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The Brittany: why it’s the most popular gundog in France

The most popular gundog in France has never caught on in the UK, but David Tomlinson believes it is an attractive and healthy option

Brittany - most popular working gundog in France

Why a Brittany?

Although it’s not unusual to be asked for guidance, the majority of buyers have already decided on their breed of choice, be it spaniel, retriever or HPR. The majority of people remain with the same type of dog, if not the same breed, throughout their life. However, a friend, Ruth, recently turned to me for suggestions as to what breed of dog I would recommend for her. She is looking for a pet rather than a working dog, though her husband might take it beating if it proves steady enough. (Read our tips on best beds for gundogs.)

Her previous dogs have all been gundogs. She started with a golden retriever and has since had flatcoat retrievers and a sprocker. I’m sure that Ruth won’t mind me describing her as somewhat unconventional, which might explain why the first two breeds she considered were a Korthals griffon and a Welsh springer spaniel.  I replied saying: “I know Korthals griffons well and have even been out to southern France to watch them in action. Handsome dogs, but I’m not sure I would recommend one to anyone looking for a pet rather than a specialist shooting dog. They are big and look very similar to a German wirehaired pointer (also very big). I love Welsh springers, but the bloodlines are restricted, so there’s a high incidence of genetic disorders.”

I added that, if I was looking for a pet, I would look more closely at the smaller breeds, as they are easier to manage. I went on to say: “If you are considering any pure breeds, it’s a good idea to take a look at the Kennel Club’s health pages and check out the COI (coefficient of inbreeding) and EPS (estimated population size).

Ruth is a bright girl, so I wasn’t surprised when she emailed me back to say that she had “looked with interest at the COI a number of times” and that she was “really depressed by the cocker lines — I guess that cockers have become too popular. We have three people we could get cockers from locally, one of whom beats and shoots with his. They are all wonderful, but I’ve decided against it because of the COI.” Ruth added: “I have to be honest, the Welsh springer was a new idea, so I hadn’t checked it out. The Korthals griffon looked good in that respect, but I do take your point about the size and I think that we tend to agree with you that smaller looks pretty tempting. “I loved our sprocker, but the rest of the family didn’t, really. I think that it was because he was very loyal to me and wasn’t keen at all on anyone else coming close — canine or human — but because he was a rescue, you never really know what had happened before.”

Working springer spaniel

Working springer spaniels can be a handful as a pet dog

Hunting instinct

Ruth concluded her email by saying that investigations would continue and that she would come back to me soon with her latest thoughts. In turn, I promised to come up with more ideas – and that included the Brittany. The unpalatable truth is that many gundogs don’t make good pets, as they need rather more exercise than most people are prepared to give them, along with proper mental stimulation.

Working-bred English springer spaniels, for example, have long been popular as pets. They generally have soft and loving temperaments — making them good indoors — but they are hard-wired hunting machines, so not ideal if they are to be exercised where there is game of any description. Although it may be anathema to those of us who scorn show-bred gundogs, the latter do tend to make easier, less demanding pets. There’s also a lot to be said for cross-bred gundogs as pets. Cockapoos, for example, are generally easy-going dogs with pleasant temperaments and not too much hunting drive. They certainly deserve their current popularity, although they are high-maintenance, requiring regular visits to the groomer.

I do have one new suggestion for Ruth: a Brittany. The most popular working gundog in France, these spaniel-like HPRs have never caught on as either shooting dogs or pets in this country. However, they are good-looking dogs, compact in size and generally healthy, with an impressively low COI (5.8%) and a much better EPS (104.5) than any of our native gundogs. It is certainly one to consider, though strict training to the whistle is essential as they are fast dogs that like to range. Read more about the Brittany here.