English Springer Spaniels
True to the majority of dogs that have roots in Europe, the English Springer Spaniel was primarily used as a hunting dog, known for its superior ability to flush and retrieve game, particularly upland birds. Their main descendent is the Shropshire Spaniel of Norfolk, although spaniel-type dogs have been described throughout history. Until the late 1800s, distinct breeds of Spaniels were not recognized. In fact, Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels were all from the same litter, with the only distinction being that the smaller littermates were used for woodcock hunting while the larger dogs were trained to flush game (or “spring”). It was not until the early 1900’s that the English Springer Spaniel became distinct from the Shropshire Spaniel when the Spaniel Club of England developed a breed standard for the English dog. Shortly thereafter, in 1910, the American Kennel Club recognized the breed and it is now the 28th most popular dog in America.
English Springer Spaniels exhibit the true personality of a gun dog: excitable, obedient, eager to please, loyal, and friendly. Of all the spaniels, the English Springer is the fastest, which makes it particularly good at timed competitions, such as Agility trials or Rally-O. There are two distinct lines of English Springer Spaniel, the field and show lines. These two gene pools have been distinct for over 70 years, yet are registered together despite their differences. For instance, the field line has more speed and stamina while the show line is built with a larger and heavier conformation. For a family dog, the field line would likely be best, since English Springer Spaniels bred for show have exhibited “rage syndrome,” which is a genetic behavioral problem where the dog has bouts of unprovoked rage that cannot be prevented or controlled with training. This disorder is most common with Cocker and Springer Spaniels from the show line, and has not been observed in the field lines. Regardless of lineage, regular exercise is important for the English Springer Spaniel in order to keep bad behaviors at bay and to maintain a healthy weight.
Show bred English Springer Spaniels are larger in size than their field counterparts, typically weighing 50 – 55 lbs for males and 40 – 45 lbs for females. The coat is medium in length with feathering on tail and legs. If bred for the field, the coat will be shorter and coarser, and the ears will be shorter than their show-bred counterparts as well. Both dogs require regular brushing to keep their coats shiny, but little other maintenance is necessary. Six colors are possible for the English Springer Spaniel with black and white being most common and white and liver the least.
Besides rage syndrome, English Springer Spaniel owners should beware of other inheritable diseases such as hip dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy, which can affect vision. Breeders should screen their dogs for these disorders, in addition to elbow dysplasia, retinal dysplasia, and phosphofructokinase deficiency, with the latter being more common in field lines than in show lines. The average life expectancy for an English Springer Spaniel of either lineage is 12 – 15 years.