"There were Ponto and Tanto, the two great, solemn-eyed, double-nosed Spanish Pointers who lurked in a dignified way about the house, a gentle gloom upon their countenances. They were the grandchildren of the Spanish Pointers owned by my great grandfather, Robert Asplan, the little, old, dapper gentleman who wore black knee-breeches with stockings and silver-buckled shoes."
A nose like the double barrels of a shotgun? Was that even possible? I checked a few veterinary textbooks and soon learned that dogs – and people – can be born with what doctors call a bifid nose. The condition ranges from a slightly deeper than normal crease between the nostrils to a completely cleft nasal structure resulting in the double barreled shotgun look described by Lloyd. And it turns out that Spanish Pointers are not the only gundogs that can have such a nose. Even William Arkwright mentions double-nosed gundogs from Portugal and France and wrote that he knew of a family of double-nosed Irish Red Setters.
I think those Spanish Pointers knew that their day was done, that they were the last of their race -- gone with the hand-sickle and the centuries of the long September stubbles, where partridges had sit like quails.
I had somehow stumbled onto the website for the Spanish magazine Perros de Caza, and found myself looking at the image of a dog with an orange and white coat, amber eyes and a nose like the double barrels of a shotgun! I was stunned. This wasn’t some dusty old painting, it was a recent photograph. The dog was a modern dog. The double-nosed Spanish Pointer was still alive!
The Pachon Navarro traces back to the very first pointing dogs that developed on both sides of the Pyrenees Mountains in the 13th century. But until fairly recent times there were remarkably few written references to it. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that the breed began as a blend of the two most common kinds of dogs used for hunting in Spain during the middle ages —tracking dogs and indigenous mastiff breeds.
By 1911, the Pachon Navarro gained the official recognition of the Real Sociedad Canina de España (Royal Canine Society of Spain). Thanks to influential breeders such as D. Gregorio Martínez López and several others, the Pachon Navarro made progress in terms of conformation and performance and continued to be bred by and for hunters until the 1950s. But when myxomatosis, a virus affecting rabbits, all but eliminated one of the main quarries of the Pachon Navarro, hunters abandoned the breed and turned to the specialist bird dogs, especially Pointers and Setters. By the early 1970s, the Pachon population was so low that most people believed it had gone extinct.
Then, in 1978, concerned with the dire straits facing many indigenous dog breeds in Spain at the time, the Central Canine Society of Madrid created a special Commission for Spanish Breeds and appointed José Manuel Sanz Timón as overall director. In 1979 the Commission asked three young veterinary students, Luis M. Arribas, Luis A. Centenera and Carlos Contera to locate and catalog any remaining Pachones they could find in the Narvarra, Rioja and Alava regions as well as parts of Portugal. The project was intended to be a relatively short-term effort designed to produce a written report and census of the breed. But it ended up being much more than just a research project and anything but short term. Today it is seen as the turning point in the history of the Pachon Navarro since it sparked a renewed interest among Spanish hunters for their native breeds of gundog.
When I finally got the opportunity to meet Dr. Carlos Contera near Guadalajara, Spain, I asked him why he became interested in the breed.
It was great fun for a young student, but it was a lot of work. People in other countries had undertaken similar surveys for horse breeds but there was never much interest in searching for hunting dogs except for some work done in finding Spanish Mastiffs. We used the same methodology to find Spanish Alans later on, but with the Pachon Navarro, I saw it was a noble cause, something that would enrich our culture. We put in an enormous amount of work without any outside help. We were criticized by many and ignored by others but my father, uncles and cousins all worked on the project. It took us a long time - our hair is now grey - but we’ve succeeded. The young hunters today don’t even realize that the breed was once considered to be almost extinct!
Anatomically, it is actually a cleavage in the structure of the nose itself. It is not unique to the Pachon Navarro. In fact a good number of breed standards mention a split or double nose but when they do, it is always listed as a serious or disqualifying fault. The Pachon Navarro standard is the only one that allows it.
It is interesting to speculate just how the double nose came to be viewed as a positive characteristic for the Pachon Navarro. It is certainly possible that an individual with a split nose just happened to be an excellent hunter with a very fine sense of smell. Was this then seen as “proof” that at double nose was better than a regular nose?
Nowadays of course, breeders understand that the double nose offers no advantage over a normal nose and that it is simply a cosmetic feature of the breed. Furthermore, not all Pachones have a double nose. Nor do all breeders select for it. Pachon breeders understand that by using double-nosed dogs in their lines, they run the risk of producing pups with completely cleft palates. I was told that up to 10% of pups are either stillborn or are put down immediately after birth since the cleft is so profound that they are incapable of breathing or nursing properly. But most Pachones have a moderate cleft and are fine. They can breathe and suckle, run and hunt just like any other dog.
I found the dogs to be exactly as advertised. They were tireless workers that kept a steady pace searching for game more or less within gun range. They mainly trotted but broke into a loping gallop for minute or two if the conditions warranted it and dug into even the thickest cover.
Four years later, on another trip to Spain, we had the distinct pleasure of meeting the leader of the recuperation effort, Carlos Contera and his father, Manuel, at their home near Guadalajara. Juan was there too. He kindly drove the three hours from his home to meet us once again. This time we saw a larger number of dogs, some with the double nose, some without. We also had the opportunity to see the longhaired version of the breed.
Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals