Braque d’Auvergne

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Braque d’Auvergne

Part of a large group of French pointers, the Braque d’Auvergne is a versatile gundog that also makes a wonderful pet, although very few of this rare breed find themselves in homes where their hunting prowess is not exploited. It was developed to work in close attendance to its master, and this is reflected in the very strong attachment it forms to its owners. Far from being a working dog that can be expected to live in kennels, it needs to be by its owners’ sides at all times, and is prone to separation anxiety when this is not possible. The Braque d’Auvergne is a sensitive breed that is very good with children, and often displays a preference for their company. It is very sociable with other dogs, but its strong ingrained hunting instinct means it should not be homed with other smaller pets.

While it enjoys the comforts of being indoors and the human contact this brings, it is a highly energetic breed that needs lots of exercise, and should only be considered by those with access to a garden to allow the dog to exercise its body and keen nose. It requires little to no grooming, as its short, glossy coat is dirt-resistant, and is a very healthy breed, with few serious genetic problems documented. Although extensive studies on disease incidence and mortality are lacking, because of the low numbers of Braques d’Auvergne kept as pets, it is believed the breed has a life expectancy of 12–14 years.

About & History

The French have had a long love affair with pointers, and, because of the size and geographic variation in the country, many different pointer breeds have been developed over the centuries, each reflecting the particular demands of their native region. The Braque d’Auvergne originated in the Chantal sub-region of Auvergne, in south-central France, and although we cannot be sure when it was first developed, it certainly appears to have existed in close to its present form by the end of the eighteenth century. It is descended from the Braque Francais, which was the original French pointer, and it is thought that other scenthounds including the Grand Bleu de Gascogne and Petit Bleu de Gascogne were used to refine and enhance its tracking capabilities. The result of this breeding programme was a dog with keen scenting abilities and the tenacity to follow a long trail through heavy vegetation and woodland. It was, and is, a relatively slow-moving hunter, expected to work very closely in cooperation with its human handler, rather than to roam ahead and work independently.

The Braque d’Auvergne is an adaptable and versatile dog, with the ability to track, point, and flush and retrieve game, meaning it can fill the roles of two or three other, more specialised breeds, and so it became very popular in the region in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the German occupation of World War II proved devastating, and the vast majority of those dogs not killed by the conflict itself were abandoned or killed by their owners, who did not have the resources to feed them. It appears, from records kept by breed historians, that only around 25 individuals survived the war, and it is from this tiny gene pool that the modern Braque d’Auvergne was resurrected. Although it remains a rare breed today, it is no longer considered in danger of extinction, and 16 dogs were entered into the Kennel Club registry when the organization first opened its books to the breed in 2016.

Appearance

Braque d’Auvergne Large Photo

The Braque d’Auvergne has a strong, but noble appearance, with great symmetry in its proportions. It has a rectilinear build, having a back that is the same length as the forelimbs, a chest that is let down half-way to the ground, and a head that is divided equally into skull and muzzle lengths. The stop is pronounced, and as is typical of the French Braques, the muzzle and skull are not quite parallel, giving the dog a Roman nose. The upper lips are well developed, and overlap the lower, as well as enhancing the square shape to the muzzle. The nose is black and has large, open nostrils, while the oval-shaped eyes are a dark hazel shade. The ears are set reasonably high and far back on the skull. They have rounded edges, and hang down just short of the nose when the dog dips its head.

The neck is relatively long, approximately the length of the head, with a subtle muscular arch and a slight dewlap. The back is strong and level, with its straight line interrupted only by the prominent withers at the top of the shoulder blade, while the loin is broad and runs into a shallow angle at the rump. The chest is well sprung, and the sturdy abdomen is tucked, with only a slight hollowing at the flanks. The tail is set high, and carried horizontally. In countries where the practice is still permitted, it is usually docked to around half its length, though it should reach as far as the hocks if unmutilated.

The strong, upright limbs give the Braque d’Auvergne an easy, light gait that it is capable of maintaining all day, allowing it to cover long distances, and the lower limbs are sturdy, with enough bone stock to withstand the inevitable knocks and twists they must suffer while working over uneven ground. The coat is short and glossy, and softer than that of many other pointers. It displays a mix of black and white markings, with black flecks throughout that create the illusion of a blue tinge. The ideal height ranges for males and females are 57–63 cm (23–25 in) and 53–59 cm (21–23 in), respectively, and both sexes weigh in at between 22 and 28 kg (48–62 lb).

Character & Temperament

Although the vast majority of Braque d’Auvergne are kept as working dogs, they integrate wonderfully well into family life, and many experienced hunters who have acquired a Braque for the first time will refuse to go back to breeds they have used before for this reason. They are exceptionally affectionate dogs that dote on children, and are extremely gentle and patient with them. The breed is also very intelligent, and can adroitly adapt its behaviour between work and home life.

It mixes very well with other dogs, and is said to be happier when living with at least one other dog, but its strong prey drive precludes it from being kept with other small pets, including cats. Its playful, sociable manner means that it does not perform well as a guard dog; although it might raise the alarm when hearing something strange, it is entirely without aggression, and will not attempt to defend its territory from intruders.

Trainability

Photo of Braque d’Auvergne puppy

This is not an dog bred for independent work; rather, the Braque d’Auvergne is expected to have an instinctive understanding of its owner’s wishes, and to respond appropriately. This is seen in its trainability, for its eagerness to please and intelligence make it a joy to work with.

Those looking to enter their dog in canine sports should note that, although it is an able hunter in the field, its slow pace means it is unlikely to excel in competitive tracking. However, if kept as a pet, it will certainly enjoy the experience of partaking in such trials, where the opportunity exists.

Health

Unfortunately, there is a dearth of health data on the Braque d’Auvergne, which appears to be due to a combination of its scarcity outside France and it being kept almost exclusively as a working dog. However, the tiny number of dogs from which the breed was re-established in the mid-twentieth century means there is likely to be a reasonably high incidence of genetic diseases, of which the following are known to be of concern:

  • Aortic stenosis – Congenital narrowing at the base of the major blood vessel exiting the heart. This results in reduced outflow of blood and increased pressure within the cardiac chambers. This can manifest as output failure, causing signs of weakness or collapse, or as congestion, causing fluid accumulation in the lungs or abdomen. Veterinary examination will detect an audible heart murmur, even in very young pups, before such signs develop.
  • Hip dysplasia – Hindlimb lameness caused by malformation of the hip joints. Signs usually first seen from around 6 months of age. Most strongly influenced by genetics, but excessive exercise and poor nutrition in puppyhood are also predisposing factors.
  • Patellar luxation – One of a number of subtle malformations around the stifle (knee) joint can allow the kneecap to pop in and out of position during exercise, causing the dog to intermittently hop on the affected hindlimb. While a smaller dog might tolerate this defect, affected Braques d’Auvergne require corrective surgery to prevent long-term damage to the joint.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy – An inherited condition that causes progressive sight loss in middle-aged dogs, who should then not be used for breeding.

Exercise and Activity Levels

This is a working breed of great stamina, and so should be allowed as much exercise as is possible. Without at least one hour every day, and preferably a lot more, the Braque d’Auvergne is likely to suffer from obesity, along with the psychological consequences of boredom and frustration. Access to a good-sized garden is mandatory, though it must be well fenced to foil any attempts at escape.

Grooming

The short coat requires very little grooming; a short brushing session once a week will be plenty to keep it in good condition. Unless being walked on hard surfaces, the Braque’s strong nails will need to be trimmed every 6 to 8 weeks with strong clippers, and the waxy ears should be cleaned around once a fortnight to prevent a build-up of wax.

Famous Braques d’Auvergne

Despite not being a household name in the English-speaking world, the Braque d’Auvergne has enjoyed a moment in the spotlight, appearing alongside Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable in the 1961 movie, The Misfits.

Cross-Breeds

The low number of Braques available for breeding means they are a valuable commodity, and not generally used for cross-breeding.

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