The Spinone Italiano is an ancient all-purpose hunting dog from Italy and is one of the oldest of the griffon varieties still in existence. Its exact ancestry is uncertain. Some think that early French hounds, such as Griffons and Barbets, were crossed to create the Spinone Italiano. Others believe that the Spinone was the foundation of those and other breeds and that it dates to the ancient Italian Segugio Italiano and perhaps even to hunting dogs from Greece and ancient Rome. Regardless, historians trace its ancestry back to approximately 500 B.C., when Senofonte described “a rough, bristly-haired dog, with great physical endurance and exceptional ability for pointing game.” Other historical references include frescos and many other works of art in palaces and elsewhere during the Middle Ages and throughout the subsequent centuries. Literary works also described this breed (or very similar breeds) in the 13th through 15th centuries, and beyond. According to a publication of the American Kennel Club, modern history of the Spinone Italiano can be divided into to basic parts: that from the early 1800s through World War II; and that from the end of World War II to the present.
At the beginning of the 19th century, several types of dogs shared similar traits in terms of coat color (orange-and-white, and brown roan), although coat type was less consistent. A “soft-coated pointer” was described in the literature as early as 1828, representing one of these dogs. In 1897, the first breed standard was written for what today we know as the Spinone Italiano. This evolved from the standard first written by the Societa Braccofila, to the Signor Angelo Vecchio (in 1904), to the Societa Braccofila (again in 1923), to the Italian Kennel Club (in 1928), to the Societa Amicidello Spinone (the breed club of the period in 1936), to Giuseppe Solario (in 1939), and finally to the Ente Nazionale della Cinofilia Italiana (in 1944). Despite the number and variation in these standards, they each describe the true characteristics of the breed: head, topline, coat and skin. However, by the start of the 20th century, the breed suffered from haphazard breeding and lack of attention to type.
The breed suffered further, like many others, during the war. Some cross-breeding took place, probably with the Wire-haired Pointing Griffon, the Bracco Italiano and the German Wirehaired Pointer. Fortunately, serious breed fanciers bred very carefully to maintain the key traits of the Spinone both during and after the war. In the 1950s, the La Famiglis dello Spinone was formed and recognized as the national breed club of Italy, and the Spinone Italiano was on its way to a healthy recovery.
The first known pair of Spinone Italianos – Bella and Tris - were brought to America in 1931 by Dr. Nicola Gigante. The Miscellaneous Class at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1932 and 1933 contained a member of this breed each year, but it was not officially recognized as competitive in that class until March of 1955. The Spinone Club of America was founded in 1987, and the American Kennel Club accepted the Spinone Italiano with full registration as a member of the Sporting Group in 2000. The Kennel Club (England) gave this breed full registration in 1994.
Today’s Spinone retains its hunting instincts and abilities and is increasing in popularity. It can work in all weather and over any terrain if asked to do so. It has stamina more than speed but is efficient in tracking and good at pointing. It also can retrieve with equal skill and has the softest of mouth whether in or out of water and is said to be “equally at home in field, swamp or forest.” This is a docile, gentle dog that makes a calm companion while at the same time excelling in hunting, therapy, agility, conformation obedience, tracking and/or other performance fields. He is said to be happiest when an integral part of the family.
The average life span of the Spinone Italiano is 12 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include cerebellar ataxia and hip dysplasia.