A compact, lively, fun-loving hunting dog, the Brittany (also known as the American Brittany and the Brittany spaniel) sports a beautifully patterned coat, long legs, and energy for days. This enthusiasm, along with their big brains, joyful disposition, and a willingness to please, makes training a treat for dog and human alike.
Brittanys thrive when given a job to do, whether that's working as a bird dog or turning heads in dog sports. Bred as gundogs, they're often used as hunting companions. But with their manageable size, low-maintenance grooming needs, and friendly personalities, the Brittany can be the perfect family pet—just so long as that family is sufficiently outdoorsy and has enough pep to keep up with their pup.
Leggy and agile, the Brittany is a muscular, medium-sized, happy dog that ranges from 30–40 pounds. Their gorgeous coat, which can be either flat or wavy, comes in eye-catching white and orange or white and liver. "A typical Brittany has a colored mask over their eyes and ears, and a pinto pattern of color over their body," says Karen Hanson of Labyrinth Brittanys, a Gold Level Breeder of Merit in central Virginia.
Pretty much everything about this athletic pup's appearance comes back to what they were born to do: Hunt. Their powerful bodies and long legs enable them to cover a lot of ground, fast. Their gorgeous coats are for more than looks—a little feathering on their ears and legs gives them just enough fur to protect them when they're working, but not enough to get tangled or caught in branches.
While some Brittany puppies are born tailless, others may have a docked tail. This practice is controversial, with supporters believing that docking the tail helps to prevent injury in the field; however, the American Veterinary Association says this claim lacks substantial scientific support—and docking can be painful for the animal!
Their not-too-large size is also tied to a mischievous past: They were used by poachers to illegally hunt pheasants and other game. "The Brittany was developed as a poacher's dog—a smaller-sized pointing dog that could slip onto the neighboring estates to hunt both game birds and rabbits," Hanson says. Even their faces play a role in hunting: Those heavy eyebrows help protect their eyes in the field, and although their gentle expressions might not technically help them hunt, most Brittany owners will admit those sweet faces have gotten the exuberant dogs out of the proverbial doghouse more than once!
You know they can hunt, but is a Brittany spaniel a good family dog? The answer is an enthusiastic "yes!"
Sweet and smart, the Brittany is an enthusiastic dog that's easy to love. And she gives that love right back to her family, too. "What Brittanys do best is being companion dogs for their families," Hanson says, "And the thing that makes them happiest is to be included in whatever activity their owners are doing." So while she's born to hunt—if it has feathers, the Brittany can sniff it out—her boundless energy, stamina, intelligence, and obedient nature means that, if there's an activity you want to try, she'll be right by your side, bob-tail (or tailless hind end) wagging at every moment.
Brittanys are naturals at many dog sports such as agility, flyball, tracking, dock diving, and basically any other dog-friendly activity that allows them to use up their energy and spend time with their people. Their friendly demeanor also make them outstanding therapy dogs, and when it comes to obedience, they're champs. Consistency, positive reinforcement, and a gentle approach are vital when working with this emotional breed, as even a few harsh words can shatter their spirits.
The same vim and vigor that makes them shine in everything from pheasant hunting to flyball can also present certain challenges—namely, that this breed gets bored easily, so it's up to you to provide them with something to do … or they might come up with their own games involving your sofa or favorite shoes. Both their bodies and brains need serious stimulation on the daily, and a quick walk around the block and practicing "sit" before supper isn't going to do the trick.
Because they're so affectionate, Brittanys can fit in well with just about any active family and are good with children, though they might need supervision around small kiddos. Because of their long legs and excitable personality, they can accidentally knock over smaller family members as they bound around. As with any breed, make sure to socialize your Brittany early and often so they can learn to act appropriately around children, strangers, and other animals. Young children should always be supervised when playing with any dog, regardless of size or breed.
"A tired Brittany is typically a happy Brittany, and bored Brittanys can become destructive," Hanson says. "These dogs are doers. They want to be on the go. At the end of the day, they love to curl up and watch TV with the family, but they want to have done something during the day—with you." So, before you open your doors and let this furry ball of energy come flying in, you need to be prepared to provide her with the physical and mental stimulation she needs. This is often easiest to achieve in a home with access to a large, securely fenced-in yard or lots of land where your perky pet can cover some ground all year round.
That being said, room to roam isn't all you need. "Many people think that because they have a fenced backyard, their dog will self-exercise; most do not," Hanson says. "Brittanys do best with more structured exercise—long walks, games, etc."
Adventure is in a Brittany's DNA, and no amount of training will change the fact that she's a hunting dog at heart and capable of sprinting out of sight in the blink of an eye. Good fences, quality obedience training (with a focus on coming when called!), and plenty of exercise—including brain games such as interactive toys and food puzzles—will go a long way toward keeping your Britt out of trouble.
These sensitive souls don't make good kennel dogs; Brittanys like to be near their people, so the more adventures you embark upon together, the happier you'll make your pup. Brittanys can be exceptional running buddies, and if you're not a runner bringing your Brittany along as you bike or hike will give her a chance to stretch those long legs. Just make sure you've mastered a heel or recall command if you're in an area where they're allowed to go off-leash. Once your Britt is old enough, dog sports such as agility can be a great way for the two of you to bond while blowing off some steam. This breed loves sticking by you on adventures and can tolerate hunting in the snow, but because their coat isn't the thickest, they shouldn't be left outside for long periods. If you're uncomfortable in the weather, assume your Brittany is, too. And though they love to be on the move, always keep watch for telltale signs your Brittany is getting a little too much exercise.
Brittanys tend to love people and other dogs alike, although they can become a bit too rambunctious for small children or seniors. They often get along well with cats, especially if introduced when they're young. But use caution around other small animals, such as pocket pets or birds—their hunting history and strong prey drive go hand-in-hand.
A weekly brushing will help you control that shedding, although you may also want to give them a quick once-over after they've gone springing through the bushes to check for ticks, burrs, mats, and any cuts or abrasions they may have gotten. Brushing them prior to a walk in the woods may help prevent a few of those burrs from sticking, too. Bathe them only when dirty, trim their nails as needed (if you hear them click-clacking on the floor, that's a cue their nails are too long), and brush their teeth regularly.
Consistency and kindness are the most important elements of training the sensitive Brittany; harsh words can crush her tender soul, so stick to positive reinforcement using treats, toys, playtime, and affection to reward her. Brittanys are so eager and intelligent that you're unlikely to find this a tough task—these curious canines are quick to pick up on new commands and retain what they've learned from one training session to the next. The hardest part about training a Brittany may be staying ahead of her learning curve!
The Brittany life expectancy is around 12-14 years, and they're a relatively healthy dog with only a few breed-specific health concerns to consider, says Dr. Holly Weber, DVM, CVA, of Best Friends Animal Clinic in Sarasota, Fla. "Major disease predispositions for the Brittany include hip dysplasia, which is, unfortunately, a common finding in most sporting breeds," Weber says. "It's a very multi-factorial process, but make sure parents have Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) hip grading if you're getting a Brittany puppy," she says. PennHIP is also considered a good certification option. And, while you're looking into your puppy's health, you should talk to your breeder about other certifications for both the puppy and the puppy's parents, such as heart health, eyes, patellas, and thyroids.
Epilepsy, a seizure disorder, is fairly common among Brittanys, Weber says, and they're also prone to discoid lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune skin disease that is usually first noticed when there are changes in the color and texture of the dog's nose. Regular visits to your veterinarian can help you stay on top of these and other health conditions.
Brittanys are beautiful, so it's no surprise that, as far back as the 17th century, evidence of the breed—or liver-and-white, Brittany-type dogs pointing partridge, at least—can be seen in European paintings and tapestries. The breed's name comes from the northwest French Province where the Brittany originated. The breed we recognize today, though, really began showing up in the mid-1800s, when local French sportsmen began crossing their spaniels with English setters, resulting in a bob-tailed dog that pointed and retrieved quickly and obediently.
With these traits, the dogs gained popularity in a couple different circles. Poachers began using the smaller Brittany spaniel size, speed, and skill to retrieve illicit game. At the same time, dog shows were growing in popularity in Britain and France, and, as it turned out, the Brittany was as natural in the ring as in the field.
The breed was officially recognized in France as the "Epagneul Breton," or Brittany spaniel, in 1907. They made their way to the U.S. in 1931, and the Brittany spaniel was then recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1936. In 1982, the AKC shortened the breed name to the Brittany, dropping the "spaniel" due to the fact that the dog works more like a pointer than a spaniel, but the full name remains preferred in other parts of the world.
- Although the Brittany has never won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show, they can claim more dual champions (dogs who've earned championships in both conformation and field) than all other sporting breeds combined.
- The Brittany population declined during World War II as breeding in France came to a halt. After the war, French breeders opened up their standards to allow black spotted dogs to diversify the depleted European gene pool. The color black is one of the big differences between the breed standard in the U.S. and Canada compared to all other countries.
- Some Brittanys are born tailless, and this is due to a dominant trait that is tricky to breed for. According to Paw Print Genetics, when an embryo receives the dominant tailless chromosome from one parent, the result is a tailless puppy; however, any embryo that receives the tailless chromosome from both parents will be reabsorbed into the bloodstream. If an embryo receives the recessive long-tail trait from both parents, the puppy will be born with a long tail.