The Brittany

The Brittany is a happy-go-lucky hunting companion and family pet


Stiff-legged, one foreleg cocked for the next step, the orange and white dog froze in motion, every muscle fiber straining, eyes concentrating on the brush pile about 60 yards downwind.

The hunter approached, gun ready; the quail exploded from the brush, wings drumming the air. The dog remained steady, waiting. The shot rang out; the dog remained steady until the hunter's command to retrieve.

The little Brittany fairly flew to the fallen bird, gently picked it up, and returned to the hunter to offer the prize.


The scene is played over and over again in hunting trials and in the field each autumn when hunters and handlers and their "pointing spaniels" take to the country to prove their skills, relish the outdoor experience, and enjoy the company of other hunters and dogs.

Resembling a slender, more delicate English Springer Spaniel or a scaled-down Red-and-White Setter, the Brittany is the smallest of the pointers. At 17.5-20.5 inches in height and 30-40 pounds in weight, this dog is an ideal size for the house, and his lively temperament and joy-of-life make him a energetic field companion and eager obedience partner.

The Brittany developed in the French province of the same name in the mid-1800s, quite possibly from crosses of a French spaniel with English Setters that arrived on the continent with British gentlemen hunters. Spaniels hunt in heavy brush by flushing their game for the hunter's gun. The new breed was originally known as the Brittany Spaniel for its spaniel-like size and heritage, but the Brittany Club dropped "Spaniel" in 1982 to recognize this dog as the smallest of the pointers.

Actually the origin of the name "spaniel" is obscure. Some credit Spain as the origin of hunting dogs that work thickets and flush their game, with the breed name derived from the French word for Spaniard. Others claim a more ancient ancestry with the name taken from Hispania, the Roman provinces on the southern coast of Iberia, which is the Greek name for the country that became Spain. Yet there is evidence that a spaniel existed in Wales as early as the Fourth Century, leading to the possibility that the dog went from the British Isles to the continent, and returned centuries later.

Wherever the spaniel originated and whatever influence it had on the Brittany, there is no doubt that this is an individual breed with an abundance of hunting talent. Fanciers report more dual championships_ tours de force in both the conformation ring and the field_ in the breed than in any other gun dog, which provides ample evidence that its working character has been maintained. Fanciers brought the Brittany to the US in 1931, where it soon found favor as a gun dog that could be kept in the city as a house pet. Today, the breed ranks 31 out of 137 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club; 13.6 thousand individual Brittanys were registered in 1993, down a bit from 14.9 thousand the year before.

Breed standard

The Brittany is a compact dog with long legs. He is well-muscled and agile and has the stamina to spend the day hunting. He is adapted for work in the field with his deep-set eyes protected from briars by heavy eyebrows, deep chest and well-sprung ribs for endurance, and powerful thighs and sufficient rear angulation to propel him through the brush on his search for birds. His skin is loose enough to roll when confronted with briars or twigs, decreasing the incidence of puncture wounds and tears.

The Brittany tail is either naturally bobbed or docked to no more than four inches to prevent damage in heavy cover.

The coat is mostly white, with orange or liver patches of solid color or roan patterns and with some ticking. The color should be clear and deep. The coat is dense and flat or wavy; curls are not acceptable. Coat texture is somewhere between wiry and silky. The ears are slightly fringed, and the legs slightly feathered. Profuse coat is undesirable.

Everything about the Brittany should indicate a working dog: coat that will not snag or tangle in brush or brambles; muscle without bulk for strength and endurance; and temperament that is friendly but steady. Unlike many gun dogs that have distinct "show types" and "field types," the Brittany in the show ring has the same coat and structure and working ability as the Brittany in the field.

The Brittany as pet

It is a myth that a gun dog must be kept in a kennel to maintain his hunting instinct. Many gun dogs, including the Brittany, are happiest curled up by the master's chair or playing ball in the yard with the children. Their history is one of close-working partnership with man, a partnership that reaches its peak on the hunt but is equally valuable in the family.

The Brittany is a gentle, hardy and even-tempered breed_ a perfect pet for an active family. Like the Border Collie or Australian Shepherd, the Brittany that is denied exercise and purpose can become hyperactive and destructive, so he is not suitable for a sedentary owner living in a small apartment.

Socialization is as important for a mild-mannered puppy as for a domineering one if the pup is to become a well-mannered and well-adjusted adult. The Brittany should be accustomed to noises and people at an early age to prevent timidity around both. A Brittany that is afraid of noises will never make it as a gun dog, of course, and will be a nervous pet, particularly in the city or with boisterous children.

Obedience training should be gentle and motivational; the Brittany is eager to please humans by their heritage, and their natural attitude is one of cooperation, so harsh corrections and tough methods are counterproductive.

Like most breeds whose working heritage has been preserved, the Brittany is hardy. Although degenerative joint diseases such as hip dysplasia are potential problems, they are relatively uncommon in working lines in the breed. There is some incidence of inherited glaucoma and spinal paralysis, but again, these are not common problems.

[More on finding a dog]

Norma Bennett Woolf

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