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Spinone Italiano – A Gun Dog Profile

Spinone Italiano – A Gun Dog Profile

Spinone Italiano

Designed for endurance and efficiency, the Spinone’s desire to please makes it a delightful upland hunting partner.

This series of Project Upland hunting dog breed profiles focuses on the hunting characteristics that set one breed apart from another, understanding that within a breed individual dogs may vary in temperament, conformation, instincts and abilities. This profile focuses on the Spinone Italiano.

Original purpose of the Spinone Italiano

Although its ancestors trace back to the 1500s, the modern Spinone (“Spinoni” is the plural) was developed in the 1800s in the mountainous regions of northern Italy. To navigate difficult and usually sloping terrain, they were bred to have well-arched, thickly padded front feet and a balanced front to rear angulation with a “broken” topline, noticeable in profile as dip in the back. Those traits made them sure-footed and economical in movement which in turn gives them stability and endurance in the field.

The name “Spinone” comes from Bracco Spinoso which means prickly pointer, referring to the harshness of the coat as well as its ability to withstand thorns and bristly brush. Coat, conformation, and a strong nose make the Spinone suitable to a variety of upland hunting pursuits.

Hunting style and temperament of the Spinone Italiano

Spinoni appear to be big, loveable, shaggy dogs. And they are. But behind those expressive eyes, bristly eyebrows, and soft low ears lies a tenacious, independent hunter capable of ranging wide to find scent. Once that scent is found, however, most Spinoni work carefully in gun range with a modulated trot, rarely over-running their nose. Moreover, their desire to please reigns in their independence making them cooperative hunting partners.

spinoni water retrieve
A Spinone Italiano during a water retrieval.

On point, Spinoni may slant forward or stand high headed, cropped tail held horizontal at 3:00 on the clock face, not up at 12:00. They are equally adept at air scenting and ground tracking, and can be reliable water dogs although their lack of an undercoat makes frigid late season waterfowling inadvisable.

Traits important to hunters


Spinoni are strong boned, solid dogs ranging from 60 pounds (female) to 85 pounds (male). Females run 22-25 inches in height; males run 23-27 inches.


Spinoni come in a variety of colors: pure white, white with orange, white with brown, orange roan or brown roan. Their coats should be flat but wired, without an undercoat. They are Velcro for burdocks, briars and ground debris, so post-hunt grooming is usually on the schedule.

Spinoni Italiano Color Varieties
Spinoni come in various color varieties.


Not noted for being particularly early or late bloomers, Spinone Italiano do require patience and positive reinforcement during training. They are considered “soft” dogs that respond best to handling that addresses their sociable side.

Health Risks

As with many large hunting breeds, hip dysplasia and bloat are generally listed as Spinone health risks. Ectropion – lower eyelid droop – is another concern although it is often well tolerated without developing irritation or infection.

Finding a Good Breeder for a Spinone Italiano

The Spinone Club of America or the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association are excellent starting points for locating a breeder whose lines support solid hunting traits and conformation.

View Comments (13)
  • Thanks for the article about Spinoni – few people get the plural correct either – Bravo! However, you have one major, glaring error with which I must respectfully take issue.

    You say “can be reliable water dogs although their lack of an undercoat makes frigid late season waterfowling inadvisable.” This statement is 180 degrees off mark. I don’t know your source of this information, but in fact the exact opposite is true.

    Yes, it is correct that they have a single coat. A dense single coat, but a single coat nonetheless. However they are also noted for their very thick skin. Since dogs don’t sweat, this hide retains heat well (as well as providing protection in heavy cover and close brushes with wire), which makes the breed well suited for late season hunting of both upland and waterfowl. Being a large, robust and rugged dog, busting ice through cattails for ducks is no problem for them.

    Where they don’t fare well is in warm climates. Due to their size and skin and coat, warm weather or early season hunts can be difficult for them. I’m a owner and breeder of several Spinoni, as well as a NAVHDA judge and VP of the Spinone Club of America. When folks in warmer states inquire about hunting with Spins, I will caution them about this. Oh yeah – and I live in Minnesota. Last year my dogs hunted MN, ND, WI, and northern Iowa. We typically hunt upland through January, snow cover permitting, and my dogs have been known to cool off in open running streams on 30+ degree days. In 2018 we hunted waterfowl in North Dakota until the lakes froze over and the ducks departed. Remember, while being an Italian breed, they hail from northern Italy, in cold mountainous, terrain.

    Feel free to contact me if you’d like – I’m kind of into dogs. However, that line is one line which you might consider striking from your piece. Of course, anything you write about any breed will certainly have multiple points which honest people will debate and disagree upon, but that one line jumped out with a giant red flag. Again, while I don’t know your source for it, the exact opposite of that statement would be true.

    Thanks for your time in reading this, and for putting forth an article about this breed. I hope you will consider my remarks.

    Ted Wentink
    VP – Spinone Club of America

    • Actually I am surprised that SCOA established a position on this article as indicated by posting as the VP. Although you should also check the facts, the coat and skin insulatebagainst heat as well as cold. The Spin is known for its tolerance of cold and heat and live and hunt from the hot Mediterranean climates to the mountains. Insulation is insulation. As with any mammal care in extremes is needed

      • I totally agree with Allison regarding the insulation of the thick skin for both hot and cold. We hunt waterfowl with our Spinoni in January along the Eastern short, and we condition our Spinoni to handle NAVHDA Invitational and Utility training in the hottest times of the summer. Spinoni are larger than many of the other NAVHDA breeds but given proper conditioning they handle heat well. I ran a Spinone in the Invitational in Mexico, Missouri in 95 degree heat. She was in the 13th brace of the day and ran in the worst of it. She did fine and became a VC that day. We would never actually hunt in that weather! Overall, Nancy, I really appreciated your article!

      • Thank you, Allison. So very happy that Nancy Anisfield–outdoor writer, photographer, and passionate about bird hunting and bird dogs–has written another article about our wonderful breed She puts them in perspective compared to other hunting breeds and we so appreciate that beyond words. She is one of the few writers and photographers who has actually hunted over our breed. I hope that she continues to produce more articles that draw attention. If anyone is interested, Nancy did an extraordinary article in the prestigious Covey Rise magazine, August-September 2017. Thank you, again, Nancy for the positive attention you have brought to our hunting breed!

      • I live in Florida. Got first two Hunt test qualifying with high scores in rain, wind and very cold. Last two scores were done at home in high 90’s. Dog had no problem in both situation. Biggest problem down here is finding safe places for waterworks. Thick skin no help against gators!

    • I can attest to the thickness of Spinoni hide, Sir. My Spin ran broadside into a barbed wire fence and had a laceration the length of the his body strait through his coat and probably the first two layers of skin, yet no bleeding or blood whatsoever. His skin is as thick as a baseball catchers mitt – unbelievable!!! Also, he likes to sit and relax in ice water and I have to recall him into the duck blind where it’s warm and dry.

  • Hey Nancy, great article as an overall summary of the Spinoni’s working style! You’re one of the few outdoor writers who has hunted with Spinoni, and you really captured their thoughtful, independent, tenacious approach to hunting. Thanks!

  • Nancy, I just wanted to say what a wonderful article and spotlight you gave on our breed. I like your description of hunting style and temperament it gives one a clear picture of the breed. As far as the coat/skin I feel the Spinone can adapt to either given proper conditioning, looks like this one might be a good topic of discussion. Thank you, your husband and Ugly Dog for all your contributions to the hunting community.

  • I came from a family of hunters who maintained that a dog regardless of pedigree was just that a dog. After being introduced to this unbelievable breed I realize how mistaken my forberers were. Aside from being outstanding hunters on land and water these incredible animals with unlimited affection, loyalty and personality become an integral part of your being and make for precious members of any family

  • Thank you Nancy for writing such a great informative article about one of the lesser known European gun dogs. Also, everyone’s replies are very informative. I train and hunt my Spinone nearly every day and I can affirm the breed’s tolerance of extremely intrepid and austere weather conditions and environments. However, they must be conditioned for it and the owner needs to know how to responsibly read their dog’s limitations. My pup hunts primarily in Texas, but also up north in extremely cold climates. He has an incredible tolerance for ice cold water and seems to be oblivious to it. It’s the combination of extremely thick hide (they have a triple dermis) and their single coat with long hairs that are hollow that shed water, and provide cushion from thorns and abrasions that make them seem almost armored. I love all the gun dog breeds out there, but it hard to match a Spinone when it comes to all day hunting in extreme conditions.

  • Michael — Thank you. Spinoni seem to be misunderstood by many non-Spinone owning hunters. The more insight we can share about this wonderful breed, the better.

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