English Springer Spaniel
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Originally bred to be tenacious hunters, the English springer spaniel has developed a reputation as a friendly, eager-to-please family dog who is just as comfortable with backyard playtime as she is flushing gamefowl.
Aside from being masterful hunting companions, springers are well-suited for agility and obedience competitions, make excellent running companions, and have gained renown for their easygoing and loyal dispositions. Not to mention, English springer spaniels are total brainiacs and have been named one of the most intelligent dog breeds.
One of the main traits that sets the English springer spaniel apart from other breeds is just how different show-bred (or "bench") and field-bred pups are. While the two types are registered as the same breed of dog, they are in fact distinct from one another.
According to English Springer Rescue America (ESRA), bench-bred English springer spaniels have a longer, silkier coat with more feathering and less freckles (called "ticks"). Field-bred springer spaniels, meanwhile, have a shorter coat with more ticks throughout their mostly white coat. Because field spaniels were bred to work, their tails are also traditionally docked (though this practice is controversial, per the American Veterinary Medical Association).
Both types of English springer spaniels make equally good family pets, but knowing the fundamental differences between the two will help a potential owner make an informed decision on which puppy to bring home.
"Anytime show traits are involved in breeding, something else is sacrificed," says Dennis Riordan, DVM, of the Riordan Pet Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa.
For bench and field-bred springers, that sacrifice will mostly be in the "looks vs. abilities" area. Field-bred springers will instinctually be the better hunting dog, but will also have more variation in size or coloration. Meanwhile, bench-bred springers may take a little more work to train for hunting, but they will also adapt more readily to a home-and-family lifestyle. Bench-bred pups may also have slightly lower requirements for physical activity or a higher threshold for boredom.
Both dogs have the same basic lifespans, health concerns, and general temperament. But in other respects, "It's tremendous how much variation you can find within the breed," Riordian says.
Whether bench or field-bred, English springer spaniels are highly intelligent, playful, extremely social dogs. They love water and will look for every opportunity to splash around. English springer spaniels generally get along well with children and other animals, though the field-bred springers may have their hunting instincts triggered by cats or other small animals. Similarly, if left to their own devices in a backyard, it may be at the peril of any lingering birds.
Despite their hunting nature around small animals, English springer spaniels are quick to greet humans with a tail wag and sloppy kisses. They may alert bark as someone approaches the door, but always in more of a friendly greeting than any kind of warning.
This intelligence, coupled with their natural desire to hunt and work, also makes the English springer spaniel pick up cues easily. She's an excellent candidate for agility coursework, as well as hunting and obedience competitions. English springer spaniels are happiest when they have a job to do and will relish the daily training and practice these events require.
As with any breed, the more you can understand about a pup's bloodlines, the better you can gauge how an individual pup will behave.
"Pay attention to the parents," Riordan says. "The mother is most often the one that's available, but take a look at both parents, if you can. Watch their demeanor and you'll have a good clue about the pups."
The English springer spaniel can adapt to a wide variety of living spaces and situations. The two constants that must be a part of their lives, however, are physical activity and human interaction. Both varieties of English springer spaniel are dogs that will require daily outdoor activity time, preferably with plenty of room to run. Once mature, they make good jogging companions, hiking buddies, and will play fetch until you're too tired to throw any more.
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Similarly, both versions of the dog will also bond with the humans in the house quickly—and intensely. This can result in separation anxiety if they are left alone for more than a couple hours at a time, which can in turn result in chewing or stress barking. If left outside unattended for long periods of time, a bored springer can become a digger who might destroy your flower beds if left to her own devices.
Those considerations aside, English springer spaniels have been known to adapt well to a wide variety of homes (even apartments, as long as they get their daily run in) and have reputations as low-maintenance, easygoing companions.
English springer spaniels' grooming needs are pretty basic. The field-bred dogs are slightly easier to maintain, as their hair is less prone to matting or retaining burrs and debris, but both versions will benefit from a brush-down twice a week. They can be moderate shedders, especially in the spring when they drop their thick undercoat.
English springer spaniels aren't afraid of a little (or a lot of) mud and dirt, so dogs that spend a lot of time outside will require more bathing. As a general rule, both versions of the dog should be bathed once every three months or so. Like all dogs, their nails should be trimmed and tidy (if you hear them click-clacking across the floor, it's time for a trim).
The English springer spaniel's high intelligence makes her a willing and able training partner. Whether you're teaching her the basics like sitting on cue and coming when called or training her for the field, always use positive reinforcement for the best results (and a happy pup).
As with most dogs with long ears, ear infections can be a problem for English springer spaniels, and owners should inspect and clean their ears regularly to prevent inflammation.
Additionally, obesity is a problem for the breed, especially if their physical activity needs aren't being met. Obesity can create or exacerbate joint, back, or gastrointestinal problems, as well as triggering the English springer spaniel's higher than average propensity for diabetes. Talk to your vet about how much and how often you should feed your springer spaniel to help with weight management.
The other most common health issues for English springer spaniels, according to the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association (ESSFTA), include elbow dysplasia or hip dysplasia, retinal dysplasia, and skin disorders. They're also at risk of Phosphofructokinase deficiency (PFK), which can make pups anemic and prone to muscle pain.
There's evidence that spaniel-type dogs existed in the U.K. as early as 300 AD, according to the ESSFTA. Over the centuries, these dogs were used to spring (hence the name) game for hawks, coursing hounds, and nets. When the wheel lock firearm came about in the 17th century, the spaniel thrived at flushing game for "flying shooting" hunting.
By the turn of the 19th century, dogs of the same spaniel litters were being separated into "springing," and "cocking" classes, based primarily on size and weight. This eventually led to the separation of the cocker and springer into genetically different breeds. The American Kennel Club recognized the English springer spaniel in 1910.
- English springer spaniels are renowned sniffer dogs and have been used in a variety of police, military, and civilian rescue operations around the globe. Two English springer spaniels—Buster and Theo—served as bomb-sniffing dogs in the Middle East and were awarded the Dickin Medal for "conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving in military conflict."
- Though it wouldn't become its own distinct breed for another 600 years, William Wallace (Braveheart) owned a springer spaniel named Merlin, who strode with him into the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.
- George H.W. Bush had a springer spaniel named Millie throughout his term as President of the United States. Perhaps the most famous dog in White House history, Millie was portrayed in episodes of "Murphy Brown" and "The Simpsons," was mentioned by Bush by name in his presidential stump speeches, and she even became a New York Times bestselling author.
- One of Millie's offspring, Spot Fetcher, would go on to serve as another president's First Pet. George W. Bush brought her with him for the first four years of his administration, making her the only pet to date to live in the White House for two non-consecutive terms.