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Breed of the Week: The Bracco Italiano!

Of all the breeds I've studied, the Bracco Italiano may be the most misunderstood...at 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.)
Pointing
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...
Retrieve
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. 

Tracking
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
http://www.dogwilling.ca/index.cfm

11 comments:

  1. I have trained several Bracco and hunted over them in the Dakota's and they are very good water dogs. I have run 3 of them in the NAVHDA Utility test and prized all 3. They are a very impressive dog. I currently own one along with 5 GSP's Ed Erickson owner/trainer Autumn Breeze Kennel

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  2. wonderful article! we have raised and hunted bracchi for the past 11 years, and we place our pups in hunting homes only. they are everything this article says they are - as long as you allow them to do the thing they were bred to do! not only are they superb working dogs, they are the best family/children dogs we know.

    Intelligent, sensitive, working fools, a bit stubborn if they think they know better - this is a dog for the hunter who wants the best.

    (Ms.) Lane Conrad - Cerca Trova Bracco Italiano Canile

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  3. We have 2 Bracci currently and they are a great family dog also. Loving and attached to the family. Our first Bracco we brought into country from Pavia about 17 years ago. Passed 3 years ago and we brought in 2 more pups about 2 years ago.
    Just wonderful dogs.

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  4. Great article! The Bracco Italiano is a wonderful hunting dog and family companion, but they are not for everyone. I currently have two and they need a Minimum of one full hour of exercise each day to keep them healthy and happy. They are first and foremost hunting dogs and I really do not recommend them for people that do not hunt. They need the mental and physical stimulation of hunting to keep them happy. In addition they are not without their share of health problems, bloat is something that I have learned since being in the breed is a bigger problem for the Bracco than it is for other hunting dogs. All things considered they are great dogs for the right type of owner...

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  5. I have had a Bracco for the last 5 years and find them to be a fantastic all around dog. The bracco is an extremely good hunting dog, but work much slower that most other hunting breeds. They do need exercise, but when the exercise is done, they are very laid back and are couch potatoes. They are extremely affectonate and do need a substantial amount of human interface. Of all the years of having dogs, the bracco is a breed I will continue to own.

    Dick Propernick
    President, Bracco Italiano Club of America

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  6. I am looking to purchase a Bracco puppy. I have read numerous article about the breed and I am very impressed. However, they seem to be limited. Any suggestions on where to purchase one would be greatly appreciated. My home is in Alabama and I can be reached at anthny0@aol.com.

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  7. We are looking to purchase a Bracco puppy too, we are located in Evansville Indiana, we need help in locating a breeder. We heard there was one located in the Marengo Cave area? No luck locating them. All help would be appreciated.
    Donna Kaiser redsranch@wowway.com

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  8. Contact the national breed club. They should be able to help you out. http://www.thebraccoclub.org/

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  9. Need good hunting grade Bracco? call Lane Conrad at cerca trova - their's bracco are excellent! We got dog from them and we love every moment of having this creature runing the show! Smart, powerful, birdy and loving...what else to ask.

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  10. Need good hunting grade Bracco? call Lane Conrad at cerca trova - their's bracco are excellent! We got dog from them and we love every moment of having this creature runing the show! Smart, powerful, birdy and loving...what else to ask.

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  11. The National Purebred Dog Day Facebook page has shared this.

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