The Italian Spinone or Italian Griffon is not a griffon hound in the true sense of ‘sleuth dog’, yet the French would call the Italian Spinone a ‘griffon’, because of the plucky coat. It is also true that the Spanish griffons often are very similar in looks to the Italian Spinone. But like the Korthals and other Wirehaired pointing griffons, Spinones are primarily used as gun dogs and not as scent hounds – even though they have a good nose and know how to use it!
You will not find Spinones in Spain that easily. In the 70’s they have been bred on a small scale in Spain, and there are stories that someone on the Cantabrian coast tried them for hunting. So it is not altogether impossible that there are traces of Spinone blood in some of the Spanish griffons, while it is certainly true that many of the hunting griffons found in the northwest of Spain often share the same coat colors as the lighter coloured Spinones – so if you adopt one of those, be prepared for the question “Is that an Italian Spinone you have there?” The similarity in looks is a good reason to include the Spinone in our list of breed descriptions.
The males are 60 to 69 cm at the withers, and should weigh around 32-37kg. The females are 58 to 64 cm and weigh around 28-30kg. Their coat is course, lies flat to the skin and is somewhat shaggy, but unlike our griffons, they have no undercoat. The coat can be white, mottled white and orange, or roan (mottled brown and white). The roan coloured ones are similar in looks to the Korthals, Wirehaired and Stichelhaar, but the Spinone has longer ears and a bigger head with a longer muzzle. Also their size is somewhat different from a griffon as the Spinoni are squarely built: the height at the withers is more or less the same as their length, whereas griffons have longer bodies.
Spinones move with a beautiful, fast trotting gait and can walk and work for many hours on end. They need long walks and they are also the perfect jogging buddy. Spinones love to go out in the country side and like being outside. Yet, if given enough possibility for walks and explorations, they do not need a huge garden. They also like to snuggle with you on the couch and be inside where it is nice and warm. They like to be around humans and do not take it well if they are left out and left alone for too many hours.
About the origin of the Italian Spinone much has been written, but very little is known. Some say the breed is one of the oldest, dating it back to 500 B.C., other say it came already with the Celts, while yet others believe it descended from Russian griffons, or Greek Setters or the extinct Spanish Pointer. Also there’s the theory that the Spinone resulted from crossing the setters from the Roman era with the Italian white mastiffs of the coastal regions, or that it is related to the Italian Segugio – while yet another group believes there must be a link to the ancient French scent hounds… During WWII, the Spinone almost became extinct, not just because there was a war, but also because many hunters crossbred their Spinones with all sorts of other hunting dogs. Thanks to an extensive breeding program and dogs that had already been bred abroad, the breed survived.
The name Spinone probably comes from Spinoso – and in some villages they will call this breed by that name. Spinoso in Italian means thorny, and the name tells us that they are able to hunt in thorny bushes, because their coarse coat and thick skin protects them from the prickly bushes and shrubs. In Italy the Spinone is still considered the best hunting dog for this type of terrain. As said, Spinones are used as pointing dogs, gun dogs – but they are also excellent swimmers and retrievers who will go get shot water fowl. They stay close to the hunter and unlike our Spanish griffons, they won’t trod off on their own so easily only to return when they think it’s been enough… And yet they can be set on a scent trail with or without the huntsman trailing after them in search of a piece of game… Their noses are powerful and will find where animals are hiding. And food… they love food and love to munch and know where to find it!
In Italy they are still used for hunting, but in recent years Spinones are gaining fame as assistance dogs because their character makes them very suitable for that job. They also make great companion dogs and family pets, and . They are friendly dogs, calm and affectionate. They are extremely loyal to their humans. If they are not well socialized with other dogs and people as a little pup, they may develop fear biting, something you will not see that easily in the Spanish and French griffons. It is good to focus on obedience training in their first year, because they can be headstrong and they like chewing on things. Because they have a very sensitive nature, you should always treat them gently to persuade them and never raise your voice when they disobey, because they really do not take that well and they will remember that forever. They have an excellent memory, especially for people and places. They love being around children. Because of their intense and expressive eyes, they are almost human. Their somewhat melancholic expression and their almost human eyes gives them the nickname the ‘Philosopher Dog’ and ‘Poet Dog’.
Outside of Italy, you will find Spinones in the UK, Germany, Netherlands, the USA and the Scandinavian countries, where they have an enthusiastic fan base and are kept as family pets.