The Spaniel Group - Not Just 'Pretty' Dogs!

Spaniels are classified by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as sporting dogs.

Sporting dogs comprise retrievers, pointers and setters as well as spaniels. Spaniels are the biggest group and usually the smaller of the sporting dogs.

All sporting dogs are alert, active and energetic. While they make great dogs for active families, they need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation or they will become bored and/or destructive. The original use of the spaniel was to flush prey from deep cover and to retrieve that prey once shot by the hunter.

The American Water Spaniel and the Boykin spaniel are both 'State Dogs'. The former is the State Dog of Wisconsin and the latter the State Dog of South Carolina. Three spaniel breeds were among the original nine breeds recognised when the American Kennel Club first began back in 1884. The three breeds were the Clumber spaniel, Irish water spaniel and Sussex spaniel. Interestingly the nine breeds were all from what is now known as the sporting group. The other breeds were the pointer, Chesapeake Bay retriever, English setter, Gordon setter and Irish setter.

American Water Spaniel(55217)Credit: Wikimedia

The American Water Spaniel (above) is a rare breed which was developed mainly in the Great Lakes region. It was the first native breed developed to retrieve from boats. The coat is either solid liver, brown or dark chocolate. It may be wavy, closely curled or somewhere between the two. It is a great family dog, with energy and enthusiasm but still obedient and keen to please. He ranges from 15 to 18 inches in height and weighs between 25 and 45 pounds. Although the coat is short it needs regular brushing. The breed was recognised by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1940.

Boykin Spaniel(55218)Credit: Wikimedia

The Boykin Spaniel (above) is of medium size, cheerful, energetic and a favourite with hunters. Its small size means it can be lifted into a boat from the water complete with its mouthful of waterfowl. It has a rich, chocolate-brown coat which should be brushed each week. The Boykin spaniel will easily cope with a full day in the field. It also loves company so would suit a houseful of children. It measures 14 to 18 inches at the shoulder depending on sex. It was recognised by the AKC in 2009.

Brittany SpanielCredit: Wikimedia

The Brittany Spaniel (above) is often just called the Brittany. It is of medium size, measuring between 17 ½ and 20 ½ inches and weighing between 30 and 40 pounds. It is a leggy dog with a hunting style more like a pointer. The coat is dense and may be flat or wavy. It is orange and white or liver and white. It may also have patches of colour or have a roan coat. It has become increasingly popular as it is a great companion, strong, willing and agile. It needs plenty of activity to keep his mind and body busy. The Brittany has been around for a long time and was recognised by the AKC in 1934.

Clumber spanielCredit: Wikimedia - Author Pleple2000

The Clumber Spaniel, (above) despite his dignified air, loves to play. He also has great enthusiasm for his work and will hunt all day. He is long and low and has a characteristic slow, rolling action. His white coat sometimes has lemon or orange patches. He is a loving dog and gets on well with other animals. While they like a daily walk, he isn't as agile and restless as some spaniels. He is intelligent and has an independent streak. He also tends to drool more than most breeds.

American Cocker SpanielCredit: Wikimedia - Author F. Genevey

The (American) Cocker Spaniel (above) has been shown in the United States since the 1880s. Like the Labrador retriever and the golden retriever, he is one of the most popular dog breeds according to AKC statistics. The body is sturdy and compact and the coat is silky. It may be flat or wavy. He is surprisingly fast and has great stamina. Cockers can be black (with or without tan points), parti-coloured or any solid colour. The Cockers are the smallest of the spaniels (13 ½ to 15 ½ inches) and the American Cocker has now a rather different appearance to the English Cocker (qv). He is a very capable gun dog, obedient and happy to work in water. He is intelligent and gentle, ideal as a family dog.

English Cocker SpanielCredit: Wikimedia - Author Adam Kumiszcza

The English Cocker (above) has a compact, solid body. Despite its soft expression it is a strong worker who is tireless and tough. The coat may be a solid colour or parti-coloured. The English Cocker Spaniel Club of America formed in 1935 to promote the breed and keep it pure in its own right. The American-type Cocker was developing at that time and the types were declared separate breeds by the AKC in 1946. With daily exercise, the cocker will be happy wherever he lives. The coat is a medium length and does needs some maintenance.

English Springer SpanielCredit: Wikimedia - Author Heinz Höfling

The English Springer Spaniel (above) is a stylish dog with a powerful body. Like most spaniels, he is keen to please and has great enthusiasm for his work – and play! The ears are long and hanging. The coat is moderately long and may be black or liver with white, liver or blue roan or tricolour. Originally there was little difference between springers and cockers. The pups in a litter would be sorted according to size with the larger pups used to flush or 'spring' game and their smaller siblings (cockers) used to hunt woodcock. The two were declared separate breeds in 1902 by the Kennel Club of England. Like all spaniels with longer coats, they need regular grooming and trimming. They stand between 19 to 20 inches at the shoulder and weigh from 40 to 50 pounds.

Field SpanielCredit: Wikimedia - Author Jo-Anna Ghadban

The Field Spaniel (above) is of medium size measuring 17 to 18 inches at the shoulder. It is a sensible dog with pendulous ears and a single water-repellent coat. He is an excellent flushing spaniel with great endurance and perseverance. His dense coat may be black, liver or golden liver with or without tan or white markings. The breed came close to becoming extinct and is still rare today. He is docile and devoted to his family although he takes a while to accept strangers. His coat requires less care than the longer-haired breeds.

Irish Water SpanielCredit: Wikimedia - Author Pleple2000

The Irish Water Spaniel (above) has been called the clown of the spaniels. He is the tallest of the group and is strong and intelligent. The liver-coloured coat is unique among spaniels with its dense, tight ringlets as is the 'rat-tail' which is thick and covered with curls at the base but tapers to a fine point which has short, smooth hair. The coat is hypo-allergenic. This is a very ancient breed. He stands 21 to 24 inches at the shoulder.

Sussex SpanielCredit: Wikimedia - Author Pleple2000

The (English) Sussex Spaniel (above) is another very old breed, the appearance of which hasn't altered much. He was prized as an ideal field dog for a hunter on foot. The coat is a rich, golden liver. The body is long, low and very solid. The Sussex has excellent scenting skills and works well in dense undergrowth. He is not as fast as some of the spaniel breeds but makes up for any shortcomings in other ways. Although he appears somewhat sombre he has a cheery disposition and is good with children and other dogs. He drools quite a lot and his long, thick ear hair should be inspected regularly for burrs.

Welsh Springer SpanielCredit: Wikimedia

The Welsh Springer Spaniel (above) was built for hard work. He is compact with slightly webbed feet and an excellent sense of smell. He is equally at home on land or in the water hunting and retrieving. The coat is always a beautiful red and white. His original purpose was to 'spring' game towards a net or into the air prior to the use of guns. The Welsh Springer is active and has an excellent temperament. Because he can be stubborn, training should be started at an early age. He needs plenty of exercise and regular brushing.

With their happy natures and fun-loving ways, it is little wonder that spaniels have found a place in many households.