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Breed of the Week: The Burgos Pointer

Craig Koshyk


Following the ancient trade routes that have criss-crossed the Pyrenees mountains for millennia no longer requires a dangerous trek through steep mountain gorges. Nowadays it’s a pleasant drive on a modern highway. But as we traveled across the stunning landscape dotted with the remains of ancient fortresses and timeworn shepherd trails, we could imagine what it must have been like in the 14th century when hunters in the area first began to hunt with pointing dogs.

Lisa and I had left cool, green, humid France in the morning and by mid-afternoon we were in hot, arid Spain. We were traveling through the very birthplace of the pointing dog on our way to photograph Spain’s native breeds. Stopping at a roadside gas station, I decided to reprogram our GPS unit to allow a short detour. I wanted to pass through the province in which Spanish hunters developed one of the breeds we were going to see. When the device asked me to spell the name of a major town in the area, I punched in the letters B-U-R-G-O-S.



It is tempting to conclude that the Burgos Pointer is the granddaddy of all pointing dogs. After all, it looks like an old breed, it comes from the very region where all pointing dogs originated, and
 it is even called “Old Spanish Pointer” in some publications. However, according to veterinary geneticist and breed expert José manuel Sanz Timón, the Burgos Pointer is a relatively modern descendant of the Old Spanish Pointer that is so often referred to in the old literature.

Sanz Timón points out that all too often, people simply assume that any historic mention of a Spanish Pointer automatically means it was from Burgos, or that any painting that includes the image of a hunting dog represents a Burgos Pointer. He suggests that it is “patriotic enthusiasm” that has caused breed supporters to claim that the Burgos is the original pointing dog.

According to Sanz Timón, the first time that words Perdiguero and Burgos were mentioned in the same sentence was sometime after 1808. He writes that an inventory drawn up by an official of the King’s Ger- man Legion includes a list of supplies and materials that were to be shipped out. On the list, it is said, is mention of dogs that “are called Perdigueros in Burgos”. He also cites another reference to the breed in the 1907 book, Geschichte der Königlich Deutschen Legion (History of the King’s German Legion), in which author Bernhard Schwertfeger writes about large brown and white dogs from the area of Burgos that were given as gifts. Based on these and other documents, Sanz Timón concludes that the region of Burgos has only recently been associated with a specific type of pointing dog. If the Burgos Pointer were the original Spanish Pointer, there would be much earlier references to it by name. Furthermore, the Burgos Pointer has a white and brown coat while many of the early English references to the Old Spanish Pointer indicate that it was often black, or even tri-colored.

In Spain there are remarkably few references to any kind of generic, widely distributed pointing dog. But there are mentions of local varieties that went by names such as Pachón de Navarra, Pachón de Vitoria, Perdiguero Navarro, Perdiguero Leonés, Perdiguero Gallego, Perdiguero Portugués, Ca Mè Mallorquí and Gorgas. In some cases, these local varieties differed in name only. In other cases, the dogs were clearly different in size, shape, coat or other important aspects. The largest contributing factor to these differences was the ratio of blood from the original types of dogs used to create them: the Sabuesos, a type of tracking dog, and Pachónes, the earliest type of pointing dogs.

No matter what the name or variety, all the local varieties of Old Spanish Pointers were already in decline when William Arkwright traveled to Spain in the 1890s to research the history of the English Pointer. Since he makes no mention of any type of dog from Burgos, it is assumed that the breed now known as the Pediguero de Burgos represents a comparatively recent branch of the Old Spanish Pointer that developed in the relative isolation of the Burgos region.

In modern times, we find references to the breed in 1912 when the first two Perdigueros were registered with the newly founded Real Sociedad Central de Fomento de las Razas Caninas en España, the Royal Spanish Canine Society. The pedigree record indicates that during this time breeders were practicing either extremely tight inbreeding or they were crossing to other breeds. As a result, there was very little uniformity in the breed. In fact, until the 1950s, there wasn’t even an official standard for the Burgos Pointer.

The civil war that engulfed Spain in the 1930s had dire consequences for all dog breeds in Spain. For the Burgos Pointer, there was the added difficulty that many of them were taken out of Spain by German soldiers stationed there as “volunteers” and advisors. Members of the so-called Condor Legion are said to have purchased many Burgos for shipment back to Germany and there are several eyewitness accounts of planes being loaded with large numbers of adult dogs and pups.

In a symposium on Spanish dog breeds held in 1982, José Manuel Sanz Timón presented an account from a Spanish military officer. Don Raúl García Bengoechea, who was assigned to the capital of the national zone at that time, personally saw how this emigration was carried out.
They bought adult females, pregnant (females) and puppies, as well as males. One can not say how many dogs the Germans took, but it is assumed that it was many and the best. The war was a hard blow to the breed.
By the end of the civil war, there were very few Burgos Pointers left in Spain. Those that remained were very heavily inbred and inbreeding depression be- came a serious issue. By the late 1960s only a dozen or so Burgos Pointers were registered each year with the Spanish Canine Society and articles with titles such as “Farewell Burgos Pointer” began to appear in the Spanish sporting magazines.

Then, in 1972, José Manuel Sanz Timón decided to take action to save the breed. His first step was to search the area of Castilla y León for any remaining Burgos Pointers that he could use in an intensive breeding program. He managed to find several good specimens that would eventually form the pillars of his breeding program. By the early 1980s Sanz Timón had developed seven separate bloodlines. In 1983 he and a number of fellow breed supporters formed the AEPPB (Asociación Española del Perro Perdiguero de Burgos). Their goal was to establish a long-term breeding and testing system designed to raise the level of field ability and conformation in the breed.

Inevitably, some breeders disagreed with the program and its strict requirements. Eventually a second club was formed, the CEAPPB (Club Español de Amigos del Perro Perdiguero De Burgos). More recently a third club was formed, the AECPB (Asociación Española de Cazadores con Perdiguero de Burgos). I have no idea what the divisions are between the various clubs but it does seem that there has been a certain amount of mud-slinging between them. So I can only suggest that anyone looking to find a good Burgos Pointer do a LOT of homework first and check into the breeding approaches being practiced by the various clubs.

Today the Burgos Pointer is well established in Spain and in recent years has enjoyed an increase in popularity. However, it is still more or less unknown outside of its native land, with only a few in Portugal and France. In a previous post I wrote about seeing a Burgos Pointer for the first time and posted a link here to a gallery of photographs of the dogs we saw on a more recent visit to Spain (all dogs featured courtesy of the Asociación Española del Perro Perdiguero de Burgos).




Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals
http://www.dogwilling.ca/index.cfm