Breed of the Week: The Braque Francais Part One
Around the turn of the century as breed clubs were defining and refining the look and working style of their dogs, they had to make a decision: should they allow breeders to “modernize” their lines by selecting for smaller, lighter, faster dogs? Or should they strive to maintain the breed’s older, more classic form and hunting style? In 1919, the Club du Braque Français came up with a unique solution: they would do both.
There is a tendency among many breed historians to emphasis a Spanish origin for the pointing dog. Histories of the English pointer and German Shorthaired pointer in particular state that Spanish dogs were major contributors to their makeup. But what is overlooked is the fact that all pointing dogs ultimately trace back to a region that encompassed lands on both sides of the Pyrenees mountains, including parts of modern-day France.
During the earliest period of pointing dog development, from the 13th to the 16th century, French monarchs ruled the birthplace of the pointing dog, the Kingdom of Navarre. The region only returned to Spanish rule in the mid-1500s and, even then, the area on the north side of the Pyrenees remained under French control and eventually became part of France. So, one could easily argue that French dogs contributed just as much, if not more, than Spanish dogs to the pointing breeds we have today.
Jean Castaing certainly believed this to be true, explaining that the dogs in the region were called French, Spanish or Navarrese Pointers, depending on who you were talking to.
The names fit the dogs perfectly well in each country, but it is obvious that the breed came from Navarre and that it spread over the two sides of that country, which is the nucleus. The proof is that to this day  in the foothills of both slopes of the Pyrenees, the purest type of Braque has been maintained, almost without selection, as a product of the local area. Further south the Burgos Pointer, which bears a strong resemblance, was established. And further north in our country, the various breeds that derived from it were formed.
Castaing was referring to the classic southern pointing dog’s large, short-haired brown and white coat; it’s long ears; and it’s loose fitting skin. As a gundog, it was highly regarded by French hunters and renowned for its ability to work all day, especially in hot, arid regions. It hunted with the classic style that had proven so valuable to hunters for centuries.
.. [The old braques] searched slowly, at a trot, even walking sometimes. But they often hunted all day long, for days on end, under a blazing sun, on rocky, thorny ground, hilly and cut into small parcels, separated by hedges; in winter they slogged through the sticky mud, on marshy ground, in woods choked with brambles. How could these dogs have been built other than like good foot soldiers? If they had been horses, they would have been much closer to Percherons than the winners at the Chantilly racetrack.
For many years these braques du pays (country braques), as they were most often called, were fairly common throughout much of France. When small populations of them became isolated and took on a different look or hunting style, they developed into regional varieties and eventually into separate breeds. But as wave after wave of English dogs arrived in the mid to late 1800s, the old style braques fell out of favor and retreated to their place of origin, the south of France, where traditional hunting styles were still maintained.
As interest grew in rustic, close-working, classic gundogs in the early 1900s, a sort of counter-movement developed in France. But by then two distinct types had emerged among the old braques. On the one hand were dogs bred by hunters eager to retain the classic, heavy gundog of their fathers and grandfathers. On the other were dogs bred by hunters who wanted a faster, wider- ranging version of the classic braque that would be better equipped to hunt increasingly scarce game and to compete with other pointing breeds in field trials. When a club was formed in 1919, it was obvious that a decision needed to be made. Which version should the club support? Should the breed, which had now been given the name Braque Français, retain the old- fashioned rustic look and hunting style? Or should it be “modernized” into a lighter, faster version?
The president and founder of the club, Dr. Castets, thought that things had already gone far enough and that the Braque Français should remain closer to the classic type in terms of size and working style. Others, led by Mr. Senac-Lagrande, who succeeded Dr. Castets as president, felt that efforts to breed more modern dogs should continue. The debate was not unique to the Braque Français. Conservative and progressive camps were found in just about every other club at the time. But the Club du Braque Français came up with a unique solution: they would follow both directions and establish two standards. One for dogs with the more classic look and working style and one that would allow for smaller, finer boned dogs that were selected to be faster and wider ranging.
Like all the other French breeds, the Braque Français fell on hard times as the Second World War raged across much of its homeland. Its population declined and some lines were completely wiped out. It took un- til the mid-1960s for the breed to get back on its feet and until 1967 for the two standards to be recognized. In 1975 the two types of Braques Français, till then known as the Grand (large) and Petit (small), were officially named Gascony and Pyrenean.
Today the Pyrenean type is the most popular braque in France with close to 600 pups born there every year. It has also developed a small but devoted following in Canada and the US. The Gascony type on the other hand is till quite rare. Despite gaining more popular- ity in recent years, breeders still only produce a few dozen pups per year, almost all of them in France.
Both types have been modified since the club was established and both are now lighter and faster than in the past. The Pyrenean type in particular continues to be modernized. Some dogs are approaching the speed and range of some Pointers and even taking on a more pointerized look, especially the head which, on some dogs, clearly reveals a British connection.
Explaining the breed name should be straightforward. After all, Braque basically means “(shorthaired) pointing dog” and Français means “French”. However, things get complicated when we consider that there are two Braques Français, each with a name that describes its size and region of origin.
The more common of the two types is named for the Pyrenees Mountains. In its FCI standard, it is the Braque Français Type Pyrenées. Some sources also add the words petite taille meaning “small size”. The English translation is “French Pointing Dog Pyrenean Type”.
The larger type is named for the Gascony area in Southern France. The name in its standard is Braque Français Type Gascogne. Some sources also add the words grande taille meaning “large size”. The English translation is “French Pointing Dog Gascony Type”.
Since the Pyrenean type outnumbers the Gascony type by 100 to 1, most breeders and hunters drop the “type” portion of the name and just say Braque Français, knowing that everyone will assume they are talking about the more common type.
On the left is a female Gasony type, on the right a male Pyrenean type.
The two types differ mainly in size, head shape, range and pace.
The different coat patterns seen in the photo are found in both types.
NEXT WEEK: Part Two, Form and Function
Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals