Gun Dogs with “Human” Eyes

  1. Where do you live? What do you do “outside” of dogs?
  2. In popularity, The Spinone Italiano is currently ranked #109 out of 195 AKC-recognized breeds. Do you hope this will change or are you comfortable with his placement? Do these numbers help or hurt the breed?
  3. Does the average person on the street recognize him for what he is?
  4. Are there any misconceptions about the breed you’d like
    to dispel?
  5. What special challenges do breeders face in our current economic and social climate?
  6. At what age do you start to see definite signs of show-worthiness (or lack thereof)?
  7. What is the most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind?
  8. What’s the best way to attract newcomers to your breed and to the sport?
  9. What is your ultimate goal for the breed?
  10. What is your favorite dog show memory?
  11. Is there anything else you’d like to share about the breed? Please elaborate.

 

Stacey Anderson Belt

I live in Grants Pass, Oregon, recently relocated here from Carson City, Nevada. I am the emergency manager for Jackson County, Oregon.

Do I hope the breed’s popularity will change or am I comfortable with the placement? I’m comfortable with the ranking. We have a small gene pool and I fear a rapid growth would come with additional health challenges, and a struggle to maintain the breed standard. I also believe if more people lived with a Spinone, the rank would be much higher. It’s such a versatile breed. I have often said they are great at holding down my bed whenever I’m not home, ready to get in the field and hunt up the birds or lope on to the next adventure. As long as a Spinone is with you, they’re happy, and I’m happy.

Do these numbers help or hurt the breed? I think the breed is still fairly uncommon, and the popularity ranking doesn’t have any influence on the aspects which are most important—health, conformation, temperament.

Does the average person on the street recognize the breed? We used to place bets before we arrived somewhere public with the dogs. The first was how long and second how many—we were measuring until someone said Labradoodle, or “What’s that a cross with?” followed by, “Like the ice cream?” They are recognized slightly more frequently these days, but it’s still a little surprising when someone says Spinone, or even Ice Cream dog.

Are there any misconceptions about the breed I’d like to dispel? For years, I would be contacted because people were under the impression they’re hypoallergenic. They are not.

I think for years we needed to educate regarding the unique topline of the Spinone. It’s described as having “two segments”. The first slopes slightly downward in a nearly straight line from the withers to the eleventh thoracic vertebra. The second rises gradually and continues into a solid and slightly convex loin without rising above the withers. I call it “hinged, not a dip”.

They are not couch potatoes. While they are gentle and empathetic, and willing to curl up for a nap, if their energy is not given an appropriate outlet, they may resort to destructive or rambunctious behaviors. Spontaneously exploding dog beds are notoriously associated with the breed.

What special challenges do breeders face in our current economic and social climate? The Spinone Italiano has been bred as a hunting companion for centuries, and is one of the oldest breeds to be used as a gundog. But the breed is also low in numbers, which poses special challenges for breeding. I’ve found building international partnerships/friendships necessary. Importing semen or dogs is exceptionally expensive and complicated, sometimes with disappointing results. It’s so important to be mindful of health, temperament, conformation, and maintaining natural hunting instinct. I think, as breeders, we have to continue to look forward, and work collaboratively, to preserve our breed.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? We evaluate the puppies at six and eight weeks of age for basic structure and temperament test at seven weeks. Show dog, hunting dog, therapy dog, companion dog or all of the above are all on the list of characteristics we are observing.

What is the most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind? Head planes and topline/underline are the hallmarks of the breed. Please do not judge them as a generic Sporting dog. The head is long and the skull is oval when viewed from above, with the occiput prominent, like the roof of a house when viewed from the side. The break at the 11th vertebrae is noticeable and the 30 degree croup is obvious. The underline should be of a piece, with no defined tuck-up. This picture needs to hold on the move as well as standing.

What’s the best way to attract newcomers to my breed and to the sport? You only have to meet one to see where they fit in your life. Their intelligent and gentle expression radiates from soft, sweet ‘human-like’ eyes. Patient, loving, and often playful with family, Spinoni are even-tempered, often comical and a little stubborn with a very sweet nature. Though they may be hesitant with new people, well-socialized Spinoni warm up quickly, and never forget a kind hug.

My ultimate goal for the breed? I have to go back to health, temperament and conformation—the three legs of a breeding program. I love to watch them come out of the field, clean off the burrs and go into the ring, collect a ribbon and stop at the local nursing home at the end of the day. They are willing to do it all.

My favorite dog show memory? My home bred bitch, Adele, GCH Collina d’Oro Adele by Royal Design, winning Best in Show. The first and only bitch in the breed to do so. Probably tied with her Best of Breed win and cut in the Group at Westminster Kennel Club and winning the Spinone Club of America’s inaugural Top 20 event.

While only in the breed for about 15 years, they have given me so much joy, and my dedication to preserving the breed, before, in and after the whelping box is what I strive to give back and share. Oh the adventures…my first dog show (I can laugh now), first days in the field, raising and training the first Spinoni certified in Disaster Stress Relief Therapy, and considering so many of the puppies’ new families part of my family. Spinoni spread joy exponentially. Lives with Tizzy (13), Ivy (11), Mara (eight), Adele (six) and Marco Solo (nine months).

 

Bonnie Blink

I’ve had dogs since I was about five years old. As a child they were my best friends. I met an obedience trainer when I was 17 years old, in 1969. Although I never competed in AKC obedience, I was active in obedience training for many years after that, training my own dogs and teaching classes.

While raising my children, we had a variety of companion dogs from Basenjis to Great Pyrenees. I hunted with two wonderful Springer Spaniels and entered a few fun matches during those years.

It wasn’t until I got my first Mastiff in 1997 that I began showing in AKC conformation events. This then became my passion. Initially, I concentrated on Mastiffs and began breeding and showing my home-bred dogs. I may have bred my last Mastiff litter, and my youngest is now going on three years old.

Starting in 2001, I added Spinoni Italiani to the family and found them to be wonderful companions that go well with Mastiffs. I’ve owned and/or raised and trained countless breeds and have a good understanding of dogs in general. Some of the unusual breeds that have been part of my life are the Dogo Argentino and the Otterhound. Although I lean toward the Working breeds, I love them all. In recent years, we’ve added two small dogs to the household—a Schipperke and a Shetland Sheepdog and, most recently, our first Terrier, a Bull Terrier. I live in a rural area of Texas on ten mostly wooded acres.

Having started this adventure a bit late in my life, I decided that judging would be a way to continue to contribute to the sport even after I might no longer be able to show my own dogs. So, although I was and still am showing, I started judging in 2011. I loved seeing the sport from inside the ring and from the judge’s perspective. I assure you that things do look a little different from there! You are up close and can put your hands on so many amazing dogs. I appreciate professional handlers and their expert presentation, but I also love owner-handlers and amateurs. I think judging and exhibiting should be fun and a positive experience for all. Sure, judges are out there to do a serious evaluation of breeding stock, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun doing it.

I retired from my “real” job as an analyst for a natural gas pipeline company in 2005 after being diagnosed with a major recurrence of the same cancer I was diagnosed with at the age of 17. Though I was not expected to survive, I did. I also survived a second type of cancer in 2011. In 2019, I retired from judging to work part-time from home for Foy Trent Dog Shows doing production work.

I’m not sure what my next dog-related adventure will be. My young Mastiff and I have dabbled in Agility, CAT and Tracking. I find the Spinone Italiano to be versatile in more ways than hunting related and hope to try Tracking with one soon. And the Bull Terrier, well, she just makes me laugh! If I can ever get her to go around the conformation ring with all four feet on the ground and stand still for an exam, that may be my greatest accomplishment yet!

Do I hope the breed’s popularity will change or am I comfortable with the placement? I don’t pay much attention to popularity numbers. I think it is inevitable that the popularity of the Spinone Italiano will increase as more people become aware of them and meet them. It will be up to the breeders to ensure that all breeders remain very conscientious about maintaining the breed as a natural hunter as well as a great family companion.

I think increased popularity could have the potential to hurt the breed if breeders do not remain vigilant and continue to educate themselves, owners and potential owners about the breed, its natural abilities, the breed standard, and ethics for reputable breeders.

Does the average person on the street recognize the breed? Average person? Probably not. But more and more dog lovers who are knowledgeable about purebred dogs seem to be recognizing these dogs when they come across them hunting or taking their owners for walks around the block.

Are there any misconceptions about the breed I’d like to dispel? They do shed! And despite rumors to the contrary, to the best of my knowledge they are not hypoallergenic.

What special challenges do breeders face in our current economic and social climate? Since I’m answering these questions at the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, I think we, as all breeders and humans in general, are facing many challenges. Will our veterinarians be there to care for our dogs and puppies? Will our puppy buyers stay healthy and be able to properly socialize a new puppy? Will we stay healthy to care for our dogs and litters? Will dog food and other supplies be readily available? For now, I think the best we can do is wait and watch.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? There are some things I notice practically from birth and by the time I do my official evaluation at eight weeks, I already have my eye on a pup or two as potential show prospects. There are some characteristics that can be seen quite early that will most likely eliminate certain individuals from my breeding program such as excessive or incorrect coat or lack of bone and substance.

The most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind? The Spinone Italiano has some unique characteristics that all judges should keep in mind and which I’m sure most are familiar with such as divergent head planes with a one-to-one ratio of muzzle to back skull and a segmented topline that is not the board straight, typical topline of so many other breeds. But I think the most important thing to remember is that the Spinone Italiano is a robust, substantial dog with strong, powerful bone and a head that may seem longer than expected for the size of the dog. I am seeing far too many dogs with little substance and small heads with short muzzles.

The best way to attract newcomers to my breed and to the sport? I believe we need to embrace newcomers and be willing to spend time educating and mentoring them, not just until they get their first puppy, but forever!

My ultimate goal is to see this amazing breed retain its incredible natural hunting ability while we work to produce healthy, sound, happy dogs that conform to the breed standard in every way.

My favorite dog show memory? That’s easy. It’s February 13, 2007, when my pick puppy from my first Spinone Italiano litter, GCH CH QuietWood Tiramisu, turned three years old and won Best of Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show!

I believe these dogs are one of the most kind, loving, hard-working and versatile dogs in existence. I’ve known them to do everything from hunting with falcons to serving as the best babysitters. Like every breed, they are not for everyone. They are big, they have beards that get wet and dirty, and they certainly do shed, even though they have a single coat. They have a strong chase instinct yet get along great with other family pets and livestock. It’s very hard to have just one!

 

Suzanne Hudson

I live in Seattle, Washington. Outside of dogs, I work with dressage horse imports, but I am semi-retired. I am also a retired therapist.

Do I hope the breed’s popularity will change or am I comfortable with the placement? I am comfortable with these numbers, but I would not like to see a decline. It is a rare breed, and what is most important is the quality of the breedings going forward, which depends on the expertise of the breeders. The need for expert and skilled breeders is a grave concern for me. I am less concerned about numbers than quality, of course, with health issues addressed always when breeding. And we always want to keep sight of their field abilities. The Spinone has helped put dinner in the pot for generations.

Do these numbers help or hurt the breed? They certainly could do either, it depends on the quality of the dogs being bred, and the knowledge and experience of the breeders who are going forward with these dogs. There are a lot of “new” breeders. This is always a good thing. We want new breeders! However, I have some concerns about mentoring for our breeders. It is crucial that those being mentored know to reach out and choose good mentors and equally important that really good mentors are open and willing to share their knowledge beyond self-promotion, and with the confidence that what they are producing can endure despite creating more competition. We should welcome that competition if we are improving the breed overall. It is paramount that all of us as breeders do our homework. We must all develop a good eye for breed type; it is common for breeders and owners to judge by placements at dog shows. Especially with a rare breed, we should not evaluate our dogs based on show-ring records. This is a hard concept for many to understand. Some believe AKC rankings are an affirmation of the best breed type, I would respectfully disagree. AKC judges can only place what they have in the ring. If we do not bring them correct breed type, then it is impossible for judges to understand correct breed type. In our breed we see handlers who perhaps have shown one or maybe two Spinoni in their entire lives, yet they are mentoring judges, so I believe when seeking a mentor ( whether you are a breeder or a judge) it is important to understand the history, expertise and goals of that mentor when they are mentoring you.

Does the average person on the street recognize the breed? I would say that most do not recognize the breed. They are usually very curious though, and enamored by them when they see them!

Are there any misconceptions about the breed I’d like to dispel? There are some misconceptions indeed. Our Judges Education committee struggles with judges wanting to over-simplify the breed, therefore missing crucial aspects of breed type and overall quality because they are trying to narrow the Spinone down to a few points. It is a more difficult breed to learn, and we ask the judges to put in the effort to learn about them in detail. For example, this breed has divergent head planes, however that is only one aspect of the head. The head has many details: eye shape and placement, pronounced medial furrow, the occipital crest, minimal stop, sloping lateral walls of the oval-shaped skull, the flat cheeks, the ear set and length—and that’s just the head! Many judges focus only on the divergent head planes and then consider the head “judged”—not so!

What special challenges do breeders face in our current economic and social climate? Oh my, what a question. As we answer this, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 emergency. Many breeders are deciding not to breed a litter right now because of the uncertain future we are all facing. We are on the precipice of a whole new world in every aspect, but also in dogs, so we will see what we have as we move forward, when we can move forward.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? This breed usually takes several years to mature. Although we can see obvious lack of breed type early in many of them (lack of bone, lack of substance, poor head type, etc.), it is often not until they are at least two years old (or three!) that they start filling out and looking like an adult.

What is the most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind? The most important thing about the breed is putting all of the (many) pieces of the puzzle together and understanding the whole dog. Judges must develop an eye for this breed and this requires time. Of course, it is the same for every breed. However, with the Spinone, developing an eye seems to be more difficult. We don’t always see the best examples of the breed in the ring. This is an “old world” breed. Ancient and rustic are the best words I can come up with at the moment. The Spinone is not a typical Sporting dog in the Group. He is not flashy, he is not “pretty”—unless you are a true aficionado, then wow, he’s so beautiful in such a different way than the flashy Irish Setter (for example) is! He is not showy, he is not covered with a beautiful flowing coat, but rather a harsh, prickly coat that is oh-so-beautiful to a true fan. He is a breath-taking dog on the move, but only if you are looking for that relaxed, loose, neck-forward dog that is so coveted by breed specialists. It is not possible to develop an eye in one or two sessions with a mentor. I know several judges who are doing a lot of homework as they prepare. They continue to ask questions and seek guidance far past their basic AKC requirements. We are most impressed!

What’s the best way to attract newcomers to my breed and to the sport? I think the dogs themselves are wonderful at attracting newcomers! They are such a rustic, authentic old-style dog, with the most charming expression and sense of humor. We are starting to develop regional clubs, and we make sure that our parent club’s annual meeting includes field, show, education, health and just-for-fun events. We love Meet the Breed opportunities. Most breeders are very welcoming and generous with their information as they work together for the good of the breed. As with all breeds, they fiercely love their dogs!

Our ultimate goal is high quality breeding. Breeders who are not just interested in the dog they love at home, but are interested in the preservation of our breed long after they, themselves are gone. We need breeders who are not kennel blind, who can understand that no dog is perfect and that our goal is to always improve the breed. We need breeders who ask themselves very tough questions and who are willing to be unhappy with what they’ve produced so they can strive to produce better next time. Our goal is to educate breeders about breed type and hoping breeders can develop a good eye for breed type. We fight so hard to keep this breed from becoming a generic Sporting dog. They are SO unique and different. Our goal is not to succumb to the “showy is best” scenario.

My ultimate goal for this breed is breeders who are self-aware and doing everything they can to sharpen their eye and become knowledgeable; breeders who realize that we are all kennel blind to some degree and we must work to combat this.

My favorite dog show memory is watching my dog, BISS GCHS Ovidius Dal Podere Antico, win the National Specialty. He is an old-style, brown roan, a sturdy, rustic dog; strong and athletic and very different from the showy white, refined and elegant dogs that we see so often in the ring. He is in retirement now. For me, there is no greater honor than to win the National Specialty under a savvy breed specialist. Or I could also say my favorite memory would be when Italian CH. Puccini Del Mucrone won the National. He had exquisite breed type with a long, beautiful head and an oval shaped skull. He had great bone and substance, huge feet and the proper underline, topline and long sloping croup. The judge that year was Michele Ivaldi­—a true Italian breed specialist. This dog was barely even shown in the U.S. because both breeders and judges did not understand his value—they were not used to seeing something so close to the standard. He had faults, of course, but that is not the point. Puccini was bred in the United States by the revered breeders Michelle Brustein and Dave Brooks. He was then sent to Italy with one of his daughters, where he was crowned an Italian Champion. He was Best Brown Roan Dog at the Raduno in 2011. But most here never understood that he carried the true essence of the Spinone Italiano. To see a very skilled Italian Judge give him the National Win in the U.S. was beyond joyous.

This is a fascinating, rustic, old world dog breed. They are unique in the Sporting Group and they don’t fit the mold of many of the other Sporting dogs. I just invite everyone to get to know them. Study the breed standard (it is LONG and detailed!), find some of the very best dogs that you can find (this does not necessarily mean the biggest winners, which may or may not be the best dogs). Put your hands on them. There are many characteristics about the Spinone that must be felt, like the sloping lateral walls of the roof-shaped skull, the two-piece topline and the long, sloping croup. Feel the harsh coat and thick skin, and the heavy, oval bone. Put your hands on the underline to make sure it really is a deep underline with minimal tuck up. Make sure the chest drops down to at least the elbows, but more than anything, make sure the whole dog fits the silhouette that is described in the standard. Ask some of us about them. They are just fascinating!

 

Riccardo Laschi

I’m 63 years old and I live in Florence, in the countryside.Since I was young, dogs are my passion. Since 2009, I judge the whole Group 7 and some breeds of Group 6. I always breed, at the beginning, Bracco Italiano for which I obtained the posting in 1991; then for about 15 years I breed Segugi Maremmani.

In 2015, I was summoned to judge the Italian Bracchi at the Milan World Cup after which I was called to judge the Annual National Meeting of the Italian Bracco and Spinone in America. I have judged in Italy the most important gatherings of Bracchi Italiani, Spinoni and Segugi Maremmani.

Do I hope the breed’s popularity will change or am I comfortable with the placement? I hope it doesn’t become too popular because often when a breed becomes a business many people “improvise” as breeders.

Do these numbers help or hurt the breed? They help, but popularity must come slowly.

Does the average person on the street recognize him the breed? Often, no.

Are there any misconceptions about the breed I’d like to dispel? It is wrong to think that it is not a great hunting dog, that it is a dog that stinks and requires a lot of grooming.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? After two years.

What is the most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind? The expression and fitting the standard, eye and hair, and you should never forget that the Spinone is a
hunting dog.

What’s the best way to attract newcomers to my breed and to the sport? The best way is to produce good dogs for the job.

My ultimate goal for the breed? Like all breeds, it is to breed beautiful, good and healthy dogs.

I’d also like to share that I wish you always remember that Spinone is a rustic dog that was born to hunt.

 

Lindsay Stanton

I grew up with rare breeds including Irish Wolfhounds. My first Spinone, Dante, was a beautiful brown roan from the Grouse Rouster Kennels of Marge and Mike McCormick. I absolutely fell in love with the breed. They were exactly what I wanted; an active dog outside, but a couch potato inside the house. The McCormicks became some of my closest friends and mentors in the breed. Through Spinone, I met my best friend and second mother, Diana Cannon. Diana is Mateo’s breeder and Mateo’s lineage connects back to Dante. I love showing, obedience and exercising with my boys. Outside of dogs I am a bit of a workout nut and, professionally, I am an executive for a technology company, Digi-Me, in the Human Resources vertical. I live in Wheaton, Illinois.

Do I hope the breed’s popularity will change or am I comfortable with the placement? I am comfortable with this placement. We are certainly way less of a rare breed than when I first got into Spinoni. When I got my first Spinone, Dante, in 2000, we were not even AKC yet. The breed has come a long way in regards to recognition and popularity since then. I think our current place in rankings and numbers is balanced, not overly popular, but not at risk of extinction either. My other breed, Dandie Dinmont Terrier, needs to focus on better numbers. Spins, however, are in a nicely balanced place.

Does the average person on the street recognize the breed? Far more people do now than when I had Dante. They generally know he is a breed and, typically, Sporting, but there is certainly far more recognition than in years past.

Are there any misconceptions about the breed I’d like to dispel? Not that I can think of.

What special challenges do breeders face in our current economic and social climate? I think the challenges are not specific to any particular breed. It is, in general, education of why to go to an expert, and the public understanding the benefits of a great breeder for long-term temperament and health of the breed.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? Spinone tend to mature around three years old, so I think that is ideal, especially if you are really looking to special your dog.

What is the most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind? They should be a beautiful, balanced dog. The Italian standard is built around the purpose of the breed for the field, so movement and structure are critical.

What’s the best way to attract newcomers to my breed and to the sport? Education; I think many people are totally unaware of the opportunities in dogs. They may just know they love dogs and are passionate about them, but they do not know the professional opportunities or even recreational activities available. I think it is important to market and educate outside of our circle.

My ultimate goal for the breed? To enjoy every minute I have the opportunity to be involved with them!

My favorite dog show memory? I have so many amazing memories that Mateo and his phenomenal show career gave us. One of my all-time favorites was when Mateo won our National Speciality. He heard me scream and felt Carlo’s excitement down the leash and he literally jumped for joy. He knew he had done good. It was the culmination of so much joy watching him in the ring, and so many friendships gained from his career.

They are, without a doubt, a heart breed for me. They are incredibly intelligent, extremely intuitive, fun and amazing dogs. They read situations and people. They are also amazing with other animals and extremely tolerant—of Terriers jumping on their face, for instance.

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