Breed of the Week: The Braque Saint GermainThe Braque Saint Germain is the fastest and widest ranging of all the Continentals. It has the nose of an English Pointer, the strength of a Braque Français and a character that’s an ideal blend of the two… in theory.
Unfortunately, tracing the history of the breed and reviewing its current situation is like following the tracks of a roller coaster. From a royal beginning in the court of a french king to a series of gut-wrenching ups and downs, the breed has flirted with fame, fortune—and extinction—for nearly two hundred years.
The story of the Braque Saint Germain is often reduced to a Reader’s Digest version involving an English pointer named Miss and a Braque Français named Zamor. But it doesn’t take much research to discover that the story is only slightly more plausible than the one about Adam and Eve. Okay, maybe that is an exaggeration. After all, we know that Miss and Zamor did actually exist and that they did produce pups with white and orange coats and pink noses. But to conclude that the entire breed traces back to a single pair of dogs is a bit much. On the other hand, the story does explain how the breed got its name.
Sometime around 1820, Count Alexandre de Girardin, the chief huntsman of the French royal court, is said to have presented two English Pointers, named Miss and Stop, to King Charles X of France. According to well-known dog expert Adolphe de la Rue, who actually hunted over the two dogs, they were excellent hunters, especially Miss who he considered “far superior to our Braques”.
revolt in 1830, the king was forced to abdicate. His royal kennels were dismantled and many of his dogs given away. Stop died before he could be bred. But Miss was bred several times, having been given to M. de Larminat, the chief inspector of the Compiègne Forest, north of Paris. Her first litter was sired by an épagneul allemand marron—a brown “German spaniel”. The pups were said to have been of little value and were given away. A short while later, Miss was bred again, this time to a brown and white Braque Français named Zamor who belonged to the Count de l’Aigle. The first litter from Miss and Zamor produced seven pups, four of which had short white and orange coats and pink noses. It is believed that the two also produced other litters and that many of the pups were distributed among the foresters working under M. Larminat. Larminat sold two pups to Adolphe de la Rue.
I had a bitch and a dog from Miss and Zamor; at seven months of age they would point and retrieve naturally. The education of these ravishing animals gave me no trouble at all.De la Rue goes on to explain that many of the pups eventually ended up in the area that would ultimately give the breed its name:
In the royal forest service, the foresters often changed residences; it was in these movements of personnel that the forest officials of Compiègne moved to the forest of Saint Germain and they took their dogs with them. [The dogs] pleased the Parisian hunters with their elegance, their color and their qualities... Fashion and fads have such power over them that the good, excellent braques of their fathers went out of style; they only valued the white and orange dog, which from that time took on a name that has remained: the dog of Saint Germain.From the dogs’ new home in the forest of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, just west of Paris, their reputation grew and the name Braque Saint Germain took hold. For about 20 years, from 1830 to 1850, the breed enjoyed a period that De La Rue called the “most beautiful chapter of its history”. As its reputation grew among the well-to-do Parisian sportsmen, so did demand for Saint Germain pups. But the good times did not last long. By the 1860s, unscrupulous breeders had entered the scene selling any dog with an orange and white coat as a “Braque Saint Germain”. Even one of the country’s greatest dog experts, James de Coninck, was fooled.
One thing that a lot of histories of the breed overlook is that orange and white braques had existed in France for many years before Miss and Zamor were ever bred. They were simply thought of as braques du pays (country braques) along with all the others. But with the rise in popular- ity of the Saint Germain, any dog with a white and orange coat began to be bought and sold as if they were Braques Saint Germain. De Coninck wrote that:
It is hard to say that all the Saint Germains of today are descended from those [first] dogs because all orange and white Braques are called “Saint Germains”. And since the crossing of an orange and white dog with another dog, as was the case for Miss, generally results in other orange and white dogs, they fabricated them with a bit of everything.Much of the confusion was resolved when a breed club was formed in Paris in 1913. Its mission was to promote the “use of the Braque Saint Germain in France and elsewhere”. However, an official standard had not yet been adopted. Inevitably, breeders proceeded in different directions and two types of Braque Saint Germain began to appear. One had the look of a rough-and-tumble “meat dog” with a sturdy build: rounded chest, long low-set ears and a thick tail. This larger, coarser type of Braque Saint Germain was a trotter, lacking the speed, range and grace of its English Pointer ancestors. The other type was clearly more elegant. It was smaller, finer boned, had shorter high-set ears and galloped fast and wide.
Disaster struck in 1914 with the First World War decimating the breed. Numbers declined, breeders disappeared and the club fell apart. An attempt to reform it seems to have been made years later, circa 1932, but it was not until well after the Second World War that any kind of organized breeding started up again.
Nevertheless, by the 1950s and ’60s several good lines of Braques Saint Germain had been developed. A few outstanding dogs began to make their mark in shows and occasionally in field trials. But the breed had a hard time gaining much more than a small cult following among French hunters. The parent club struggled with internal dissension and a lack of focus. In the 1980s it counted only 23 members and for a time was dissolved. Even after the club managed to reform a few years later, the Braque Saint Germain failed to capture the attention of serious sportsmen, despite the fact that a few dedicated breeders were posting significant wins in field trials.
Unfortunately, in what seems to be a never-ending cycle, the parent club was once again racked by infighting. Some prominent breeders left for greener pastures or got out of dog breeding altogether. The number of Braques Saint Germain pups whelped each year dropped from an average of about 100 to a low of just over 30 in 2004. The situation seems to have improved lately, but only marginally. In 2009 a total of 109 pups were registered with the SCC (the French Canine Society). But the main issues still remain: too few serious breeders, too few dogs in the hunting field and next to none running in trials or tests.
The Braque Saint Germain and the Pudelpointer are the only breeds of Continental gundogs whose English Pointer heritage is fully recognized and, indeed promoted, as a positive aspect. Prominent breeder Xavier Thibault, whose Feux Mignons line has produced some of the breed’s best performers, explains:
The Braque Saint Germain has always been considered a half-blood. It should have a blend of characteristics from the Braque and the English Pointer. Unfortunately, the English Pointer characteristics are sometimes not as pronounced as they should be so very occasionally we need to refresh the lines. But breeding English Pointers into the Braque Saint Germain is not really crossbreeding. It is a renewal of the original blend.
What is important to understand is that this sort of breeding can produce excellent result quite quickly. But the real challenge is in maintaining the improvements that are seen in the first generation. For me, the really crucial selection starts with the second generation. We did not cross to the English Pointer to give the breed any more run or a better nose just so that it could win trials. We did it to regain some of the qualities that the breed had lost over the years and to increase the genetic variability within our lines. The Saint Germain should be able to win in trials, but it must also remain a hunting dogs created by and for hunters.Almost all Braques Saint Germain are bred in France. Numbers of pups produced can vary quite a bit from year to year, but on average about 80 to 90 pups are whelped in france, and never more than a handful elsewhere.
TESTS AND TRIALS
A lot of judges and even other competitors would tell me how pleased they were to see a Braque Saint Germain in competition. It was such a rare thing. Today, no one enters all-breed trials; only a few handlers run in the trials sponsored by the breed club. That is not the way to improve a breed. You need more dogs running in open [all-breed] competitions to make any progress. I may get back into competition; I don’t want to see this wonderful breed die out.The breed’s parent club organizes one or two field trials and tests per year. A few Braques Saint Germain have run in German tests with good results. As far as I know, none has yet been tested in NAVHDA.
Here is a short video of a photo session I had with some very nice Braques Saint Germain in the Charente region of France.
Click here for another post I wrote about the Braque Saint Germain. Click here for photos and more information (in German) on the breed.
Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals