Living with Italian Spinoni - The Truth

We had people here to meet the breed once.  They’d been to visit another breeder and had been confused by her account of them as it didn’t tally with the research they’d been doing.  We don’t particularly want to sell this breed to you.  We want you to know all the good and bad bits about them and for you to make an informed decision as to whether or not they’re right for your family.

We give a promise with every puppy we breed that if you decide you no longer want him or her, no matter what age they are, we will take them back.  We don’t want a rescue to take responsibility for a dog that we brought into this world.  Therefore, it’s not in our best interest to wax lyrical about all the good bits about the breed and to pretend there are no bad bits.

 

We see lots of people on social media describe this breed as “sofa dogs”.  That drives us mad.  The breed is an ancient hunting breed and their prey drive is strong.  It is so wrong to insinuate that this is a breed to just lay on your sofa.  If you want something to lay on your sofa, get a throw!!  Yes, our dogs do sneak up for a cuddle on the sofa but they are so much more than that.  They need lots of exercise and more than that, they need their brain to be stimulated.  You don’t buy a Ferrari just to do the school run in it.

 

When we got our first spinone after years of owning German Wirehaired Pointers, we thought that we’d be getting a heavier set version of the same dog.  After all, both are bred to do the same job – Hunt, Point and Retrieve - and both are from Europe. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Owning GWP’s was similar, in many ways, to owning Gremlins.  They could be the sweetest dogs ever but at the flick of a switch, they became a law unto themselves.  Puppy pens had to have a lid to stop them climbing out.  So in early 2004, when we got our first spinone “Cara”, we first of all thought there was something wrong with her.  She didn’t eat our kitchen and she seemed to sit observing us as much as we sat observing her.

 
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Our next mistake was to assume that training a spinone would be along the same lines as training a GWP. The GWP is an acutely intelligent breed and they think they know better than you (sometimes they do!).  The spinone is also extremely intelligent but they’ve got a completely different psyche.  


Where we walk our dogs, there is a couple of people who go over there to train their Labrador retrievers. We watch them, from a distance, doing the same retrieve over and over on the same patch of ground.  A spinone would soon get bored of that.  Training needs to be gentle, exciting, encouraging and challenging for them. 


They don’t respond well to harshness and they don’t need it either.

They are generally a sociable breed and it is rare to see one with temperament issues.  If we meet other dogs when we’re out walking them, they are as keen to greet the owners as they are the other dogs!


They are one of the biggest gundog breeds – bitches can be up to 25 ½ inches tall and males can be up to 27 ½ inches tall.  They should also be solidly built – weighing up to and sometimes over 40kgs.

 

They are hairy and they slobber.  They don’t have a double coat like most other wire coated breeds but they still moult.  We’ve found that males drool more than bitches but while our bitches spend a great deal of time with a dry beard, it only takes a drink of water to change that.  They like to share too so a beautifully soggy, slimy beard will be thrust into your hands or lap. 


One of the best descriptions we’ve heard of them is “mud magnets”.  This is true.  You can walk a spinone in the middle of summer when temperatures have been 30C for days on end and they will still somehow find a swampy puddle to wallow in.  They’re also world class at finding fox shit to roll in.  If you want to keep a pristine house or car, this probably isn’t the breed for you.

 
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They are fantastic dogs to own with children.  Our daughter, Faye, learnt to walk by pulling herself up on Cara and holding onto her to steady herself.  Their temperaments are absolutely wonderful. 


However, they are clumsy and they have no self awareness as to their size.  We sent a video off to “You’ve been framed” of our daughter being bowled over in snow by one of our dogs.  There was no malice, she was just in the way! This also means that they will still try to be a 40kg  "lap dog" if you let them. 

They are not particularly noisy dogs but will bark when they have a reason to (unlike our terriers!).  They are big dogs with deep chests and have a very big bark - no one comes to our door without us being alerted! They can "talk" though - they will make excited "grrrr" noises or "whooooing" noises when you speak to them - like they are joining in the conversation. This definitely runs in our lines.

 

As with any breed (or crossbreed) there can be health issues.  They are generally a healthy breed and suffer more from injury (especially as puppies) rather than illness. The biggest health issue that we’ve seen since our involvement in the breed is cancer – this is the same as with humans, some seem susceptible to it and others are not.  We are sure there must be some environmental factors as well.  We have lost young dogs to different cancers and yet have veterans from the same lines.


With all large breeds there is a lot of pressure on their joints and that can lead to hip dysplasia hence the KC and ISCGB insisting that ethical breeders have their stock hip scored.  Cerebella Ataxia (CA) was a big problem in the breed – this was invariably fatal at about 6 – 12 months old and was undetectable and untreatable. However, good breeding records and practices and a DNA test for carriers of CA has all but eradicated this from the breed now. 

 
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Epilepsy is often mentioned as being an issue with the breed. Again, as with cancer, no one is really sure how this crops up. It does seem that certain “high profile” cases caused something of a scare in the breed few years ago but research and records by the ISCGB have shown there are actually few confirmed cases. 


There is definitely some hereditary predisposition towards epilepsy but environmental factors particularly around the birth can also have an effect.  The difficulty is that a predisposition towards epilepsy doesn’t mean that that every dog in a line will have it and even when a particular line has this there is still only a small percentage of progeny that will actually have epilepsy.


We are always careful to plan our litters to reduce the chances of epilepsy occurring.  To date we have never bred a dog with epilepsy but the laws of average say that we will one day.