Our modern Spinone derives from ancient Italian ancestral dogs that hunters found would produce game reliably over difficult, varied Alpine and Apennine mountain and marshland terrain. These harsh conditions molded the dogs: the best were big, sturdy and robust with thick skin and armoring, bristly coats. They were known for their endurance, calmness, cooperative style and versatility. They could hunt by air scenting, ground tracking, and when close to enticing game, stealthily point the way for the hunter, rather than running it to ground itself. The name ‘Spinone’ derives from the earlier ‘Bracco Spinoso’, or prickly pointer, referring either to their harsh coats or the spiny thorns of the shrubs where game would hide.
The earliest accounts of pointing dogs go back to the Greek historians, including Xenophon in 3-400 B.C. and rough coated pointers were mentioned in Roman histories by Seneca and many others. There are references to the careful, productive hunting style typical of the Spinone already by 200 A.D. in Italy. By the middle ages, numerous accounts gave remarkably consistent accounts of rough haired, large and companionable pointing dogs with hunting styles typical of the Spinone. Around 1470, the painter, Andrea Mantegna shows a large light colored dog with divergent head and muzzle planes, loyally relaxing under the throne of the Marquis of Mantua. As the human bloodlines of Europe are debated and claimed, the fine qualities of the Spinone are claimed by Spanish, French, Russian, Greek, and Celtic authorities as either heirs or ancestors. In 1683, the French canine expert, Selicourt wrote that ‘the finest griffons (pointers) came from the Italy and the Piedmont’, in the hills near Turin.
19th century Italy was marked by regional conflict and the competing political impulses of national unification and regional isolation. Variations in the Spinone developed along parallel lines. Regions developed styles and cross breedings with local dogs or the dogs of vacationers/ traveling hunters fueled further variations in the breed. Regional breed names developed: ‘Spinoso’ or ‘Restone’ in Tuscany, ‘Bracco Restoso’ near Naples, ‘Can Cravin’ in the Piedmont, and ‘Spinone’ in Lombardy. But, Italian unification was mostly complete by 1871 and efforts to develop breed and name standards among canine authorities led to the first acknowledged standard by the Societa Braccofilia in 1897 and emphasis on the unified name ‘Spinone’ by the canine expert Delor in the same year. Though numerous revisions ensued over the next 5 decades, the fundamentals of the breed and standard remained generally unchanged. The ENCI, the Italian AKC equivalent, now enforces the breed standard nationally.
Efforts to revitalize the breed and reverse the regionalization trend intensified in the 1930’s, but World War II stalled and reversed these efforts. The war devastated many regions, disrupted and dispersed breeders and their families, animals and records. And the dogs were useful to the war effort. They hunted scarce game, tracked soldiers whether friend or foe or just kept people warm in winter. Saving the dogs from extinction was urgent after the war. A census was undertaken by Cerasoli. Other breed stalwarts from before the war, particularly Brianzi and Ullio, formed a rescue movement and later the first national breed club, ‘La Famiglia dello Spinone’ in the 1950’s. Their efforts, and that of newly attracted breeders gradually stabilized the Spinone’s reduced numbers and gene pool. Today, the Spinone is also well represented internationally, particularly in the US and UK and attracts an ever widening circle of admirers, both for their intelligence and stylish hunting and their fun-loving and companionable, calm and adaptable personalities.