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Do Spaniels POINT?

Craig Koshyk

An illustration from the Quadrupedum Omnium Bisulcorum Historia by Ulisse Aldrovandi, published in 1621.
The writing on the left reads: Canis Hispanicus auribus demissis, Espagneulx Gallis, Can Limier Gesnero
 “Spanish dog with hanging (or drooping) ears, Gallic (i.e.: French) Spaniel, Lymer type dog”


Like the term “braque”, the word épagneul can be a tough nut to crack. For English speakers, an approximate pronunciation would be Ay- (rhymes with “say”) Pan- (rhymes with “dan”) YUL (rhymes with “pull”). Ay-Pan-YUL. The origin of the word is unclear. Gaston Phébus wrote in Le Livre de la Chasse 1388 that:
There is another type of dog that we call chiens d’oysel and espaignolz, because this type comes from Spain, even though there are some in other countries.
Chiens d'oysels from Le Livre de la Chasse
From this and other lines in Le Livre de la Chasse, many have concluded that épagneul means “from Spain”. It is also considered by many to be synonymous with chien d’oysel (dog of the bird) and to refer only to long-haired pointing dogs. But not all authorities agree on these points. Jean Castaing wrote an excruciatingly detailed analysis of the word épagneul in his monumental book, Les Chiens d'Arrêt. He suggests that épagneul may not mean “from Spain” since épagneul-type dogs probably developed somewhere further north. He presents a fairly good argument that is supported, in part, by other authors, that épagneul could have come from the Old French espanir which means to “spread out”. In any case, getting to the bottom of the word’s origin does not really help us with the main problem that it presents today: Spaniels don’t point, but épagneuls do!

Épagneul type dogs on a cart. They could be Brittanies,
but are more likely "épagneuls du pays" (country spaniels)
of mixed/unknown ancestry
In English, when it comes to sporting breed nomenclature, the word “spaniel” is used almost exclusively for breeds that flush game and never for breeds that point game. So when the name of a pointing breed such as the Épagneul Breton is translated as “Brittany Spaniel”, it causes all kinds of confusion. In fact, the “spaniel” part of the Brittany’s name was such an irritant to many English speakers that it was dropped altogether by national breed clubs in the US and UK. Today, most English speakers just call it the Brittany. 

Pont-Audemer Spaniel with Ruffed Grouse
(Manitoba, Canada)

To add to the confusion, none of the other épagneul breeds from France—the French, Picardy, Blue Picardy, Pont-Audemer and Saint-Usuge—have dropped the “spaniel” part of their names in English. English speakers who own and breed them, use the term spaniel — and soon get used to explaining that yes, the dogs point, and no, not all "spaniels" are flushing dogs. And that's not all! In French, just about any breed of pointing dog with long hair can be called an Épagneul. So to many French hunters, a Small Munsterlander is a Petit Épagneul de Munster, a Drenthe Patrijshond is an Épagneul de Drenthe and the German Longhaired Pointer is an Épagneul Allemand (or sometimes even a chien d'oysel!)

Épagneul Breton at full gallop, Picardy, France

Small Munsterlander with a nice rooster, South Dakota, USA.
In France, the breed is known as the Petit Épagneul de Munster.

And finally, there is one more curious linguistic twist. The French do not translate the English names of the flushing spaniel breeds. They call them by their English names, often with a thick French accent. So in France, you will hear French hunters call Springer Spaniels  "Spreenn-gairz”, Cocker Spaniels “Coke-air Span-yellz” and Irish Water Spaniels "Eereesh Vat'air Span-yellz". 

German Longhaired Pointer in the Netherlands
In France, the breed is known as the Épagneul Allemand or Chien d'oysel.
Here is the list of the various French "épagneul" breeds still being bred in France (and elsewhere) today. 

Épagneul Français (French Spaniel)
Épagneul Picard (Picardy Spaniel)
Épagneul Bleu de Picardie (Blue Picardy Spaniel)
Épagneul de Pont-Audemer (Pont Audemer Spaniel)
Épagneul Breton (Brittany [Spaniel])
Épagneul de Saint Usuge (Saint Usuge Spaniel)

Épagneul Français (French Spaniel) in Québec.
In my view, the most elegant of all the épagneul breeds.




Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals
http://www.dogwilling.ca/index.cfm