by   David Hancock

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’! It's easy to spot the influence of the superlative French hound breeds in the make-up of the braques of France, their ear-length and general conformation gives them a more of a hound look than the English Pointer. Although the popularity of the latter in France in the 19th century was demonstrated both at their field trials and their dog shows.

The native short-haired pointing dogs of France, or braques, have never been widely favoured 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 epagneuls 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: 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. Despite this, many French sportsmen still 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 recently introduced. The Bourbonnais Pointer is shown at FCI shows, with over 100 registered annually, after nearly disappearing in the 1960-70s. 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.

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! But this national braque, like the old Braque Belge, is much more like the GSP than the other French braque breeds, many of whom resemble a hound-pointer cross. The less well-known 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. The largest braque was the Braque d'Ariege, sometimes called the Braque de Toulouse, with the Chien Blanc du Roi or King's White Hound involved in its creation. The old Gascony and Pyrenean Pointers were also huge dogs for their role. Another heavy dog was the Charles X pointer with its half-docked tail, once described as 'coarse and inelegant' by fussier gundog devotees. The Auvergne and Dupuy braques also had their fanciers, the former being favoured in the more mountainous areas of central France, the latter believed to have sighthound blood, being referred to sometimes as the Braque Levrier. The Bourbon district developed its own bird-dog - the Braque du Bourbonnais, now being revived after a shaky few years.

But my choice of French braque would be the Saint-Germain. I have never seen them at work but at several World Dog Shows have been so impressed by their soundness physically, their equable temperament and, especially, the sheer look of graceful stylishness when they were on the move. Talking to their fanciers, I was told that in 1830, Charles X was presented with two English Pointers and passed them on to Baron de Larminat, who ran the Forest of Compiegne. The male dog died so the remaining Pointer, a young bitch, was mated to a French pointer, to produce seven orange and white whelps, which developed so markedly that when some forest staff were transferred to the Saint-Germain forest, near Paris, they took their cross-bred pointers with them, where they quickly gained a high reputation. Because of the one-time link with Charles X, they came to be known, confusingly, by some, as Charles X Pointers - a separate breed that already existed. This confusion was ended in 1909 and the officially-agreed breed title of Braque Saint-Germain installed. 

Understandably from their foundation stock, this breed is still predominantly white with orange patches, long-legged, athletic-looking, distinctly elegant and symmetrically-built with a name for speedy work in the field, but gentle by nature, extremely willing and easier to train than some French gundog breeds. Unlike some of its fellow French braque breeds, this one features the full tail and carries it rather as its part-ancestor, the Pointer of  England, does when at work in the shooting field. I am told it has been used successfully purely as a retriever too. I have seen Pointers here that could be mistaken for St-Germains. The Pointer of England is now a threatened breed, so weak are its numbers. I do hope that what could be termed its French offspring grows in popularity, especially in its field use, for that is where its conformation will be tested and its true type protected; the demands of the show ring have not been kind to the gundog breeds of Britain - may the Braque Saint-Germain prosper and grace European gundog lists for many years to come.