The English Springer Spaniel is a gun dog traditionally used for flushing and retrieving game. It is one of many spaniel breeds.
English Springer Spaniel Appearance
The English Springer represents perhaps the greatest divergence between working and show lines of any breed of dog. A field-bred dog and a show-bred dog appear to be different breeds, but are registered together. In fact, the gene pools are almost completely segregated and have been for at least 70 years. A field bred dog would not be even remotely competitive in a modern dog show while a show dog would be unlikely to have the speed or stamina to succeed in a field trial.
Field-bred dogs tend to have shorter, coarser coats than the show-bred dogs. Their ears are less pendulous. Field-bred dogs are wiry and have more of a feral look than their show-bred cousins. The tail of the field bred dog is only docked by a few inches in comparison to the show dog to provide a “flag” for the hunter. Field-bred dogs are generally selected for nose, hunting ability, and trainability rather than appearance.
Males in the show dog line average approximately 18 to 20 inches (45 to 50 cm) at the withers and weigh on average between 50 and 55 pounds (23 to 25 kg). Females are generally smaller, averaging closer to 40 pounds (18 kg). According to the UK (FCI) Breed Standard, the English Springer Spaniel should be of the following size, 51 cm, or approximately 20 inches at the withers. Show dogs have longer fur and more pendant ears, dewlaps and dangling flews. The tail is docked to a short stub in those countries which permit docking. They are generally more thickly boned and heavier than field-bred springers.
The coat comes in three different color combinations. Black-and-white, liver-and-white, or either of these combinations with tan markings (usually on the cheeks and above the eyes). Dogs bred for show are generally more color than white, whereas sporting dogs tend to have more white in their coats for visibility.
English Springer Spaniel Temperament
The Springer is an affectionate and easy-going family dog, and its alertness and attentiveness make it the ideal hunting companion. An intelligent dog, and eager to please, a Springer is easily incorporated into a family setting. Although good with children, it tends to have a moderate to high energy level. Its long-legged build makes it among the fastest of the spaniels. It has unlimited stamina and needs plenty of activity, as much as 2 hours per day, to focus its mind and to provide substantial exercise.
Like any breed described as “good with children”, a Springer Spaniel must be accustomed to children. Any dog that is not well socialized with children will not behave predictably around them.
English Springer Spaniels are playful animals; many owners find humor in their play. As with many playful dogs or hunting dogs bred as retrievers, these dogs will play with things as simple as empty plastic bottles, socks, or towels. These spaniels easily remember where such things are kept and are good at getting them out. English Springer Spaniels need a lot of regular exercise and mental stimulation for optimum mental health.
Some people say that English Springer Spaniels are like Velcro, because they want to be in the immediate vicinity of their owner. If the owner walks to the other side of a room, so does the English Springer Spaniel. Unless trained from a young age, some may become agitated and whine if they cannot get near people that they know are nearby.
English Springer Spaniel Health
As in most breeds, there are some health issues that are more likely to occur in this breed. Hip dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) are two such diseases for which veterinarians are working on genetic markers to determine carriers. Canine Eye Research Foundation (CERF) and Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certifications for the father and mother of a litter of pups provides some information about eye and hip wellness.
English Springer Spaniels are prone to ear infections. Susceptible individuals should have their ear canals cleaned weekly with a solution that will leave the ear in an acidic state to retard the growth of yeast and bacteria.
Other health issues include autoimmune diseases, which include allergies and other sensitivities to the environment. These are not common, but are found in the breed.
Temperament issues can include dog aggression and people aggression, which appears to be genetic, and in many cases does not manifest until the dog is an adult. Choosing dogs with parents that do not display this kind of behavior will reduce, but not eliminate, its occurrence. Another cause of aberrant behavior can be epilepsy.
English Springer Spaniel Skills
A springer spaniel is first and foremost an upland flushing dog. In performing this task there are some skills the dog must be trained to perform.
- Retreive to Hand The majority of hunters and all hunt test or field trial judges require that a dog deliver a bird to hand, meaning that a dog will hold the bird until told to give it to the hunter directly.
- Quarter A flushing spaniel’s primary role is often as an upland flushing dog. Dogs must work in a zig-zag pattern in front of the hunter seeking upland game birds. The dog must be taught to stay within gun range to avoid flushing a bird outside of shooting distance. This pattern is one of the primary criteria used to judge a dog in a field trial.
- Hup This is the traditional command to sit and stay. To be an effective hunter the dog must comply with this command absolutely. When hupped the dog can be given direction called to the handler. The ability to hup a dog actively working a running bird allow the handler and any gunners to keep up without having to run.
- Follow Hand Signals Upland hunting involves pursuing wild game in its native habitat. Gun dogs must investigate likely coverts for upland game birds. The dog must be responsive to hand signals in order for the hunter to be able to direct the dog into areas of particular interest.
- Steady When hunting upland birds, a flushing dog should be steady to wing and shot, meaning that he sits when a bird rises or a gun is fired. He does this in order to mark the fall and to avoid flushing other birds when pursuing a missed bird.
English Springer Spaniel History
This spaniel is an older breed, appearing in paintings as early as the 1600s. It is possibly the ancestor of most modern spaniels; Springer Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels were not recognized as separate breeds until the 1800s.
Famous English Springer Spaniels
Felicity’s Diamond Jim, the 2006 AKC Eukanuba National Champion and winner of over 46 Best in Show titles
Spot Fetcher, pet of President George W. Bush
Millie Bush, pet of former President George H. W. Bush and mother of Spot Fetcher.
Merlin MacDonald, pet of Celtic lore that aided William Wallace in the defeat of the English army in the Battle of Stirling Bridge
Smith, a main character in the manga and anime series Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin