From the Mountains to the Show Ring

Spinone Italiano, standing up and down on a mountainside, displaying the flexible two-segment topline and perpendicular and long hock-to-paw length.

Today’s Spinone Italiano originates from the Piedmont region in Northwest Italy. During the 19th century, it was the most important hunting breed in that area.

Piedmont, in both French and Italian and other variants, comes from the medieval Latin Pedemontium or Pedemontis, meaning “at the foot of the mountains” (referring to the Alps).

The Piedmont region is surrounded by the Alps. It borders with France, Switzerland and the Italian regions of Lombardy, Liguria, Aosta Valley and a tiny part of Emilia Romagna. Piedmont is 43.3 percent mountainous and 30.3 percent is vast areas of hills with just 26.4 percent being plains or wetlands.

The Spinone, with its two-segmented topline, solid underline and minimal tuck-up, long hock-to-paw length and moderate bend of stifle was not built for super speed. This hunting dog hunted the foothills and mountainsides of the Alps for upland game birds, fox and rabbit, and down low in the plains and swampy, thick wetlands for waterfowl.

Spinone Italiano, standing up and down on a mountainside

It is said that during WWII, the Spinone was used by the Italian partisans to track enemies and to carry food. Speed was not required. A strong, substantial and unhurried yet steady-going dog was needed—and that was the Spinone.

So, all that said, the Spinone is not slow. A descriptor word in our Breed Standard is “methodical.” Methodical does not mean slow. The definition of methodical is orderly and systematic in habits or behavior. Obviously, a Spinone is not as fast as a Pointer or German Wirehaired Pointer or Weimaraner or even the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon and Brittany. But not being as fast as those other pointing breeds does not, thereby, mean the Spinone is slow. Not being as fast as the other pointing breeds does not mean the Spinone should go around the ring like a turtle, with its handler walking. We had that happen once; the judge kept telling us to “slow down, slow down!” to the point where we were all literally walking. It was ridiculous!

So while the other pointing breeds are faster and look much more flashy in the field, often going back over the same piece of ground more than once, the Spinone, with its easy, pounding trot that goes the distance, is determined as it covers the ground in an orderly and systematic fashion, not going back and forth over the same ground. I suppose, to some, that may appear slow.

Left: Piedmont region in Northwest Italy, Spinone Italiano origins - Right: a flat field where other pointing breeds originated

As I mentioned earlier, the Spinone has a solid underline and minimal tuck-up. That does not mean no tuck-up or zero tuck-up. There is a tuck-up and it is minimal. To quote the Italian Breed Standard:

The ribs are well sprung and slanting with wide space between them. The back ribs (false ribs) are long, oblique and well opened. Underline and belly: Almost horizontal in the sternal region, then ascends slightly towards the belly.” The belly is not the tuck-up.

The Spinone has a two-piece topline. It is NOT a sway back. The first segment slopes slightly downward from the withers to the 11th thoracic vertebra. You may not always obviously see “the break,” especially in the very young Spinone, but it is there—you can feel it. The second segment of the topline rises gradually and continues into a solid and slightly convex loin without rising above the withers.

Spinone Italiano, standing up and down on a mountainside, displaying the flexible two-segment topline and perpendicular and long hock-to-paw length.

The Spinone’s large paws give it the sure-footedness and stability to hunt in the hilly and mountainous terrain, as does the long hock-to-paw distance.

From the AKC Spinone Breed Standard: “The distance from the point of the hock to the ground is about one-third of the height at the withers, and the rear pastern is strong, lean and perpendicular to the ground.

Stealing another quote from the Italian Breed Standard: “The hocks must be perpendicular to the ground; seen from behind, the hindquarters are parallel.

That means no cowhocks. Living in Montana, I can tell you that I have yet to see a Pack Mule or Big Horn Sheep or Mountain Goat with cowhocks.


So how does this all translate to the show ring?

The Spinone should not race around the breed ring or be at the very front of the Sporting Group. Even if one has a Spinone that can do that, it should not be presented that way. You can always spot the handler who does not know the breed when they compete for that spot at the front of the Group and zoom around the ring rather than presenting the Spinone at a moderate pace to show off the Spinone’s classic loose, pounding trot.

I am reminded of the great handler Colton Johnson and the way he purposely handled his Old English Sheepdog in the way the breed should be presented and was not swayed by peer pressure or by judges wanting a happy-go-lucky generic American show dog. Many years ago, Colton showed one of my Spinoni a few times in exactly the same way—unhurried and how it should be done.

Spinone on a loose lead with head down and out, topline as it should be.
Spinone on a loose lead with head down and out, topline as it should be.

Similarly, a Spinone should never ever be strung up on its lead. A Spinone is to be shown on a loose lead. Why? Well, if you unnaturally pull up a Spinone’s head to, again, show it in the generic American show dog way, not only does that flatten out the topline in movement but it also does not showcase the Spinone’s unique head with its diverging head planes and nose pointing downward in order to pick up scent. Just remember the head and tail together—loose lead with the head low and out in conjunction with the tail that is carried parallel to the ground or down, never up. Thank you for taking the time to learn more about our unique breed.

  • Daina B. Hodges has been an owner, breeder, and exhibitor of Spinone Italiano dogs since 2002. Daina lives in Missoula, Montana. She grew up with dogs, cats, and horses, and has shown dogs, horses, and yes, cats. She got her first “big dog” in 1973, a German Shepherd Dog, and participated in 4H with her. Daina got her first horse in 1974 and participated in 4H and open horse shows, eventually graduating to AQHA shows. Horses eventually won out over dogs and she bred her first Quarter Horse at the age of 12 with the guidance of her 4H leader who was very much involved with Quarter Horses and the American Quarter Horse Association. However, the dogs were always at the barn and wherever they rode their horses. Daina was obsessed with Quarter Horse pedigrees and she read as many books as she could get her hands on for breeding and genetics. Daina was born in Portland, Oregon, and raised in a town near the base of Mt. Hood. She has lived in Alaska and Wyoming, and eventually settled in Western Montana where she’s been for over 30 years. Daina was a court reporter for the State of Oregon, then a free-lance Court Reporter in Wyoming and then Montana, and in 1997, she became an Official Court Reporter for the United States District Courts in Missoula, Montana, where Daina finished her 30-year court reporting career in 2012. After settling down and building a home in 2000, she got back into dogs with her first Spinone puppy. She spent her first five years in the breed hunting her Spinoni, belonging to local NAVHDA and AKC hunt clubs and earning Hunt Test and Field Trial awards, as well as showing her Spinoni in AKC shows and dabbling a bit in Agility before breeding her first litter. Since Daina’s work involved traveling to three US District Courthouses in Montana, along with work at the “home base” courthouse in Missoula, her dog activities became limited to showing and hiking her dogs, especially after she bred her first litter in 2007. She has been a member in good standing with the Spinone Club of America since 2003. She’s bred eight litters since 2007, as her practice is to have a litter every three years in order to know and understand where her lines are going conformation-wise, temperament-wise, health-wise, and performance-wise. Daina has 23 finished Spinone Italiano Champions, 17 of which she bred and 10 of those 17 were finished through the Bred-By Exhibitor class. She became the first Spinone breeder to receive the AKC Bred-By Exhibitor Silver Medallion in September 2016, and in September 2021, she became the first Spinone breeder to receive the AKC Bred-By Exhibitor Gold Medallion. Daina is currently an approved breed mentor by AKC and the Spinone Club of America. She has been a writer for SCOA for the AKC Gazette and is still asked to write the occasional article. Daina has imported two Spinone from the United Kingdom and one from the Czech Republic. She does health screenings on all of her Spinoni per the Spinone Club of America health guidelines and code of ethics. She hikes with her Spinoni almost every morning (except when at dog shows), at least six days a week, year-round—winter, spring, summer, and fall. The temperature cut-off in the winter is around 10 degrees and lower, of which those temps, fortunately, last for only a few days a couple of times throughout the winter. Daina and her Spinoni hike about six miles in the winter/early spring months and eight miles for the rest of the year. Living in Western Montana, they hike up and down hills and mountainsides—terrain which is pretty much exactly that of NW Italy where the Spinone originates.

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