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Breed of the Week: The Picardy Spaniel

Craig Koshyk

In the classic book of dog breeds "Le Chien et Ses Races", Paul Mégnin wrote about a family of dogs he had seen in the 1880s at the home of a hunter in the Ardennes region of northeastern France. Mégnin called the dogs Épagneuls Français, (French Spaniels) but from the description he provides and from illustrations published a few years before, the dogs he described would today probably be called Épagneuls Picards -- Picardy Spaniels.

...at the home of Mr. Lamy we met another family of very pure Épagneuls Français that had been kept in the family for 30 years and improved by selection only in terms of their search and endurance for work. These dogs, kept for the personal use of their owners and never bred for commercial purposes, were absolutely remarkable. They had a good nose; a solid, majestic point; and a fast search, but not the frantic search of English dogs. Their endurance was incredible, for with his dog, Do II, for example, Mr. Lamy hunted every day during the first month of the season for ten hours a day, on average, and that dog never tired. The ears of these dogs, although a good length, are perhaps a bit shorter than those of the French Spaniel from 80 years ago, and attached a little higher on the head. The tail is slightly curved like that of the old spaniel. The coat, grey-brown, is long and relatively course, like that of the old épagneul. The head is pretty and energetic, the nose is brown, the claws black, the bones strong. “These are not show dogs,” wrote their overly modest owner, but they are good dogs that do very well in this region where game is wily and scarce.




The dog Mégnin wrote about, Do II, was actually featured on the cover of the magazine L’Éleveur in 1890. But Do was listed as an Épagneul Ardennais (Ardennes Spaniel), and some of the dogs owned by Mr. Lamy had a different coat color from the traditional French Spaniel. "...the bitch belonging to Mr. J. Lamy of La Chapelle is white and orange, not white and chestnut, as the catalog says; she would have been more at home with the orange and white Setters." It seems that Mr. Lamy also bred Pont-Audemer Spaniels.
The pups announced for the end of April by Mr. Lamy’s Do II out of Cora I are not by Do II, Épagneul Français, but by dodo, Épagneul de Pontaudemer [sic] out of Cora 1, Épagneule Espagnole [Spanish Spaniel]. The similarity of the names caused the error in the announce- ment letter that was sent in. The price remains 40 francs each...
HISTORY
Many sources state that the first time a Picardy Spaniel was shown was in 1904 at an exhibition in Paris. But there are other reports from as early as 1890. An article in the June 12, 1890 edition of the magazine "Le Chenil" for example, mentions that  
"At Amiens, Mr. Rattel showed a very remarkable group of six Épagneuls Picards, grey-brown, with tan points. It is a very handsome group that did not win the first prize. Mr. Vadurel showed an Épagneul Français with brown spots that was certainly superior. The Épagneuls Picards of Mr. Rattel are very interesting to study. It is a nice lot where the fathers and mothers have a much better type than the young dogs, the latter having a topknot on the head and a smaller stature, indicating a cross with the Pont-Audemer."
These and other references clearly indicate that there were pointing dogs with long hair and grey-brown and tan coats in northern France well before 1900, and that they had a slightly different look and hunting style compared to the French Spaniels being bred elsewhere.

In 1907, as the French Spaniel began to subdivide into separate regional breeds, the Picardy Spaniel was officially recognized. Its standard was drawn up in 1908 and has remained largely unchanged to this day. When the First World War broke out in 1914, the region of Picardy became ground zero for some of the most intense battles of the conflict. Incredibly, the Picardy Spaniel survived despite the absolute devastation of area. A breed club was formed in 1921, and in 1938 a black version of the breed, the Épagneul Bleu de Picardie (Blue Picardy Spaniel), was recognized as a separate and independent breed.

The Second World War proved even more difficult for the breed than the First. When it was over, the Picardy Spaniel had almost disappeared. Fortunately, a small group of breeders, led by former breed club president François Prin, united to save it. By the 1980s it was clear that their efforts had paid off. The number and quality of the dogs had improved considerably. Picardy Spaniels were winning field trials, dog shows and the admiration of more and more hunters, especially in the north of France. Today, the breed remains virtually unknown outside of France but enjoys a well-deserved reputation among French hunters as a solid gundog, well equipped for hunting in difficult conditions and terrain.

MY VIEW
La Picardie is a beautiful part of France, but traveling through it means trying to come to terms with the fact that hundreds of thousands of young men fought and died there 95 years ago. Lisa’s grandfather was gravely wounded in picardy in 1917. many of his brothers-in-arms are still there, in graves marked by white crosses that are outnumbered only by the sprouts of winter wheat that now blanket the land.

I’ve seen Picardy Spaniels and Blue Picardies - a related breed to be featured here next week - run in field trials in northern France on a number of occasions. I admire both breeds and the way their breeders have managed to strike a good balance between power and speed in their lines. But when it comes to the Picardy Spaniel, one dog in particular stands out in my memory and has convinced me that the breed really deserves to be better known. 

Lisa and I saw him at a field trial on a bright, windy spring day in the Pas de Calais region of northern France. His name was Aramis. Waiting for his turn at the side of the field, he looked like a brawny rugby player before the big game. In the field he ran like a swift middle distance runner. It was an amazing sight. He absolutely flowed over the ground, head high, muscular legs propelling him through the knee-high wheat. To me he represented exactly what breeders in the region have been striving to produce for decades: tough, powerful dogs that are just as elegant in the field as they are tireless in the marsh.

Watching Aramis run, I realized that the Picardy Spaniel would probably thrive in the US and Canada. Speaking to Lisa after the trial, I said that it would be perfect for many North American hunters since, among all the French pointing breeds, it is probably the best suited to NAVHDA testing and to the kind of mixed-bag hunting we do. She replied: I think you are right. It’s a shame that the Picardy is such a well-kept secret. But if you write about dogs like Aramis, the secret won’t last very long!



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