard is the only one that allows it.

It is interesting to speculate just how the double nose came to be viewed as a positive characteristic for the Pachon Navarro. It is certainly possible that an individual with a split nose just happened to be an excellent hunter with a very fine sense of smell. Was this then seen as “proof” that at double nose was better than a regular nose?

Nowadays of course, breeders understand that the double nose offers no advantage over a normal nose and that it is simply a cosmetic feature of the breed. Furthermore, not all Pachones have a double nose. Nor do all breeders select for it. Pachon breeders understand that by using double-nosed dogs in their lines, they run the risk of producing pups with completely cleft palates. I was told that up to 10% of pups are either stillborn or are put down immediately after birth since the cleft is so profound that they are incapable of breathing or nursing properly. But most Pachones have a moderate cleft and are fine. They can breathe and suckle, run and hunt just like any other dog. 

The most common coat type in the breed is a short, smooth coat similar to that of other short-haired Continental breeds. A longhaired or Seduño coat similar in length and texture to that of some of the Brittany is also accepted. A wide variety of colors are allowed. Carlos Contera told me that The Pachon is a hunting dog and there are no bad colors for hunting dogs. The most common combinations are white and orange, white and brown, white and black and white and liver (a darker shade of brown) with or without patches or ticking. There are also self-colored (monochrome) and tri-color coats.

The Pachon Navarro is a fascinating breed of gundog. It is the closest thing we have to a direct link back to the ancestral dogs that were first developed on either side of the Pyrenees Mountains. Studying it allowed me to better understand what the pointing dogs of the 14th century must have been like.  

Our first encounter with the Pachon Navarro was in 2001 near Pamplona. Lisa and I had traveled from France to visit Pachon breeder Juan J. García Estévez the vice president of the Circulo de Cazadores y Criadores de Pachón Navarro. When we arrived, we were greeted warmly by Juan and his lovely wife, Carla, and by the most extraordinary-looking dogs we had ever seen. A solidly built bitch and two six-month old pups greeted us as we stepped into the yard. All of them had noses that fit Freeman Lloyd’s description to a tee—they were like the double barrels of a shotgun!

We spent two days with Juan and Carla and learned a lot about their dogs and the program to revive the breed. On an absolutely beautiful afternoon and evening walking in the hills near their home we watched their dogs work in the extraordinary light of the foothills of Los Pirineos, the Pyrenees Mountains, the breed’s birthplace.

I found the dogs to be exactly as advertised. They were tireless workers that kept a steady pace searching for game more or less within gun range. They mainly trotted but broke into a loping gallop for minute or two if the conditions warranted it and dug into even the thickest cover.

Four years later, on another trip to Spain, we had the distinct pleasure of meeting the leader of the recuperation effort, Carlos Contera and his father, Manuel, at their home near Guadalajara. Juan was there too. He kindly drove the three hours from his home to meet us once again. This time we saw a larger number of dogs, some with the double nose, some without. We also had the opportunity to see the longhaired version of the breed. 

In the field, we followed along as Carlos and Manuel hunted quail with their dogs. My initial impressions of the breed were confirmed. All the Pachones showed a good degree of desire, hunting hard despite the thick, thorny cover. Points were fairly intense but often lasted only until the gunner was within about 5 meters at which point the dog would bust into the thick, thorny cover to flush the bird. 

Watching the Pachones Navarro work, I got a real sense of what it must have been like to hunt with pointing dogs in the 14th century. The terrain and game they pursued was exactly as described in many classic works on pointing dogs. In fact, I am sure Carlos and Manuel could have used a nets or crossbows instead of modern firearms. The dogs certainly worked close enough and were able to sniff out the tiny European quail even in the tightest cover on that hot, dry day.

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