The English Springer Spaniel is a breed of sporting dog native to England. This breed is one of the oldest gundogs in the world, and is the breed from which almost all other English Spaniels were developed. The English Springer Spaniel and the English Cocker Spaniel were considered to be the same breed until well into the 20th Century. Although this breed was once comprised almost entirely of working gundogs, over the course of the last century two distinct lines have developed, a working line and a conformation show line. The English Springer Spaniel is sometimes known as the Springer Spaniel, the Springer, or the ESS.
Although this breed has continued to develop over time, and modern dogs are substantially different than older ones, The English Springer Spaniel is a very old breed. Most dog experts agree that this breed is the oldest surviving English Spaniel, and that it is the foundation from which most other English Spaniels were developed. This breed was first developed in an era before written records of dog breeding were kept. As a result, most of the breed’s origins have been lost to time. However, a great deal can be surmised based on what records have survived.
The English Springer Spaniel is a member of the Spaniel family, which also includes the Setters. This family is comprised of a large number of gundog and companion breeds native to Western Europe, most of which are known for their relatively long and feathered coats. The Spaniels were some of the earliest gundogs, and many actually predate the use of guns for hunting. This family is one of the most mysterious of all dog groups, and no one really knows where, when, or how they were first developed. The name Spaniel entered the English language from the French word Epagnuel. Epagnuel is frequently translated as Spaniard or Spanish. This would seem to imply that these breeds were developed in the country of Spain. However, there is virtually no evidence to support this theory. Additionally, the first documented records of Spaniels come from a time before the modern nation of Spain was formed from the amalgamation of several distinct Iberian kingdoms. Epagnuel could also be translated as having something to do with Hispania, a Roman province which comprised much of modern day Spain and Portugal. Due to the age of Spaniels, this theory may be more likely.
There are three other major theories relating to the origin of Spaniels. The one which has gained the most favor recently is that Spaniels were developed by the Celts and that the Welsh and English Springer Spaniels most closely resemble the original Spaniels. It is difficult to deny that almost all Spaniels originated in countries with major Celtic influences, France, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. It is very possible to combine this theory with a Spanish origin as much of Spain was once inhabited by a people closely related to the Celts, the Celtiberians. Perhaps the Celtiberians were especially fond of these dogs and gave them the name of their homeland. The second major theory is that Spaniels are descended from such Asian breeds as the Tibetan Spaniel and Japanese Chin, which were supposedly brought to the Roman Empire across the Silk Road. This theory is highly unlikely. While many East Asian companion dogs do superficially resemble Spaniels, there is likely no actual connection to them. Additionally, none of the Asian breeds suggested as possible Spaniel ancestors were working hunting breeds. The third major theory is that Spaniels are descended from Middle Eastern dogs brought back to Europe by Crusaders and Pilgrims. This theory may be the most likely. The first records of Spaniels date from a few centuries after the Crusades ended, which would make this theory fit historically. Additionally, the Middle Eastern upper classes have long favored a sighthound breed known as the Saluki. The coats of some Salukis closely resemble those of Spaniels, especially around the ears and tails. During the Middle Ages, most of Hispania was ruled by Islamic Conquerors, who likely would have brought their Salukis with them. It is quite possible that the first contact the French had with these dogs was in Spain, and mistakenly thought they had been developed there.
However the Spaniels were first developed, by the time of the Renaissance they had spread across Western Europe. From a very early time, Spaniel breeds had two distinct purposes, hunting and companionship. Some of the earliest known depictions of Spaniels come from Renaissance artists who portrayed the diminutive toy Spaniels of their wealthy patrons. However, there were also hunting Spaniels at this time. Spaniels functioned as gundogs, even though hunting guns had not yet been developed. Instead, these dogs would find birds for their masters, and then flush them into the air. Once in the air, the hunter would either send a falcon to dispatch the birds or throw a net to catch them. Toy Spaniels were popular across Western Europe, but working Spaniels were primarily used in France and the British Isles. One of the first descriptions of a working Spaniel dates from 1387, when the French nobleman Count Gaston de Foix wrote of the breed. He described a dog that would not only flush game for falcons or hounds, but also retrieve dead game from the water. Although all working Spaniels were probably once the same breed, they quickly developed into several. Each breed had a distinct terrain or preferred game species.
In what is now the United Kingdom, the first division among Spaniels related to the terrain on which they worked. There were Land Spaniels and Water Spaniels. The first description of the Land Spaniel comes from 1576, when the famed Englishman Dr. John Caius wrote ‘The Treatise of Englishe Dogs’. This book described how the Land Spaniel worked and also its appearance. Caius said that Spaniels were, “nearly all white. If they have any spots, these are red, and scarce and big. There is also a red and black variety.” Shortly thereafter in 1637, Aldrovandrus described the Spaniel’s appearance in slightly greater detail, “Floppy ears, the chest, belly, and feet, white, picked (ticked) out with black, the rest of the body black.” The difference between the two descriptions may indicate recent breeding preferences, or it may indicate that Spaniels were quite variable in appearance from region to region. Although it is unclear exactly when, at some point around this time a new Spaniel breed was developed from the Land Spaniel. This dog hunted differently and was known as the Setting Spaniel. This breed later gave rise to the Setters. The Land Spaniel continued to develop, and became quite variable in appearance. In 1801, Sydenham Edwards wrote the Cynographia Brittanica. In this book, he detailed how the Land Spaniel could be divided into two distinct varieties, the Springing, Hawking, or Starter Spaniel and the Cocking Spaniel. The Cocking Spaniel was smaller and used primarily to hunt woodcock. The Springing Spaniel got its name because it would spring (flush) birds into the air. Although recognized as different varieties, the two dogs were still considered the same breed and were regularly born from the same litters.
During the 19th Century, a number of Spaniel varieties were developed. The first record of an attempt to keep a variety of Springing Spaniel pure comes from 1812, when the Boughey family of Shropshire began to develop the Shropshire Spaniel. Another variety of Springing Spaniel became common throughout England, the Norfolk Spaniel. Although some claim this breed earned its name from the Duke of Norfolk, it was most because it was especially common in Norfolk. These dogs were primarily liver and white in color. Stonehenge described them in his famed 1867 work, ‘The Dog’. Stonehenge praised the working abilities of the Norfolk Spaniel, as well as their usefulness. However, he also wrote that they were not kept especially pure. Throughout the 19th Century, English Springer Spaniels, Welsh Springer Spaniels, and English Cocker Spaniels were treated as separate varieties of the same breed, and would regularly be born into the same litter. The larger dogs (over 25 or so pounds) were treated as Springer Spaniels and the smaller ones were treated as Cocker Spaniels. Springer Spaniels were further divided by color, with red and white dogs being considered Welsh Springer Spaniels and all other colors being considered English Springer Spaniels.
During the 1800’s, a variety of distinct Spaniel breeds were developed in the United Kingdom. Almost all of these were primarily or partially descended from the English Springer, such as the Field Spaniel, the Sussex Spaniel, and the Clumber Spaniel. At some point, all three breeds were considered to be mere varieties of the English Springer Spaniel. Towards the end of the 1800’s, there was a growing desire to standardize the Spaniels. In 1899, the Sporting Spaniel Society was formed and held its first trials on the estate of its primary founder, William Arkwright. In 1902, the Kennel Club accepted the name English Springer Spaniel, and at this time Welsh Springer Spaniels and English Cocker Spaniels were formally separated into different breeds. In 1903, the Norfolk Spaniel and Shropshire Spaniels were officially integrated into the English Springer Spaniel, and these breeds ceased to exist independently at that point. However, in the United Kingdom, English Cocker Spaniels were allowed to interbreed with English Springer Spaniels until the 1920’s.
It is unclear exactly when the first English Springer Spaniels arrived in America. There were Spaniels in the United States since around 1700. These dogs were not purebred in the modern sense, but would have been considered the same breed as their English Spaniel counterparts. Initially, Spaniels were not nearly as popular as gundogs in America as they were in England and France. American sportsmen greatly preferred Setters and Pointers. However, Americans did develop at least two unique Spaniel breeds, the American Water Spaniel and the Boykin Spaniel. It is thought that the English Springer Spaniel played at least a small role in the development of both breeds. In 1907, the first pedigreed English Springer Spaniels arrived in America. These dogs were imported for Robert Dumont Foote of Morristown, New Jersey. In 1910, the American Kennel Club (AKC) first granted recognition to the English Springer Spaniel, and a female named Denne Lucy became the first registered dog. This breed began to grow in popularity, but remained far less popular among sportsmen than Setters and Pointers. The English Springer Spaniel began to rapidly grow in popularity after 1924, when the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association (ESSFTA) was formed. The ESSFTA began to host sporting and conformation events, and eventually became the official parent club for the breed with the AKC in 1927. The ESSFTA events began to popularize the English Springer Spaniel as a working gun dog in the United States. In 1932, the United Kennel Club (UKC) also granted the breed formal recognition.
As the 20th Century wore on, the English Springer Spaniel became increasingly popular in the United States. Although the breed has never been as popular as the English Cocker Spaniel in England or the American Cocker Spaniel in the United States, it has gotten close in recent years. From a relatively early time, the English Springer Spaniel’s beautiful coat made it a popular dog in the show ring. As the decades passed, the English Springer Spaniel began to make a name for itself as a companion animal. This breed is known for being exceptionally sweet-natured and playful. Gradually, two distinct lines of English Springer Spaniel developed, a working line and a conformation/companion line. Working dogs tend to be somewhat shorter hair, and to have more white on their coats. They also are generally higher energy with a stronger working drive. Although the two lines are now distinct, they are still considered the same breed and are allowed to interbreed. Additionally, working and conformation lines of English Springer Spaniels are considered to be considerably closer than is the case for many other gundogs, such as the Irish Setter and the English Setter. There is also less acrimony between breeders of the different lines. The English Springer Spaniel has grown in popularity to the point where it is now one of the most common breeds in America. It regularly ranks in the top 20 breeds among UKC registrations and in the top 30 breeds among AKC registrations. In 2010, the breed ranked 29th out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations. While this breed is not nearly as popular as such breeds as the Labrador Retriever or Yorkshire Terrier, it is still very well-known and has earned a very large number of fanciers. English Springer Spaniel numbers seem to have stabilized over the past decade, which is just fine as far as most breed fanciers are concerned.
In recent years, the English Springer Spaniel has become one of the most popular “sniffer dogs” in the world. This breed is commonly used by police, customs, and military organizations to fight crime and terrorism. This breed is a common sight in airports, border checkpoints, and police stations, where it uses its keen nose to find drugs, bombs, chemicals, and other contraband or dangerous material. There are many reasons the English Springer Spaniel has become so popular for this purpose. Most importantly, it has a keen nose and strong work ethic. It is also very eager to please and trainable. The breed is known for being friendly and non-aggressive, making it an ideal choice for working in areas where there are likely to be large numbers of innocent people. Finally, this breed is medium-sized, and thus more portable and less expensive to maintain than larger dogs. Sweden, Finland, the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, and Qatar are some of the nations with the largest number of English Springer Spaniels employed as sniffer dogs.
A sizable number of English Springer Spaniels remain working dogs in the United States. Some are employed as sniffer dogs, although other breeds such as Beagles, Bloodhounds, and German Shepherds are preferred for that purpose in this country. A considerably greater number are working gundogs, although other Spaniel breeds are much more commonly used for that purpose here, especially the Brittany and the Boykin Spaniel. Smaller numbers of English Springer Spaniels have found work as service dogs, therapy animals, and agility and obedience competitors. However, as is the case with most modern breeds, the vast majority of English Springer Spaniels in America are now companion animals. Although even show and companion lines retain a great amount of working ability, this is a dog that adapts very well to life as a pet provided its exercise and other care needs are met.
The English Springer Spaniel is probably the most “typical” of all Spaniels in terms of appearance. If you think of what a Spaniel looks like, you are probably thinking of the English Springer Spaniel. This breed is on the larger end of what would be considered a medium-sized dog. The ideal height for males is 20 inches tall at the shoulders, and the ideal weight is approximately 50 pounds. The ideal height for females is 19 inches tall at the shoulders, and the ideal weight is approximately 40 pounds. There is little difference in size between working and conformation lines, but working lines tend to be somewhat leaner. This is a generally well-proportioned breed, although most specimens are slightly longer than they are tall. The English Springer Spaniel is a sturdily built dog, but is certainly not especially thick. All of these dogs should be athletic and well-muscled, but this is especially true of working dogs. The tail of the English Springer Spaniel is traditionally docked to between two and five inches in length, but this practice is falling out of favor and is actually illegal in some countries. The natural tail of the English Springer Spaniel is quite long, and tapers to a point. All breed members hold their tails straight and almost level with the body.
This breed has the friendly Spaniel face which helped to popularize the entire family. This breed has a medium length head, which is slightly rounded. The muzzle of English Springer Spaniels is distinct from the rest of the head, but this is less true of working lines. This muzzle is quite long and wide, giving the breed a greater area for scent receptors. This end of the muzzle is relatively flat, and the lips fully cover the jaws, giving these dogs the appearance of having a square muzzle. The eyes are oval shaped, and set far apart. These eyes are quite expressive, and have been described as being among the most human-like of all dogs. The color of the eyes should be a similar to that of the color of the coat. Similarly, English Springer Spaniels will have either a black or liver-colored nose, depending on the coat color. Like most Spaniels, the ears of an English Springer Spaniel are quite long and hang low close to the head.
English Springer Spaniels are double-coated. They have soft, dense undercoats and long outer coats. The outer coat of this breed may be either flat or wavy. In some dogs, especially those from working lines, the coat may be almost curly, but this is greatly disfavored in the show ring. The fur on the face, head, front of the front legs, and lower portion of the front of the back legs is short and fine. Elsewhere it is medium to long. The ears, chest, backs of the legs, belly, and tail are well-feathered. Dogs from working lines generally have shorter coats and less feathering, but the difference is usually not extreme. The English Springer Spaniel comes in several acceptable color combinations: black with white markings, white with black markings, liver with white markings, white with liver markings, blue or liver roan, black and white with tan markings, and liver and white with tan markings. Any portion of white on the coat may be ticked (have very small sports of color). This breed occasionally is born with other colors such as red or orange, such dogs are not acceptable in the show ring. While both show and working dogs may appear in any of those patterns, show lines tend to be predominantly colored while working lines tend to be predominantly white.
The English Springer Spaniel has the typical temperament of a gundog. This breed tends to be very even-tempered. The English Springer Spaniel is known for being intensely loyal and for forming very close bonds with its family. This is definitely a breed that many owners would describe as their best friend. These dogs want to be with their favorite people 24/7. This can be a problem as this breed is known to develop very severe separation anxiety. It is not unheard of for these dogs to develop such severe separation anxiety that they become self-mutilators. This is not the ideal breed for those who have to leave their dog alone for hours every day. The English Springer Spaniel is known for being very friendly. If properly socialized, most of these dogs will warmly greet strangers, who they generally see as potential friends. Manners training is very important for most English Springer Spaniels, as this breed has a tendency to become inappropriate greeters, jumping on and licking guests. Some English Springer Spaniel lines are less friendly, with dogs that are generally reserved. However, this is a very polite breed, and few of these dogs are aggressive.
English Springer Spaniels make excellent watchdogs, but this breed makes a very poor guard dog as most would happily greet any intruder rather than show any aggression towards them. English Springer Spaniels have earned a reputation as family dogs that are good with children. Most English Springer Spaniels are extremely fond of children, who provide them with the extra attention and playtime that they crave. More than a few English Springer Spaniels have become a child’s best friend. Most breed members are very playful with and tolerant of children, although they may be so tolerant that they put up with a little too much abuse. English Springer Spaniels under the age of three may not be the best housemates for very young children as young breed members are quite exuberant and may bowl over small children while playing. Families which are willing and able to meet the exercise and care requirements of English Springer Spaniels are likely to be rewarded with the ultimate family companion.
Some Springer Spaniels have been known to develop dominance issues. Some dogs may come to think that they are the boss of a household. This problem is almost entirely restricted to show lines. There is some dispute as to the frequency of this problem, with some experts believing it is quite common in the breed and others thinking it is rather rare. This disparity is likely the result of dominance issues being largely limited to certain lines, and not a trait of the breed as a whole. Potential owners should carefully research their lines, and select only the most reputable breeders.
English Springer Spaniels are generally good with other animals. This breed tends to do well with other dogs, and most breed members would prefer to share their homes with a canine friend of the opposite sex. English Springer Spaniels are not known for having dominance, possessiveness, or territorial issues. However, many English Springer Spaniels, especially males, have issues with dogs of the same sex. While these issues are generally not especially severe, in some cases they can be. Some English Springer Spaniels may develop jealousy issues, and may have difficulty sharing the attention of their beloved people. This breed is best suited to life with dogs of similar energy levels, as they may pester low energy dogs in an attempt to play. English Springer Spaniels also tend to be good with non-canine animals. Although a hunting breed, these dogs were bred to locate and retrieve birds, but never to attack them. As a result, most English Springer Spaniels can be socialized with other animals. It is probably not advisable to leave them unsupervised with small animals, as they may accidentally injure them. When trained and socialized, most breed members will not show aggression to cats. They may, however, irritate them in an attempt to play.
English Springer Spaniels are incredibly intelligent and trainable dogs. Most canine intelligence studies place them between 10 and 15 among all AKC breeds in terms of intelligence. This is a breed that can be trained for essentially any canine job other than some complex herding behaviors and tasks which require aggression or brute strength. English Springer Spaniels have excelled at agility, obedience, and sporting dog competitions. They have also served with distinction as military and law enforcement dogs. Some English Springer Spaniels have even become service dogs, taking on roles usually reserved for Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. This is also a dog that is quite easily trained. This breed was bred to be willing to please, and it certainly is. Most English Springer Spaniels live to make their owners happy. This breed will quickly and easily be taught basic obedience and manners. For owners who are willing to take the extra time and efforts, they can end up with a fabulously trained animal. This breed does tend to be a little bit sensitive, and does not respond well to harsh training techniques such as yelling. Positive reinforcements and treats work best for English Springer Spaniels.
English Springer Spaniels need a substantial amount of exercise. This breed is definitely best suited to active families. These dogs are capable of working for long hours, and definitely love to play for long hours. This is not a breed that will be satisfied with a couple of daily potty walks. Working lines need substantially more exercise than conformation show lines, but both should get at least an hour of rigorous exercise a day. This breed needs a long walk at the least, but would probably prefer a jog. English Springer Spaniels are happiest when they have an opportunity to run around in an enclosed area. Most breed members love to play, and will happily play fetch or any other canine game. It is absolutely imperative that breed members get the exercise that they need, as the vast majority of the behavioral problems experienced by this breed are the result of lack of exercise. Unexercised English Springer Spaniels are very likely to become destructive, hyper-excitable, and excessively vocal. That being said, English Springer Spaniels that have not had their needs met will generally be quite calm and relaxed indoors. Some dogs may always be somewhat on the hyperactive side though. For many owners, this breed’s activity level is what makes it so desirable. English Springer Spaniels are pretty much willing and able to do anything physical with their owners. This breed loves both water and land activities, and is always ready for an adventure. Whether you love to go hiking in the mountains or boating on the river, an English Springer Spaniel would love to go with you. Until they are quite old, English Springer Spaniels can go for as long as you can, and probably longer.
English Springer Spaniels are known to become excitable urinators. Some English Springer Spaniels are so happy to see their owners or a new person that they cannot hold it in, and pee on the floor. The dog doesn’t mean to do this, it simply cannot help itself. This can range from just a few drops to a substantial amount. Because the dog is not doing this on purpose, it is one of the most difficult behavioral problems to correct.
English Springer Spaniels can develop one very serious behavioral issue. This issue is most commonly known as Rage Syndrome, but also Sudden Onset Aggression and Springer Rage. Rage Syndrome first appears between 3 months and 2 years of age. The condition is slightly different in each affected dog, but all have sudden outbursts of extreme aggression. Often, the eyes of the dog glaze over before the aggression starts. This is followed by general snappiness, sometimes at nothing in particular. In extreme cases, this aggression becomes a severe attack at anyone or anything around the dog. Most dogs have a specific trigger for these episodes, such as being approached in their sleep. Dogs with Rage Syndrome do no seem to be able to control their attacks, nor do they seem conscious of them. Most will warmly approach those whom they attacked mere minutes after an episode as if nothing had happened. This condition is much more common in the closely-related English Cocker Spaniel where it was first identified. It is now thought that Rage Syndrome is genetic and inheritable, and may in fact be a form of epilepsy. In America, this condition has been traced back to one champion English Springer Spaniel who became a popular stud dog, and it only makes appearances in certain lines. Only show or mixed show and working line English Springer Spaniels develop this condition and as of 2010, not a single case has ever been reported from dogs from pure working lines. The treatment for Rage Syndrome varies from dog to dog, but for some severe cases euthanasia is the best option. Some veterinarians dispute the existence of Rage Syndrome and claim that these dogs are actually displaying a form of dominance aggression. However, many breeders and fanciers insist that Rage Syndrome is distinct and has nothing to do with dominance issues.
The English Springer Spaniel has substantial grooming requirements, but not especially extreme. This breed needs its coat groomed almost daily, in order to prevent tangles and mats from developing. Potential tangles and mats must be worked out carefully. This breed also needs to have some hair trimming done, especially around the feet. While it is very possible for owners to do this on their own, most choose to have their dogs professionally groomed several times a year. Many owners actually choose to have their dogs trimmed into a much shorter cut to allow for easier maintenance. Special attention must be paid to this breeds ears, as they can collect dirt and grime. In order to prevent irritation and infection, they must be cleaned on a regular basis.
The health of English Springer Spaniels is determined more by individual lines than is the case for most breeds. There are major differences between working and show lines, but also between different show lines. English Springer Spaniels from working lines tend to be very healthy dogs with few health problems. These dogs are bred to work, and any health problem would make them less capable of performing their jobs and thus have been eliminated from their breeding lines. English Springer Spaniels from conformation lines tend to be considerably less healthy. Such dogs tend to be more inbred, as well as more subjected to poor breeding practices. Both major types tend to be quite long-lived, with life expectancies of between 12 and 14 years. However, many dogs from show lines experience discomfort for many years before they pass.
English Springer Spaniels are known to suffer from high percentages of two of the most common problems found in purebred dogs, Hip/Elbow Dysplasia and eye problems. Hip dysplasia is a genetic problem which results in the malformation of the hip joint. As a dog ages, this malformation causes discomfort, pain, and sometimes even lameness. Although genetic in nature, the onset and severity of hip dysplasia can be impacted by a number of environmental factors. There is no cure for hip dysplasia once it develops, but there are a variety of treatments. English Springer Spaniels are known to suffer from a number of eye problems. Many of these dogs suffer from entropion or ectropion, which are deformation of the eyelids. Progressive Retinal Atrophy and cataracts, both of which can lead to blindness are also relatively common in this breed. Depending on the type of eye problem, there may or may not be a treatment available. Luckily, veterinary researchers are developing tests for most of these conditions, and responsible breeders are working to eliminate them from their lines.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
A full list of health problems known to be experienced by English Springer Spaniels would have to include: