The Spinone can lay claim to being one of the oldest of all gun dog breeds and is one of two gun dog breeds native to Italy (the other being its cousin the Bracco Italiano). Although the Spinone has been well established for over one thousand years in its native Italy, it has been until very recently that the breed has taken root outside of that country. There are only about three books in print on the breed, all in Italian, therefore there is very little available about this breed in countries other than Italy. So what exactly is a Spinone? The Spinone is classified as a continental or versatile gun dog, putting it in the same class as the German shorthair, German wirehair, Brittany, Weimaraner, Vizsla, wirehaired pointing griffon and others. It is an all-purpose hunter capable of hunting feather or fur. If the renown English pointer is a Porsche, the Spinone is a Jeep. How far back in history does the Spinone go? References to the Spinone's hunting style have been found from as long ago as the second century A.D. Descriptions of a bristle haired Italian pointing dog have also been found as far back as 500 B.C. The Italian breed standard states that Xenophon, Faliscus, Nemesianus, Seneca, and Arrianus- all ancient historians-mentioned the Spinone more than two thousand years ago. In addition to the ancient historians mentioning the breed, the Spinone has been observed in Italian art dating to the 15th century. Mantegna, Vecellio and Tiepolo all depicted the Spinone in their works.
Depending on who you talk to and when, you might find the Spinone to have originated in Italy, France, Spain, Russia, Greece or even Celtic Ireland. Some will claim the Spinone descended from the Spanish Pointer, an extinct breed today. Others claim it was the ancient Russian Setter which gave rise to the modern Spinone. Cathy Flamholtz, in her book A Celebration of Rare Breeds, Volume II, cites an intriguing theory from British writer Daved Hancock. Hancock, writing about the ancestry of the Scottish Deerhound for Dog World, observes, "The Celts were famous for their coarse haired running dogs, both trackers and gazehounds. Celtic expansion along the main river routes in central Europe led to settlements being established in 200 B.C. from northern Spain in the west to the British Isles in the north to the Adriatic in the south. It is significant that coarse haired hunting dogs are found wherever they settled: the griffon hound breeds of France, the rough haired Styrian hounds of Austria, the Wolfhound of Ireland, the Spinone of Italy, the Wirehaired Pointing Griffons of Hungary, Germany and Czechoslovakia and many of the terrier breeds, perhaps influencing the rough-haired Segugio of Italy and the Bosnian hound too." Another theory, one popular with Spinone enthusiasts, is that Greek traders (and others from the Adriatic coast) brought coarsehaired setters to Italy during the height of the Roman empire. These setters became the ancestors to the modern Spinone. Whatever the case may be regarding the origin of the Spinone, we do know that the truth is almost always entwined with legend in many breed histories, especially in breeds as old as the Spinone.
The modern Spinone is placed with the general group of continental griffons (rough-coated European hunting dogs) and is believed to have assumed it's modern form in the Piedmont region of Italy, with large numbers of white and orange dogs found in the Alba region. The name Spinone wasn't used uniformly until the early nineteenth century. In some areas the breed was known as the Spinoso which eventually became Spinone. The name comes from an Italian thorn bush, the pino, which was thick and seemingly impenetrable and a favorite hiding place for small game. Only thick-skinned, coarse-haired dogs could locate game in this brush. The Spinone was the breed most capable of doing so, thus the name. During the Second World War Italian partisans used the breed to track German patrols by scenting the soldiers' boot polish. Because the Germans preferred a certain type of boot polish, the dogs could differentiate between German and Italian troops. Their superb sense of smell, together with their ability to move relatively quietly through thick cover while tracking, proved to be invaluable to the Italian partisans. The dogs typically would work mountain sides and wooded areas looking for soldiers who had dug in.
Today the Italians claim the Spinone is the ancestor of the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, the German Wirehair and the Pudelpointer; the French claim the Spinone is descended from crosses of various French pointing breeds. Perhaps all sides of the story are true. The Spinone, which is clearly the oldest of the modern hunting griffons, might indeed be the progenitor of the others, however without the others the Spinone might not have survived to see the second half of the twentieth century. World War II devastated much of Europe, Italy included. By this time the Spinone had begun to decline a little bit in Italy as hunters began to experiment with the setters, pointers and spaniels of Britain. The combination of fewer litters being produced and the devastation wrought by World War II almost caused the extinction of the Spinone. In 1949 a Dr. Ceresoli toured Italy to get an idea of what remained. What he found was many breeders resorting to crossing the Spinone with other continental wire-haired breeds such as the Boulet, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon and German Wirehair. Today the Spinone is used primarily as a hunting dog in Italy and while no one really knows the truth of it's origin it is true that the Spinone and other European Griffons and wirehaired dogs have much in common with regards to hunting style and physical structure.