Brittany: Small Players with Big Hearts
BY CHERESE COBB, FREELANCER
Sportsmen on both sides of the Atlantic cherish the conveniently sized and agile Brittany as an all-purpose hunting partner and a dog sport teammate. The only thing that makes a Brittany happier than the smelly, great, smelly, wonderful, smelly, outdoors (Did we say smelly?) is staying velcroed to their owners.
Brittany is the westernmost region of France, surrounded by the English Channel to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south. It was here, possibly as early as 150 A.D., that peasants and poachers developed what’s today considered one of the world’s most versatile bird dogs that are capable of hunting duck, woodcock, pheasant and partridge.
While few breeding records have been kept, l’épagneul Breton, or Brittany Spaniel, is thought to be a cross between an orange-and-white English Setter, a Welsh Springer Spaniel and a Spanish Pointer. The breed was recognized in 1907 when an orange-and-white male named Boy was registered as the first Brittany Spaniel in France.
When Brittanys were brought to North America by Juan Pugibet in 1928, American hunters didn’t like them because of their short tails. “Although the Brittany doesn’t have the physique of a German shorthaired pointer or the beauty of a setter, it has enough heart to outhunt any other [gun] dog,” says David Schlake, an upland hunter from Austin, Texas. “If all the pointing breeds made up a team, the Brittany spaniel would be football player Rudy Ruettiger, who recorded an unlikely sack in the waning seconds of the 1975 Notre Dame-Georgia Tech football game.”
Louis A. Thebaud imported these “small players with big enough hearts” into the U.S. in 1931. Three years later, they were recognized by the American Kennel Club. But in 1982, their name was shortened to Brittany because their hunting styles resembled setters more than spaniels.
Never a Dull Moment
On May 12, 2018, Josh Graber and Heather Reichert bought their Brittany named Napa from Gilmore Brittanys in Boscobel, Wisconsin. “We had the option between two female dogs. We picked the one that we thought was going to be calmest,” Graber says. “Actually, she ended up being as energetic as ever.”
Napa successfully hunted pheasant at seven months. “If you don’t hunt them [or exercise them for at least an hour per day], they’ll find something to do, and that usually isn’t good,” says Susan Spaid, the President of the National Brittany Rescue and Adoption Network. “Brittanys do really well with invisible fences. While people do successfully keep them in apartments, they’re usually the kind of people that run five miles per day and take their dogs with them.”
Napa isn’t hardheaded, but self-confidence just kind of oozes out of her. “She lets people know what she wants and isn’t afraid to show it,” Graber says. “She particularly likes dogs that are bigger than her, and [she] can’t get enough of people. Anybody who comes in she tries to get them to do a belly rub.” If she didn’t have that adorable pink nose, she’d be [a] brown-noser for sure. All it takes is a passing look of disapproval from her owners to snap her out of mischief.
The Brittany is a little bit of a shedder but not a very heavy shedder. “I get my dogs’ coats cut pretty close during the summertime,” Spaid says. “But some people shave them.” Napa gets her teeth brushed every day. “I’m a dentist, so that’s something that we focus on. She loves the peanut butter and pork toothpaste,” Graber says, “She gets a bath once per week and her nails cut because they grow pretty fast.”
“The breed is the correct size to live a long life,” says Jesse Sondel, owner of the Sondel Family Veterinary Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin. “Most live 10 to 12 years, with one in five dogs dying of old age at 15 to 17 years.” While they’re fairly healthy, they’ve been known to suffer from hip dysplasia, a sometimes-crippling malformation of the hip joint that can require expensive surgical repair.
Other conditions that can affect the breed are epilepsy and retinal atrophy—which is an untreatable eye disease that causes blindness. Some Brittanys also are born with cleft palates or have hypothyroidism, a common hormonal disease that causes their metabolisms to be as slow as molasses in January. “All breeders should do OFA [Orthopedic Foundation for Animals] hip, elbow and thyroid testing prior to breeding,” Sondel says.
Should You Adopt a Brittany?
Athletic, bright and family-oriented, Brittanys are amazing dogs, but they’re not for everyone. “If a robber entered your house, a Brittany would hold the flashlight for him. They’re just not good watchdogs,” Spaid says. Some Brittanys, especially adolescents, also might suddenly urinate when they get over-excited or feel intimidated.
Whether their owners are taking a Saturday snooze or trekking to the mailbox in their slippers, the Brittany just wants to be near them. But make no mistake; this is not a couch-potato puppy. Brittanys need daily, heart-thumping exercise—whether hunting, doing canine sports or human-centered activities like playing fetch with the kids—to keep their high spirits from bounding off.