Brittany

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Brittany

Known to many as the Brittany Spaniel, the latter half of the name has been dropped, as this excellent hunting dog has more in common with the setters and pointers than it does the spaniels. This is the most popular of the French sporting dogs, and is just as good a pet as it is an invaluable companion for the huntsman. The Brittany is a sensitive and loving dog, predictably good with children and other pets, and it has the distinction of having won more dual awards in the show ring and competitive trial arena than any other breed. As its name suggests, it originates from northern France, although British dogs have played an important part in its history and development over the past couple of centuries.

While the Brittany boasts many positive traits to recommend it, one characteristic, desirable in a working dog, but potentially problematic when kept as a pet, is its boundless energy and enthusiasm for life. In order to maintain an even keel and not develop signs of hyperactive or neurotic behaviour, the Brittany needs vigorous exercise – and lots of it. The breed is really only suitable for very active individuals and families who can realistically allow one to two hours of high-intensity activity for their pet every day. Once this need is met, Brittany ownership should be a joy, although there are several potential health concerns in the breed that any prospective owner should be aware of. Life expectancy for this exuberant, sociable, and intelligent breed ranges from 12 to 13 years.

About & History

Using works of art and literature as sources, the history of the Brittany can be traced back at least 400 years, when similar-looking liver and white dogs were depicted pointing game for hunters. However, the breed certainly evolved over the following centuries, and historians believe that input from English and Welsh breeds, particularly the Welsh Springer Spaniel, had a significant impact on the Brittany’s make-up, most notably in the 1800s. It was during this time that one particular English dog seems to have introduced the genetic basis for the bob-tail that is often seen in today’s Brittanys. The breed’s characteristics of speed, agility, and high trainability go some way to explaining why it became the top hunting dog in its homeland, and it was also quickly adopted by its British cousins, both for field work and for showing.

Because the breed was required to work in close proximity to the hunter, and to be highly responsive to his commands, the Brittany has always been a very people-centred dog, biddable and intelligent. These traits allowed it to integrate happily into the home when it was not working, and its popularity as a pet was assured from very early in its history. This unique blend of working skills, performance in the show arena, and appeal as a family dog mean the Brittany is certain to remain a firm favourite into the future.

Appearance

Brittany Large Photo

The Brittany is small for a pointing dog, and is distinguished from other pointers by its spaniel-like head and frequent absence of a tail – a natural feature, not the result of tail docking. It is slightly brachycephalic, meaning its muzzle is noticeably shorter than the skull, and the dog conveys energy and intelligence in its demeanour. Its skull is rounded slightly from all perspectives, and it has a moderately well-defined stop. The eyes, which match the predominant colour of the coat, are set at a slightly oblique angle, and the broad but short triangular ears are set high on the head.

The neck is of moderate length, and is slender but strong, with a slight curve, but not a pronounced muscular arch. The back is level, and is as long as the dog is tall, meaning that its overall shape fits into a square. The chest is unusual, being let down to less than half the dog’s height, and giving it a high clearance from the ground, and the abdomen is just slightly tucked from the elevated sternum. The tail, when present, is set high on the slope of the croup, and is usually carried horizontally when the dog is excited – which is most of the time!

The Brittany’s strong limbs are flexible and rangy, with marked angulation in the upper joints allowing an effortless canter that keeps the body relatively still, even at high speeds. The round paws are compact and tight, and slightly larger on the hindlimbs than the fore. Its coat is fine and light, and may be either flat or slightly wavy. Like the spaniels, the Brittany has feathering of the ears and the backs of the limbs. It may be any of the following colours:

  • White and orange
  • White and black
  • White and liver
  • Tricolour
  • Roan

The breed standard specifies that the Brittany should be 48 to 50 cm tall, and average weights for males and females are 17 to 20 kg (37–44 lb) and 15 to 17 kg (33–37 lb), respectively.

Character & Temperament

The overriding characteristic of the Brittany is its energy, which seems inexhaustible. As mentioned above, it is crucial that this is channelled into exercise (see below), lest it make the dog skittish and hyperactive. However, assuming this need for exercise has been catered for, this is an exceptionally well-balanced and adaptable breed, one of those that is very much in tune with its owners. One can tell just by looking at the Brittany’s eyes and facial expressions that it is constantly monitoring the humans in its company for instruction and feedback – it truly is a dog that lives to please.

Not only that, but it is exceptionally good with children, tolerant and gentle, while being robust enough not to be inadvertently injured. With other dogs, it is extremely sociable and non-aggressive, but it should not be trusted with smaller pets for fear its long-ingrained hunting instincts should kick in.

Trainability

Photo of Brittany puppy

The Brittany ranks amongst the most intelligent of all the breeds, and as one would expect from such a biddable dog, is easy to train. However, basic obedience training and socialisation should start as early as possible to lay the groundwork for future good behaviour.

Owners who cannot offer it the outlet of hunting must endeavour to provide other stimulation in the form of household chores or participation in canine sports in order to keep its mind active and challenged.

Health

Most Brittanys are fit, healthy dogs. However, all pedigrees have their own health problems, and this breed is no different. Whenever you consider buying a purebred dog, make sure the breeder can provide veterinary certificates for both parents, as their health is the strongest predictor of how their pups are likely to fare. The following are the most significant breed-specific conditions occurring in the Brittany:

  • Cerebellar ataxia – A neurological condition that almost invariably affects males. Although uncommon, the disorder can cause loss of coordination in young males, who exhibit weakness, incoordination, and a characteristic goose-stepping gait early in the disease, which can progress to cause paralysis.
  • Cleft palate – Failure of the two halves of the maxilla (the bone forming the roof of the mouth) to fuse before birth, allowing ingested food and liquids to spill into the nose, causing varying degrees of distress to affected pups. The defect can usually be seen by gently opening the pup’s mouth under a light source.
  • Complement deficiency – Genetic immune deficiency due to lack of an essential factor in white blood cell activation. This leads to recurrent infections, ill thrift, and often, early death.
  • Epilepsy – A brain disorder causing intermittent seizure episodes. These may take the form of dramatic, convulsive events, or be more subtle, manifesting as strange behaviour or vacant spells.
  • Factor VIII deficiency – Also known as Haemophilia A, this inherited bleeding disorder causes prolonged and heavy bleeding after injury or surgery.
  • Hip dysplasia – Common cause of hindlimb lameness in young dogs, and subsequent early onset arthritis of the hips in middle age. Dogs should be hip scored before being chosen for breeding in order to not perpetuate the problem by breeding from affected individuals.
  • Hypothyroidism – Brittanys are prone to developing an underactive thyroid gland. Lack of thyroid hormone in adult dogs can lead to unexpected weight gain, loss of hair, and lethargy. Once diagnosed, the condition is simple to remedy through the provision of supplementary hormone in tablet form.
  • Lens luxation – As the suspensory fibres within the eye that hold the lens in place weaken with age, the Brittany is predisposed to dislocation of the lens within the eye, which usually causes significant sight loss, followed by increased intraocular pressure, or glaucoma.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Brittany’s high energy levels are a blessing for anyone needing it to follow game in the field, but can be a curse in the home setting if not handled correctly. It is essential that it can have one to two hours of high-intensity exercise every day – getting out for long hikes at the weekend while being relatively inactive for the rest of the week is never going to satisfy this dog, and will inevitably result in unwanted behaviours.

Grooming

The Brittany has relatively light grooming requirements, as its coat is not so thick as to be prone to matting. Brushing two or three times a week will usually keep it in good condition with occasional baths as needed. Trimming the feathered areas on the ears and limbs may help keep them free from knots, but is not essential, especially for dogs that do not walk through areas of heavy vegetation. Occasional nail clipping may be required, with the sound of nails clicking on hard floors being a sign that they are too long.

Famous Brittany Spaniels

It seems as though the rich and famous are unable to find the time and energy needed by the Brittany, as it appears to have no high-profile owners at this time.

Cross-Breeds

There are several well-recognised Brittany cross-breeds, all of which share its intelligence and energy:

  • Border Collie Britt – Cross between a Brittany Spaniel and a Border Collie
  • Brittany Beagle – Cross between a Brittany Spaniel and a Beagle
  • Brittnepoo – Cross between a Brittany Spaniel and a Poodle
  • Labany – Cross between a Brittany Spaniel and a Labrador Retriever

User comments

There are no user comments for this listing.

Dog Breeds