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 the 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.