Interview with a Master

In my book I wrote about seeing a sparkle in the eye of renowned Cesky Fousek breeder Jaromir Dostal.
It was a look we had seen before; a certain fiery sparkle, a radiant glow on the faces of a handful of men we had met in our travels. They were men with decades of experience who had spent countless hours in the fields with their dogs. They had each dedicated much of their lives to a breed of gun dog that, without their help, may have fallen into the abyss. We saw the years of ups and downs etched into their faces, and would sometimes hear notes of sadness as they spoke to us about the struggles they’d endured. But, when the light was just right, and the conversation turned to the great dogs they had known, they became young men again, their eyes transformed by an inner glow, their faces beaming.
Among that handful of men mentioned above is Cesare Bonasegale, one of the most important figures in the history of the Bracco Italiano. I first met Cesare in 2006 near Milan when I travelled there to interview him and photograph his dogs. I'd spoken to him on the phone before my trip, so I knew he had a lot to say about the Bracco, but when I met him in person and saw that "fiery sparkle" I knew I was in the presence of a true master. His knowledge of the breed, based on a near-photographic memory of 60+ years of Bracco history was astounding. 

Cesare and Lisa at a field trial near Pian di Spino (Emilia-Romagna, Italy).
Pro tip: if you really want to bring out the sparkle in their eye, ask them about their dogs
and have them pose for a photo next to a pretty woman!
Much of the information I gathered from Cesare during my visit ended up in the Bracco Italiano chapter in my book and over the last few years, Cesare and I kept in touch, occasionally exchanging information on dog-related topics or helping one another connect with other dog enthusiasts in various parts of the world. Then, last January Cesare asked me if I would be interested in translating a book he'd recently written. How could I refuse? Sure, it would take a lot of time and effort (my Italian is not that great), but I would get to read a great book before anyone else in the world! 

So page by page, chapter by chapter, Cesare sent me his manuscript by email. And day by day, month by month, I would do my best to render his monumental work into English while maintaining a sense of Cesare's unique writing style and razor-sharp wit.

Finally, in late May, with the help of friends and proof readers Jude Gerstein, Concepta Cassar, and Jo Laurens, I was ready to press the "send" button on an email containing the final version of the translation. By August the book had been printed and on September 9th at a massive international breed show and field trial held in Italy, it was launched. 

Here is a brief introduction of the event (in Italian).

And here are highlights from the field trial.

And from the breed show.

I was unable to attend the event — the hunting fields of Manitoba beckoned me! — so I received my copy of the book by mail late last fall and last week I received a limited number of copies that I've now made available for sale on my website. For fans of the Bracco Italiano this book is a 'must have' and for fans of any breed of pointing dog, this book should be at the top of your wish list since it is such a valuable resource for all things related to breeding and training any breed of pointing dog.

Finally, I wrote to Cesare to ask him a few questions about the book. Here are his answers:

Why did you decide to write this book?
In a way, I had no choice. I had so many requests from the readers of my blog I finally had to say "yes"!

Now that it is finished, and available in English, what are your hopes for the book?
That breeders of all breeds will read it and learn how they can base their breeding efforts on concrete data and not just continue to rely on the luck of the draw.

This is not your first book, in fact you are a very prolific writer and oversee an online journal called Continentali da Ferma. When did you start writing and what motivates you to write?
I started writing about 20 years ago and my goal has always been the same: improved communication (and therefore education) about a subject that sorely needs it. I want to shed light on the challenges and difficulties faced by anyone who wants to breed good pointing dogs.

Why did you decide to start breeding Bracchi? 
When I first started breeding Bracchi Italiani, the breed was in a pitiful state. But I was lucky enough to come across a few very good individuals that really caught my attention. So I decided to devote myself to developing that blood line.

What aspect of breeding dogs gives you the most satisfaction?

Successfully fixing the traits I seek in my dogs through selective breeding. It is also very rewarding to gain an understanding of the genetic mechanisms by which those traits are transmitted.

What has been your greatest challenge as a breeder of Bracchi Italiani?
To make my dogs field trial champions in a minimum number of trials. Considering that a male has to win three CAC awards and females two CACs to become a champion, my greatest success was with Bocia del Boscaccio who earned his championship in just three trials and his sister Murusa in only two! After that I retired from competition. I find it rather absurd that some dogs continue collecting useless CACs even after they've become a champion, instead of "leaving some room" for the youngsters.

You mention in your book that you keep your Bracco puppies until they are 6 months old, or even older so that you could observe their development and start their early conditioning. Can you tell me more about why you would keep them for so long and the benefits to you and the pups for doing so?
My kennel was never set up to make money. Its main goal was to evaluate the results of the breedings I undertook. And that could only be achieved if I kept all the pups until they were 6-8 months old or even older. It also enabled me to offer a guarantee to the people who got pups from me. After all, I could personally vouch for each pups' strengths and weaknesses since I had observed and evaluated them over a longer period of time.

Your del Boscaccio kennel is famous throughout the Bracco world, and dogs from your line are found in the pedigrees of almost all the great working Bracchi of today. How would you describe your dogs? What makes them unique or different from other lines of Bracchi? 
In the beginning, the principle difference between my dogs and those from other lines was their very stylish gate and much greater range. Today, fortunately, those traits are much more widespread in the breed (but then again, they are all distant descendants of dogs from the del Boscaccio line).

Looking back on your many decades of work with the Bracco, what do you think is your greatest contribution to the breed? What more do you wish you could have done? 
I wish I could have achieved a greater genetic fixation of the "flying trot" across the breed. And it would have been nice to see a faster, wider distribution of the unique working qualities and style of the breed. But it is hard to achieve quality and quantity at the same time. (Note: for more information about the 'flying trot' see my article on the Bracco Italiano here).

Your book is more than just an excellent source of information on the genetics of pointing dog behaviour and how to train pointing dogs of any breed, it offers a fascinating look into the culture of hunting with pointing dogs in Europe. My favourite parts of the book are your personal anecdotes about hunting with your own dogs. Can you tell me more about the 'good old days' of hunting when a young man could take his dog and a gun on the tram to go hunting snipe in the countryside?
Those are such lovely memories, but it's all in the past. The hunting conditions have changed so much since then. Even outside of Italy, the hunting conditions we enjoyed twenty or thirty years ago no longer exist. I could relive other great adventures, but they would still be nothing more than just memories.

In your book, you also wrote that some Italian hunters would even ride their bicycles to the field. Do you know the man and dog in the photo above?
That is Avvocato Giacomo Griziotti from Pavia. I wrote about him in the book. The photo is from the cover of Griziotti's book and, if I remember well, the dog is Atala. In my book there is another photo of Griziotti with Banco del Vergante. He also used to ride in the basket of the bike.

If you could speak to your 'younger self', the young Cesare Bonasegale that was just starting with Bracchi many years ago, what advice would you give him?
I would tell him to ignore the naysayers and people who are motivated only by their ego. I would tell him to focus on the improvement of the breed. Unfortunately so many people in the dog world are in it for their own personal glorification. It's always been that way and I fear that it will always be that way in the future. It is disheartening to see so much hatred and divisiveness in a world that should be about friendship and solidarity. But it's always been that way. 

Your historical overview of the development of the Bracco is one of the best I've ever read. If you could go back in time and meet a famous Bracco person from the past, who would it be?
It would be Rino Vigo, the pro trainer from Pavia who bred some of the best Bracchi of the 60s and 70s. He was responsible for some of the most significant innovations in the understanding and training of the Bracco Italiano. 

Finally, your dogs and your writings are very well known in Italy but this is the first time one of your books is available in English and it will undoubtedly be widely read in Europe, the UK and in North America. What would you like to say specifically to the English readers of your book that may not be very familiar with the Italian hunting culture and history of the quintessential Italian pointing dog?

In many foreign countries the Bracco Italiano is seen as nothing more than a pet. But the source of all the Bracco's best qualities as a pet are its qualities as a pointing dog. So if you want to produce the best pet Bracchi select them from among the best Bracco Italiano hunting dogs! The day the Bracco Italiano is no longer a pointing dog and selectively bred as such is the day it ceases to exist. If they are only bred for the show ring they will lose the qualities that make them such a magnificent pointing dog and that will soon lead to them losing all the qualities that make them such an affectionate companion animal as well. So breeders in the English speaking world need to understand that selectively breeding Bracchi to be excellent gun dogs is the best way to ensure that they end up with excellent companion animals and the best friends they could ever have. 

Click here to order your copy of Noble Bracco by Cesare Bonasegale. $30 in North America, $40 everywhere else. Shipping included!

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals