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Spinone Education

  Judging the Spinone

The Spinone is often thought to be a difficult breed to judge.  There are several reasons for this: the Spinone is quite different from the other Sporting breeds, there has been a wide disparity in dogs seen in the breed ring, especially in the early years after recognition, and many sections of the breed standard (which is currently under revision) need clarification. With so many different-looking Spinoni out there, what is correct? 

In the ring, your initial impression should be of a dog of substance, nearly square in body.  The head is long, with diverging planes (never parallel) and a pronounced occiput.  The neck is thick and strong, slightly shorter than the head, and blends smoothly into the shoulders.  The topline is broken at the 11th thoracic vertebrae, but the break is not extreme.  From the break the topline rises into the loin; the rump, however, is never raised above the level of the withers in a mature specimen.  The croup falls at an angle of between 30-35 degrees from the horizontal plane.  

The tailset is a continuation of the croup line, with minimal break in the flow of the backline and with the tail carried horizontally or lower.  The chest is deep and broad, and there is a pronounced prosternum.  The distance from ground to the elbow is equal to 1/2 the height at the withers.  The length of the hock is approximately 1/3 the distance from the ground to the point of the hip.  Front and rear angulation are moderate and balanced.  The underline is solid, with minimal, if any, tuckup.

When you approach the Spinone from the front, the dog will appear more refined than in profile due to the oval bone of the legs, yet should still appear strong and powerful.  Some Spinoni will greet you enthusiastically, some will be reserved, but none should be shy or fearful.  Evaluating the head of the Spinone is very important.  Italian breeders say that if a Spinone does not have a correct head, it is not a Spinone!  Lift the head of each exhibit and check for a soft, human expression. This almost-human expression, which is considered to be an essential trait of the Spinone, is created from widely-placed, almost round, large and expressive eyes set on the frontal plane of the head, as well as the unusual warm ochre color (in white/orange dogs) or warm, soft brown (in brown roan dogs).  The stop, together with the brow and cheek chiseling, are minimally defined.  A sharp or intense expression created by incorrect eye color, shape or set (deemed typical in the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon and German Wirehaired Pointer)  must be severely penalized in the Spinone Italiano.  A recent letter sent to judges caused some confusion about checking for divergent planes from the front.  The point it was trying to make was that if you look straight along the line of the muzzle of a dog with divergent planes, your line of sight will be slightly above, and not directly into, the eyes.  The muzzle should be square when viewed from the front.  The bite must be scissors or level.  Depending on the looseness of the lips and the excitement level of the dog, there may be some Spinone “slime” to contend with when examining the head and bite.  Hopefully the exhibitor will have wiped the dog’s mouth if necessary, but you might want to keep a few paper towels handy, just in case.  Take in the head length, skull shape, and the ear placement and length.

   The important words to remember about the head are longlean and divergent.  Spinone head length is approximately four-tenths of the dog's height. Length of the muzzle equals the length of the skull. The skull is refined, no wider than half the total length of the head.  The sides of the head slope in a smooth curve from the sagittal suture to the zygomatic arch.  There is a marked occiput and well defined nape of neck.   A broad, flat skull, or lack of pronounced occiput, is not “Spinone”.  The ears are triangular in shape, with slightly rounded tips, framing the face in an unobtrusive manner. Set on low, in line with the corner of the eye, they lie close to the cheeks, with a small backward fold in the forward edge, and have minimal erectile power.  They are long, but should not reach more than two inches below the throat line.  

A Spinone head is never Griffon-like or Lab-like (e.g. wide, blocky, square, high-set ears, well-defined stop, or intense expression).  Note that a tight lead will obscure your view of correct ear placement, skull shape, the divided dewlap, and the marked nape of neck, all desirable traits that contribute to the correct silhouette for the Spinone.

The Spinone’s symmetrical angles fore and aft provide balance for his work in difficult terrain.  The upper arm is of equal length to the shoulder blade; the angle between the two is approximately 105 degrees.  Feel for the widely placed scapulae and the break in the topline.  An underline with more than a minimal rise into the loin, e.g., tuckup like that of a German Shorthaired Pointer, is a fault that is seen far too often.  A short croup may raise the tail above the back (this is incorrect), while an excessive length of croup will incline beyond the desirable 35 degrees.  The latter will seriously restrict the hind movement and must be considered to be a serious fault.  A poor tailset will essentially affect the unique Spinone silhouette, whereas a tail that is set on correctly, but still carried a little high (which is incorrect in a mature dog or bitch) may be just a temporary stage of development.  Consideration must be given to separate tailset from tail carriage.  The tail itself is thick at the base and is customarily docked to a length of 5 1/2 to 8 inches.  (At this time, no other description of an undocked tail is available; Spinone tails have always been docked, and no one knows what a correct long tail should be!)  Rear angulation of the Spinone matches the front. The correctly-made Spinone shows the rear vertical plumb-line taken from the set-on of the tail, down through the outer line of the buttock to the REAR of the metatarsus, not in front of it.     

 The Spinone should be moved on a loose lead and not too fast.  Spinone movement is relaxed and energy-conserving, as is normal with the trotting breeds that are built for stamina.  There is flex in the wrist joint and with the widely-placed scapulae; the large, round front feet will rise and fall without exaggeration.  Any exaggeration or imbalance between the front and hind assembly will clearly affect the profile when gaiting. The backline will remain gently broken in Spinoni that are correctly constructed.  An imbalance of angles will create level, sloping, or the highly undesirable downhill movement.  A Spinone that is lacking in length of upper arm, depth and breadth of chest, or has excessive length to the tibia (generally coupled with an overly-short metatarsus) will produce an atypical, and therefore undesirable, gait that may be highly regarded or acceptable in the more elegant Sporting breeds.  The correctly-constructed Spinone will carry its head just above the backline, with the nose pointing slightly downwards.  High head carriage is undesirable and may be an indication of poor shoulder placement and an upright front assembly.  The anatomy of this breed is designed to function at its optimum at the trot.  It is unable to move in the extreme style of a German Wirehaired Pointer or the other breeds built for hunting at a faster pace in wide, open countryside.  The desired gait for a Spinone in the field is an extended trot, with intermittent galloping strides.  Loose-lead gaiting at a natural pace will illustrate so much more than foot placement in this breed.  Check for a deep underline in addition to the lightly broken topline and the correct proportions (long head, almost-square body-shape, equal leg/chest depth and symmetry of fore/hind angles).  He will not elbow-out, or toe-in; his deep and pronounced chest and well-angulated shoulder assembly will prevent both.  Close hock action should not be considered to be a serious fault in this breed, as long as the hocks remain parallel to each other, without turning in or out when gaiting.  Ideally, the tail will flick from side to side while the dog is moving. The positive, flexible, pounding trot can only be achieved when the conformation and balance of the Spinone is correct.

Last, but not least, is the essential wiry, close-fitting coat of the Spinone.  Examine the texture and lay of the coat, in addition to the length, on the side in the center of the ribcage, rather than at the withers or along the back.  The coat should be harsh, single, with a length on the body of between 1 1/2” and 2 1/2”.  A correct, close-fitting coat may appear from a distance to be too short, which is our reason for asking judges to take the time to evaluate the coat and skin very carefully.  The coat may lie flat or be slightly crimped.  Coat that is soft, with an undercoat, may also stand away from the body. This type of coat is incorrect for the Spinone!  Hair on the legs and head should be shorter than on the body.  Please take the time to grasp the skin between finger and thumb as you examine the coat.  It must be thick and leathery, as it is the main protector from brush in the field and cold water.  Thin skin will often be attached to an incorrect coat in the Spinone.  Texture, lay and length are ALL important when evaluating coat type.  The skin is of equal importance.  Judges should note that hair on the head may be hand-stripped in order to present some of the most important qualities of the Spinone.  Stripping dead hair or tidying of the body coat to present the unique outline of the breed should not be considered as sculpting or molding, but the use of scissors is contrary to the breed standard.  Dogs with the correct wiry texture and lay of coat will require only a small amount of hand-stripping.  Poor quality coats may not strip at all and excessive, soft leg hair, or the evidence of scissor marks in the case where shaping may have taken place, will all be helpful hints at the pre-groomed texture and quality.  Please take the time to carefully evaluate this very important characteristic of the breed. 

Always keep in mind what the Spinone was bred to do.  His trotting gait is best achieved with a body shape that is compact, deep and square.  The flex in his front pasterns and his strong, deep and well-developed chest all assist him with retaining stamina.  His large, round front feet, his widely-placed shoulders (at the withers) and broken top-line aid him as he works the difficult countryside, allowing more flexibility to drop his body under obstacles and also to gain purchase, particularly on the hillside.  His symmetrical angles fore and aft provide a static balance that is not possible where rear drive and upward motion are the norm. Divergent, or down-faced, head-planes are a huge benefit to a pointer in bramble or dense cover, where his lowered head can take in scent efficiently without interfering with his line of vision.  His long, pendulous, low-set and folded ears can help to cone the scent towards his wide-open nostrils set into his large, spongy nose when tracking.  The thick and impervious skin of this breed is more important for protection than his wiry topcoat.  His single, close-fitting coat, although protection from cover to some degree, is not so dense as to retain heat through the long, hot summers in Italy.

The correct Spinone may be overlooked because he looks “different” from the other dogs in the ring.  Uniformity among the rest of the class does not necessarily mean that those dogs are the correct ones.  Too often, dogs have finished that lack Spinone type: long head with divergent head planes, substance, correct topline and underline (there are far too many dogs with excessive tuckup), harsh, single coat, and correct movement.  If Spinoni in your ring lack breed type, please don’t hesitate to withhold awards.  It does the breed no favor to award championships to dogs that are not “Spinone”!  The Spinone Club of America is working on a comprehensive judge education program and illustrated standard that we hope will help you feel well-prepared to judge our wonderful breed.