History of the Braque
FRENCH POINTERS: BRAQUE d’AUVERGNE or “BLEUS”
In the middle of southern France is the Auvergne Region where mountains, valleys, forests and rivers are plentiful, and the hustle of city life is unknown. Mountains made from now dormant volcanoes reach 6000 feet. Large expanses of coniferous forests, high plateaus, and vast prairie land make spectacular outdoor vistas. This is the home to many game birds and where the French hunt with their trusted companions, the Braque d’Auvernge.
In this part of France, the Cantal Region, you will find the Braque d’Auvernge (pronounced Brahk Dohvern). The name “Braque” is derived from the French verb “braquer”, meaning to aim or point; and “Auvernge” from the region in France where they are most plentiful. If you put it together, you get the “Pointer of Auvergne”. The French lovingly just call their dogs “Braques”.
Other European dogs that have made their way into North America, have excellent traits for bird hunting. Historically, however, many of these dogs may have descended from the French Pointer. Robust, strong, very smart, and obedient, the Braque has become famous in Europe, and now has begun to appear in North America as a proficient performer for upland hunters. Their distinctive “bleu” black mask and ticking set them apart from other breeds. But more on that later.
The Braque breed truly goes back further than any other pointing breed known. Many of you may have heard that most pointing dogs descended from the “Spanish pointer”, a heavy hound that was first bred in the 16th century. But leading European dog scholars say it was different. M Jean Servier, former president of the Club Du Braque Francais (French Pointer Club), who wrote the The World Encyclopedia of Dogs (1971) and Colonel David Hancock, a leading dog breed historian, who wrote The Heritage of the Dog (1990), believe the French Braque is one of the oldest “pointer” breeds in the world. According to them this dog has been the origin of nearly all continental European and British shorthaired ‘setters’. Servier’s theory is the Braque d’Auvergne is the result of crosses between the Gascony pointer and the Pyrenean braque. There are several French “Braque” breeds, and the Braque d’Auvergne is one of the oldest, if not the oldest.
Although the above is the scientific story told on the Braques origin, there is a much more romantic tale that some of the older French Braque owners tell about this breed of dogs. Legend has it that these dogs were first imported to the Auvernge region of France by the Knights of Malta, who had become priests upon immigration to France. These soldiers, “The Sovereign Order of the Horsemen”, first became established in 1530 when King Charles V of Spain gave them Malta, a European island between Sicily and Africa, in return for an annual fee of a single Maltese Falcon, to be given each November 2nd, All Soul’s Day. Besides using falconry for bird hunting it is thought that during their reign in Malta, the Knights developed a breed of “pointers” that were exceptional. On his expedition to Egypt in 1798 Napolean captured Malta and dissolved the knight’s order. The knights were forced to move and dispersed throughout Europe, some moving to the Auvergne mountains of France with their pointers. Giving up their war-like attitude, they became priests in monasteries in central France and continued their hunting tradition. Thus the Braque d’Auvergne breed was developed by the Knights of Malta.
This romantic account seems to be just a story, as the author of this web site has contacted the library in Malta, and the librarian there could not find sufficient evidence to back up this story. The scientific background as noted by reputable authors seems more accurate.
Whether you believe a romantic or scientific version of the Braques origination, clearly the distinct breed was established prior to the start of the 18th century (1700’s), before many of the present bird dogs were recognized. In the early 1900’s nearly all of these dogs were located in France. They were held by very few owners, and prized as diligent bird dogs, used for hunting.
In the 1940’s these dogs faced extinction as WW II ravaged France and many dogs were lost. Mssr. Andre De Tournay managed to locate about 2o plus Braque d’Auvernge dogs in France after the war, and these canines became the stock that rebuilt the breed. Mssr. Tourney’s wife, Madame Solange de Tourney, remains Honorary President of RABA, or “Reunion Des Amateurs Braque d’Auvergne”, the French dog association for Braques.
After the war, Braques were still unheard of in North America. Nelson D. Hooe, Jr. of Dedham, Massachusetts and Dr. Jack Flannary of Reno, Nevada were two of the first known Americans to import this breed to the US. The July/August, 1987 issue of Gun Dog Magazine has one of the first articles about this breed published in North America. I contacted Nelson in 2017, and he fondly remembers his Braque dogs. Our stud “Lucky” was featured on the cover of Gun Dog Magazine in the June/July, 2016 issue.
Because of the low numbers of these dogs in North America, no one has been able to approach the AKC (USA) or CKC (Canadian) for the dog’s registry. However the breed is recognized by most respected European dog registries, including Verband fur das Hundewesen e.V (Germany), Russian Kynological Federation, Real Sociedad Canina de Espana (Spain), The Polish Society for Dog Registration, and of course Societe Centrale Canine (France). The North American Versatile Hunting Dogs Association (NAVHDA, www.navhda.org) allows registration in the US. Recently, UKC also has accepted the breed. In April, 2017, just over 200 dogs (many are now deceased) and only four breeders (two are no longer active) have registered through NAVHDA. There are possibly two other breeders in the US and a couple folks in French Canada who breed an occasional litter.
Presently there is a website created (Braque d’Auvergne Pedigree Database) listing many of these dogs presently registered in the world. The site is regularly updated, and you can virtually breed two Braques, seeing how close the dogs are related to make sure pups are divergent. Less than 2700 dogs are known to have been registered since WW II, with only a few hundred being of the rare Charbonne (charcoal, white on black) phenotype. We have had 3 of them. Our latest charbonne pup, Marta, was bred to Lucky at three years old, having 11 puppies.
But what about the dog? Many mistake these dogs for a German Shorthair, but the GS may be the Braque’s descendant according to dog experts. The Braque’s coat is short and glossy, with a white base and black ticking (roaning). Always black and white, Braques are robust across the chest. Some will have large black spot(s) on the body. Their black coloring is very black, almost “Bleu” as the French say. The black portions when viewed in the sun have a velvet blue hue. Some of the very dark ones have a silvery hue if heavily ticked.
There are two variations on the dog’s coat. Some are white with black ticking, while others are black with white ticking, called “Charbonne” (char’ bone-eh). As a Braque breeder, this kennel values the Charbonne phenotype as more valuable, as there are not many of this variety. Both phenotypes can meet the “French” standard, which is the most accurate standard for this dog.
If you ask us, someone a long, long time ago ,crossed a hound with a high energy pointer and made this great breed. They have the nose and head of a hound, and the muscular body of a running pointer.
To meet the standard both eyes must be surrounded with black coat, and usually there is a white blaze between the eyes on the face. Large oval shaped eyes have a dark hazel, brown color and exhibit a kind and expressive look. Some almost look sad, but this is the “hound” in the dog. A minor fault is exposed conjunctiva. The Braque d’Auvergne is a strong, substantial dog, between 53 and 63 cm (21–25 inches) at the withers. Females are slightly smaller. It has a large head, long well placed ears, and pendulous highly sensative jowls. Their lips flaps when they are tracking, in an almost over-exurberant fashion.
In France, the tail is traditionally docked to half its length. Some of the other European countries leave the tail which is quite long to its full length because of laws preventing docking.
Braques require daily robust exercise and a lot of love. Training can begin early, with an introduction to birds and water. These dogs take to positive reward discipline yard and field training in the early years. When training for the field, too much pressure is not good. Once this dog knows you are its loving master, it will do almost all you ask of it. Most live 12 to 14 years.
Although they have a deep voice, rarely do these dogs bark while out in the open. They are easily trained and very obedient. The Braque Auvergne is a lively, sensitive, and affectionate breed. Intelligent and good natured, it makes a fine family dog and an excellent hunting partner. They love attention, and like to press up against you seeking your affection, after a tough day of hunting. They will look into your eyes and almost tell you thanks for taking them hunting. It seems pleasing their master is most important.
Our stud Dart, deceased now, knew a good 60 plus words. His son Lucky, carries on Dart’s tradition.
A Braque gets along well with other dogs, unless provoked. Then it will usually defend itself. The Braque d’Auvergne is a tireless natural hunter who tends to work closely with you, checking in frequently. They naturally “range” extremely well. They can easily be directed in the field by simply facing or walking in the direction you want them to go. When in the field, our dogs rarely go more than 50 to 75 yards ahead before checking back to see if the hunter is coming, and if they do not see the hunter they come back and check in, unless on scent. If they see you, they will range further. This trait, combined with its gentle nature, excellent nose, robust body, stamina, and desire to please, make it a highly trainable pointer for hunting on foot. When introduced to water early in life, they make excellent swimmers.
They do have genetic problems that you should be aware of before considering this breed. Because of the low number of these dogs, it is best to look at the pedigree (www.braquedeauvergnepedigrees.com) of the Sire and Bitch before purchase, and make sure there is divergence, unless you are a line-breeder. Umbilical hernias usually from a short stump at birth, and hip dyplasia can be seen. Because of their eye formation and face descending from the “hounds”, dislocation of the lower lacrimal duct in the eye, producing a cosmetic appearing red “cherry pit” at the bottom of the eye can be seen. This “cherry” eye bothers the owner more than the dog, but can easily be repaired by a qualified veterinarian. Ectropion eye lower eye lids as seen in many hounds are seen is some Braques, but generally is not considered a major fault. Because of the black/white markings some may have the lower (third) eyelid that is white, but this is simply the coloring of the lid.
Always ask about the pedigree, and MAKE SURE both parent’s hips have been x-ray certified EITHER BY THE FRENCH (EUROPEAN) or NORTH AMERICAN STANDARD before purchase.
One of the oldest dog organizations in the world is the French Organe de la Reunion des Amateurs du Braque d’Auvergne (RABA, www.eleveurs-online.com), founded in 1913. This society is affiliated with the government of France’s Societe Central Canine Reconnue d’Utilite Publique of France. RABA’s publication, Le Bleu, is a smartly published full color magazine written in the French language that lists the club’s frequent European shows, seminars, and hunting trials. Routinely there are articles on “Braque” champions who have won prestigious awards such as Champion de France, Champion Interntional d’Exposition, and the most prestigious Champion of the Mediterranean. Braques consistently place very high among all dog breeds in Europe where most country dog societies recognize this breed.
There is an interesting way these dogs are named following whelping. Following a French tradition established some time ago for the “Braque”, each year the next letter of the alphabet is used as the first letter for given name of all Braques born that year. In 2009 the letter was “E”, 2010 it was “F”, and in 2011 it is “G”. In 2012, these dogs used “H” for their given name. “O” is to be used in 2018. Therefore based on the dog’s given name, you can determine its age.
So how are these dogs in the field, where it really counts? They are very receptive to positive training. Rarely are they gun shy if introduced to the shot appropriately. Braques have an excellent “nose”, easily finding pheasant, grouse, or woodcock. Their prominent “houndish” supercilliary arcs give them a superior sense of smell. They are eager to hunt, and have great stamina. Most Braques have a unique pointing style, one front foot up, with the tail is straight out, not up, and the head (and jowls) close to the ground.
They point and retrieve. They hunt close, usually 50 to 75 yards. They are natural excellent swimmers if exposed to water as a pup. Some, but not all, have webbing between the toes. When running they have an economic gallop – rhythmic short jumps interspersed with trots with the nose up, upper lips flapping, sensing for a bird. There is very little terrain these dogs cannot handle.
The key to training these dogs is to become their friend, and companion, and they will respond to your instruction. They respond to POSITIVE reinforcement when training. Our Braques, hunt with us, not on their own. They want to please in the field. Some upland trainers do not like this in a dog. We do.
The best part of this breed: the loyal, loving way they curl up at your feet after a productive day of hunting, knowing that they have pleased you.
Ask any person who has owned a Braque: once you have had one, you don’t want any other breed.