One of the oldest breeds of dog that is still around today is the English Springer Spaniel. This type of dog has been known for centuries in Great Britain, and were likely introduced by the Roman legions during Julius Caesar’s invasion of the island. Though this is speculation, there is some hard evidence of the Spaniel’s existence from as early as 300 AD. The breed was mentioned by name in an old Welsh law. As time passed, the Spaniel began to branch off into distinct breeds. The earliest depictions of the Springer Spaniel can be found in some 16th and 17th century artwork. Most of these paintings and prints showed the Springer Spaniel in their natural role – hunting.
Later in the breed’s history, the pups in a Spaniel litter would be divided by size. The smaller dogs would be used in the hunting of birds (particularly woodcock) and were called Cocker Spaniels. The larger dogs would be used to “spring” (flush) game and were thus called Springers. The breed was officially recognized by the The Kennel Club of Britain in 1902. Just over a decade later, the American Kennel Club also recognized the English Springer Spaniel as a distinct breed. The popularity of the breed soared, and many Springer Spaniels were purchased by Americans for different types of jobs and roles. They remain incredibly popular to this day, and represent one of the best breeds in the world.
If you own a Springer Spaniel, you know that they are a unique breed. They have a lot of characteristics or traits that need to be considered as a Spaniel owner. Whether you already have a Springer Spaniel, or if you’re considering adopting one in the future, read on to learn about Twenty Things Only Springer Spaniel Owners Would Understand.
They Are Extremely Intelligent
Springer Spaniels are some of the smartest dogs on the planet. In fact, they rank 13th in The Intelligence of Dogs by professor of canine psychology, Stanley Coren. In the book, they are given a high rating in all three types of canine intelligence (instinctive, adaptive, working and obedience). The intelligence of a Springer Spaniel can be a blessing or a curse. On one hand, they can be trained easily and will pick up on new tricks quickly. On the other hand, if they are not trained properly they could use their smarts to get into trouble. They might, for example, figure out how to tip over a trash can when no one is around.
They’re a Great Family Dog
Some of the traits displayed by most English Springer Spaniels include friendliness, eagerness, and obedience unmatched by most other breeds. Thus, if socialized properly, they can make perfect family dogs. Their affectionate and easy-going nature, plus their natural gentleness around children, are more traits that contribute to their family-dog status. They are fiercely loyal, and would do anything for their family. They also tend to choose a single family member to become “their” human, and will display the most loyalty to that particular person.
They Love the Water
Perhaps a trait passed down from their original hunting-based breeding, Springer Spaniels absolutely love the water. Whether it is a lake, river, pond, or even a puddle, they will beeline for their favorite substance to splash around, swim, and play. The original Springer Spaniels sometimes retrieved game from the water, so they needed to be bred to love swimming. After the advent of firearms, this breed would be trained to fetch any birds that the hunter shot. This was especially useful for a hunter whose prey fell into a body of water.
They Need Space
This breed of dog does not do well in tight spaces. If you live in an apartment, you will probably want to deeply consider whether your living space is sufficient for a Springer Spaniel. While they aren’t the biggest dogs in the world, their high energy more than makes up for their size. If they find themselves cramped into a small space for most of their lives, they could start to exhibit symptoms of mental distress. These dogs need to be able to run and stretch out. Thus, they are much better kept in a regular house (especially with a big yard) than a small apartment. Of course, the particular temperament of any Springer Spaniel is unique to the dog itself – but for the most part, they need a lot of living space.
You Need to Keep Their Ears Clean
As with other floppy-eared dogs, Springer Spaniels are especially prone to ear infections. Whether the infection is yeast or bacterial in nature, they are generally treated with antibiotics and cleaning the ears with a mildly-acidic solvent. This pH level slows the growth of the culprit microorganisms. Not all ear infections are avoidable. However, by cleaning your dog’s ears on a regular basis, you can prevent any foreign material from lodging within the ear and causing an infection. With a dog that likes to play outside like a Springer Spaniel, these types of infections are often caused by dirty ears.
There Are Two Types of Springer Spaniels
Ever since the 1940s, there has been a distinct difference between field-bred and show-bred Springer Spaniels. Though these two types of Springer Spaniels look completely different (and have had completely separate gene lines for almost a century) they are registered under the same breed. Field-bred dogs are mostly used for field competitions, displaying skills in retrieval, quartering, scenting, and other hunting-related abilities. They are not as beautiful as the show-bred line, but have much better speed and stamina. Field-bred dogs are selected for practical traits over aesthetic traits. The show-bred Springer Spaniels tend to have longer fur and floppier ears, as well as more loose skin around their muzzles, neck, and lips. They are more aesthetically-pleasing than the field-bred line, but cannot perform hunting-related skills to the same standards.
You Must Control Their Food Intake
For some other breeds, it might be okay to just fill up the dog bowl with some kibble, and let your dog eat as they please. Such dogs tend to self-regulate, and won’t overeat or gain weight easily. However, some Springer Spaniels will not stop eating until the food is completely gone. If you own a Springer Spaniel, you probably already know about controlling portion sizes. You must read the portion requirements on the side of the bag, and treat them as law. If you overfeed your Springer Spaniel, they will gain weight easily and could even become obese. Such unhealthy weight gain will contribute to myriad other health problems as well.
They Have a Strong Retrieval Instinct
One of the best parts about owning a Springer Spaniel is that they are naturally good at playing fetch. After centuries of being bred to assist hunters with retrieving game, they are ingrained with an incredibly strong retrieval instinct that ensures that they will (with proper training) bring a ball, frisbee, or dog toy back to you every time. Springer Spaniels can be entertained with a game of fetch for as long as their considerable reserves of energy are not depleted. This makes for a great way to let your dog get some exercise, and can be fun for both of you.
Keep an Eye Out for “Rage Syndrome”
Though this genetic disorder is incredibly rare, it can appear in certain show-bred English Springer Spaniels. It is marked by sudden, severe aggressive behavior towards any person who is nearby. After attacking, the dog may not even remember or realize that the attack took place. Oftentimes, they may even approach the person they attacked in a friendly manner. This cannot be trained out of a dog as it is a psychological disorder. Plus, it is hard to diagnose by anyone who is not trained in canine neurology – it can appear as a training issue or another form of aggression. After “rage syndrome” is diagnosed, there are a few treatments that can be used to decrease the incidence of these episodes. Some medications (including antiepileptics) have been effective. However, if no suitable medication can be found, then the dog must unfortunately be euthanized.
They’ve Got a Great Nose
All Springer Spaniels have an excellent sense of smell, with the field-bred dogs showing even greater aptitude for tracking with their nose. In fact, one of the main aspects of a field competition involving a Springer Spaniel is a test of scenting – which is a vital skill for a hunting dog to possess. Their noses have also led them to become detection dogs (or sniffer dogs). They have found themselves in roles such as arms and explosive search dogs, and have even been deployed to Iraq in this role. They can also sniff out bumblebee nests, illegal immigrants, blood, drugs, and even mobile phones. Murphy is a Springer Spaniel that was trained by HM Prison Service in Norwich to seek mobile phones. This particular dog is pretty cool because he can tell the difference between the cell phones of the guards and illegal phones held by the inmates, purely by sense of smell.
They Can Be Diggers
If an English Springer Spaniel is left outside for too long, or get too bored in your yard, they have a tendency to dig. This can lead to your yard looking a bit like the desert from Holes, unless you train it out of them. They dig because they have massive amounts of energy that they can’t easily control, especially when they are bored. Luckily, with the proper entertainment and training methods this problem can be easily solved. As mentioned before, one way to get them to stop thinking about digging is to start up a game of fetch.
They Are Soft-Mouthed
Being soft-mouthed means that they can carry things without leaving impressions of their teeth behind. This is a trait passed down by artificial selection, as Spaniels went through multiple generations that were bred for hunting. A soft-mouthed dog would not damage the retrieved game – a crucial aspect of being a good retriever. Whether a dog is soft-mouthed or not can determine its suitability for field trials. Most field-bred dogs are soft-mouthed, but some are hard-mouthed. A hard mouth is considered a serious flaw in a show dog, and will often lead to the dog being eliminated as a competitor before the show even starts.
They Need a Lot of Exercise
The average English Springer Spaniel must get daily walks, supplemented by play with toys or games. This is important because the breed is so high-energy, that they will turn these energy reserves to undesirable purposes if they do not get the necessary amount of activity. It is especially important to make sure that your dog gets the right amount of exercise if you live in a smaller house. A dog with pent-up energy in a small house is a recipe for disaster.
They’re Great Hunters
All we’ve been talking about in this article is how great Springer Spaniels are for hunting. But if you own one, you may have seen this firsthand. They are quick enough to catch small game – including rabbits and other rodents. Their hunting instinct is very powerful, and could lead to them clouding over when they see something they might like to chase. Whether it is a bird, a small animal, a laser pointer light, or a dog toy of some sort, you will see their hunting roots come forth firsthand.
They Can Be Destructive
Leaving a Springer Spaniel at home by themselves – especially a puppy – could lead to them completely trashing your house. They will chew, rip, tear, and destroy anything they can get their paws on. This is of particular concern when the dog is bored. If you need to leave your Springer Spaniel at home, make sure that they have a source of entertainment. The best thing to do for the dog would be to install a dog door, enabling them to go outside whenever they want. This way, instead of taking out their energy on your shoes and furniture, they can exhaust themselves by running around outside.
They Must Be Brushed Daily
The fur of a Springer Spaniel tends to mat quite easily. For a dog that enjoys being in the water, dirt, and sunshine, this isn’t that surprising. So, if you want to keep your dog’s coat clean and comfortable, you must brush your dog every day. This is especially important if you own a dog from the show-bred line of English Springer Spaniels. Their fur tends to be longer and silkier, and thus will form mats and dreads far more easily. Daily brushing is essential to keeping your dog at the top of their game.
They Might Not Get Along with Cats
Sure, the cat versus dog stereotype has been propagated for many years. However, in the case of the English Springer Spaniel, this could be true. If you leave a cat and a Springer Spaniel in the same room, you will probably soon hear the sounds of an interspecies brawl. This is attributable to the strong hunting instinct possessed by a Springer Spaniel. A cat might appear to be some sort of small game, and thus the dog will want to chase it. Every dog is different, and if you socialize a Springer Spaniel with cats as a puppy you may be able to train this instinct out of your dog. However, exercise caution if you elect to take this route.
They are Fast
English Springer Spaniels are some of the fastest spaniels that exist today. Their long-legged build has a lot to do with their speed and agility. Plus, their boundless energy is often expressed through max-speed sprinting, especially after a toy or ball. This trait would have been great for the early hunters, and remains important in field trials to this day. It also makes fetch pretty fun – throw a ball, and watch your dog take off as if they have rocket boosters attached to their legs!
Birds Are Not a Suitable Pet
Springer Spaniels get along with most pets, and can be trained to get along with a cat. However, they have a very strong instinct to go after birds (likely finding its roots from before Cocker and Springer Spaniels were divided by the Brits). Therefore, keeping a bird anywhere near a Springer Spaniel is not a wise idea. They could try to get the bird – even if it is in a cage – and you will end up facing a few scenarios. Either the bird will become food for your dog, or if the cage protects the bird it will be angry and distressed. It’s altogether better to avoid keeping birds if you own a Springer Spaniel (or any other type of hunting dog).
They Can Do Canine Sports
We’ve been talking a lot about field trials, and field-bred Springer Spaniels, but what exactly is a field trial? Well, it is a test of a few hunting skills that Springer Spaniels often display quite well. The dogs must perform a variety of tasks to particular standards in order to achieve a high score in a field trial. Tests include retrieval, quartering, flushing, steadying, and other hunting-related tasks. The competing dog is rated by its efficiency and form when completing these types of trials. Though most people don’t use their Springer Spaniels for real hunting in modern times, those who have their pups compete in field trials show great respect for the original purpose of the breed.
If you own a Springer Spaniel, or if you are considering adopting one in the future, you are in for a treat. These dogs are some of the very best canine companions that you can get on the market today. With their loyalty, friendliness, agility, and skills, they are sure to be a wonderful companion for an active person or family. On the other hand, you should stay away from this breed if you live a sedentary lifestyle, or if you don’t have a large dwelling. They need exercise and space, or they can exhibit signs of mental distress. Plus, they could destroy your possessions if they use their pent-up energy in the wrong way.