Type: Gun dog / Hunting dog
Height: 17.5-20.5in / 44-52cm
Appearance: Brittanys are medium-sized dogs. They come in a mixture of different colours – orange, white, dark brown, roan, and in some cases black. Their ears are floppy and their eyes are usually dark brown. Some have long tails and other short. Those with longer tails generally had them docked in the past.
Temperament: Brittanys are friendly and sensitive dogs and can become shy if not well socialised from an early age. They don’t like to stay alone, so they’re a poor choice for a household where all family members are out all day. Their high energy level sometimes makes them hard to handle, they aren’t the kind of dog that will lay in your lap at the end of a long work day, they need and will demand their daily dose of exercise.
Skills: Britts are easily trainable even as more mature dogs. They are energetic and athletic animals so they need a good exercise program. Practising some dog sports or participating in field trials and shows are a great way to keep you and your pet fit, and provide a healthy outlet for the energy of a dog which was bred for hunting.
Behaviour Toward Other Animals and Kids: Brittanys are an excellent choice for family dogs especially if you have active children. Of course you should always supervise them to be sure that accidents won’t happen. Bretons are kind and generally not aggressive animals so they are suitable for a mixed pet household.
Common Health Problems: Common issues are hip dysplasia, epilepsy, hypothyroidism, Canine discoid lupus erythematosus. Their floppy ears can be problematic, and have to be cleaned regularly.
Lifespan: Average 10-13 years.
A puppy or an adult untrained dog can be successfully potty trained by establishing strict feeding and exercise schedules and defining a relieving area. Depending on his age, a dog needs to eliminate
up to 14 weeks – 10 times;
14 – 22 weeks – 8 times;
22 – 32 weeks – 6 times;
Adulthood – 4 times.
Outdoor training includes surfaces such as grass, soil, and cement, and indoor training – usually paper. The choice of surface has to be consistent, as change between surfaces can be stressful for the dog, incurring distress to the owners as well. A relief command has to be introduced that the dog will learn to associate with going to the bathroom. When he’s housebroken, owners can simply say the command to ask the dog is he needs to go. The dog will confirm with certain signs such as wagging his tails, going to the door, or watching his owner intently. Puppies’ urinary and intestinal muscles are not fully developed and the pup will need to be taken to his reliving area often – every hour for an eight-week old, and always after sleeping or eating, which calls for a strict feeding routine. As the dog matures, relief trips will become fewer – between three and five for and adult dog.
When the Brittany dog is first introduced to his new home, he should be shown to his own clearly defined eating, sleeping and exercise areas. Owners should choose a room in the house where they spend most of the time and set up a comfort area for the puppy – a crate, or a gated corner from which the pup will be able to watch his new family. The crate or the area have to be large enough for the puppy to turn around, stand up without rubbing his head at the top, and lie down.
Before any training begins, owners should consider what purpose their Brittany dog will serve. Brittanys are versatile dogs and can take roles in shows, field competitions, hunting, or be family companions. Britannys that will be used for hunting need to be exposed to the outdoors as much as possible. If the Brittany is going to participate in dog shows, he needs to be enrolled in an obedience class and master specific tricks, while for field competitions he needs to be trained in agility and have his overall fitness improved. If owners have obtained a Brittany to keep as a family dog, he needs to learn basic commands and encouraged to good behaviour through positive reinforcement methods.
Preparatory obedience classes start with basic behaviours such as “Sit”, “Down”, “Heel”, etc. At the more advanced levels of competition, dogs undergo training in jumping, retrieving, scent discrimination, and signal work. The titles that can be earned at advanced levels are very prestigious but would also require a lot of time and effort from the dog and the owner.
Agility training not only prepares the dog for field competitions, but has many other benefits, as well. It is a great way for the highly-energetic Brittany to expend his energy and passing through various obstacles across a course is a powerful physical and mental stimulator. With agility training, dogs improve their stamina and coordination, and strengthen their muscles. This kind of training also fulfils the dog’s natural instincts. Bred primarily for bird hunting, Brittanys will respond extremely well to the agility courses which imitate the natural obstacles the dog would have to overcome to catch up on the game, such as climbing up steep slopes, taking leaps to overcome fallen logs, and making his way through bushes and vegetation. Since agility training necessitates the participation of the owner or trainer, it is a great bonding opportunity. The owner gives a series of verbal and visual commands that navigate the dog through the course and this establishes a trust bond between owner and dog.
Agility training also reinforces basic commands and improves the Brittany’s overall behaviour outside the agility course. Many of the materials needed for an agility training in the back yard can be purchased in hardware stores or easily obtained in flea markets, or even found lying around the attic or garage. The obstacles needed for a basic agility raining are:
- Weave Poles – can be ski poles or PVC pipes (10 – 15) stuck into the ground at intervals so that the dog can navigate between them.
- Dogwalk – a ply wood long about 3 – 3.5 metres, placed across two cinder blocks.
- Standard Jumps – again cinder blocks stacked atop of each other and strips of plywood, adjusted to the height of the dog.
- Pause Table – a stable old coffee table lying close to the ground will work fine.
- Tunnel – a plastic children tunnel available at the department store.
- Tire Jump – an old bike or car tire suspended from a sturdy tree branch.
- Teeter Board – a large plumbing pipe is placed at the centre of a long piece of wood, painted with a mix of paint and an antiskid additive. The pipe is secured to the board with carriage bolts at its either side.
Brittany dogs take their name from the province in northwest France where the breed originated. The cultural region is situated just across the English Channel from Wales, and as the two countries conducted extensive commerce, it is very likely that dogs were a part of that trade. This fact and the physical resemblance of the Brittany to the Welsh Springer Spaniel support the theory that the two breeds are related. Although the AKC dates the breed to 150 AD, the first visual records of the Brittany dog are paintings and tapestries from the 17th century, and the first written record of Brittanys comes from the writing of Reverend Davies in 1850. He describes a hunting experience with small bobtailed dogs that pointed and retrieved well.
In the 1850s, English gentry travelled to Brittany to hunt woodcock and when the shooting season was over, they often left the dogs they’d brought along with the local people until the next hunting season. It is believed that locals bred their liver and white “native” spaniel type dogs with the Pointers and Setters the English had brought. This is also considered to be the reason behind the variety of colours seen today in the majority of Brittany dogs. A white and mahogany female owned by a French hunter and a lemon and white male brought to Brittany for shooting by an English sportsman are believed to be the foundation couple of the breed we know today.
According to records, a Brittany dog was shown and won a prize at a Paris exhibition in 1896. In 1907, the Brittany was officially recognised in France and the French club of the breed – known to this day as the ‘Club de L’Epagneul Breton‘ – was founded. The same year, the breed standard was written in Nantes, and a year later it was officially recognised by the breed club.
Brittanys were imported into the US in 1928. In 1934, the AKC adopted the breed standard, which was last revised in 1977. The first registration of a Brittany dog in the UK was in 1982.
The American Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club are the only two organisations that do not recognise the black colour and dogs with this colouring are disqualified from the American and Canadian show rings.
The breed has been referred to as Brittany spaniel but most countries have dropped spaniel from the name, acknowledging the fact that this is a dog which points its game rather than flush it. Thus, Brittany dogs do not compete in spaniel field trials or spaniel shows.
Brittanys need a well-balanced diet of premium-quality food which is nutritious enough to sustain the dog’s abundant energy. Dry, canned, and semi-moist food should be free of artificial preservatives and grain fillers. Brittanys utilise a high starch and carbohydrate to protein ratio when the carbohydrate source is beet pulp or potatoes and need adequate amounts of fat in their diet. In their native Brittany, the primary nutrients would have been poultry, fish, beets, and potatoes. Owners should look for foods containing poultry, lamb, and beet pulp, and avoid beef and horse meat and by-products, yellow corn, barley, wheat, and soy.
After weaning, puppies should be fed free choice of dry food, and two meals of mixed dry and wet food. After the age of six months, the free choice of dry food should continue and the wet food should be reduced to one meal a day. When the dog has turned a year, he will do fine on a diet of premium-quality dry food, coat supplements if necessary, and chewsticks and treats fed in moderation. Brittanys should not be fed milk of any kind, organ meat, cooked bones, and table scraps as they can upset the dog’s digestive system.
The Brittany is a healthy breed, subject to few genetic disorders, more notably hip dysplasia. Tests carried out by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) between 1974 and 2009 showed that only 14% of the dogs tested displayed the condition. When looking for a Brittany puppy, owners should ask for clearances on hip and elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, and hypothyroidism. Some Brittanys may be born with a cleft palate.
Brittanys require minimal grooming. Their coats are flat or wavy, feathered at the belly and legs and need weekly brushing with a slicker or pin brush to be kept in a good condition. Mats and tangles should be brushed out gently without excessive pulling. Liquid detangles or baby oil can be massaged to help with stubborn tangles. If the dog is in good health, fed quality food and regularly exercised, his coat will look great with almost zero grooming. Ears should be checked regularly, at least once a week for early signs of infections, and teeth should be brushed 2-3 times a week to remove bacteria and prevent tartar build-up. Nails have to be trimmed every month.
The athletic Brittany needs vigorous exercise. Biking, jogging, hiking, and swimming are great ways for such highly-energetic dog to expend his energy. Brittanys typically do best on open land, but can also be well-suited to house living, provided they have a fenced yard to run and play daily.