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The Italian Spinone is a rugged hunting dog that descended from ancient Italian dogs to hunt in harsh terrain. This skilful all-rounder is known for versatility and adaptability – she does all jobs related to hunting, including pointing, setting, retrieving, and flushing. Muscular and powerful, she is built more for endurance than speed and is suited to almost any kind of terrain.
The Spinone is a medium- to large-sized dog, ranging in height from 58 to 69 cm and in weight from 29 to 39 kg, with females typically smaller and lighter than males. She has a long head and pronounced occipital (back of the head) which are unique to the breed. Her soft, expressive, human-like eyes are framed by long, stiff hair forming shaggy eyebrows; her nostrils and lips by a tufted moustache and beard. She has a kind and earnest expression that shows intelligence and understanding.
‘Spinone’ means “thorn,” in reference to the wiry coat that can whip through thorny bushes as she flushes out game.Her coarse, dense coat, along with her thick skin, enables her to negotiate underbrush and endure cold water that would punish any dog not so effectively protected. The medium length single coat has a stiff, flat appearance and comes in solid white, orange and white, brown and white, orange roan and brown roan.
Coat maintenance is fairly easy – regular brushes a few times a week and running the fingers through it periodically to de-knot the tangles. However, the Spinone may suffer from “shaggy dog syndrome”, with debris clinging to her coat and water soaking into her beard and dripping on the floor. The long hair around her mouth can also trap debris, food and water, causing smelliness.
A very active and high energy breed, but not ‘high octane’ like most other hunting breeds, the Spinone typically moves at a characteristic relaxed trot. She requires at least one solid hour of hiking, walking, running, or swimming per day (her large, puppy-like, webbed paws make her an excellent swimmer). She has been described as the perfect running or jogging companion dog, because she prefers a slow pace and will not run off in front and leave her human companion struggling to keep up. She also enjoys hunting, tracking, agility (obstacle course), obedience and other canine sports and activities that provide an outlet for her instinctive desire to run and work.
As long as she gets enough exercise and/or plenty of playtime, she can be more than happy with a securely fenced yard (she is a very good jumper and digger) and does not require acres of land. She is not a ‘kennel dog’ that can be left alone outside for long periods of time; rather, she needs to be part of the family and to live indoors where she can participate in family activities and interact with her human companions. She will often express her unhappiness through destructive behaviour such as chewing and barking when she is bored, under-exercised, or left alone too often.
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The Italian Spinone is an affectionate and gentle softy. Generally calmer and more docile than other pointing breeds, in the field she is patient, methodical, cooperative and often courageous. In the home she is a loyal, docile and affectionate family member who loves nothing more than being in the company of her family. She loves children and is patient and gentle with them, although because of her size she is best suited to families with kids aged 6 and up.
She is friendly towards strangers and gets along well with other dogs, towards whom she is very friendly. As a hunter, she may have a high prey drive and feel inclined to chase cats and other small creatures. Typically, she won’t venture off too far from her family, preferring to be within sight most of the time, but as a hunting dog with an independent mind, she may sometimes get distracted and ignore calls or commands when an interesting sight, sound or scent catches her attention.
The enthusiastic, intelligent and eager-to-please Spinone is a keen learner who is easily trained. As she is sensitive and non-dominant, she is best trained with a gentle, motivational approach and a soft voice, so as not to hurt her feelings. She doesn’t respond well to training that’s too hard or heavy-handed. She may be stubborn about performing a learned task if she doesn’t see the point of it, so unwavering consistency and great patience may be required.
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The Spinone is one of the earliest breeds developed as a pointing dog, with references to wire-haired pointing dogs in Roman history dating as far back as 300 B.C. The breed’s origins are unclear and have been claimed by many countries, including Spain, France, Russia, Greece and Celtic Ireland. Likely, it is a cross of coarse haired Italian Setters, bred with dogs left by Greek traders and others from the Adriatic coast as well as crosses with the White Mastiff and perhaps French Griffons.
Present day Spinone ancestry traces back principally to the Piedmont region of Italy, where they were bred to hunt and gather waterfowl, working alongside huntsmen on the hilly terrain of Alpine Italy. Dogs resembling the Italian Spinone can be found in artwork of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy.
During World War II, the Spinone were put to work tracking German patrols, a task at which they reputedly excelled. However, by the end of the war the breed was almost decimated and many of the remaining dogs mixed with other breeds. In the 1950s, a rescue movement began, resulting in the formation of a breed club, La Famiglia dello Spinone. The breed has since solidified and is again popular in Italy and some other European countries. The American Kennel Club recognised the breed in 2000. It remains a relatively new and rare breed in Australia, arriving here in 1987, with current numbers being around 200.