Spinoni BY SUE MCGREGOR
T he Spinone Italiano is often categorized as a “Versatile Field Dog.” What exactly is the defi- nition 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 per- fectly, 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 remem- bered 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, gen- tle, 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, they 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 impor- tant 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, Ral- ly, 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 will probably remember the experience far into the future. If treated fairly and encouraged, a Spinone can do well in Obedience. More and more people enjoy 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) Spi- none 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!
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