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Highlight on Hunting Dogs: Brittany

The Brittany has become a favorite hunting dog for many reasons: here's a rundown of the breed.

Photo via wikimedia
Photo via wikimedia

Somewhere between a spaniel and a pointer, the Brittany was late to appear as a hunting breed, but what it lacks in history it makes up for in versatility, intelligence, and bountiful energy.

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A loyal friend and trustworthy bird dog, they'll work to please their hunting owner just as hard as any other breed, and can point and retrieve with the best of them.

View the slideshow to see some interesting facts about the Brittany.

Their early origins 

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Unlike many dogs, particularly recent breeds, the precise origin of the Brittany is unknown. It did not make its appearance as a breed of its own until the 1890s, so its origins before that are a source for speculation.

One likely explanation for the early Brittany breed is that it was an accident. In the mid 19th Century, the English gentry often traveled to the French province of Brittany and with them came their pointers and setters. Because of the relative complexity and discomfort of transporting animals great distances, it was not unheard of for the gentry to leave the dogs behind in Brittany until the next season. It is likely that in the interim months, these pointers and setters bred with the native spaniels in Brittany, allowing for the considerable color variation.

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Other arguments favor the likelihood that the breed is not so accidental, and in fact the English pointer and setter were purposefully bred with the local spaniels to create a more versatile breed. Whatever its origins, it spent around the first fifty years of its existence as a peasant's hunting dog.

The Brittany's debut 

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Whatever its origins, the Brittany made its debut at the 1896 Paris exhibition, where it not only competed well, but it won a prize.

The first champion of the breed appeared a scant eight years later in 1904, where French Max de Callac took the show and gained the breed official recognition in France. Three years after that, the Club de L'Epagnuel Breton was formed, and is still around today.

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The Brittany around the world 

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Although originally French, the Brittany soon made its way around the world, the first arriving in America in 1928. In 1934, the American Kennel Club adopted its first breed standard for the Brittany, as it came to be called. In nearby Canada, however, it was called the Brittany spaniel.

In spite of the close proximity, the Brittany was not imported into the UK until 1982, a full seven years after it appeared in distant New Zealand.

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Regardless of where it appears or what it is called, however, the Brittany retains the name of its origin.

They're technically not spaniels 

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Although it is often regarded as a spaniel, particularly due to its size, the Brittany is not a spaniel. Because of its hunting style, it is far closer to a setter or a pointer, as it does not flush its game. As such, this breed does not even compete as a spaniel.

The reason for the error could likely come from its early origins, or even a simple error in translation over time from French to English. In French, the term "Epagneul," the word from which "spaniel" is probably pulled, is derived from "s'epaigne," which means to lie flat, a technique used by hunting dogs before the use of firearms.

Although America omitted the term "spaniel" from its name, it still retains it elsewhere.

As gun dogs 

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The Brittany's greatest strength lies in its ability to work as a versatile gun dog. Whether in open country or dense cover, the Brittany is capable of pointing and retrieving, being a dog that loves to roam and hunt daily. It is also highly easy to train, energetic, and intelligent. While this could make it a high maintenance house pet, it makes the Brittany an ideal hunting dog specially bred to sniff out woodcock, partridge, and hare.

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Another added benefit, and very probably one of the early reasons for its breeding, is its size. The Brittany is widely regarded as the smallest of the gun dogs, standing somewhere between 17 and 21 inches tall. This makes it easier to transport and maintain. Moreover, it is resistant to the cold and damp. So long as it has its master at its side and a hunt ahead of it, the Brittany is the happiest dog in the world.

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Highlight on Hunting Dogs: Brittany