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From shorty to britanny

From "shorty" to "britanny", the saga of "such a dog" !

At Loudeac, in August 2007, the Club de l'Epagneul Breton (C.E.B.) commemorated brilliantly the centenary of its creation, and its very first standard, the one of the « épagneul breton a courte queue naturelle » (the « epagneul breton with a natural short tail »), on September 3, 1907. An opporunity to look back once more, to the origin of the saga of the Epagneul Breton.

We will neither mention here the traditional reference to the « chien d'Oysel » ( bird dog) », as known by everyone, nor mention the numerous paintings, drawings or tapestries exposed in european museums, where one can see dogs whose structure is undoubtedly close to what is expected of a  short«  épagneul ».
(tr. note : the exact translation should be « spaniel » but this may lead to some confusion with flushing breeds such as the english springer « spaniel », and as the Epagneul Breton is strictly a pointing breed, we will, further on, rather use only the french word « epagneul »)

Towards the end of the XIXth century, authors of quality, such as Stonehenge or Hamilton, do not yet mention the « epagneul » of France's Britanny in their writings, but, in the book published by the editor « de Rothschild » they mention, speaking of the french Epagneul : « due to crossings with other breeds the Epagneul gave birth to many varieties, whose characteristics are too unsteady to enable description »

However, some tenths of years earlier, an english writer, Rev. E.W.Davies, who spent many months in the region of Carhaix, (in the heart of the Armorican hilly region) and who travelled through  the « black mountains » of « Low Brittany » , mentions the existence and the common use in those areas of a « Brittany pointer » of which he noted its efficiency and courage, and he goes on like this : [A superior quality by the Brittany pointers is their way to go deep into the thickest bushes and to work on birds there, as should do a fox-hound hunting its prey...][ ...the poacher who hunts for its living seven days a week, and shooting everywhere, trains for himself a pointer by far superior in many aspects to the perfectly trained pointers that we meet in our turnip fields or in our grouse moors...]        

It is very likely that the dog so described is the ancestor of the Epagneul Breton, if not the Epagneul Breton itself , who, already then, was  docked to avoid injuries due to the furzes when hunting for woodcocks.

At the beginning of the XXth century, a military officer, the veterinary P. Grand-Chavin then based in Brittany, mentions the frequent meeting of some small « epagneul » , almost all with a short tail, and the description he makes is very close to what could be made nowadays : Short tail of 10 to 15 centimeters (4 to 6 inches), very wide and deep chest, short coupled, massive hind quarters, general stocky outlook, strong backed, eager, expressive eye, clever  expression, very birdy, fearless, good pointing...and hare runner ! About the coat he mentions all the colors accepted nowadays, but among which some, as the black-white, will be refused in the first standard  under the influence of representatives of the Epagneul Français breed club, for which the coat of an Epagneul was considered as necessarily liver-white.

So, it is established that this Epagneul, sometimes called « courton » (« shorty»), was already since the XIXth century, enjoyed by the poachers and countrymen of the center of France's Brittany, a region a longtime apart of the main roads, or the railroadnet . Its structure had been moulded by the county in which it lived since years and years : Smaller than the Setters, Pointers, and French Epagneul, rustic, short , solid and courageous, all qualities required of a hunting dog by   simple people looking for efficiency on game before anything else . Of course, the type was not completely fixed and variations existed here and there, as Oberthur explained so well .

The efficiency of these dogs lead naturally people more fortunated to pay interest to it. The family Du Pontavice is often mentioned, but there were many others : de Cambourg -one of the breed's pioneers-,  de Boisriou, de Bernardières, de Riverieulx, de Kermadec  -a famous dog fancier-, Enaud -the founder of the C.E.B.C.Q.N. (Club de l'Epagneul Breton à Courte Queue Naturelle)-, de Pelet -the first President of the club-, Patin, Treuttel, Lessard, etc, all passionated and wanting to promote  this original breed outside of Brittany with its structure and its mental and physical qualities.

The creation of the « Société Centrale Canine » (S.C.C. The french Kennel Club) and the « Livre des Origines Françaises » (L.O.F. The french stud book) in 1881 gave a new impulsion to the interest in breed dogs in France, and the Epagneul Breton soon became able to join the family of the « standardized » pointing dogs breeds. And so, in 1896, an Epagneul nicely named « PINSON ROYAL «  (Royal finch) was entered at the Paris Show in the « any variety epagneul breeds », but though its owner the viscount de Cambourg, considered it as very well built, it did not receive any award ! Who, at that moment, in Paris, had some knowledge of this « any variety epagneul » at a time where only the French Epagneul was acknowledged as a breed ? This semi-success did not discourage the breeders  who went on entering their dogs : In 1904, Patin's MAX DE CALLAC became the frist one to receive the mention of « very honorable ». The following years, those « any variety » Epagneul became more numerous in the Parisian rings and elsewhere. They were only the vanguard of a far more numerous mass hunting all year long in upland countries. And so, at Toulouse, even before the official creation of the breed, a special class of « Epagneul Breton » was created for the 1906 show. The same happened at Paris in 1907, a few months before the club was created.

It becomes then obvious that the Epagneul Breton comes out of its native Argoat and Black Mountains area and goes conquering other countries ! An attempt for a standard was established in Loudeac on September 3rd, 1907, while at the same time the breed club was created, at the instigation of Arthur Enaud, a well known amateur of various breedings, horses included..

This standard resumes the characteristics existing in the livestock : Cobby dog full of energy with a round skull, rather short ears, sizing around 0,50cms (19,7 inches)  at the withers. The first dog to be registered, BOY, an orange-white, was born a few years before the defintion of the standard and the official creation of the breed. Very soon, other dogs were registered, as there was a potential only waiting to appear in bright daylight, as the reading of the « Livre des Origines Françaises » shows it.

For the breed lovers, 2007 was not so much the centenary of its creation, than the one of its official entrance into the dog World. The anniversary of the adoption of a « mongrel » in some way !  .  

Offspring of poachers and countrymen dogs, bred into poverty, selected on their overall hunting abilities, on their compact building, on their solid health, the Epagneul Breton is now a part of the french patrimony. Adapted to any environment, any climate, passing through the XXth century without ever becoming a fashion, the Epagneul Breton is now a reference for the continental pointing breeds, to the benefit of hunters in France and all over the world.

Christian Gunther
Président du Club de l'Epagneul Breton

Bibliography :
R. Munsch, 1937 : L'Epagneul breton, éditions de l'Eleveur
R. de Kermadec, L'Epagneul Breton, éditions Sport Canin
R. de Kermadec, 1949, Le Chien d'Arrêt, éditions Flammarion
M. Lessard, 1952, L'Epagneul Breton, éditions Crépin-Leblond

Translated by Pierre Willems
November 2012

Club de l'Epagneul Breton - Founded in 1907 - Affiliated to SCC (French Kennel Club).
Head Office : 3 chemin du Tuquet Blanc, 47300 PUJOLS.

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