As with many old breeds, the origins of the Spinone Italiano is difficult to pin point; history has offered indications of a dog resembling the breed that predates the use of guns by over 1,000 years. Certainly by the Middle Ages, there were undeviating reports of large, rough haired pointing dogs with hunting styles typical of the Spinone. A 15th century painting by Andrea Mantegna (see left) included a dog whose appearance many feel is consistent with the Spinone, particularly the dog’s head. All of this serves to underscore the fact that the Spinone Italiano is one of the oldest breeds of gun dog anywhere.
The breed name, ‘Spinone,’ is derived from the earlier use of ‘Bracco Spinoso’, or prickly pointer, referencing either to the breed’s harsh coat, or the spiny thorns of the shrubs where the game it hunted would hide. Interestingly, regions developed their own types of gun dog. From the Spinone Italiano Club of America’s website: “Regional breed names developed: ‘Spinoso’ or ‘Restone’ in Tuscany, ‘Bracco Restoso’ near Naples, ‘Can Cravin’ in the Piedmont, and ‘Spinone’ in Lombardy.”
By 1871, Italy had largely unified, and standardizing dog breeds and their names was not only in that spirit among canine authorities, but reflective of a new “modern” preoccupation with categorizing and labelling. A breed standard was written in Italy by the Societa Braccofilia in 1897, and later by the Italian Kennel Club. The basic essentials of the breed standard remained largely unchanged over the next fifty years of numerous revisions, and neither did the dog. WWII saw the Spinoni recruited into the war effort by hunting game, finding missing soldiers, or chasing and capturing German patrols.
By war’s end, it was clear that the breed had taken a toll, and saving the dogs from extinction was critical. A rescue movement was initiated which later lead to the formation of the first national breed club, ‘La Famiglia dello Spinone’ in the 1950’s. The Spinone’s numbers was restored, its gene pool revitalized. Today, the Spinone is in good shape, its legions of fans and admirers growing exponentially.