The argument for specialist versus all-round hunting dogs remains unresolved as the answer lies in the hunter’s goals. The Brittany Spaniel has been bred as a versatile hunting dog, but how well does it perform in a duck hunt compared to the specialist sporting breeds?
Brittany Spaniels can hunt ducks. The Brittany Spaniel is bred as a versatile hunting dog; they’re better suited to upland hunting but are adequate duck hunters. These dogs often struggle with steadiness and cold tolerance but make up for it with their sociability and ease of training.
Hunters considering a Brittany Spaniel may be attracted by their streamlined athletic stature and friendly nature. However, the low popularity of the Brittany Spaniel amongst duck hunters raises some red flags for prospective buyers.
Are Brittany Spaniels Bred For Duck Hunting?
Recognized as a versatile hunting dog, the Brittany Spaniel is the product of the French peasant’s need to economize.
During the 1800s, the working-class French people did not have the means to support a full kennel of specialist hunting dogs. The solution to their dilemma was a jack-of-all-trades hunting dog, i.e., the Brittany Spaniel.
The Brittany Spaniel is a medium-sized dog ranging between 30 to 40 pounds (13 – 18kgs) and 17″ to 21″ at the shoulder. The Brittany’s long legs allow them to cover ground efficiently, making them tireless hunting partners.
As an all-round hunting dog, the Brittany Spaniel is technically capable of duck hunting, although its suitability is a matter of hot debate amongst avid duck hunters.
Many duck hunters assert that Brittany Spaniels are better at upland hunting than duck hunting. In contrast, others claim that the superior pointing technique of the Brittany Spaniel compromises their willingness to retrieve. Despite these naysayers, a small group of Brittany Spaniel owners passionately defend their Brittany Spaniels’ duck hunting capabilities.
Regardless of the personal opinions of different duck hunters, the fact remains that Brittany Spaniels are bred as all-round hunting dogs and not specialist duck hunters.
The Three Levels Of Duck Hunting Capabilities
Not every dog is going to make the grade; there are three scales of hunting prowess:
- No hope
- Adequate but not exceptional
- An outstanding duck hunter with legendary capabilities
No Hope Duck-Hunting Brittany Spaniels
Not every Brittany Spaniel is cut out for duck hunting
and rarely does a dog excel in all hunting formats. Many Brittany Spaniels who demonstrate a spectacular lack of talent for duck hunting find their niche in upland hunting.
Adequate But Not Exceptional Duck Hunting Brittany Spaniels
Most duck-hunting Brittany Spaniels fall within this category. While not specialist duck hunters like the Labrador Retriever and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, the Brittany Spaniel will still
get the job done.
Brittany Spaniels lacks the genetic predisposition of these specialist duck-hunting dogs, but their natural willingness to learn and work with their owners stands them in good stead. Clever, thoughtful training can aid Brittany Spaniels in overcoming a lack of natural talent.
Duck Hunting Brittany Spaniels Of Legendary Capabilities
A legend is made by the unexpected, and one dog can set a precedent.
It is not surprising to find exceptional duck hunting Labrador Retrievers and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. While these dogs are firm favorites with spectators and specialist duck hunters, the dogs that are talked about for decades after they have passed are dogs no one expected to excel.
Most Brittany Spaniels fit within the average range of capabilities expected of the breed. However, occasionally an outlying dog of outstanding but atypical talent is paired with a skilled trainer resulting in pure magic!
These legendary Brittany Spaniels are exceptional by any dog’s standard and not only keep up with the dogs bred for the job but routinely beat them in competitive field trials.
What Makes A Good Duck Hunting Dog?
A good duck hunting dog is in equal parts born and made. It is much more pleasant and rewarding to work with a dog with the raw elements needed to produce a duck hunter than one where you are constantly fighting their nature.
Confident in Water And Interested In Birds
Water and birds are the fundamental aspects of duck hunting. Dogs that refuse to swim or lack an interest in birds will never succeed as duck hunters.
Most Brittany Spaniels have an avid interest in birds, showing a keen interest in both dead and live birds. A Brittany Spaniel’s affinity for water largely depends on the individual dog and their early life experiences around and in water.
Duck hunters need to be able to work off-leash in a highly stimulating environment. Dogs that want to work with their owners and have a high degree of trainability will master the obedience skills necessary for successful duck hunting.
Obedience in a duck hunter serves three purposes:
- It keeps the dog and hunters safe while working with shotguns
- It improves the dog’s efficacy and performance
- It ensures the dog is a pleasure to be around
Brittany Spaniels are known to be easy dogs to train, suiting both amateur and professional hunters. However, this breed can become overly shy or stubborn if trained with harsh methods; a systematic approach to training based on positive reinforcement yields the best results.
Steadiness is the outcome of the push and pull of drive versus obedience. Bird dogs like the Brittany Spaniel are chosen because they have a strong instinct to fetch and retrieve downed birds.
However, when working in the field, a dog that breaks line before being released to fetch the downed birds can:
- Prematurely flush the birds before the hunters are ready
- Cause an accident where the dog or other hunters are injured
Steadiness refers to a dog’s willingness to set aside its excitement around birds and remain focused and obedient to its owner. A dog waiting in the blinds should not wriggle, squirm or otherwise distract the hunters.
Brittany Spaniels are “hot” dogs with boundless energy and plenty of drive. It is often a struggle for Brittany Spaniels to remain steady when faced with the excitement of a duck hunt.
One trainer recommends that owners allow Brittany Spaniels to retrieve 75% of downed birds. This practice of rationing the retrieves allows Brittany Spaniels to practice their retrieves while learning that not every bird has its name on it.
Focused And Tenacious
In addition to the long hours of duck hunts, the retrieves are often tricky. Downed and injured birds rarely fall in convenient spots.
A good duck hunter needs to stay focused and enthusiastic about the job at hand. These dogs should demonstrate heart and tenacity when pursuing a
Most Brittany Spaniels have the athleticism, nose, and determination needed to find and retrieve downed ducks, even those in hard-to-reach locations.
Duck hunting season varies from state to state, but most states permit duck hunting during fall and winter. The cold winter and autumn temperatures pose a significant problem for Brittany Spaniels.
Unlike Labrador Retrievers and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, the Brittany Spaniel has a flat, wavy coat of medium length. While perfect for moving through the underbrush, their coat offers little insulation when faced with icy waters.
Brittany Spaniels will need to be fitted with neoprene vests and returned to the warm car sooner than the more insulated retriever breeds.
The advantage of a Brittany Spaniel’s sleek coat is when the wet dog shakes off before entering the blind or boat, they don’t drench everyone within a 5-mile radius!
Hunting is a social sport, with many dogs and hunters gathering to participate in the sport. An unsociable, shy or aggressive dog has no place on the hunting field.
Brittany Spaniels are gregarious dogs that make friends wherever they go. Noted for their low aggression levels, they are easy dogs to socialize, making them excellent companions in the field and at home.
Most Labradors frequently weigh upwards of 50 pounds, making it a tight squeeze for dogs and hunters using a small canoe. The smaller Brittany Spaniel (30 to 40 pounds) is an easier dog to fit into a small canoe.
Most Brittany Spaniels make adequate duck hunters if trained tactfully. Although not specifically bred for duck hunting, the versatility of Brittany Spaniels makes them a good choice for an all-round hunting dog who participates in occasional water retrieves.