Braccos are happiest in a hunting family. They need to be loved just as much as a Pekingese, but need to hunt just as much as an English Pointer. If this dog is not used for hunting, he is always going to be trying to find a way to be hunting, or will be thinking about hunting. For this reason, they are (rarely) suited for a non-hunting home, since they will be acting out in all sorts of ways due to the fact that they are not being used for what they were bred to do (for 2000 years). Physical exercise is not what they need as much as mental exercise – they do NOT require a tremendous amount of exercise, and don’t need to go hunting daily, or even weekly. In fact, like many other active breeds, if you try to give them all the exercise you think they need, they’ll just want more! What they need is mental stimulus – mind games – and to be included in your daily activities. Seeking out a particular toy can be the beginning of finding personal objects, then people, etc. In fact, one of our puppy owners says that when he and his girlfriend were walking on the beach, his young female Bracco figured out exactly what kind of shell his girlfriend was trying to find, and started finding them all by herself! It is also very helpful to teach them that quiet indoor behavior is appropriate, whereas running and playing and working is right for outside.
Braccos also need to be part of a family. They would not be appropriate as a kennel dog – (we don’t think ANY dog should be a kennel dog) and want to be doing what you’re doing when you’re doing it. They seem to instinctively gravitate toward children (see our website photos.)
The Bracco is also the only air-scenting hunting breed, although he may also trail game. It is very important for trainers to recognize that his way is different than most bird dogs – in the experienced dog’s initial gallop across a field, he may not seem to take the time to be checking for birds, but the truth is, with a couple of back-and-forths, he’s already checked out the field. If birds are there, he’ll let you know. If not, it’s on to the next field.
One Bracco probably won’t leave you. Two Braccos will definitely leave you. The hunting/investigating instinct is strong in this breed. One dog will think a bit and usually decide that staying with you is more important than the smell at hand. In our experience, though, two Braccos (our first two) will definitely decide that the butterflies taunting them in the field are worth going after. So they do (did.)
The Bracco is the only trotting hunting breed, with the exception of the Spinoni Italiano. A seasoned Bracco will start out in the field at a gallop, checking it out; as he hones in on a scent, he’ll slow to a flashy trot (much like a show horse.) He’ll then slow to a walk, and then from a sneak to a point. If the bird moves, he’ll creep along with the bird, but pointing all the way. This style is helpful when hunting birds that may run, like the pheasant.
Braccos are EXTREMELY loving – sometimes to the point of separation anxiety. It’s important to start your puppy out with tying him in your home – maybe the living room – and moving around him (rather than his following you all over the house.) This teaches him to deal with being “without” you for very short periods of time. He’ll then have the skillset to handle the thought of being truly alone, when the time comes that you can’t take him with you. Interestingly, in our experience, a Bracco can be re-homed pretty easily; that is, his loving nature can be transferred to a different person without much effort on his, or the new owner’s part.
The Bracco Italiano is described as sensitive but also stubborn. This combination of character traits requires careful training combined with respect – that is, you, the trainer, should know exactly what it is you want, and how to ask for it. If you aren’t sure, your dog will know you’re not sure. This breed also has an understanding of “fairness.” If you are not consistent with both praise and reprimand, given in the appropriate amounts, your dog will not respond well – he knows. In addition, for the Bracco, any experience is a learning experience, and they WANT to learn (sometimes a little too much!) For this reason, we suggest working with a trainer who has worked with this breed before.
Braccos are much closer to a “feral” breed than many other breeds of dog – these are examples of how this shows itself: If your Bracco is bred, puppies will be viciously protected. A Bracco mom takes this responsibility VERY seriously. She will also eat lots, then regurgitate the food for her puppies. She will also eat the puppy poop – to ridiculous measures.
The Bracco’s anal glands are often very large, and have to be emptied more often than many other breeds, especially with dogs that have not been neutered/spayed. Anal glands identify the dog to other dogs through feces – and often don’t need to be manually emptied (by your groomer or vet) but just as often, do.
Braccos have a very low tolerance for much of the stuff in commercial dog foods – preservatives, additives, etc. This breed is only a couple of generations from being fed table scraps, day-old bread and pasta. They do best on dog food brands that have “human-grade” ingredients – the less ingredients the better, and, in general, the more expensive the better. Stay away from supermarket brands – or make your own dog food, making sure to include the vitamins and minerals appropriate for your dog’s age group. In our experience, lower-quality foods seem to be often responsible for skin and ear infections, stomach and digestive problems, and even some mental issues, such as hyperactivity.
Braccos also do not require as much food as some breed websites might suggest. In our experience, an 80-lb active non-neutered male Bracco needs somewhere in the 4-6 cup daily dry dog food range, and smaller females need less. A neutered Bracco of normal exercise level might eat 3 cups daily. Of course, feeding is based on activity level (a dog used for hunting several times weekly needs quite a bit more food than a dog given less exercise,) and neutered vs. non-neutered status (non-neutered dogs always need more food) etc.
Braccos are one of the breeds which can suffer from gastric torsion, or stomach bloat. There are many schools of thought as to how to lessen the probability of this emergency situation. So far, we have not had a dog with bloat, and perhaps our way of feeding lessens the probability; we soak our dogs’ food with hot water ‘til you can see it at the level of dry food in the bowl, and wait a few minutes til the food is starting to soak up water. This may lessen the expansion of the dry food in the dog’s stomach. We also steer away from allowing the dog to drink lots of water all at once, especially after eating. We also follow my mother’s rule about swimming – no exercise until at least an hour after eating!
The Bracco has a very low anesthesia tolerance. Make sure your vet knows to start on the (very) low end of anesthesia according to your dog’s weight. The vet can always give him more – it’s more difficult to give him less! The anesthetic Domitor seems to be responsible for one dog’s death – but that could also have been due to human error.
Bracco puppies often have vaccine reactions – facial swelling is one sign, as happens in bee stings. It’s a good idea to let your vet know, and the vet may give an injection of benedryl in conjunction with the vaccine to counteract any reaction, which will usually happen within an hour or two of the vaccine
Braccos drool somewhat – when excited by food, birds etc. Not as bad as a St. Bernard, and not as clean/neat as a Labrador – somewhere in the middle. They shed a couple of times a year – and your fingers plus a vacuum cleaner can be used very effectively to get massage the skin and get rid of the fur – and after training to accept the vacuum, they LOVE it! A rubber “hound glove” also works well for their short hair.
Finally – other people will want your Bracco – and will steal him, given an opportunity. Face it – the reason you wanted a Bracco is because nothing else looks like a Bracco. Other people will see him, and if he gleefully welcomes anyone into his yard, anyone can take him out of the yard too. Even if he is microchipped, the person who wants him won’t care – the microchip only works if the dog is taken to a vet and checked. The answer is: don’t let your Bracco out without you – EVER. Don’t leave him out in the yard when you go for a quick trip to the store – EVER. Don’t leave him in the back of the truck, or in an unlocked car – EVER. We know.