709 PUTTING ON THE BRAQUES
PUTTING ON THE BRAQUES
The short-haired pointing dogs of France, or braques, have never found favour in Britain, despite the immense popularity of the German equivalent and the growing interest in the Bracco from Italy. But then, neither too have the French epagneul or setter-like gundog breeds from France, apart from the admirable Brittany, now achieving deserved recognition here. But discerning gundog men here who favour the German short-haired Pointer might well be inclined to look at the French braques, if only their merits were on show; it is not exactly the case that our sportsmen are set in their ways and breeds, as the astonishing rise in popularity of HPR breeds from the Continent since the Second World War amply demonstrate.
The French have a wide range of braques or pointing breeds: the Braque d'Auvergne (now introduced into the UK), the Braque Saint-Germain, the Braque de l'Ariege, the Braque du Bourbonnais, the Braque Dupuy - with few specimens remaining - as well as the Braque Francais in two sizes. They also have a good span of what we would call setters - their epagneul breeds: Breton, Francais, Picard, Pont-Audemer and Bleu de Picard. Despite this, many French sportsmen use our breeds. Now that our sportsmen have got used to the concept of all-round gundogs or hunt, point and retrieve dogs, the French breeds might in time have the appeal of the German breeds. The Brittany is well established here and the Braque du Bourbonnais already introduced. The Bourbonnais Pointer is shown at FCI shows, with over 100 registered annually, after nearly disappearing in the 1960s-70s. Some are born tail-less or with just a rudimentary tail. A distinctive breed, with a very individual coat colour, roan with a pattern described either 'dressed like a trout' or 'lie de vin' (dregs of wine). I have heard this breed described as a short-haired Brittany in North America but my French colleagues dispute this. It is good to know that such a distinctive sporting breed has been saved. Sadly the Braque Charles X has been lost, perhaps subsumed into the other braque breeds.
Only two French HPRs, the Brittany and the Korthals griffon, have so far made their mark outside France. Interest in the Braque du Bourbonnais here and in North America may be about to change that. After the Second World War only some 200 specimens of the breed existed, but now a well-planned resurgence is in place. An ancient breed from the very centre of France, its supporters claim that it has survived, without outcrosses, for nearly 500 years. Less hound-like than say the Italian Bracco it reminds me, despite its coat colour of both the Hertha pointer of Denmark and the Portuguese Perdigueiro or partridge dog. The latter has now been imported but the Hertha Pointer is struggling to survive even in its native country, Denmark. Genetically, such minor breeds are very important, especially now that over breeding and unskilled breeding have left their mark on the highly-popular gundog breeds. An expensive but short-lived gundog is a poor investment both in training time and man-dog bonding terms.
The Braque Francais, or French Pointer, is an ancient breed, according to the French: "...undoubtedly the oldest breed of pointer in the world. It has been the origin of nearly all the continental and British ‘short-haired setters'." No concession to any Spanish origin there! The possibly extinct German Pudel-pointer was from French gundog blood, as well as that of the old Wurttemberg braque. The Auvergne Pointer comes from the old Pyrenean braque and the Gascony Pointer. The German short-haired Pointer however is admitted to have both English and Spanish Pointer blood. Drury, in his 'British Dogs' of 1903, notes that the first pictorial record of the pointer in Great Britain is the Tillemans painting of the Duke of Kingston with his kennel of Pointers in 1725. He commented that the latter were the "same elegant Franco-Italian type as the pointing dogs painted by Oudry and Desportes at the end of the 17th century."
Arkwright himself wrote that: "...the French were the chief admirers of the Italian braque...And after a time, though the heavier type of their own and the Navarrese braque still survived, it was quite eclipsed by the beautiful and racing-like Italian dogs with which Louis XIV and Louis XV filled their kennels." The French braques have come down from such stock. From Louis XIV onwards the French braques were envied all over Europe. In his informative booklet on the GSP, Michael Meredith Hardy points out that: “Another indication of the interchange of these dogs throughout Western Europe is the somewhat strange fact that German hunters to this day often speak to their dogs in French. I think that the tradition has an historical origin, in that down the centuries dogs were constantly being imported (into Germany, that is, DH) from the West, from France.” Today’s ‘vorstehund’ is yesterday’s braque.
The golden braque or Hungarian Vizsla has a coat colour I have only seen rivalled by the Portuguese Partridge Dog and the Danish Hertha Pointer. The latter has been described as a variant of the English Pointer, but despite some distant infusions of Pointer blood, now has every right to be recognized as a distinct breed, mainly thanks to the ceaseless endeavours of devotees like Jytte Weiss. Its highly-individual coat colour ranges from clear yellow-dark lemon to deeper orange-red, with shades of brown being discouraged. First seen around 1864 and from a bitch called Hertha, later Old Hertha, allegedly from the Duke of Augustenborg’s kennel, which specialized in chestnut-red pointing dogs and was famed for its hunting dogs. It has a different head structure from the Pointer and characteristic white star face markings.
The Danes also have the Old Danish Bird Dog, the Gammel or Gamle Dansk Hoensehund, a short-coated pointer with a mainly white coat, with liver or lemon markings. First recognized by the Danish Kennel Club in 1960, there were 244 registrations twenty years later. There are special hunting trials for the breed. It resembles an English Pointer with hound blood, the dewlap being unwanted in many braques. Little known outside Denmark, it is now more an all-round hunting dog rather than a specialist bird-dog and already has a reputation as a tracker, benefiting from its ‘blodhund’ ancestry. The breed is sometimes called, in Denmark, the Bakhund, after its saviour from extinction, the sportsman Morten Bak.
The Perdiguero or Portuguese Pointer is a yellow-brown or chestnut coated, short-haired, strongly-muscled dog, once known as the Perro de Mastra, and developed by the Portuguese royal family and other noble families as a hawking dog. An athletic dog, moving with power and grace, with a calm and yet lively temperament, just under 22 inches at the withers, around 50lbs in weight and stronger-headed than many breeds of this type. In adjacent Spain, the Perdiguero de Burgos and Navarro, are heavier dogs, more like the Bracchi of Italy, more hound-like and with the Navarro coming in a setter coat too. Both Spanish breeds are not just bird-dogs but used on four-legged quarry too, as all-round hunting dogs.
The Bracco Italiano, the most hound-like gundog breed, can be chestnut and white or chestnut roan (from the old larger heavier Lombardy dog), orange and white (from the old lighter and smaller Piedmontese Pointer, used in the more mountainous areas) or orange roan, with a fine but dense glossy coat. A fairly large dog weighing from 55 to 90lbs and standing around two feet at the withers, it has a distinctive head, with a shallow stop, a Roman nose and a throaty heavy-flewed neck. Developed to work on small game, with quail and woodcock its traditional quarry, but used also on hares and even wild boar, although not to the extent the German pointers are utilized. In Italy they have more field trial entries than any other breed. Here they are being used as picking-up dogs, excelling on runners.
The braque family of gundogs, like the pointing griffons, are either late-comers to our sporting scene or hardly known to us at all. In Victorian times, our gundog breeders had such a high reputation that our breeds ruled the sporting world, both the new world and the old. It is surely for each nation to conserve its own native breeds but gundogs from afar have a role, not only introducing new blood into inbred lines but bringing in too wider-ranging hunting skills. Like every good pointing breed - they provide ‘backing’!