Epagneul breton (Breton spaniel): hunting and family dog
The name "épagneul"Many think that épagneul is a corruption of the word "espagnol" (Spaniard). This explanation is not correct. In Spain these dogs are called "English dog" (Brittany Cocker or Spaniel). The origin of the word is rather in Old French. We have to go back to the Middle Ages for that. When the dog had found a prey during the hunt (a partridge, a pheasant or a hare) he crept, his belly on the ground. It was then said that the dog "s'espa (ig) nait" which meant that he stretched out or lay down. This type of hunting dog was called "lying dogs" (now: standing dog) as opposed to "running dogs".
History of the épagneul breton
OriginateThe épagneul breton is a descendant of the épagneul français, a dog that is said to have been bred from the original chien d'Oysel. The spaniels were very sought after for hunting and were bred on a large scale, while they tried to make them smaller and smaller in size. The butterfly spaniel and the Cavalier King-Charles also come from these experiments. The épagneul breton is a variant that really comes from Brittany, from the region between the Monts d'Arrhée and the Montagnes Noires, more specifically from the region between Huelgoat and Guingamp. The dog then spread throughout Brittany and evolved differently according to the region. The largest concentration of épagneuls bretons can be found in the center of Brittany and it is this dog that serves as a reference. However, this dog is only a cross between the original French dog and English dogs such as the setter and the pointer. English hunters who came to hunt in France brought their dogs. To always save them the crossing, they left the dogs in France on board, often with farmers who had French spaniels. What had to happen also happened: the dogs had fun together. The resulting variant was even better suited for hunting: the épagneul breton was born. The white and orange color in the coat would come from the English setters.
Late 19th century - WWIReal breeders gradually came to try to breed as pure a dog as possible. They improved the species and also started to raise and train the dogs for hunting. We are now talking about the end of the 19th century. A dozen years later, in 1904, the first épagneul breton received a prize at an exhibition. Yet it was still waiting until in 1907 the épagneul breton became an official breed. A first standard is drawn up and on 3 September 1907 count de Pelet becomes the first chairman of the "club of the épagneul breton with a naturally short tail". Most épagneuls bretons from that time were white and brown. Many dogs were killed during the First World War.
WO I - WO IIAfter the war, breeders from the Callac region started to breed back with the best of the remaining dogs. Only two colors were accepted then, the white-brown and the white-orange fur. It is only in 1956 that the black and white fur is accepted. Between the two World Wars, the épagneul breton is very successful as a standing dog. He is very sought after by hunters from France and England. The épagneuls breton did not suffer much during World War II, their numbers have remained more or less stable.
1950 to nowAfter WWII, the dog becomes the victim of its own success. More and more breeders are going to produce dogs of lesser quality. Only the breeders of Callac remain true to the idea of a pure breed. Today it is still in this town that the four growers with the greatest world fame in the field of épagneuls bretons are located. Gradually the dog was increasingly bought by foreigners. Canadians and Americans in particular are very fond of the dog and sometimes come to Callac to buy one. In America they are called brittany spaniel. Since 1956 there are now two classes in the standard: the white-orange and the other colors. In 2009 a museum for the épagneul breton opened in Callac. Here man can get acquainted with the dog, with its characteristics and you can watch films about his exceptional hunting abilities. They also sell a kind of comic book with the history of the dog and its development, and you can also give you a list with the names and addresses of the four breeders from the region.
The épagneul breton as a hunting dogThe épagneul breton is the smallest of the standing hunting dogs. Because he is small, he can easily chase the wild in dense bushes. His short coat means that he is not bothered by branches and spines. His innate talent for hunting makes it a highly sought after dog for the real hunters. From the age of 12 months he can already assist his boss for hunting. With other dogs this is much later. He has a very developed sense of smell, with which he can smell the game from a great distance and can detect it without problems. If he follows a trail, nothing or nobody will be able to distract him. Once in the wild, the dog will stand perfectly, so that the hunter can shoot. In Brittany the dog gets a kind of cowbell around the neck. This allows the hunter to follow him perfectly and when the tinkling stops, the hunter knows that the dog has arrived at the prey. When the prey is shot, the dog brings the game to its owner without any problems. It seems as if he never gets tired and has an exceptional perseverance. Bad weather conditions such as rain, wind and even snow do not stop him.
The épagneul breton as a family dogFor people who don't like the hunt, it is also a great family dog. Balanced, gentle for everyone, sweet for children and pleasant company for other dogs. He is always looking for a caress, a hug, a sweet word from his owners. He is also very intelligent, his short hair requires a minimum of maintenance and he has an iron health. In France, the épagneul breton is in third place as a family dog, after the labrador and the poodle. With his owner this dog is like two hands on a belly. He loves company, whether it is during a long walk or stretched out on the seat. Although of course he has a slight preference for the first option. After all, it is and remains an outdoor dog that needs its movement.
The close bond with his master is still a remnant of his hunting instinct, because dog and boss must be perfectly matched during hunting. He hates loneliness. It is a temperamental dog that can sometimes be very stubborn. Especially in the beginning he will test his owners and his intelligence will be useful to him. So be sure not to be too soft in the beginning with your épagneul breton or he will certainly benefit from it. When you tackle it decisively, it becomes a sweet dog with some character. With children it is a real sweetheart, very patient and sweet. He will be able to play with them for hours without getting tired. He is very social towards other dogs. The épagneul breton is by no means a guard dog, he is far too friendly for that. So he won't bark at strangers, but his shyness won't let him go there either. He will first take a wait and see attitude and only allow himself to be caressed after a while.
The épagneul breton as a purebred dogA true épagneul breton is a purebred dog with pedigree. To be a true purebred dog, the dog must meet a standard. The current valid standard of the épagneul breton is the FCI n ° 95 and dates from 13 March 2001. According to the standard, males may be between 48 and 51 cm, the females may be between 47 and 50 cm. A number of features from the standard: the eyes are rather oval and the color is always in harmony with the color of the fur. They must have an intelligent eye, but also soft and sincere. The ears are triangular and must be covered with wavy hair. The chest is fairly wide. The hair is short, straight or wavy, but never curly. The price of a purebred dog varies between 500 and 700 euros. A purebred dog will always have a name. All dogs born in a certain year have a name that starts with the same letter. In 2010, for example, it was F. If you buy such a dog, you will receive papers with the official name of your dog. You will need to use this name for every administrative or official step (registration, doctor's visits, injections, etc.), but within the family circle you are of course free to give it another name. For people who do not want to participate in prize camps, that official standard is not important.
The tail of the épagneul bretonAt the end of the 19th century one could have puppies with and puppies without a tail in the same litter. The owners were in no way embarrassed to cut the tail without mercy just after birth. In 1924 it was decided that having a tail was no shortage, but it still took until 1933 before the short tail was removed from the standard. The épagneuls bretons from Callac are still being sold without a tail. Only when buyers order one with a tail beforehand (in certain countries dogs without a tail are forbidden), will the breeder leave the tail on. In some countries, a dog without a tail will not be allowed to participate in competitions, even if it comes from a country where docking is permitted.
Color variationsThe typical épagneul breton is white with orange-brown. Yet there are also other colors of Breton spaniels. There is also the black and white variant and the beautiful tricolore (tricolor). This dog has white, black and golden brown in its fur.
Callac and his épagneul breton farmsIf you ever come to Callac and want a dog like that, take a look at one of the four breeding farms:
- Elevage "de Cornouaille" - M. Hervé Bourdon - Goarem Maout - 22160 Bulat - Pestivien - 00.33.2184.108.40.206
- Elevage "de Kerveillant" - M. Yves Joncour - Kervégant - 22160 Callac - 00.33.2220.127.116.11
- Elevage "de l'Isle" - M. Serge Lavenant - L'Isle - 22160 Callac - 00.33.218.104.22.168
- Elevage "de Keranlouan" - M. Patrick Morin - 3, Rue de la Gare - 22160 Callac - 00.33.222.214.171.124.
In the village there is also a museum entirely devoted to this exceptional hunting dog. You will learn more about his character, about his origins, about his hunting instinct. You will become acquainted with a number of champions and with the local breeders through image and sound material. You can buy books about the épagneul, just like in the bookshops around the church. And now it will be the hardest to resist the headstrong snout of this sweet fellow!
Have fun with your épagneul breton!