Nothing beats a good dog encyclopedia or reference book, so I went first to my number one, premier source, Craig Koshyk’s Pointing Dogs: The Continentals. He notes that any breed popular in both Europe and North America runs the risk of becoming distinct from each other as their popularity and use cause breeders to follow different paths in their breeding programs. When the Brittany (Epagneul Breton), originally developed in France, generated a strong following here in the 1960s and ‘70s field trial circuit, many American kennels began breeding for big running “all age” Brittanies.*
Koshyk goes on to explain, “These and other factors caused what many feel is a split between American Brittanies and ‘French Brittanies.’ Everyone recognizes that the two types have a shared ancestry and are the same breed genetically, but some believe that after nearly 80 years of moving in slightly different directions, the two types are irrevocably split.”
So without digging into the historical details, what does this split generally mean to a bird hunter interested in one of these beautiful dogs as a partner for pursuing pheasant, grouse, woodcock or quail?
The name. Rick Affuso, whose two American Brittanys qualified to run the NAVHDA Invitational this year, says, “I have had the American Britts since the late ‘60s. They were originally called the Brittany Spaniel, but in the early ‘80s, the ‘spaniel’ was removed and were referred to as the ‘American Brittany.’”
Appearance. Susanna Love, who breeds Brittanys with her husband, pro trainer Ronnie Smith, explains: “My understanding is that the French Brittanys have the black color gene. You will often see black roan French Brittanys. Even if it is an orange coated French Brittany, you can tell because the nose will have black pigmentation. The American Brittanys only allow liver or orange color, and the nose is always a brownish tone. French Brittanys also tend to be smaller with a more compact body style.”
Hunting style. While any breed can display a variety of hunting styles depending on the particular dog, the consensus on the American vs. French Brittany seems to be that the French Brittany tends to hunt closer and quarter tighter while the American Brittany adapts more readily to a wider range with its longer legs and faster speed.
Temperament. Both the American and French Brittany are considered high energy, sweet-natured dogs. Well-bred Brittanys of both types have notably strong pointing instincts and excellent noses. They’re known for their enthusiasm and, like most great hunting dogs, their ability to con you into allowing them on the couch after a long day in the field.
*The plural of “Brittany” appears equally as “Brittanys” and “Brittanies,” and I couldn’t find an official ruling. Both spellings appear here according to the information sources used.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.