Living with Spinone Italiano
The Spinone Italiano is often categorized as a “Versatile Field Dog.” What exactly is the definition of “versatile?” Webster’s defines it as:
- Able to do many different things;
- Having many different uses.
A more detailed definition is “Embracing a variety of subjects, fields, or skills.” This describes the Spinone perfectly, in the field as well as in the many other activities this breed participates in.
Interest in the Spinone is growing, and more and more people are considering whether this is the breed for them. As a breeder, my first wish is to place puppies in a loving and responsible home. It is icing on the cake when a new owner wants to go a step further and compete or train with their dog. But how do people know if the breed—traditionally a hunting dog—can compete in other venues that might be more appealing to the typical “pet owner”? Or what about people looking for “just a pet?” Does the Spinone fit the bill?
Two of the most common questions I am asked by people researching the breed are: “Do they get along with other dogs?” and “Do they like kids?” Yes on both counts! Owners often warn that Spinoni are like potato chips—you can’t have just one! Naturally sociable, the breed is known for gentleness with dogs of its own breed and others, and an almost magnetic attraction to children. (But remember, small children should not be left alone with a Spinone or any other breed.) Many Spinoni live happily with cats, birds, guinea pigs, and other pets. That said, it should be remembered that these are hunting dogs with a strong prey drive, so they should be introduced to such other “members” of the family at a young age, and carefully.
Owners describe their dogs as smart, sweet, loving, gentle, entertaining, athletic, comical, and adorable. They also report that they can be mischievous, are prone to counter surfing, and as natural retrievers, will pick up (and chew on) things that you might not wish them to! Crate training is advised when a pup can’t be watched. However, Spinoni are not a breed that can be relegated to a kennel—they become attached to their people and, while not exactly clingy, do like to be in close proximity to the family—like next to them on the couch or in the bed!
Compared to most Sporting breeds, Spinoni are relatively calm. But as with any large breed dog, they do require a fair amount of exercise, especially as puppies. A daily hour or two of exercise will result in a much easier dog to live with. Mental stimulation is important as well. A Spinone left to its own devices for long periods in the yard will find something to do, and that will likely involve digging. So, best to satisfy the need for exercise both physically and mentally, and then settle down on the couch to watch a little TV together.
As if having a fantastic companion isn’t enough, Spinone owners today are enjoying such activities as Conformation, Obedience, Rally, Agility, Tracking, and Therapy work with their dogs, along with the more traditional venues of Hunt Tests and Trials. And many enjoy getting out in the field for a day of bird hunting. I spoke with a number of owners who are competing in several different venues to get a feel for how well Spinoni are faring, and to see if there are any special challenges or tricks involved in training our breed for particular activities.
Hunting dogs need to be obedient, but how do Spinoni fare in competition Obedience or Rally? It is often reported that, in order to train for Obedience with a Spinone, one must have a sense of humor. While there are a number of people doing Obedience and Rally with their Spinoni, and a few who have achieved more advanced titles, the average Spinone is not going to compete at the same level as a Golden Retriever or a Border Collie. However, they are willing participants as long as the training is positive and the treats are plentiful! Harsh training methods will result in a dog that will shut down, and probably remember the experience far into the future. If treated fairly and encouraged, a Spinone can do well in Obedience.
More and more people are enjoying training and competing with their dogs in Agility, and this includes Spinoni. It’s uncertain how many people are training or competing in this sport with Spinoni, but the number is no doubt growing. The first and only (to date) Spinone to achieve his MACH (Master Agility Champion) is “Booker,” MACH Mals-About Guilty As Charged MXG MXP MJS MJP CGC. His owners told me that “turning on a dime” like some of the more traditional Agility dogs was not in the cards, but that Booker is steady and forgiving of handler errors. Booker also brings smiles to the residents of an assisted living facility, and has entered his first Rally trial—now that’s versatile!
“Sofia,” PACH4 Hopecreek Maggioranza Fisica Sofia UD BN GN GO RE MXP11 MXPC MJP11 MJPC PAX5 OFP has also excelled in Agility. Her handler suggests keeping training sessions short and fun. Having trained other Agility dogs, she says that when she got Sofia, the beauty was in not knowing what to expect from her as a breed. Since Sofia also excels in Agility, Obedience, and Rally, it’s obvious that a lot could easily be expected of her!
A number of Spinone Italiano dogs are being used in Therapy work, from working with kids in reading programs and visiting hospitals and assisted living facilities, to offering comfort after disasters such as the school shootings in Sandy Hook. Although there are many that could be mentioned, three that stand out are:
“Denali,” is a 10-year-old Spinone owned by Bob and Jane Landis. As Bob states, “Therapy dogs must be curious, willing to engage a patient sitting in a wheelchair or in a hospital bed; they must roll with the unexpected, learn to accept a pat out of nowhere from a gushing stranger in a hospital hallway as well. Therapy dogs must stay the course; settle in while you and the patient “chat dog” because there’s no one who doesn’t remember every dog they’ve ever owned. The Italian Spinone loves to be the center of attention. Denali loves to “hold court” and, if someone kneels down to his level, he’ll sit and extend one paw in what can only be described as a “Papal” blessing.”
Denali works at both the New York Methodist Hospital’s Physical Rehabilitation Unit and the Brooklyn VA’s Palliative Care Unit. At the VA hospital, depressed patients sometimes won’t talk with staff about personal matters, but will open up to a therapy dog, giving the therapist some idea what’s going on in their lives. In one case, the patient missed his puppy at home. Who knew until Denali walked in the door? It was a simple matter to arrange for a family member to bring the puppy to the hospital.
Two other standouts in the Therapy world are Chris and Lauren Sweetwood’s dogs, “Siena” (Castellana DiMorghengo MH CDX RAE THDD JHR CGCA (TDIG TWT) and “Drago” (Ch. Drago Castellano of Trollbo MH CD RE THDD JHR CGCA (TDIGOLD, TWT,) TT, 2013 AKC Award of Canine Excellence—Therapy). Both dogs are handled by Lauren Sweetwood, and both have assisted in programs at assisted living facilities, nursing homes, schools, and disaster relief situations.
Siena received the TDI Gold Award for over 500 therapy visits, and currently participates in the Tail Waggin’ Tutors Program at local schools where Chris and Lauren live. Drago spent many hours comforting victims and families after the Sandy Hook school shootings. He was the second Spinone to achieve the highest TDI title (TDIG). He also regularly visits assisted living facilities and nursing homes, and has over 1000 therapy dog visits to his credit! Clearly, Spinoni are well cut out for Therapy Dog work. With their many titles and achievements, Chris and Lauren’s Spinoni are the definition of “versatile!”
Hunting and hunt training is what the breed was used for traditionally, and many owners still pursue these activities with their Spinoni. Many Spinoni, sporting a conformation title, also have a hunting title on the other end of their name. And for many, there is no greater joy than seeing their owner get out the shotgun! Probably more Spinone owners hunt or train for hunting with their dogs than any other activity, and with good reason.
The Spinone today is as good a hunting companion as it was in the past, unlike some Sporting breeds. Many breeders emphasize that their dogs have both brains and beauty, and want to keep it this way. While Spinone make great companion dogs, they really excel in the field. Originally registered with NAVHDA (North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association) before acceptance by AKC, many are still NAVHDA registered, and many owners today participate in both NAVHDA and AKC events.
Joe Masar, who has been active in NAVHDA for over 16 years and who has owned, trained and/or handled close to thirty Spinoni reports:
“Spinoni can be a family member as well as a very valuable hunting team member. They bond in a unique way with their handlers and hunt as a team and not just for themselves. They are versatile in pointing, retrieving, and swimming. So whether it be upland, waterfowl or fur, they can do it and do it well.
They can be slow to mature compared to some, but the wait is worth it. They have stubborn streaks like questioning why they have to do it more than once: Since you threw it, you go get it!
They are very sensitive and, therefore, methods used on other breeds will ruin a Spinone when incorrectly applied. If you want a dog that hunts in this county and not two counties away, you will find them to be a perfect companion.”
Joe pretty much sums up the Spinone temperament; gentle, sweet, comical, biddable, but with a little bit of a mind of their own. This is a dog that will appeal to many, as long as the beard (which gathers water, food, and any number of other substances) is not considered an issue. Spinone households typically have several “beard towels” stashed in various places. I always tell people that if you are a “neat freak” this is not the breed for you—and I know, because I used to be one! But for me, and for many other owners, a little spittle on the walls and muddy footprints on the floor are worth it in order to share your home with this wonderful, unique, versitile breed!
Are you looking for a Spinone Italiano puppy?
The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.
Want to help rescue and re-home a Spinone Italiano dog?
Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.
Spinone Italiano Dog Breed Magazine
Read and learn more about the friendly Spinone Italiano dog breed with articles and information in our Spinone Italiano Dog Breed Magazine.
Spinone Italiano Breed Magazine - Showsight