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The History of the Brittany

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Paul de Vos,Partridge Hunt,about 1591-16

General Appearance

A compact, closely-knit dog of medium size having the appearance as well as the agility of a great ground covered. Strong, vigorous, energetic, and quick of movement. Not too light in bone, yet never heavy boned and cumbersome. Ruggedness, without clumsiness, is a characteristic of the breed. So leggy is he that his height at the withers is the same as the length of his body. He has no tail, or at most, one not longer than 4 inches (10 cm).


Weight: Should weigh between 30 and 40 lb. (14-19 kg). Height: 17-1/2 to 20-1/2 inches (44-52 cm) measured from the ground to the highest point of the back, the withers.


Hair dense, flat or wavy, never curly nor silky. Furnishings not profuse. The ears should carry little fringe. Neither the front nor hind legs should carry heavy featherings. Skin fine and fairly loose. (A loose skin rolls with Canadian Kennel Club Official Breed Standards GROUP I SPORTING DOGS I-23 briars and sticks, thus diminishing punctures or tearing. But a skin so loose to form pouches is undesirable).



Colour dark orange and white, liver and white or tricolour. A tri-color is a liver and white dog with classic orange markings on eyebrows, muzzle and cheeks, inside the ears and under the tail, freckles on the lower legs may be orange. Anything exceeding the limits of these markings shall be severely penalized. Some ticking is desirable, but not so much as to produce belton patterns. Roan patterns or factors of any of these colours are permitted. The orange, and liver are found in standard particolour, or piebald patterns. Washed out or faded colours are not desirable.


Faults: Long, curly, or silky hair is a fault. Any tendency towards excessive feathering should be severely penalized as undesirable in a sporting dog which must face burrs and heavy cover.



Skull: Medium length (approximately 4-1/2 inches (12 cm). Rounded, very slightly wedge-shaped, but evenly made. Width, not quite as wide as the length (about 4-3/8 inches (11 cm) and never so broad as to appear coarse, or so narrow as to appear racy. Well-defined, but gently sloping stop effect. Median line rather indistinct. The occipital crest only apparent to touch. Lateral walls well rounded. The Brittany should never be “apple-headed” and he should never have an indented stop. (All measurements of skull are for a 19-1/2 inches (50 cm) dog. Muzzle: Medium length, about two-thirds the length of the skull, measuring the muzzle from the tip to the stop, and the skull from the occipital crest to the stop between the eyes. Muzzle should taper gradually in both horizontal and vertical dimensions as it approaches the nostrils. Neither a Roman nose nor a concave curve (dish face) is desirable. Never broad, heavy or snipey. Nose: Nostrils well open to permit deep breathing of air and adequate scenting while at top speed. Never shiny. Colour: To tone in with the darkest body colour according to whether the dog is orange and white, or liver and white. Dark nose and pigment are permitted in orange and white dogs. Mouth: Lips tight to the muzzle, with the upper lip overlapping the lower jaw only sufficiently to cover under lip. Lips dry so that feathers do not stick. Well-joined incisors. Posterior edge of upper incisors in contact with anterior edge of lower incisors, thus giving a true scissors bite. Eyes: Well set in head. Well protected from briars by heavy expressive eyebrow. Skull well-chiseled under the eyes, so that the lower lid is not pulled back to form a pocket or haw for catching seeds, dirt, and weed dust. Judges should check by facing head down to see if lid falls away from the eye. Preference should be for darker-coloured eyes, though lighter shades of amber should not be penalized. Ears: Set high, above level of the eyes. Short and leafy, rather than pendulous, reaching about half the length of the muzzle. Should lie flat and close to the head, with the tip rounded very slightly. Ears well covered with dense but relatively short hair, and with little fringe.


Faults: Tight nostrils should be penalized. A two-tone or butterfly nose should be severely penalized. Drooling to receive a heavy penalty. Flews to be penalized. Overshot or undershot jaw to be penalized heavily. A prominent, full or pop eye should be heavily penalized. It is a serious fault in a hunting dog that must face briars. Light and mean looking eyes to be heavily penalized.



Medium length, not quite permitting the dog to place his nose on the ground without bending his legs. Free from throatiness, though not a serious fault unless accompanied by dewlaps. Strong, without giving the impression of being overmuscled. Well set into sloping shoulders. Never concave or ewe-necked.


Shoulder blades should not protrude much. Not too widely set apart with perhaps two thumbs width or less between the blades. At withers, the Brittany is slightly higher than at the rump. Shoulders sloping and muscular. Blade and upper arm should form nearly a 90 degree angle when measured from the posterior point of the blade at the withers to the junction of the blade and upper arm, and thence to the point of the elbow nearest the ribs. Straight shoulders do not permit sufficient reach. Viewed from the front, front legs perpendicular, but not set too wide as in the case of a dog loaded in shoulder. Elbows and feet turning neither in nor out. Viewed from the side, practically perpendicular to the pastern. Pastern slightly bent to give cushion to stride. Not so straight as in terriers. Leg bones clean, graceful, but not too fine. One must look for substance and suppleness. Height to the elbows should be approximately equal distance from elbows to withers.


Faults: Falling pasterns are a serious fault. An extremely heavy bone is as much a fault as spindly legs.



Body length approximately the same as the height when measured at the withers. Body length is measured from the point of the forechest to the rear of the haunches. Back short and straight. Slight slope from highest point of withers to the root of the tail. Never hollow, saddle, sway, or roached back. Chest deep, reaching the level of the elbow. Neither so wide nor so rounded as to disturb the placement of the shoulder bones and elbows, which causes a paddling movement, and often causes soreness from elbow striking ribs. Ribs well sprung, but adequate heart room provided by depth as well as width. Loins short and strong. In motion the loin should not sway sideways, giving a zigzag motion to the back, wasting energy. Distance from last rib to upper thigh short, about three to four finger widths. Slight drop from hips to root of tail. Flanks rounded. Fairly full. Not extremely tucked up, nor yet flabby and falling.


Faults: A long body should be heavily penalized. Narrow or slab sided chest are a fault. Narrow or weak loins are a fault.



Broad, strong, and muscular, with powerful thighs and well-bent stifles, giving a hip set well into the loin and marked angulation necessary for a powerful drive when in motion. Thighs well feathered, but not profusely, halfway to the hock. Stifles well bent. The stifle generally is the term used for knee joint. If the angle made by the upper and lower leg bones is straight, the dog quite generally lacks drive, since his hind legs cannot drive as far forward at each stride as is desirable. However, the stifle should not be bent so as to throw the hock joint far out behind the dog. Since factors not easily seen by the eye may give the dog his proper drive, a Brittany should not be condemned for straight stifle until the judge has checked the in motion from the side. When at trot, the Brittany’s hind foot should step into or beyond the print left by the front foot.


The stifle joint should not turn out making a cow-hock. (The cow-hock moves the foot out to the side, thus driving out of line, and losing reach at each stride). Hocks, that is, the back pasterns, should be moderately short and firm, pointing neither in nor out; perpendicular when viewed from the side. Feet should be strong, with close-fitting, well-arched toes and thick pads. The Brittany is not “up on his toes”. Toes not heavily feathered. An ideal foot is halfway between the hare and cat-foot.


Faults: Fat and falling hindquarters are a fault. Flat feet, splayed feet, paper feet, etc., are to be heavily penalized.


Natural (long) or docked (not over 4 inches long), set on high, actually an extension of the spine at about the same level. Naturally tailless (born with a natural bobtail).


Disqualifications Any Brittany Spaniel measuring under 17-1/2 inches or over 20-1/2 inches shall be disqualified from show competition. Any black in the coat or a nose so dark in colour as to appear black shall disqualify. A tail substantially more than 4 inches (10 cm) in length shall disqualify in the show ring, however natural (long) tails are growing in popularity in the pet world.

The exact origin of the Brittany is shrouded in mystery to this day, but it is known that in the 1850’s English gentry travelled to Brittany to hunt woodcock, taking with them their well trained Pointers, English, Irish, Gordon and Llewellyn Setters. At the end of each shooting season, the dogs were often left behind with the local people until the next shooting season. It is commonly thought that the Brittany residents mated their “native” spaniel type dogs with the English pointers and setters – thus accounting for the variety of colours seen today in the majority of Brittanys.


Records indicate that in 1896 at the Paris exhibition, a Brittany was shown and won a prize. The first French champion was “Max de Callac” shown in 1904, owned by Monsieur Patin. The breed gained official recognition in France when a French breed club was formed in 1907. It is known to this day as the ‘Club de L’Epagneul Breton – (France)’. The first breed standard was drawn up in Nantes, France in 1907 and officially adopted by the club  on 7 June 1908.


The first Brittanys to be imported into the United States of America arrived in 1928 and the breed standard was first adopted by the American Kennel Club in 1934 when there was also enough interest to warrant recognition by both the American and Canadian Kennel Clubs. reviewed in 1946 and a new standard approved in 1966. This standard was also reaffirmed in 1977.


The first Brittanys imported into the United Kingdom arrived in 1982 and the first litter registered in the same year, The Brittany is thought to represent a cross between the English Setter and the small French land spaniels. This is the Breton peasant’s hunting dog, known since the mid-19th century in the French province of Brittany and regarded as the smallest of the versatile gun dogs. The breed is able to point and retrieve game and works well in open country or dense cover. First exhibited in the Paris dog show in 1900, the Brittanys reputation in the field soon spread among sportsmen around the world. 


It should be noted that it is only the American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club breed standards that disqualify the black colouring. Thus the colour is not seen in the American and Canadian show rings.

The Brittany became a recognized breed in 1907 when “Boy,” an orange-and-white dog, was registered as the first Brittany Spaniel in France where the breed had been registered as miscellaneous French Spaniels (Note: In 1982, the AKC dropped “spaniel” from the breed’s name by request of the American Brittany Club).


The breed is still sometimes referred to as the Brittany “spaniel” but most countries have dropped the reference to “spaniel” in recognition of the fact that this breed points, rather than flushes its game – and as such, the Brittany does not compete in spaniel field trials or spaniel shows.  It is also suspected that the word “spaniel” arose from an error in translation of the original name “Epagneul” – a word derived from the French verb “s’espaigne”, which means to lie flat. Before hunters used firearms, the pointing dogs would indicate game by lying flat on the ground. The hunters then threw nets over the gamebirds and the dogs that had found them.

Another reason for this change came about because while they were classified as a "spaniel" they also got lumped into the "high energy category" along with other spaniels like the Springer Spaniel.  The kennel clubs officially voted to drop the spaniel portion of their name because the Brittany didn't hunt or perform like the other spaniels and instead "pointed" at their target (a bird, rabbit, etc.) which is more in line with the Setters and other game dogs like the German Pointer.  And with that difference in their hunting style, this means that their general demeanour is also different than other "spaniels" and they are of a calmer and more patient nature.  A lot of the information that can be found regarding the Brittany hasn't "caught up" to the changes as it can take many years for Kennel Clubs to adopt a change of any kind so breed standards often remain as they were originally written for decades! Brittanys are not high strung, and are in fact fairly low key and only need an average amount of exercise.

The early Brittany and the original Cavalier King Charles Spaniel may also share a history together as some of the same types of dogs would have been in the same general geographical area and interbed as breeds were formed. The similarities are unmistakable for anyone delving into the history of these two breeds -- see photo comparisons below:


This painting depicts the three eldest children of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. By Sir Anthony van Dyck 1637. Shown here are the daughter Mary, the future King Charles II (the oldest of the two boys), and future King James II. Both of the spaniels shown are thought to be of the breed that Roswell Eldridge fell in love with and was the original spaniel in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel's lineage before they were interbred with flat-nosed dogs to create the now seperate breed of the King Charles Spaniel (English Toy Spaniel).

That is only one example of their similarities and perhaps not even the best painting to show breed type, but it is a known fact that it is a painting of King Charles II which would make this the most accurate painting depicting the original Cavalier King Charles Spaniel before their noses became pushed in by being bred to breeds like the Pug and Japanese Chin.


Below is another example:

General Lord George Henry Lennox (1737-1805) Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708-87) with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

This possible connection between the Brittany (or at least the native dogs in that area) and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is why we have chosen to breed the Brittany and the Brittanydoodle. They are so similar in temperament and energy level that it's as though they are one breed.  We will be adding more about their similarities soon!

Complete list of Brittany health problems


-- Epilepsy can occur in some Brittany lines.  There is no test for this condition and it can show up randomly as it can with people.


-- Hip dysplasia is the most common orthopedic disease. The Orthopedic Foundation of America evaluated the hip X-rays of 19,000 Brittanys and found 14% dysplastic which is very low and not often a concern. Hips are checked with an x-ray to determine proper alignment.


-- Luxating patella (loose knees) and osteochondritis can also occur in Brittanys, though the rates are low. Patella's are checked manually during routine physical examination and x-rays can be performed if loose knees are noted by the veterinarian.


-- The most common eye disease in Brittany is glaucoma. Other eye diseases include cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), and retinal dysplasia. Some forms of glaucoma and PRA can be tested for, but the conditions have mutated in other breeds and it's likely only a matter of time before a new form emerges in all breeds.


-- Allergies cause itchy skin and can lead to bacterial skin infections (pyoderma) but is not common.  Allergy testing is done on a case by case basis -- there is no test to rule out allergies before a puppy is born or if they will be affected by an allergen.  Testing is only available to rule out allergies after the fact.


-- According to the Michigan State University Thyroid Database, up to 17% of Brittanys have hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels). There is no test for this condition and it can show up randomly as it can with people.


-- A neurological disease (cerebellar ataxia) and a blood-clotting disease (hemophilia A) occasionally occur in Brittanys. This is a testable condition.

-- Complement deficiency is a rare disease that can occur in the Brittany. It's a deficiency of certain proteins that are an important part of the immune system. Without these proteins, an affected Brittany is susceptible to recurring bacterial infections and kidney disease.  This is a testable condition.

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