The Brittany: A Guide for Owners

Updated on May 29, 2020
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte. He has 15+ years of experience with dogs and various pets.

The Brittany: A Guide for Owners.
The Brittany: A Guide for Owners.

Throughout the world, there exists only a handful of dog breeds that can be consistently described as affectionate, intelligent, and friendly towards their owners. One of these dogs is the Brittany. Originally bred in the mid-1800s for pointing and retrieving small game, the Brittany is now one of the world’s most popular dogs due to its affinity for people and family-friendly demeanor.

This work examines the Brittany Spaniel and provides an in-depth analysis of the animal’s behavioral patterns, temperament, and general traits. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of this remarkable breed will accompany readers following their completion of this work.

Scientific Classification

  • Common Name: Brittany Spaniel
  • Binomial Name: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Canis
  • Species: Canis Lupus
  • Subspecies: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Other Name(s): Brittany; Brittany Wiegref

Pictured above is a beautiful Brittany Spaniel posing for the camera.
Pictured above is a beautiful Brittany Spaniel posing for the camera.

History and Origins of the Brittany Spaniel

The Brittany was first bred during the mid-1800s by French sportsmen. By crossing a variety of spaniels with English Setters, the breeders hoped to produce a hunting dog capable of both pointing and retrieving small game. The end result was the Brittany; a highly obedient and intelligent breed that quickly gained the admiration and respect of both the French gentry and hunters, alike.

First registered in 1907 (in France), the Brittany eventually arrived in the United States around the mid-1920s. Despite being shunned, initially, by hunters in America, who felt that the dog lacked the essential characteristics necessary for a hunting dog, the Brittany’s obedience and adaptability soon won out against skeptics. Today, the Brittany is considered one of the most popular pointing dogs in the world (AKC, 2).

Function

From its inception, the Brittany was intended to function as a hunting breed. To accommodate the rigorous demands required for this lifestyle, breeders crossed a variety of spaniels and setters to ensure wide nostrils (for both breathing and scent-tracking abilities), as well as a broad chest (to give the animal mobility and a means to overpower small game). Even the Brittany’s mouth was taken into account by breeders, who sought to develop a “tight and dry” appearance (AKC, 58). This aspect was crucial, they believed, as it allowed the Brittany to retrieve a variety of small birds without their feather’s sticking to its mouth and throat. As a result of the hyper-vigilance practiced by the dog’s breeders, the Brittany, today, consistently ranks as one of the sturdiest sporting breeds in the canine world.

A Brittany Spaniel participating in a local dog show.
A Brittany Spaniel participating in a local dog show.

Appearance

  • Weight: 30 to 40 pounds (male and female)
  • Height: 17.5 to 20.5 inches (male and female)

The Brittany is a relatively compact and medium-sized dog known for its “leggy” appearance. With long legs, and a moderate weight and height, the Brittany’s body is clearly built for agility and speed (a crucial characteristic for hunting breeds). Body lengths of the Brittany are often proportionate to the dog’s overall height, with longer bodies being considered defects/deformities by breeders.

Head

The Brittany’s skull is medium-sized with a rounded (wedge-shaped) appearance. On average, the skull’s width is slightly shorter than its length, and is well-known for its gentle “sloping” features. Accentuating the head is a pair of ears set high (along the line of the dog’s eyes), as well as a series of eyes that are located deep within the skull to protect the dog from brush and briars during hunts. Completing the dog’s head is a medium-sized muzzle that is approximately two-thirds the length of its skull, along with a series of wide nostrils that provide the Brittany with an excellent sense of smell.

Forequarters

Shoulders along the Brittany are extremely narrow and are not known to protrude (noticeably). Upper arms and legs are well-known for their sloping and muscular appearance with this breed, as well as the almost 90-degree angle that appears between the Brittany’s blade and upper arm (AKC, 60). Shoulders are set higher than the dog’s rump, with the front legs appearing almost perpendicular to the ground. Completing the forequarters is a series of small, but powerful feet that are accentuated by arched toes and thick pads to give the animal extra protection from rough terrain.

Hindquarters

The Brittany’s hindquarters demonstrate remarkable similarities to the forequarters, and are considered both strong and muscular in appearance. Accentuated by a series of powerful thigh muscles, the only major difference from the front is that the Brittany possesses an angular pair of rear legs to provide the dog with exceptional acceleration and agility.

Tail

To provide protection from thorny underbrush (and to provide the breed with greater stability and balance), breeders deliberately created an almost “tailless” appearance for the Brittany, with four inches being its maximum length. The tail is noticeably high, and serves as an extension to the dog’s spine. Tails that go beyond the maximum four inches are considered severe defects.

Coat and Coloration

The Brittany possesses a flat (occasionally wavy) coat that is extremely dense, and which covers a series of loose skin that is designed to protect the animal from abrasions and scratches during hunting excursions. The Brittany also comes in a variety of color patterns, including orange and white, as well as liver and white. Although tricolors occasionally occur with this breed, they are often considered undesirable by professional breeders and event judges. The coat is also accentuated by a series of “freckles” that typically line the dog’s legs, as well as orangish markings that run along the Brittany’s muzzle, cheeks, eyebrows, and ears.

Pictured above is an adorable Brittany Spaniel puppy.
Pictured above is an adorable Brittany Spaniel puppy.

Is the Brittany Right For Your Home?

General Characteristics

  • Energy Level: 4/5
  • Exercise Needs: 5/5
  • Playfulness: 5/5
  • Affection Towards Owners: 5/5
  • Friendliness Towards Other Animals: 3/5
  • Training Difficulty: 4/5
  • Grooming Level: 2/5

Note: Scale of 1 to 5 (1=Lowest, 5=Highest)

Temperament

The Brittany is a highly-independent breed of dog, and is known for their insatiable curiosity and sensitive nature. A highly playful breed, the Brittany loves to run and play alongside their owner. Despite their independent streaks, owners will find that this breed is quite responsive to human directions, taking most commands without hesitation.

Is the Brittany Good With Children?

Yes! The Brittany is highly affectionate and does well with children of all ages. Renowned for their playfulness and high-degree of energy, children are often perfect choices for this breed as they are better-equipped to provide the Brittany with both the mental and physical stimulation they require on a daily basis. This is crucial for the Brittany’s emotional well-being, as a lack of exercise can lead to destructive behaviors when your pet attempts to provide entertain for themselves (i.e. through chewing, digging, or excessive whining/barking).

How Smart is the Brittany?

The Brittany is regularly classified as a highly intelligent breed by experts. Although they don’t make the top 10 list of smartest breeds, they are extremely responsive to learning new commands. Similar to the Australian Cattle Dog, a Brittany can often learn new commands with just a few repetitions of the action. Intelligence comes at a cost for owners, however, as the Brittany requires mental stimulation on a daily basis to live a happy and satisfied life. When training and mental exercises are not undertaken by owners, the Brittany is known to “entertain” itself through a variety of destructive behaviors (including chewing and excessive barking). For this reason, owners should plan to spend at least an hour a day working one-on-one with their Brittany.

It should also be noted that learning is a two-way street for dogs. Without proper commitment from the owner (in regard to teaching), a dog will never reach their full potential (mentally).

"No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversations as a dog does."

— Christopher Morley

Grooming and Training

Grooming Requirements

Due to the dog’s relatively short coat, the Brittany’s grooming requirements are minimal, at best. Owners should brush their Brittany only once or twice a week to prevent matting and excessive shedding. Regular trimming of the nails is also recommended for this breed to prevent accidental injuries to the dog and others. As with any canine, regular teeth brushings should also be implemented in your grooming routine. Failure to do so can result in a wide array of dental problems that can lead to health complications down the road.

Training

The Brittany is incredibly energetic and intelligent. Moreover, they possess a natural eagerness to please their owners. Combined, each of these characteristics makes the Brittany a highly trainable breed. Capable of learning a wide array of tricks and commands throughout their lifetime, the Brittany is well-suited for field trials, competitions, and dog shows. Prospective owners who are interested in enrolling their dogs in events (such as these) should plan to implement obedience training at an early age for their Brittany, followed by a wide-array of puppy training classes. Daily training regimens should continue for the duration of the dog’s life to perfect commands, and to provide mental stimulation to your pet.

The Brittany is often highly receptive to training, and are generally described as easy to train by a variety of dog experts. It should be noted, however, that this breed is extremely sensitive and does not respond well to negative behaviors from their owner. Anger, screaming, and excessive scolding should never be expressed towards this dog as it can result in overt fear and aggression in the Brittany.

A Brittany Spaniel participating in a hunting excursion.
A Brittany Spaniel participating in a hunting excursion.

Nutritional Needs

As with most breeds, a high-quality dog food should be a major priority for your pet. These meals can be prepared by a manufacturer, or at home with guidance from a qualified veterinarian. Dietary plans should be developed with your Brittany’s specific needs in mind. Failure to abide by guidelines can result in obesity or health issues down the road. Moreover, it is recommended that owners avoid giving their Brittany human-based foods (such as table scraps) as these foods often contain toxins that can be harmful to your pet.

Avoid Giving These 10 Foods to Your Dog:

  • Chocolate
  • Fatty Meats
  • Foods with High Levels of Sodium (Salt)
  • Dairy Products (Such as milk or ice cream)
  • Raw Meats, Eggs, or Fish
  • Candy
  • Grapes and Raisins
  • Garlic or Onions
  • Foods with High Levels of Sugar
  • Avocados

How Much Food Should a Brittany Eat Per Day?

As with all dog breeds, feeding requirements vary significantly with every pet and depend greatly on your dog’s weight, energy level, and age. Generally speaking, however, an average 40-pound Brittany requires approximately 1,109 calories of day (dogfood.guru). Older dogs may require fewer calories, whereas highly active pets will require more. Puppies, on the other hand, usually require far less calories in the vicinity of 733 calories each day. Due to these fluctuations, it is always recommended that owners work with their veterinarian to establish a feeding cycle that fits their dog’s specific needs.

Water Needs

Maintaining proper hydration is also extremely important for the Brittany. This is due to the fact that nearly 70-percent of a dog’s body is comprised of water. Therefore, owners should pay close attention to their dog’s water needs throughout the day as their requirements can change in response to both outside (or internal) temperatures, as well as their daily activity levels. Standard water requirements are usually determined by your dog’s overall weight. For every seven pounds of weight, a Brittany should consume approximately 6 ounces of water per day. For example, a 35-pound dog would need to drink 30 ounces of water in a day’s time. Listed below are some of the common signs and symptoms of dehydration in a dog.

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration in the Brittany:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Lethargy (reduction in general energy levels)
  • Extreme panting
  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry nose and gums
  • Thicker saliva

What Type of Home is Good for a Brittany?

The best type of home for the Brittany is rural/country homes where the dog is free to run relatively freely. As a highly energetic breed, daily exercise is crucial for the Brittany. For this reason, urban settings are not recommended for this breed as confinement within houses or apartments often leads to the development of destructive behaviors, including boredom, excessive chewing, and hyperactivity.

On average, owners should plan to walk their Brittany at least once a day (preferably twice). Experts also agree that the Brittany should receive around 1 to 2 hours of free-running per day (off the leash) to meet their exercise needs. Although city-based owners can often accommodate these requirements, they usually require a significant amount of effort that can prove futile in the long-term. For this reason, rural-based environments are the best choice for this particular breed of dog.

Is the Brittany Good with Other Pets?

Yes and no. As a hunting breed, the Brittany possesses an innate sense to chase smaller animals. For this reason, smaller pets (such as cats, rabbits, or even smaller dogs) are usually not suitable companions for this particular breed. Due to their high-degree of intelligence, however, it is possible to overcome these issues with proper obedience training. Early socialization during the Brittany’s puppy stages is also helpful in the development of friendly relationships between your pets. Nevertheless, the Brittany should always be supervised around smaller animals to prevent serious injuries (or death) from occurring.

Is the Brittany a Good Guard Dog?

Yes and no. Although the Brittany makes for an excellent watch dog (due to their suspicious nature and alertness), they are not overly aggressive toward strangers. For this reason, aggressiveness towards would-be burglars will likely be limited to loud barking (and moderate growling). For individuals interested in a good guard dog, they will be better served by a breed such as the German Shepherd or Doberman Pinscher.

Health Concerns

Recommended Medical Tests and Evaluations for the Brittany:

  • Hip and Elbow Examination
  • Thyroid Function Test

Due to their high-level of energy, the Brittany is prone to a variety of health concerns involving the hips and joints. A major issue for the Brittany is hip dysplasia as they grow older. Epilepsy and retinal atrophy are also common with this breed, as well as hemophilia and a variety of skin conditions (including various cancers). To prevent the onset or progression of these health issues, owners should take their Brittany to a qualified veterinarian for regular check-ups each year. Preventive care is crucial for the health and well-being of the Brittany. With proper care and nutrition, owners can expect their Brittany to live between 13 to 15 years.

Pros and Cons of the Brittany

Pros:

  • Family-friendly pet that does well with children.
  • Easy to groom and maintain.
  • Extremely intelligent and easy to train.
  • Does well with other pets and is generally quite friendly towards strangers.
  • Extremely playful and good-natured.

Cons:

  • Requires mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis (relatively high-maintenance).
  • Tendency to bark or howl excessively.
  • Requires a great deal of attention from their owner (not a good choice for busy individuals).

Concluding Thoughts

To summarize, the Brittany is a wonderful dog breed renowned for its lovable nature, affectionate qualities, and high-degree of intelligence. Capable of adapting to a variety of roles, the Brittany is suitable for a wide-array of individuals (including small children). Although this breed requires a significant amount of attention from their owners to live a happy and satisfied life, the extra work is well worth the effort as the Brittany makes for an excellent companion. For these reasons, the Brittany will continue to be one of the most popular pets in the United States and Europe for the foreseeable future.

Works Cited

Articles / Books:

  • American Kennel Club. The New Complete Dog Book 22nd Edition. Mount Joy, Pennsylvania: Fox Chapel Publishing, 2017.
  • “Brittany: Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, November 6, 2017. https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/brittany/.
  • Coile, Caroline. The Dog Breed Bible: Descriptions and Photos of Every Breed Recognized by the AKC. Hauppauge, New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2007.
  • Dennis-Bryan, Kim. The Complete Dog Breed Book. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2014.
  • Larkin, Peter and Mike Stockman. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs, Dog Breeds, & Dog Care. London, England: Hermes House, 2006.
  • Mehus-Roe, Kristin. Dog Bible: The Definitive Source for All Things Dog. Irvine, California: I-5 Press, 2009.
  • O’Neill, Amanda. What Dog? A Guide to Help New Owners Select the Right Breed for their Lifestyle. Hauppauge, New York: Interpret Publishing Ltd., 2006.
  • Schuler, Elizabeth Meriwether. Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Dogs. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, Incorporated, 1980.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds.” (PetHelpful). 2019.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The 10 Best Dogs for Children.” (PetHelpful). 2019.

Images / Photographs:

Wikimedia Commons

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Larry Slawson

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