Bracco Italiano: The New Dog in Town
The 200th breed recognized by the
American Kennel Club is greenlighted for
this year’s Westminster Dog Show.
The name, “Bracco Italiano” sounds like a tasty dish your local eatery would serve up with a nice Chianti. In fact, it means “Italian hound”—and it is the latest breed to be approved by the American Kennel Club and shown at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Not that it is really new. The Bracco has been a hunting dog for hundreds of years in Italy, but only recently has it met the standardization qualifications (medical/temperamental/cosmetic)—to make them AKC-recognized. Braccos are pretty big guys, 21–27 inches tall, 55–90 pounds, generally white and orange or white and chestnut, and smooth coated. The people at Westminster call the Bracco a sporting dog with “a sculpted head with divergent facial planes, long ears, and a fast, extended trot.” We’re not quite sure what “divergent facial planes” means, unless it means “adorable.” The bloodhoundish face and the athletic body are a bit at odds—think Zach Galifianakis’ head stuck on Channing Tatum’s body.
As a bird dog, the Bracco is a multi-tasker. “This breed was originally used to push game into nets,” says Robert Gross, a dog-hunting guide and owner/breeder at Connecticut River Bracco Italiano in Springfield, VT; we spoke over the phone while he was tending to a new litter. “Then the Italians began to breed Pointer into them.” Pointers are like a GPS, helping you locate your quarry; then they stand there and quite literally point.
Flushers (like Labradors and spaniels) will wiggle madly as they get close to the scent, then make the birds take flight (or, if they’re grouse, scurry.) “Braccos are capable of using intuition to point and hold birds, but are also capable of useful flushing on command,” Gross notes. In other words, the dog will intuitively point at the game, but then a hunter can teach them to flush the birds out of hiding. Why is this useful? “This way,” Gross adds, “you don’t have to walk in front of all hunters”—i.e., all the guns—“to flush the birds yourself.” While this is normally how hunting is done in the United States, Gross says, “Italians think we’re dumb to do that.”
A pup here in the United States will set you back around $3,000, and you will have a dog who is affectionate, good with kids, not a huge barker, and easy to groom. But here’s the caveat: the Bracco is not a city dog, and cuteness aside, it is not a dog for a family with small children, even though they generally like kids. This dog needs a job—hunting—and if it doesn’t have a job, it will find one. You don’t want that. “A Bracco is a thinking dog,” says Gross. “They are very curious, and can be destructive without mental and physical stimulation.”
Gross recalls a stunning dog who was recently returned to his breeder because a family got him, and didn’t understand the hunting instinct. They put the dog on Prozac and neutered him, and the dog would still frantically chase the kids on their backyard deck; when the kids weren’t around, the dog would stalk butterflies. He needed to hunt—and now he does. (Though sadly, not for females.)
Westminster’s Sporting Group competition will be Tuesday, May 9, where for the first time the ring will include a Bracco Best of Breed. Gross is hoping that will be his own boy, Jasper (a.k.a. GCH JH Gentle Wind’s Jasper). Far from lying around looking pretty, Jasper has been in training, with a special diet and running in snow to give him the powerful forearm and shoulders prized by Bracco owners. There aren’t recent photos of him, Gross says, because, “We didn’t want to give anyone anything to work towards.”
“That Westminster crowd,” Gross says quietly, “is very competitive.”
Hero photo: Ksenia Raykova via Getty Iimages