The Bracco Italiano is a breed of gun dog native to Italy. Considered to be one of the oldest of all gun dogs, the breed was popular with the Italian upper classes since at least the time of the Renaissance. At one point, there were two distinct varieties of Bracco Italiano, the Piedmontese and the Lombardic, although the two are now considered to be color variants of the same breed rather than distinct varieties. This breed remains rare outside of Italy although it is developing a staunch following in the United States and other countries. The Bracco Italiano is also known as the Bracco, Italian Bracco, Italian Pointer, Italian Pointing Dog, Italian Setter, Piedmontese Pointer, Lombardic Pointer, and Lombard Pointer. Due to Italian grammatical conventions, the correct plural form of Bracco is Bracchi.
The Bracco Italiano is one of the oldest gun dogs in the world, and may very well be the oldest of all. Because this breed was developed centuries before written records were kept of dog breeding (or anything else for that matter) almost nothing is known with certainty about its ancestry. Dozens of different breeds have been suggested as possible Bracco Italiano ancestors, and estimates of the breed’s date of origin range from the 5th Century B.C. to the 1200’s A.D.
There is some fragmentary written and artistic evidence that suggests that the Bracco Italiano or its ancestors were already present in Italy as early as the 4th and 5th Centuries B.C. If this evidence is correct, the breed was first kept by either the Romans or the Etruscans and Celts that preceded them in Northern Italy. However, this evidence is far from conclusive, and most researchers believe that the Bracco Italiano is considerably younger. There is conclusive evidence that the breed was very well-established by the Early Renaissance, and it is widely agreed that the Bracco Italiano was developed either at that time or shortly before in the Late Middle Ages.
There are many different theories as to how the Bracco Italiano was developed and what breeds were used to develop it. The most popular theory holds that the breed was the result of crossing a type of coursing dog (sighthound) with a type of Molosser or Mastiff. By far the most commonly suggested coursing dog is the Segugio Italiano, a native of Italy that has probably been present in the region for at least 3,000 years. This breed also closely resembles the Bracco Italiano and may be its closest relative. It has also been suggested that the Bracco Italiano was developed from the ancestors of the Segugio Italiano, which are thought to have been imported from Egypt and Mesopotamia by the Phoenicians or Greeks. A variety of different Molosser/Mastiff breeds may have been used to develop the Bracco Italiano. The most likely candidates are the athletic boar hunting Cane Corso or the ancient Molossus, although the Neapolitan Mastiff, English Mastiff, Dogue de Bordeaux, and Great Dane are also possibilities. In recent years, a growing number of fanciers have come to doubt that the Bracco Italiano is descended from a sighthound/Molosser cross. They instead believe that the breed was developed by crossing a scenthound with a sighthound or a Molosser, or possibly by combining the three groups together. The Saint Hubert Hound (known in English as the Bloodhound) is by far the most likely candidate, as this breed was both among the oldest and most influential of all European scenthounds. The Saint Hubert Hound, especially older forms of the breed, also closely resembles the Bracco Italiano, probably to a greater extent than any other scenthound. However, it is very possible that another scenthound breed, and most likely several, were actually used.
However and whenever the Bracco Italiano was first developed, it became one of the oldest, and quite possibly the oldest, gun dog breed in the world. This breed is so old that it was developed centuries before hunting guns were even invented. The breed was probably originally used by falconers. The Bracco Italiano would locate hiding birds using its keen sense of smell. The dog would then point at their location to alert the hunters to their presence. The dog then flushed the birds into the air and a trained falcon was released to kill them. From a very early time, the Bracco Italiano was also used by hunters armed with nets. The process was the same only a net was thrown over the birds to capture them rather than a falcon. Falconry in particular and bird hunting in general was very popular among the upper classes of the Italian Renaissance. They provided both sport and food for the table. Most of the prominent northern Italian families of the time kept Bracchi, and some of the most prominent were avidly involved in their breeding. Perhaps the breed’s most important and famous fanciers were the Gonzaga family of Mantua and the Medici family of Tuscany and Florence. The breed became renowned for its docile nature and extreme bird hunting talents, and was eventually referred to as being “Noble.”
The Bracco Italiano was so skilled at bird hunting that it became highly desirable across Europe. Its fame spread greatly through diplomacy and dynastic marriages. It became a common practice for wealthy Italian families to present Bracchi as gifts to the nobility of other European countries or as part of dowries. Italian traders also included the breed as part of their valuable cargoes. The Bracco Italiano proved to be extremely influential in the development of other gun dogs. Essentially every European gun dog breed is either primarily or partially descended from the Bracco Italiano, with the possible exceptions of a few very old breeds such as the Portuguese Pointer, Weimaraner, Vizsla, and possibly a few Spaniels. A few of the many breeds that are probably at least partially descended from the Bracco Italiano include the now extinct Spanish Pointer, the English Pointer, all breeds of French Braque, and most German Pointing breeds.
The Bracco Italiano had already begun to spread before the invention of hunting guns. However, its international desirability greatly increased as a result of their development. Hunting guns made it much cheaper and easier to hunt birds, especially land birds, and bird hunting became considerably more popular, particularly among the European upper classes. Bird hunting became even more popular as Europe became increasingly developed, because birds require much less land to survive than do most mammal species such as deer or boar. The development of guns meant that falcons and nets were no longer necessary for the capture of birds. However, as both falcons and nets brought the captured birds to the hunter, their absence meant that hunters needed a way to locate dead birds and bring them back. The Bracco Italiano was increasingly used to retrieve birds as well as locate, point at, and flush them. In the process the breed became one of the oldest (most likely the oldest) versatile gun dog in the world. This versatility has likely been inherited by the Bracco Italiano’s descendants, which may account for the popularity of versatile gun dogs in continental Europe.
The Bracco Italiano eventually developed into two unique varieties, each native to a neighboring region of Northern Italy. The Piedmontese Pointer was native to the Piedmont, a mountainous region located in Italy’s far northwest. This dog was said to be lighter in color and build than the Lombard Pointer, both of which are thought to be the result of its mountainous homeland. The Lombard Pointer was a native of Lombardy, a populous and wealthy region in north-central Italy. The Lombard Pointer was said to be darker and more thickly built than the Piedmontese Pointer. It is widely believed that the Piedmontese Pointer introduced the orange and white color into the modern Bracco Italiano and the Lombard Pointer introduced the brown and white color.
For many centuries, Italy was divided into hundreds of distinct independent states, many of which were no larger than a single settlement. This led to immense instability and repeated foreign involvement. It also meant that the Bracco Italiano did not have a large unified kennel club to protect it. As the 19th Century wore on, increasing numbers of foreign gun dogs were imported into Italy, mainly from the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Italian hunters began to favor these breeds while the native Bracco Italiano became increasingly scarce. Luckily for the breed, many individual families had been breeding the Bracco Italiano for many generations, in some cases several centuries. These dedicated fanciers became determined to save the breed. These efforts were greatly aided by the unification of Italy, which led to both an increase in Italian Nationalism and increased organizational ease. The Societa Amatori de Bracco Italiano (SABI) was founded to protect and promote the breed. This group of dedicated breeders and fanciers was led by breeder Ferdinando Delor de Ferrabouc, widely considered the father of the modern breed. Because the breed’s numbers had been so drastically reduced by the time that the SABI began its efforts, both the Piedmontese and Lombard Pointers were combined into one breed with two color variants rather than two distinct varieties.
In 1949, the SABI published the first written standard for the Bracco Italiano in Lodi, Lombardy. The breed has subsequently been granted full recognition by both the Italian Kennel Club (ENCI) and the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI). FCI recognition has not brought the same level of international popularity to the Bracco Italiano as it has many other breeds, and the Bracco Italiano remains almost exclusively an Italian dog. The breed’s situation in its homeland is quite secure at this point. It is estimated that there are at least 4,500 breed members currently alive in Italy, and the ENCI registers approximately 700 new puppies every year. The breed is now one of the most common working gun dogs in Italy and regularly appears at Italian gun dog trials. In recent years, the breed has also been appearing in the show ring in increasing numbers. The Bracco Italiano has recently been introduced to other European countries, and the breed’s largest non-Italian population can be found in the Netherlands. In 1989, the first breed member was imported into the United Kingdom.
Over the past several decades, the Bracco Italiano has been increasingly imported into the Western Hemisphere. A number of breed members have been imported into Latin America, where this native of balmy Italy adapts much better to local climates than more northerly European gundogs. However, the breed has become most well-established in the United States. Although the number of Bracco Italiano owners in the United States is quite small, many of them are extremely devoted to the breed, and the dog has something of a cult following in the American bird hunting world. There are currently two distinct breed clubs in the United States, the Bracco Italiano Club of America (BICA) and the North American Bracco Italiano Club (NABIC). The Bracco Italiano was eventually granted full recognition with the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVDHA) an organization dedicated to working versatile gun dogs. One of the primary goals of the BICA is to gain the breed full recognition with the American Kennel Club (AKC). In 2001, the Bracco Italiano was entered into the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS), the first step towards full recognition. Once the breed and the BICA meet certain national benchmarks, the breed will be moved into the AKC’s Miscellaneous class and eventually obtain full recognition, either in the Sporting Group or a group dedicated to Pointers and Setters. In 2006, the United Kennel Club, the second largest purebred dog registry in both the United States and the world, granted full recognition to the Bracco Italiano as a member of the Gun Dog group, becoming the first major English language canine organization to do so. Breed numbers are currently increasing in the United States, and it is fully expected that the Bracco Italiano will one day in the not too distant future obtain full recognition with the AKC.
Unlike most modern breeds, the Bracco Italiano is still primarily kept as a working gun dog. The vast majority of breed members are either active or retired hunters, and almost all breeding of this dog is done with hunting ability and drive in mind. An increasing number of fanciers are keeping breed members primarily as companion dogs, a task at which this breed is well-suited when provided enough exercise and stimulation.
The Bracco Italiano is perhaps the most hound-like of all gun dogs in terms of appearance, and in many ways resembles a cross between a scenthound and a Pointer. This breed is medium to large in size. The average male Bracco Italiano stands between 23¾ and 26¼ inches tall at the shoulder, and the average female stands between 21¾ and 24½ inches. Weight is heavily influenced by gender, height, and build, but most breed members weigh between 50 and 90 pounds. This breed is very lean and muscular, but these traits are somewhat obscured by its loose skin. The Bracco Italiano is a true athlete and dedicated worker, and should always appear as such. The tail of the Bracco Italiano is almost always docked to between 6 and 8 inches in length. However, this practice is falling out of favor and is actually banned in some countries. The natural tail of the Bracco Italiano is thick, strong, and slightly tapering.
The head and face of the Bracco Italiano are long, angular, and narrow. The muzzle of this breed is very long, ideally of a length at least equal to that of the rest of the skull. The muzzle and the top of the skull are not parallel, instead running at distinctly divergent angles. The downward pointing muzzle is very tall, almost as tall as it is long. The lips of this breed are one of its most distinctive features. The thin upper lips are quite pendulous, and form an inverted v-shape under the nose. The nose of the Bracco Italiano is large, fleshy, and colored brown, pink, or flesh-colored, depending on the color or the dog’s coat. The eyes of the Bracco Italiano are large, oval, and either brown or dark ochre in color, depending on the color of the dog’s coat. The ears of the Bracco Italiano are very long, and droop down close to the sides of the dog’s face. The overall expression of most breed members is gentle, laid back, and submissive.
The coat of the Bracco Italiano is short, dense, and glossy. The coat is uniform over most of the body but is shorter and finer on the head, ears, fronts of legs, and feet. Bracchi are found in a small number of different color patterns. These dogs may be solid white, solid orange, chestnut roan, white with orange markings, and white with chestnut (brown) markings. A warm shade is preferred on chestnut roan dogs. Symmetrical facial markings are highly preferred on all breed members, but are not necessary. Those white on the coats of the white and orange and white and chestnut dogs may either be solid white or covered in small colored markings like ticking. Sometimes Bracchi are born in alternative colors and patterns such as tri-color or black and tan. These dogs are penalized in the show ring and should not be bred, but otherwise make just as excellent companions and working gun dogs as any other breed members.
The Bracco Italiano has a temperament which is very similar to many other working gun dogs. This breed is known for being exceptionally affectionate, and often fawningly affectionate. This dog forms incredibly strong attachments with its family and demonstrates exceptional devotion to them. Bracchi want nothing more than to be in the constant company of their families, and this breed can develop severe separation anxiety. When properly socialized, the Bracco Italiano is known for being exceptionally gentle with children. Many breed members seem to be very fond of children, and often become their best friends.
When properly trained and socialized, most Bracchi are quite tolerant of strangers, and many are very openly friendly and enthusiastic to greet them. This breed is considerably more wary of strangers than most gun dogs, however, and requires more thorough socialization than most. This breed tends to be quite alert of what is going on around it and usually makes a good watchdog. The average Bracco Italiano lacks the aggression to make an ideal guard dog, but many breed members will bark and growl at unfamiliar intruders.
The Bracco Italiano generally gets along very well with other dogs when properly socialized with them. Most of these dogs exhibit low levels of dog aggression, and most would probably prefer to share their lives with at least one canine friend. This breed has a considerably more mixed reputation with non-canine animals. The Bracco Italiano has been bred as a hunting dog for hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of years. Many breed members show high levels of aggression towards other creatures, and most are driven to chase them. Most Bracchi can be trained to accept other pets such as cats if raised with them from a young age although some are never entirely trustworthy with them.
Like most gun dogs, the Bracco Italiano is very intelligent and trainable. This breed is capable of learning very complex tasks and performing them at a high level. However, the Bracco Italiano is considered less obedient and more challenging to train than most gun dogs. This is a breed that is very willing to please, provided that nothing else interests it more at that moment. Many breed members will disobey commands if they would rather do something else, and extra time and patience is required when working with this breed. This breed is very aware of what it can and can’t get away with, and most owners seem to believe that the more is asked of Bracco Italiano, the better behaved it will be. Correction based training regimens, especially harsh ones, work very poorly with this breed, and rewards-based methods prove much more effective.
The Bracco Italiano is not only capable of working for long hours, but seems to actively enjoy doing so. This breed is extremely athletic and energetic, and most breed members have very high exercise requirements. This dog should receive at least an hour of vigorous physical activity every day, and would ideally get more. The Bracco Italiano makes an excellent jogging companion but truly craves an opportunity to roam around off leash. This dog loves to hunt and is happiest when provided an opportunity to explore the outdoors. Because of its needs, it would be nearly impossible to keep one of these dogs in an apartment setting, and Bracchi do much better in homes with large yards. If not provided a proper outlet for its energy, Bracchi will almost certainly develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, hyper activity, over excitability, excessive barking, nervousness, and aggression. This breed’s energy level actually makes it highly desirable to active families as this is a dog that is always up for any adventure, no matter how extreme.
Potential Bracco Italiano owners need to be aware that this can be a very messy breed. Some individuals drool, although usually not excessively. Most breed members love to run around outside and are quite likely to track dirt in the house. Of greatest concern are the breed’s table manners. Bracchi can be very messy eaters and drinkers that are likely to spread their meals all around their bowls and often into other rooms.
The Bracco Italiano has very low grooming requirements. This dog should never require professional grooming, only a regular brushing. Owners do have to regularly and thoroughly clean this breed’s ears. Otherwise the drooping ears will collect dirt, grime, water, and other particles. If not removed, these trapped particles can cause skin irritations, ear infections, and possibly even hearing loss. Bracchi do shed, and many breed members shed quite heavily.
There do not appear to have been any health studies conducted on the Bracco Italiano, which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements about the breed’s health. However, breeders and fanciers have been collecting anecdotal evidence about the breed’s health, particular the health of their individual lines. Most seem to be of the opinion that the Bracco Italiano is in average to good health. Some of the most prominent health problems that they have encountered are Entropion, Ectropion, hip dysplasia, and anesthesia sensitivity. Because Bracchi are so commonly allergic to the anesthetic Domitor it is highly advisable that other options are used if one of these dogs must undergo a surgical procedure.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in closely-related breeds (especially hip dysplasia, Entropion, and ectropion) it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
A full list of problems to which the Bracco Italiano is known to be susceptible would have to include: