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For as loving and sweet as the Clumber spaniel is at home, this rare breed has an unparalleled nose and the kind of endurance that makes him a force to be reckoned with in the field. But you don't have to be a hunter to keep this pooch happy—he just wants to be with his family, whether that's chilling out at home or playing fetch in the yard.
At 55–85 pounds, Clumbers are the largest members of the spaniel family and are known for their long and low bodies, their giant noggins, and their tendency to eat anything and everything they can find (shoes and rocks included). But, between their intelligence and eagerness to please, Clumbers can be wonderful companions for all types of homes and families, first-time pet parents included … as long as you're good about picking up off the floor anything they shouldn't put in their mouths (and don't mind some fur and drool).
As the largest member of the spaniel family, the Clumber is easy to recognize thanks to a long, low, heavy-boned body that's topped off with a head that the breed standard literally calls "massive"—so, yeah, it's big. That notable build has long served a purpose, enabling a working Clumber spaniel to easily trudge and push through thick brush and heavy cover while tracking birds. Be aware, though, that his long, strong body also allows him to access counters and surfaces you might assume are out of reach, so lock those cookies up tight and teach him early that counters are a no-no.
His dense, soft, flat white coat can have some lemon or orange markings around the head, often on the ears and face, and perhaps with a little freckling on his muzzle, legs, and near his tail. But that's not the most notable thing about the Clumber coat, says Roe Froman, DVM, founding president of the Clumber Spaniel Health Foundation.
"Clumbers shed—a lot. Twenty-four seven, 365 days a year," she says. "It is substantial, and it is real. If you're house proud or don't like dog hair, then Clumbers are not the breed for you. Discussions of vacuum cleaners are common in Clumber circles!"
Clumbers are mellow family dogs that do well in just about any household, bonding well with young children, seniors, other dogs, you name it. "They most certainly are mellow," says Kristi Thomasson, of Cruisin Clumber Spaniels in Richmond, Va. "But don't mistake mellow for boring! They are always up to something."
She also notes that Clumbers are very loving, both with their families and with each other. They can be wary of new people, but that rarely lasts long. "It only takes a short period of time before the wiggle butts start," Thomasson says. "They are truly the happiest little creatures. I've never met a Clumber that doesn't welcome a family member or guest with a gift—a stuffie, a blanket, a chew toy, a shoe, or anything else that they feel is worthy."
Keep in mind that, although they have a long and proud history as bird dogs, they are not suited for kennel life. "They adore their families and love a nice, soft couch," Froman says. "They always know where you are, but they don't have to touch you 24 hours a day." However, she insists they're no speed bumps; they need—and enjoy—regular exercise and engagement. "Ours all get at least a good walk, usually about a mile, every day; plus we have a half-acre fenced yard."
Clumber spaniel puppies, though, are a little more high-maintenance and must be supervised at all times, Froman says.
"If you can't have eyes on them, they need to be crated or confined so they don't find things to chew up and hurt themselves," she says. "They grow into lovely, calm adults, but that can take a couple of years. Foreign bodies are probably the number one reason Clumbers need surgery."
Despite their propensity to ingest anything they can get their mouths on, this is a bright but sensitive breed, which makes training them using positive reinforcement a must. "They can be a bit [independent], and I'm quickly reminded that the kinder, gentler approach works best," Thomasson says. "They will shut down if scolded or drastic training methods are used."
Clumbers can do well in nearly any type of home and with just about any type of family, so long as they're included in family activities. "They do not like to be alone," says Peggy Dillinger, Clumber Spaniel Club of America member. "They're happy just sleeping at your feet, but not in a crate or in the yard. They'll dig and go find someone."
But that doesn't mean they want to sleep all day! Clumber spaniels need daily exercise, at least a nice walk or 20–30 minutes of playtime, although they're certainly capable of even more activity. As far as endurance goes, Clumbers have it in spades and can keep trucking along at a moderate pace for hours on end—especially in cool or cold weather—making them good hiking companions (as long as the terrain isn't too challenging!). And if you have water nearby, you'll have one happy Clumber because these dogs love to swim! But leave them behind if you're running or biking; those high-impact pastimes can lead to injury.
"Clumbers are like potato chips; you can't have just one," Thomasson says. Happily, the breed tends to be very dog-friendly, so having a crowd of Clumbers can be a lot of fun.
In fact, they're generally good with other animals, too, particularly if they're raised with them and socialized as puppies. Pet birds are the only real exception—which makes sense, given the fact that Clumbers have been bred to work as bird dogs. So even if you've trained your pup to understand your parrot is a pal, it's wise to supervise their interactions.
Caring for a Clumber isn't a tough task, but they're certainly not a hands-off breed.
Clumber spaniel shedding is no joke. It happens year-round, and while daily brushing will help keep it somewhat under control, you might want to adopt the belief that no outfit is complete without some dog hair—because it's going to be everywhere.
Otherwise, bathe them when needed, keep their nails (and the fur between their toe pads) trimmed, brush their teeth regularly, and watch their ears closely for any signs of an ear infection (like redness, tenderness, or a gross smell). Head-shaking or pawing at the ears might also be a clue that an infection is taking hold, and because those big, floppy ears trap moisture so well, infections are common.
Clumber spaniels also need at least a little daily exercise. "It's not enough to simply turn them out," Froman says. "They need real exercise. They are true sporting dogs, and if they don't get enough exercise, they will find things to occupy themselves. Things owners may not prefer!" This doesn't need to be an intense undertaking, though. A walk or two a day will suffice, and, "a good five to 10 minutes of retrieving in the yard goes very far to satisfy their need for a job to do," Froman says.
Generally speaking, Clumbers are extremely trainable, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily the easiest job in the world. In fact, they can seem a little strong-willed, says Froman. "Part of this is that they are easily bored and don't usually enjoy drilling repetitively," she says. "We also joke that they have a three-second delay. If they consider a request reasonable, they'll generally honor it."
Variation in training (and patience!) paired with lots of rewards will help you make training your Clumber a fun opportunity to bond, rather than a chore.
The Clumber spaniel's life expectancy is 10–12 years, and the biggest threat to his health is his tendency to eat anything. Literally anything.
"I warn owners to tell their veterinarians that Clumbers are worse than Labradors at foreign body ingestion—every vet understands that analogy," Froman says. "Owners need to be prepared to buy clothes hampers, and use them." In other words, no sock is safe on the floor, so tidying up every day is non-negotiable.
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is also a concern, as is hip dysplasia. Between those issues and the breed's long, low build, it's of the utmost importance to keep Clumbers at a lean, healthy weight. However, Froman also notes that, while hip dysplasia is common, it doesn't seem to affect Clumbers like you'd expect.
"Their substantial muscle mass combined with their stoic nature often means that Clumbers with hips that might cripple a different breed are often found doing competitive obedience and running in the bird fields," she says.
The Clumber Spaniel Club of America (CSCA) recommends all Clumbers have their hips, eyes, and elbows tested, and also have a DNA test for PDP-1, a rare metabolic disorder found in Clumbers and Sussex spaniels.
Long story short, we don't actually know where the Clumber spaniel originated. He may be the result of a cross between basset hounds and early alpine spaniels (which are now extinct), but there are no studbooks detailing this.
The breed was named for Clumber Park, a large estate in England that belonged to the Duke of Newcastle in the late 1700s, and it's clear that Clumbers were popular hunting dogs with the aristocracy in that area. According to the CSCA, one theory is that the breed began in France and crossed the English channel during the French Revolution. But again, there's no real evidence supporting this. In fact, a painting of the Duke of Newcastle with Clumber-looking dogs was dated to the year before the French Revolution, which makes the story fairly unlikely.
The breed headed to North America in the 1800s, first arriving in Nova Scotia, Canada, with a British officer stationed there. The American Kennel Club (AKC) registered the Clumber spaniel as one of its nine charter breeds in 1878.
Today, the Clumber is a rare breed with less than 200 puppies registered each year in the United States (and less than 300 in the United Kingdom, where the pups are considered a vulnerable native breed). If you're in the market for one of these amusing and mellow pups, be prepared to join a Clumber spaniel puppies waiting list; same thing goes when it comes to adopting a Clumber spaniel rescue dog.
- One nickname for the Clumber spaniel is the "retired gentleman's spaniel," due to his easygoing and dignified nature.
- Clumber spaniels were popular enough in England by the mid-1800s to catch the eye of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert (who owned seven Clumbers). The pups later found a home at Sandringham House estate with Edward, Prince of Wales (who would become Edward VII).
- Clumbers absolutely love to carry things in their mouths (which means it's important to help him understand early on what's appropriate for him to pick up … and what's not). Clumber pet parents would be wise to have plenty of durable dog toys at the ready.