Development of the Brittany Breed Standard
By Jessica Carlson
In 1936, Louis Thebaud and Louis de la Fleche founded the first organization of Brittany owners in the United States. It was called the Brittany Spaniel Club of North America, and was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club as the parent club of the breed; however, it became inactive very shortly thereafter due to the First World War. Its contributions to the breed were the establishment of a bench standard (an almost direct translation of the French), and the acquiring of acceptance for the breed and its standard by the American Kennel Club.
The American Brittany Club was organized in May of 1942 when a small group of fanciers got together to form a group “to promote cooperation and friendship among the breeders and owners of Brittany Spaniels and to encourage higher standards in breeding, training and showing of Brittany Spaniels in the field and in the show ring; to discourage the breed from becoming split into groups of ‘field dogs’ and ‘bench dogs’ and to strive to keep it forever a ‘dual dog.’” This has been the mission statement of the American Brittany Club since its founding. The word “spaniel” was purposely left out of the club’s name, as it was agreed that the Brittany should not be designated a Spaniel by its name when, in fact, it was a pointing (not flushing) breed.
“It is imperative… to study the present standard in the light of the past. And… understand the reasons behind each point in the standard so that a great and unspoiled breed may continue to improve, as it has in the past.” —Maxwell Riddle
Although the Brittany Spaniel Club of North America had been the AKC recognized parent club, their membership was scattered and out of contact during WWII when club secretary, Alan Stuyvesant, was a prisoner of war. After communication between the two clubs was finally established in 1944, they agreed to merge into the American Brittany Club, and AKC recognition followed that same year.
The newly recognized American Brittany Club asked for AKC to change the breed name from Brittany Spaniel to Brittany, but AKC denied this request at the time. It was not until 1982 that this request was finally granted by the AKC.
This historical background is an important context for some of the questions about our standard that still arise today. One of the American Brittany Club’s first tasks was to re-write and clarify the standard from the unsatisfactory French translation. As AKC kept the breed in the “Spaniel” category, the 1946 standard had to be for a Brittany Spaniel which was not actually a Spaniel, and therefore, distinctions were drawn between it and the flushing breeds. Our standard has had only relatively minor changes since the 1946 version, and echoes of those distinctions remain in our modern standard.
One of the common causes for confusion among those new to our breed standard is the general description of the breed as “a leggy dog,” followed closely by this statement under Proportion: “So leggy is he that his height at the shoulders is the same as the length of his body.” The 1946 standard described “a leggy spaniel,” and meant to point out the difference in the Brittany as a square-measuring dog in comparison to Spaniel breeds which are generally longer than they are tall. A similar, barely-updated statement can be found under Feet, which in 1946 were described as “proportionately smaller than other spaniels.” After AKC agreed to drop Spaniel from our breed’s name, this line was changed to “…proportionately smaller than the spaniels’…”
They believed the Brittany could compete on equal terms with other Sporting breeds at dog shows if judges could be properly trained to appreciate a hard, lean, field-conditioned Brittany…
The authors of the 1946 standard were thoroughly familiar with what they considered the “tragic split” of other Sporting breeds into field and show types. In accordance with the mission of the American Brittany Club, the authors felt a responsibility to write the Brittany standard so that no such split would be possible. They believed the Brittany could compete on equal terms with other Sporting breeds at dog shows if judges could be properly trained to appreciate a hard, lean, field-conditioned Brittany without heavy leg feathering or a fine, silky, and long coat. The American Brittany Club and several of its member clubs also adopted a policy of holding bench shows along with field trials so that field dogs could come out of the field and compete, as they were, for bench championships.
The American Brittany Club National Specialty Show and National field trials have quite intentionally been held together in the same place, one following the other, since the first AKC recognized events in 1943. It’s therefore no accident that many Brittanys have earned wins in both National Specialty Shows and National Field Trials, dating back as far as 1944. Most remarkably, NFC/DC Pacolet Cheyenne Sam is the only dog to have topped both events, winning Best of Breed in the 1970 National Specialty Show, followed by the National Field Championship title in 1971.
To date, ten Dual Champion Brittanys (having the DC title at the time or later) have won Best of Breed at the National Specialty Show, and so many Duals have won and placed in the National All Age and Gun Dog Championships that we don’t even count them. Brittanys still claim more Dual Champions than all other Sporting breeds combined, having recently surpassed a total of 700 Dual Champions! While much of the credit is due to the breeders, owners, trainers, and handlers who make all of those claims possible, some must surely also be due to the American Brittany Club founders and authors of our standard who were determined that our breed be “forever a dual dog.”