The vast majority of Picardy Spaniels look like they are supposed to look and hunt the way they are supposed to hunt. There are no large kennels breeding dozens of litters per year, no trucks full of Picardies on the major field trial circuit or show-only breeders seeking blue ribbons in the ring. Picardy Spaniels are still bred the old-fashioned way; mainly in the homes of hunters who produce a litter or two every couple of years from their personal hunting companions.
The entire world-wide population of Picardy Spaniels is only about 1000 individuals. The breed has gained ground over the last 45 years but it still averages fewer than 100 registrations per year. Of course there are dogs that are not registered but the number of Picardy Spaniels whelped in France has probably never been more than 200 pups in any given year. Outside of France an additional 20 to 40 Picardy Spaniel pups are whelped in places like Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Austria each year. With such a small population, we have to be very careful to avoid the dreaded 'popular sire syndrome'. Alliance members have all committed to limit the use of popular sires in order to reduce the loss of genetic diversity in the breed (see breeding guidelines).
The breed has no greater share of the usual health issues than other gundog breeds, but ectropion and entropion can be present in some lines. Testing rates for hip dysplasia and other health concerns are rather low in some countries but hip dysplasia does not seem to be particularly common in the breed. Nevertheless, all breeders in the Alliance have agreed to test the hips of all breeding stock and perform other genetic tests (see breeding guidelines).
Even before the breed was fully formed, "foreign" blood (mainly English Setters) had made its way into French Spaniels all over France, and in particular, into lines bred in Picardy, Normandy and Brittany. When the Picardy Spaniel was officially recognized as an independent breed in the early 1900s, it was declared pure and independent and was supposed to remain that way. But like every other French breed of épagneul, further crosses to setters occurred between the wars and again in the 1980s and 90s. Rumor has it that more have occurred in some lines as recently as just a few years ago.
Over the years, some of the crosses were sanctioned by the club, others were not. In any case, no one denies that if a Picardy could talk, it would have a slight English accent. And in some ways, that is a good thing. Limited and controlled doses of setter blood have helped widen the gene pool of the breed and given the average Picardy a bigger run, more point and better style.
But there have also been some drawbacks. The overall build of some dogs has become more setter-like and there is a real fear that the versatility and practicality of the breed's continental hunting style may also be at risk as some breeders seek more range and speed at the expense of water love and natural retrieve. Coats have also been affected. Instead of a rich brown tone of liver, coats with a rather faded brown tone are occurring. Others lack the distinctive tan points or instead of grey roan may have white patches.
One issue that the Alliance breeders have agreed to address is the presence of the so-called "lemon" gene (E-Locus, Recessive Yellow) in some lines of Picardies. Due to crosses to other breeds in the past, Picardy pups with orange and white coats, similar to the coat of a Brittany or orange and white setter have started to pop up. The Alliance's breeding strategy to lower the risk and occurrence of "lemon" colored pups is as follows:
- We strongly recommend that all Alliance breeding stock in North America be tested to identify carriers and non-carriers of the gene.
- Non-carriers may be bred (if all other requirements are met). Carriers may also be breed (if all other requirements are met) but should only be bred to non-carriers.
- Pups from non-carrier-to-non-carrier litters do not have to be tested but ALL pups from carrier-to-non-carrier breedings should be tested. Anyone interested in breeding should select non-carrier pups.