Introduction And History
Whether you are searching for the perfect family pet or you want to try your hand at hunting or showing, finding the right breed of dog is essential to success. The English Springer Spaniel can satisfy all these needs and, as I have found out through personal experience, bring so much more into you life.
The name 'Spaniel' first appears in written form almost 2,000 years ago, in 17 A.D. It is generally agreed that the name 'Spaniel' has origins in the Roman times, where it refers to Spain. It could also have come from the French term 'Chans Du Espagnol', translated into 'dogs from Spain'. Both of these popular forms of history form the consensus that the Spaniel breed is historically native to Spain.
In the late 14th century the historic hunting book 'Livre de Chasse' was published by Gaston de Foix, within this book Gaston described the actions of a working dog used for flushing out game and retrieving game from both land and water. This seems remarkably familiar to the well-known English Springer Spaniel, as we will find out.
By the 19th century Spaniels had been used as working dogs for a significant amount of time, and had now been divided into two group, largely based on weight. The Cocker Spaniel and the English (Springer) Spaniel. The latter of these two is the heavier breed and, as such, was used for retrieving more weighty game during hunts.
Description Of The English Springer Spaniel
The English Springer Spaniel is a medium sized dog that is generally well proportioned and well balanced. They have a moderately long coat that they shed during spring and summer months, their coat commonly includes feathering on the bottom of the tail and the backs fo their legs. In terms of colour, they either come with a black of liver coat with white markings, or a predominantly white coat with black or liver markings. In addition to this, Springer Spaniels can also come with tricolour coats, where the traditional black/liver and white markings have the addition of tan colour sections.
Segregation of the gene pool has been occurring amongst Springer Spaniels for at least 70 years, in order to separate those that are bred for working purposes and those that are bred for showing purposes. Due to this, there is a fairly large difference between the two. The dogs bred for working purposes such as the flushing and retrieval of game usually have shorter coats, smaller ears, a shorter tail and a generally thinner and lighter appearance. Showing dogs are bred to have a heavier and more robust build, but lack to speed, agility, and stamina to perform as working dogs.
Overall Springer Spaniels are similar in appearance to Cocker Spaniels, but for the size difference. In addition, Springers have a longer muzzle, smaller eyes and a shorter coat than Cockers. United Kingdom Breed Standard guidelines state that male English Springer Spaniels should be 20 inches tall at the withers, weighing 23 to 25 kilograms, whilst female Springers should be 17 to 19 inches at the withers and weigh between 16 and 20 kilograms.
Behaviour and Personality
Spaniels as a whole are very fond of human attention and strive to please the owner of handler as much as possible. This works in their advantage and makes them quick learners and very willing to obey (if it gets them the attention they crave). As well as being obedient and eager to please, Spaniels are also very affectionate and have very little natural aggression in their genes. This makes them incredibly good as family pets, as they are easily trainable, obedient, affectionate and great around children.
In addition to their good natured temperament, English Springer Spaniels are very alert and attentive, and ranked as the 13th most intelligent breed of dog, this makes them an excellent breed for working and hunting purposes.
As you might guess from the name, Springer Spaniels are a breed of dog with excessive amounts of energy, and they need plenty of physical and mental stimulation in order to avoid boredom (which can often lead to them becoming destructive). Of course, as with any breed, each dog is unique. From personal experience, our Springer is quite happy to take a day off playing and rest, but we once met an old couple who had a Springer that would happily go on 20 mile walks and still be full of energy.
Whilst generally a healthy dog, Springer Spaniels do have a few health problems that are more commonly found in them in comparison to other breeds. Major problem areas with Springers are the ears, eyes and hips. Hip dysplasia is a common issue amongst older Springers, this condition regularly leads to arthritis and is more common in overweight dogs (Springer Spaniels tend to gain weight more easily than a lot of breeds). There are also a variety of conditions that can lead to eye problems such as vision impairment, vision loss and surgery (ingrowing eyelash hairs are more common in Spaniels than other breeds of dog). Also, due to their floppy ears, ear infections are very common, this can be countered easily by flushing the ears out with a saline solution once a week to prevent the accumulation of infectious bacteria.
This shows the differences between working Springer Spaniels (left) and showing Springer Spaniels (right).
Common Uses For English Springer Spaniels
Whilst many, many families choose the English Springer Spaniel as a family pet, they also have a great many uses outside of pure enjoyment. In a working sense, Springers are used widely for the flushing out of game such as waterfowl and then retrieving hunted game that has landed in both wet or dry conditions (Springers absolutely love the water). They are amongst the best in the business at the retrieval of game due to their soft mouth, which means retrieving animal carcasses without puncturing it with their teeth, and good sense of smell in both wet and dry environments.
Due to this good sense of smell, they are also used as sniffer dogs for the detection of explosives, blood, and drugs, and are also used as search and rescue dogs. To illustrate their ability to use their nose in wet and dry conditions, and their soft mouth, I will include a story from one of my neighbours, who adopted a not-quite-up-to-scratch sniffer dog when he failed his entrance exam to the police force. One Sunday morning she was out walking her dog, taking him to the beach, as she got to the car park of the beach her Spaniel shot off across the grass sniffing frantically. A few seconds later he appeared back by her side with a small clear plastic bag full of white powder. Panicking, the owner of the dog took it off him and threw the bag into the sea, Glen (her dog) immediately ran out to sea and returned a minute later with the bag back between his teeth! The owner then had the sense to pocket the drugs and take them to the local police station, ever since this happened she has been worried about taking Glen out near any bars!
The English Springer Spaniel is truly an all purpose dog, used as a pet, for working and for showing. Their extremely good natured personality and eagerness to please leaves the owner never wanting another dog. When we first got our little puppy we regularly heard the sentence "Once you get a Springer, you'll never want anything else" and everyone we meet who has one has reinforced that statement. It is no coincidence that, in our small village of about 150 residents and maybe 15 families with dogs, that eight of these families have chosen English Springer Spaniels. They are chosen because they are a joy to have in your life.
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