In a previous post
I wrote the following about an excellent Picardy Spaniel that Lisa and I saw in a field trial in France.
Watching Aramis run, I realized that the Picardy Spaniel would probably thrive in the US and Canada. Speaking to Lisa after the trial, I said that it would be perfect for many North American hunters since, among all the French pointing breeds, it is probably the best suited to NAVHDA testing and to the kind of mixed-bag hunting we do. She replied: I think you are right. It’s a shame that the Picardy is such a well-kept secret. But if you write about dogs like Aramis, the secret won’t last very long!
Well I am happy to say that the secret may finally be getting out. In addition to a club for the breed and a number of breeders in France, there is now a Picardy club in the UK and Holland and breeders in Germany, Austria, England and Finland. This summer, the Picardy Spaniel population of Canada is set to double -- from one to two -- when we welcome our new pup Leo
from the UK and there will soon be several more pups coming to in North America and even a litter or two on the ground in the next couple of years.
So I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about the current state of the breed, as of February, 2016.
The Picardy is a hidden gem among gundogs. Created by hunters, for hunters, it is still an artisanal breed. The vast majority of Picardy Spaniels look like they are supposed to look and hunt the way they are supposed to hunt. There are no large kennels breeding dozens of litters per year, no trucks full of Picardies on the major field trial circuit or show-only breeders seeking blue ribbons in the ring. Picardy Spaniels are still bred the old-fashioned way; mainly in the homes of hunters who produce a litter or two every couple of years from their personal hunting companions.
Like all breeds, there is some hip dysplasia, and eye issues like ectropion are not unknown either. But in general, the average Picardy enjoys good health. Overall, the breed's gene pool is relatively wide and inbreeding coefficients are usually not particularly high in most litters, even if it may seem that way on paper (see below).
The overall population of Picardy Spaniels is very low and that means the dreaded popular sire syndrome can occur more easily and have a stronger negative effect. Have a look at the graph I drew up showing the registration stats from the French kennel club
. It shows that while the breed has gained ground over the last 45 years it still averages less than 100 registrations per year. Of course there are dogs that are not registered, but even if we include them, the number of Picardy Spaniels whelped in France has probably never been more than 200 pups in any given year.
Outside of France, stats are harder to come by, but my guess is that an additional 20 to 40 Picardy Spaniel pups are whelped in places like Germany, the Netherlands and Austria each year. So if the average life span of a Picardy is 9 years and there are say, 125 pups whelped per year, that means the entire world-wide population of Picardy Spaniels is only about 1000 individuals right now.
Testing rates for hip dysplasia and other health concerns are also too low, especially in France. There are still too many breeders out there that just assume that their dogs are fine, then breed them without taking advantage of diagnostic tests now available.
Even before the breed was fully formed, "foreign" blood (mainly English Setters) had made its way into French Spaniels all over France, and in particular, into the French Spaniel type dogs bred in Picardy, Normandy and Brittany. I wrote about one such case here
. When the Picardy Spaniel was officially recognized as an independent breed in the early 1900s, it was supposed to remain pure. But like every other French breed of épagneul, crosses to setters occurred. It is believed they happened between the wars and again in the 1980s and 90s and have probably occurred as recently as just a few years ago.
Over the years, some of the crosses were sanctioned by the club, others were not. In any case, no one denies that if a Picardy could talk, it would have a slight English accent. And in some ways, that is a good thing. Limited and controlled doses of setter blood have helped widen the gene pool of the breed and given the average Picardy a bigger run, more point and better style.
But there have also been some drawbacks. It now seems that there may have been a few too many crosses in some lines and that breeders may have over-estimated their knowledge of basic genetics. In any case, there are some issues in the breed that need to be dealt with. For example, pups with so-called "lemon" colouring -- a coat like that of an orange and white setter -- have popped up in some lines. Breeders will now have to test their dogs to identify carriers of the gene to avoid "lemon" coats in the future. In addition, coats with a faded brown colour, very light or no tan points, lacking grey roan and/or having a lot of white are also occurring in some litters. Another issue is that the overall build of some dogs is becoming more setter-like and there is a real fear that the versatility and practicality of the breed's continental hunting style may also be at risk.
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So in some regards, the Picardy is facing a situation
similar to that of the Korthals Griffon (although on a much smaller scale and with far less vitriol
). Unwanted genetic material has made its way into the breed and it is now posing a challenge to breeders seeking to produce clean litters of pups that look and hunt like Picardy Spaniels. That said, I am actually optimistic that the breed will be just fine in the long run. The French tend to have a worldly, pragmatic view about these sorts of things. They are certainly much less puritanical about it than some of the more zealous purists in the US and UK where a similar situation would end up with torch carrying mobs looking for witches. No, in France there may be a bit of mud-slinging and hurt feelings, but in the end breeders of Picardy Spaniels, with the help of a growing community of supporters outside of France, will put the breed back on a more or less straight and narrow path and continue to breed some really good dogs.
I know I sound like a broken record, but I will say it again: the Picardy Spaniel should be better known, especially among North American hunters. It represents exactly the kind of dog many of us want: an easy-to-train, easy-to-live-with, naturally-talented upland birddog that is also an excellent water worker. And yes, Picardies can also blood track, hunt fur and fetch foxes. Just ask the increasing number of German and Austrian hunters that are getting into the breed.
And that, I believe is the biggest opportunity for the breed right now. There are exciting new horizons opening up for the Picardy Spaniel. After languishing in its native Picardy for too long, hunters from outside of France are bringing new energy and new ideas to the breed. And as they do, a renewed sense of pride and purpose is emerging among the creators and guardians of the breed, French hunters. They've had a real treasure on their hands for over a century, but needed a friendly reminder about just how precious it is. The Picardy Spaniel was a well-kept secret for too long. I'm happy to report that the world is finally finding out about it.
Here is a list of currently active breeders with links to their websites or Facebook page or email. If you are interested in getting a Picardy Spaniel pup, you may want to read my post about importing a pup from overseas
And here is a brief overview of some of the more influential kennel names of the past and present that you will see in the pedigrees of most Picardy pups today.
DU VAL PICARD:
Mr. Loir no longer breeds, but his kennel was among the first to be established after World War II and his efforts were key in reviving the breed in the post-war years.
DU PRÉ DES AULNAIS:
Mr. Demagny no longer breeds dogs, but was one of the first breeders of Picardy Spaniels, along with Mr. Lempereur, Mr. Charron and Mr. Mailly to focus on fields trials to raise the profile of the breed. Mr. Demagny's dogs Joconde, Only One, Tina, Excel and Iroo achieved great results in the field. Other kennels active on the field trial scene in that same period include du Bois Bruyant (Mr. Lecaille) and du Mont Galant (Mr. Charron).
DE LA VALLEE BROUTIN:
Mr. Marc Lempereur's kennel is perhaps the most well known and prolific in France. Mr. Lempereur, along with Mr. Demagny and Mr. Charron were the first to bring the Picardy back to field trialing in the 1960s. Pacha de la Vallée Broutin, an excellent trial dog was the foundation of Mr. Lempereur's kennel and greatly improved the pointing talents and coat quality of the breed. Pacha's son Truffe dominated the field trial scene for Picardy Spaniels and was followed by other excellent descendants such as Astuce, Chipsie, Echo, Futile, Futée, Pandorre and other champions including the well-known dog Fax.
DES MARAIS DE SAINT HILAIRE:
Mr. Lemonnier was one of the rare breeders of Picardy Spaniels to successfully compete in woodcock and snipe trials. His dogs Roxane des Terres de Pitance, Aramis des Marais de Saint Hilaire, Candy des Marais de Saint Hilaire, Comtesse des Marais de Saint Hilaire and Coyotte des Marais de Saint Hilaire established the excellent reputation of the kennel. Mr. Lemonier has produced a number of field trial champions but may no longer be breeding.
DES TERRES DE PITANCE:
Mr. Joël Mailly started his kennel with Catch de la Vallée Broutin et Farah at the beginning of the 1980's. Since then, his small family-run kennel has produced field trial champions and field pointed dogs in every generation. Dogs such as Jaffa, Jeff, Milord, Rambo, Roxane, Vénus, and his latest dog Gena are the stars of his kennel. Vénus is in fact one of the very few female Picardy Spaniels to attain the title of spring-time field trial champion.
DES ETANGS ENSOLEILLÉS:
Only produced one or two litters and is best known for Theo des Étangs Ensoleillés, an excellent dog used by Mr. Mailly.
DE LA VALLEE DE BOUCHON:
Sébastien Roze continues to breed the occasional litter for the kennel founded by his late father, Dominique. Sébastien often participates in Saint Hubert events (shoot to retrieve trials) and typically gets excellent ratings for his dogs at the national breed show.
DU MARAIS DE LA MALVOISINE:
William Brutelle's kennel has produced several high-profile Picardy Spaniels in recent years. Dogs such as Archimède du Marais de la Malvoisine
, Axel de la Malvoisine
and Astro de la Malvoisine
earned the kennel a good reputation for producing excellent field trial and hunting dogs. Axel also earned a BICP (versatile dog test) championship title and other dogs from the kennel have won and placed in field trials in France and the Netherlands. Mr. Brutelle also breeds English Setters.
DU RIDEAU DE LA LOUVE:
Mr. Bruno Demoulin produced a number of excellent Picardy Spaniels including autumn and spring-time champion César du Rideau de la Louve and Natt du Rideau de la Louve, the first ever spring-time field trial champion Picardy Spaniel. Mr. Demoulin no longer breeds Picardy Spaniels and now focusses on breeding English Setters.