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Gentle and unassuming at home but a machine in the hunting field, the Bracco Italiano is the perfect mix of companion pup and work partner.
Bracchi Italiani (the proper plural of Bracco Italiano) have been bred as all-around hunting dogs for thousands of years in their native Italy, and the pups need ample outside time, mental stimulation, and a job to focus on so they can satisfy their ancient instincts. Their perfect home? A place where they can run around outside every day and spend their weekends hunting birds.
Picture the ultimate hunting dog. Does she have the droopy jowls and impeccable sniffer of the bloodhound? Or does she sport the ticked fur of the German shorthaired pointer? Or maybe she looks like the long-eared redbone coonhound? The Bracco Italiano's appearance is kind of a mishmash of all of these hunting dog traits.
"I think what catches a lot of peoples' eye initially is they have a very unique look to them," says Amanda Inman, DVM, President of the Bracco Italiano Club of America (BICA).
Bracco Italiano dogs are muscular and sturdy, typically weighing between 55–90 pounds and standing 21–27 inches tall. They have short white fur with patches, speckles, or a roan pattern (meaning they have an even mix of white and colored hairs) in orange or chestnut.
Their heads are large and sloped into a distinct Roman nose that, according to the breed standard, helps these pups pick up scents on the ground even when they're walking with their head held aloft. They have sweet and intelligent eyes, long ears that frame their face, and wrinkly skin folds. On the other end is a straight, thick tail.
There are two distinct sides to the Bracco Italiano: a determined, hardworking hunter and a devoted family dog.
At home, the Bracco is a social pup who does well with kiddos (even small ones who might not know how to be polite to pets yet) and makes fast friends with other pups when properly socialized.
"Generally, they're very social dogs," Inman says. "They are very affectionate [and] they love to play. They bond very closely to their people; they're definitely Velcro dogs. If you are in the house and have a Bracco, they'll be on you."
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The sweet-natured Bracco Italiano temperament means these pups also get along well with cats and farm animals with socialization and proper introductions. But remember: this is a hunting breed, and Inman says "you can't just put them in a household with chickens and expect it to go well" without investing in training first. Otherwise, she says, they might see smaller animals as something to chase.
And while these active dogs need lots of exercise, they don't have the rambunctious energy of other breeds—that is, as long as you don't keep your Bracco Italiano dog cooped up inside where she can become bored. When well-exercised and mentally stimulated, the Bracco is a calm dog breed.
"They're not shy or timid, but they have a much more meek personality when comparing them to other sporting breeds," says Lisa Moller, member of the BICA Board of Directors. "They're not a German shorthaired pointer, they're not a Labrador, they're not a Weimaraner; they're not all bold and forward."
Before bringing home a Bracco Italiano puppy, make sure you're equipped to give this athletic breed what it needs. The Bracco is considered to be the oldest European pointer dog, according to BICA, and this hunting instinct runs deep today.
"This breed thrives on being able to run and get an abundance of exercise," Moller says. "So I'm not sure if my first choice, if I was placing Bracco Italiano puppies, would be to someone in an apartment or small living space unless I knew they were training for marathons, [that] they ran five miles or 10 miles a day. The breed really needs exercise and mental stimulation."
The Bracco Italiano does best with a home with a big backyard where she can show off her unique gait (called "the Bracco trot," according to Moller) and a dedicated pet parent who will take her on walks, hikes, and heart-pumping runs multiple times a day. She's a true outdoor enthusiast, and a quick walk around the neighborhood once (or even twice) a day won't be enough to keep her from going stir-crazy.
"They're not a good fit for a family that can take them for a quick walk in the morning, leaves for work for 10 hours, and comes back for a quick walk at night," Inman says. "They need more than that, I think partially because they are so bonded with their people. Having more interaction is really ideal for them."
But where the Bracco will truly thrive is in a home with hunters, where she can show off her skills that have been perfected over the centuries.
"We don't expect every single person who is going to own a Bracco to be a hunter, but they really do thrive in a household where they get to do what they're meant to do," Inman says. "I encourage new owners, even if they have no real background in hunting or interest in hunting, to try to find a mentor or someone who can get them exposed to that side of the breed. Almost every owner who ends up getting involved and seeing their dogs work are very, very happy that they went that extra mile to do so."
Bracco Italiano puppy parents need to add a few other checkboxes along with all the exercise this breed requires. First and foremost: early and consistent positive reinforcement training. These pups can be a bit strong-willed, and training takes patience.
"You have to find the carrot that intrigues and motivates them," Moller says. "They take to calm and patience because of their meeker personality … When you introduce things with patience and time, they think they thought of it and that it's a good idea."
When it comes to grooming, the Bracco Italiano's 1/4-inch coat is about as low maintenance as you can get. The dogs just need minimal brushing to ease shedding and a bath if they roll in something smelly. You'll need to trim your Bracco's nails and clean her ears regularly, and it's a good idea to brush her pearly whites, too.
Bracco Italiano pups are relatively healthy and typically live between 10–14 years. But, like all dogs, there are certain health conditions Braccos can develop.
The dogs' droopy eyes (though so sweet!) can cause them some problems, according to BICA. Specifically, Braccos can develop entropion (a condition where the eyelids turn inward) and ectropion (where the dog's eyelid turns outward). Both conditions can be uncomfortable for your dog and are corrected with surgery.
But it's not just their eyes—according to BICA, Bracco Italiano dogs are at an increased risk for developing kidney disease. In fact, research suggests as many as one in 10 Braccos may develop this health issue. According to the Bracco Italiano Health Foundation, kidney disease seems to be most common in "young to middle-aged dogs" and can be fatal.
Because of this heightened risk, pet parents need to keep an eye out for signs of kidney disease including frequent drinking, frequent urination, weight loss, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Take your Bracco Italiano to the veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms, and keep up with regular vet appointments, too.
"I think that staying on top of every breed's health concerns is first and foremost," Moller says. "Every single breed has something, whether it's back issues, whether it's diabetes, every breed has something that is a concern … It's really about maintaining really good veterinary visits and getting regular checkups. Just making sure that you are setting a baseline for your dog and making sure that nothing creeps up on you by surprise."
Bracchi Italiani do it all—they help their human counterparts hunt, point the prey out, and retrieve it once it's fallen. And, according to BICA, the breed has been hard at work for thousands of years.
There's evidence of Bracco Italiano dogs dating back to the 4th century B.C. The pups originated in (you guessed it) Italy, and they are thought to be the result of crossing local mastiff dogs with sighthounds brought to the area by Phoenician traders from Egypt.
However the Italiano developed, she is perfectly suited for the field and has been a go-to hunting partner since the Renaissance, according to BICA, when the dogs would drive game into nets. When guns were invented, Bracchi Italiani left nets behind but proved just as capable as all-around gundogs.
Despite their superstar hunting abilities, the breed almost became extinct in the early 1900s. While their population has grown thanks to the efforts of the Società Amatori Bracco Italiano and Bracco Italiano breeder Ferdinando Delor, the breed is still relatively rare.
In 2022, the American Kennel Club officially recognized the Bracco Italiano as its 200th registered breed.
- The Bracco Italiano is one of only two Italian-bred gundogs. The second is the Spinone Italiano.
- According to the official breed club, some believe white-and-orange Braccos originated in Piedmont (a region of Northwest Italy) and the chestnut-and-roan Braccos come from Lombardy (a neighboring Northern region).
- During the Renaissance, Bracchi Italiani were owned and bred by political dynasties, including the House of Medici and the House of Gonzaga.
- Moller is the proud pup parent of two Bracchi Italiani: Ch. ChinaFleet Mr. Big at Sentry, JHA, CGC (aka "Nigel") and WhiskeyHills Hit Me With Your Best Shot at Sentry, JHA, CGC, NA1-112 (aka "Beretta"). Nigel is the first Bracco to be named Best of Breed.