The Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is a breed of gundog originating in France. Until the last two decades, the breed was found almost exclusively in France but has recently been growing in popularity in Canada. Developed by crossing Picardy Spaniels with English and Gordon Setters, the Epagneul Blue de Picardie is best known for its unique blue coat and skill as a working gundog. The Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is also known as the Blue Picardy Spaniel.
The Epagneul Bleu de Picardie did not develop as a unique breed until the early years of the 20th Century, but can trace its origins back many centuries farther than that. Epagneul is one of several breeds of Epagneul, better known in English as the French Spaniels. The Spaniels are some of Europe’s oldest gundogs, and may be the continent’s oldest surviving birddogs. Spaniels have been specializing in birds for so long that many varieties actually predate the development of hunting guns. Whereas modern Spaniels locate birds and then flush them out into the air so that they may be shot, their ancestors did the same for hunters armed only with nets or trained falcons. Spaniels are among the most mysterious of all dog types, and no one knows with any certainty when, where, and how they were first developed. What is clear is that these dogs were already well known in France by 1387, when the first written description of them appears. In that year the renowned French sportsman Count Gaston de Foix wrote a treatise on French hunting, in which he described the appearance and use of the Epagneul. At the time of the Count’s writing, Epagneuls were already being used to retrieve game as well as locate and flush it. Although it is unclear how the first Epagneuls were developed, there are a number of theories.
The traditional explanation is that the Epagneuls originated in Spain. The word Epagneul is usually translated to either, “Spaniard,” or, “Spanish.” Additionally, the ancient French province of Foix from which the first records of these dogs come borders Spain. There are a number of problems with this theory, however. There does not appear to be any evidence to support it other than linguistics. Epagneuls are also known from France and England long before records of them in Spain. Perhaps most interestingly, Spain did not exist as a single country until 100 years after Count Gaston de Foix’s writing, and was instead a collection of warring Christian and Islamic kingdoms.
In recent years, there has been a wave of support for a Celtic origin for the Spaniels. According to this theory, the Welsh Springer Spaniel was the original form of the Spaniel and that these dogs were spread across Western Europe by the Roman Empire. Numerous records detail how hunting dogs were among the most important exports of Britain throughout the entire Roman occupation. These dogs are very commonly associated with Spaniels. However, it is entirely unclear as to what the true nature of these dogs was and they are just as commonly claimed to be either Terriers or Harrier-like scent hounds as Spaniels. It is quite possible to connect a Celtic origin with a Spanish origin. Epagneul could also be translated as something that relates to Hispania rather than Spain, Hispania being one of several Roman Provinces located on the Iberian Peninsula. Prior to the Carthaginian and Roman conquests, Hispania was primarily inhabited by the Celtiberians, close relatives of the Celts. Perhaps the Celtiberians particularly favored Spaniels and gave them the name of their homeland.
It is sometimes suggested that the Spaniels descend from East Asian companion dogs that were introduced to Europe by the Romans. Not only is there no evidence to support this hypothesis, but it seems highly unlikely that brachycephalic (pushed-in face) companion dogs would be used to develop keen-nosed hunting dogs. Recent genetic evidence suggests that there is very little connection between breeds such as the Japanese Chin and the Spaniels, and this theory is rapidly falling out of favor.
French canine authorities seem to prefer a Middle Eastern origin for Spaniels, which also seems to be the one that most fits in with historical evidence. According to this line of thought, Crusaders and pilgrims encountered Spaniel-like dogs in the Holy Land and brought them back to Europe upon their return. These Turkish or Arabic dogs then gave rise to the Spaniels. There is a very old, very popular breed native to the Middle East that closely resembles the Spaniels. The Saluki or Al Hor has been the favored pet and hunting dog of the Arabic nobility for untold centuries. The coats of many Salukis are very similar to those of the Spaniels, especially the feathering on the ears, legs, and tail. There are several records of Salukis (usually referred to as Persian Greyhounds or Gazellehounds) being imported to Europe by crusading knights, so we know that this did occur. The French nobility was more heavily involved with the Crusades than any other European Country as well. The timing is also just about perfect as the Crusades primarily took place between the 1090’s until the 1270’s, approximately 100 years before Spaniels begin to appear in written records. There is even a possible Spanish connection. For more than 700 years, Islamic Moors from North Africa controlled vast areas of what is now Spain. It is very possible that such invaders possessed Salukis. The French may have first encountered the breed in Spain and mistaken it for being a local dog.
However and whenever the Epagneuls were first developed, they became highly valued bird dogs. Although in England Spaniels were often kept by commoners, in France they were almost exclusively kept by the nobility. Although all Spaniels probably descend from a single type, there have long been at least two found in France, the French Spaniel or Epagneul Francais and the Picardy Spaniel or Epagneul de Picardie. Both breeds were used in a similar fashion and have both been incredibly influential in the development of other Epagneul breeds. Unlike in England where Spaniels became small to medium in size, French Spaniels remained larger. Until the French Revolution, hunting was limited to the nobility, but was legalized for the middle and lower classes shortly thereafter. While most French hunting breeds saw drastic population declines or even extinction following the Revolution, the Picardy Spaniel was saved this fate. Unlike pack hounds, the dog was capable of working alone, meaning that hunters would only have to keep one. Additionally, this breed is significantly smaller and less expensive to feed than most French hounds of the time. Perhaps most importantly, its preferred quarry of birds remained the most common type of game found in France. Hunters of all income levels began keeping Epagneuls, and several new varieties were developed as a result. Keeping with tradition, Hunters in Picardy itself, a region located in the Northeast of France along the English Channel, continued to use the Picardy Spaniel.
As Britain continued to industrialize throughout the 19th Century, there was increasingly little room to hunt. By the end of the Century, British hunters were frequently hunting in France instead. The wetlands located at the mouth of the Somme, a very short distance from England and home to large populations of waterfowl, became one of the favored destinations for British bird hunters. These English hunters often brought their English and Gordon Setters, which had been developed from a type of Setting Spaniel, along with them. At the same time, the British government was waging a war to eliminate rabies and other diseases from the British Isles. A six-month quarantine was imposed on any dog (and most other animal species) entering the United Kingdom. This meant that those Setters already in France would have to wait months to return, as would any additional ones brought to there. British hunters began boarding their dogs with local Picardy farmers and hunters when they were not present in the region themselves. English and Gordon Setters were crossed with local Picardy Spaniels as a result, both intentionally and accidentally.
The resulting Setter/Picardy Spaniel crosses proved to be excellent bird hunting dogs with an intelligent and affectionate temperament. They were virtually identical to the original Picardy Spaniel in appearance, but possessed a unique coat color. The coloration of the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is a result of the introduction of the Black and Tan coat of the Gordon Setter and the Blue Belton coats of many English Setters. At first the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie was treated as a color variant of the Picardy Spaniel, but was soon recognized as being a distinct breed. It is a testament to the popularity of these dogs in the region that they were able to survive World War I, which saw some of its bloodiest and more destructive conflict along both sides of the Somme. In 1921, the first breed club was formed for the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie, although the breed was not formally recognized by major European Kennel Clubs until 1938. Throughout the 20th Century, the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie continued to gain a reputation across France as a highly skilled bird dog and affectionate and loyal companion.
Although relatively well-known in its homeland, the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie was relatively unknown elsewhere until the late 20th Century. In the 1980’s, a few breed members began to be imported to Canada, especially the French-speaking province of Quebec. Once a French colony, Canada has long retained linguistic, cultural, economic, and political ties to France. Canadian hunters quickly discovered that the breed was also very well-suited for work in parts of their country as well and the breed spread in popularity. A few Canadian families also discovered that the breed made an excellent family companion as well. The Blue Picardy Spaniel Club of Canada was formed by a small group of breeders and fanciers to protect and promote the breed. In 1995, the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) granted full recognition to the breed. Shortly after the breed began arriving in Canada, a few individuals were imported to the United States, mainly from Canada. In 1996, the United Kennel Club (UKC) also granted full recognition to the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie as a member of the Gun Dog Group. As of 2012, the breed has not yet been registered in any form with the American Kennel Club (AKC).
The Epagneul Bleu de Picardie remains a very rare breed in the United States, with only a few breeders currently operating kennels. Although a few American breed members are working hunting dogs, most individuals in that country are primarily companion dogs. A larger, but still small, population exists in Canada where the breed is more commonly used as a bird dog. This is not the case in France where the breed is relatively popular both as a hunter and companion. Because the breed has been introduced to the United States so recently and its population remains so small, it is impossible to tell what the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie’s future is there. In its native land, the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is very well established and likely has a secure future as both a working and companion breed.
The Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is very similar to its ancestor the Picardy Spaniel, but differs substantially in terms of coat color. This breed is substantially larger than most Spaniels and could be considered a transitional size between them and the Setters. This breed usually stands between 22 and 24 inches tall at the shoulders, with the average males standing about an inch taller than the average female. The Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is of medium build, but is a very muscular and fit breed. Breed members generally weigh between 40 and 50 pounds. This dog is generally well-proportioned but is somewhat longer than it is tall. This is a very healthy looking breed, and does not possess any overly exaggerated features. The tail of the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is of medium length and carried straight out from the body.
The head and face of this breed exhibit characteristics commonly seen in both French and British Spaniels. The head is relatively wide and oval in shape and connects relatively smoothly with the muzzle, although the two remain distinct. The muzzle is quite long and wide, giving the dog the maximum area for scent receptors. The lips of this breed are rather pendulous giving the muzzle the appearance of being square. The large eyes should be as dark in color as possible. The ears of this breed are identical to those of most Spaniels, long and drooping. The overall expression of most Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is calm, intelligent, and affectionate.
The coat of the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is the breed’s most defining feature. The breed’s body is covered with hair that is medium to medium-long in length. This hair may either be flat or slightly wavy. The hair is significantly shorter on the face, head, and fronts of the legs. The tail, ears, and backs of the legs are noticeably feathered, but not to the extent seen in most modern Spaniel breeds. Blue Picardy Spaniels only come in one acceptable color, grey/black mottled. This coloration makes the dog appear as if it is blue. The exact mixture of grey and black varies greatly between individual dogs, as do the size and shape of the markings. Some areas may have such small sports that they could be described as being ticked while others may be so predominantly black that they form large black patches.
The Epagneul Bleu de Picardie has a temperament very similar to that of most working Spaniels, although it has also frequently been compared to that of the Golden Retriever. This is a very, very people oriented breed. Epagneul Bleu de Picardies are extremely devoted to their families, with whom they form intense bonds. This dog wants to be in the constant company of its family, which can lead to severe separation anxiety. This breed is also incredibly affectionate, often fawningly so, and these dogs have reputations for being cuddlers and face lickers. Epagneul Bleu de Picardies are known for being extraordinarily gentle and tolerant of children when properly socialized with them. This breed is considered to be the ideal size for young children as it is too large for them to easily injure but too small to accidentally the child.
As is the case with all dogs, proper socialization is necessary to ensure that an Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is comfortable around and has good manners with strangers. Once this process is complete, this breed tends to have very few issues with them. Although some individuals may be more reserved, many of these dogs are quite friendly and see every new acquaintance as a potential playmate. Inappropriate greeting is a much more common issue than aggression with this breed, and training is necessary to prevent them from jumping up and licking faces. Some breed members are good watchdogs, although they provide more of an alert than a warning. This breed would be a very poor choice as a guard dog as most would warmly welcome a robber and follow him home before they would ever display aggression towards them.
The Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is generally quite tolerant of other dogs and when properly trained and socialized will usually not have major issues with either strange or familiar ones. While this breed does not crave canine company in the same manner as most pack hounds, most greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one other dog. Caution should always be exercised when introducing strange dogs to each other. Although a hunting dog, the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie was bred to locate, flush, and retrieve game, never to attack it directly. As a result, most breed members display low levels of animal aggression. These dogs usually get along well with cats and other household pets with which they are familiar and rarely give them much trouble other than perhaps an occasional attempt at play. Many breed members do enjoy chasing other animals, especially birds, although this can be trained out.
As a gun dog, Epagneul Bleu de Picardies needed to be highly responsive, intelligent, and eager to please. This dog exemplifies each trait, and these dogs tend to train both quickly and relatively easily. Although the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie takes to hunting the quickest, it is also more than capable of competing at the highest level of dog sports such as competitive obedience, agility, and Frisbee. Not only does this breed train easily, but it is also very obedient.
Because they were bred to work long hours in the field, Epagneul Bleu de Picardies have high energy levels and need a fair amount of exercise. This dog should probably get at least 45 minutes of exercise every day, although it would be willing and eager to get far more. Breed members who are not provided a proper outlet for their energy will find one on their own and may become destructive, excessively vocal, hyper active, nervous, and overly excitable. However, this breed certainly does not have excessive exercise needs and a committed family will probably be able to meet them without being run ragged. This breed makes an excellent walking or jogging companion, but does prefer time to run around off-leash in a securely enclosed area. Although this breed prefers activity that works its mind as well as its body, it does not crave a job like many dogs. Physically capable of extreme activity and always eager to go on an adventure, the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie would be ideally suited to a family that enjoys spending hours outdoors on the weekends but only has time for daily walks the rest of the week.
This breed has lower grooming requirements than one would expect. It only needs professional grooming if its owners choose to have it shaved in the summer months. Otherwise, only a thorough brushing two or three times a week is necessary. Owners also must clean the dog’s ears on a regular basis to prevent irritations and infections. Epagneul Bleu de Picardies do shed, although generally only lightly. This shedding can increase to moderate or heavy when the seasons change once or twice a year, although not all breed members experience major seasonal shedding.
The Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is considered to be a very healthy breed. These dogs have been bred primarily as working gun dogs. Any genetic defect would have hampered their ability to work and therefore been eliminated from the gene pool. This dog has also not been over bred and has for the most part been spared poor breeding practices. This does not mean to say that the breed is immune from genetically inherited health defects, but it does mean that it suffers from fewer and lower rates of them than most purebred dogs.
Like most Spaniels and scent hounds, the Epagneul Bleu de Picardie is very susceptible to ear infections. The long, dangling ears easily trap dirt, grime, water, and other particles. If left in the ear, these particles can cause irritations and even infections. At the very least, the result is discomfort for the dog but if proper treatment is not provided severe pain, chronic infection, hearing loss, and even deafness may result. Luckily, this problem is nearly 100% preventable. Regularly cleaning and drying the dog’s ears should prevent any issues.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
As this breed has only recently been introduced to North American and has a very small population, there have not been any health studies conducted on it. However, such studies have been conducted for closely related breeds and problems to which this breed might be vulnerable include: