The English Springer Spaniel is a breed of gun dog in the Spaniel family traditionally used for flushing and retrieving game. It is an affectionate, excitable breed with an average lifespan of twelve to fourteen years. Descended from the Norfolk or Shropshire Spaniels of the mid-19th century, the breed has diverged into separate show and working lines. The breed suffers from average health complaints. The show-bred version of the breed has been linked to "rage syndrome", although the disorder is very rare. It is closely related to the Welsh Springer Spaniel and very closely with the English Cocker Spaniel; less than a century ago, springers and cockers would come from the same litter. The smaller "cockers" hunted woodcock while the larger littermates were used to flush, or "spring," game. In 1902, the Kennel Club of England recognized the English Springer Spaniel as a distinct breed. They are used as sniffer dogs on a widespread basis. The term springer comes from the historic hunting role, where the dog would "spring" (flush) birds into the air.
The English Springer Spaniel is a medium sized compact dog. Its coat is moderately long with feathering on the legs and tail. It is a well proportioned, balanced dog with a gentle expression and a friendly wagging tail. This breed represents perhaps the greatest divergence between working and show lines of any breed of dog. A field-bred dog and a show-bred dog appear to be different breeds, but are registered together. In fact, the gene pools are almost completely segregated and have been for at least 70 years. A field-bred dog would not be competitive in a modern dog show while a show dog would not have the speed or stamina to succeed in a field trial. Field-bred dogs tend to have shorter, coarser coats than show-bred dogs. The ears are less pendulous. Field-bred dogs are wiry and have more of a feral look than those bred for showing. The tail of the field-bred dog is docked by a few inches in comparison to the show dog. Field-bred dogs are selected for nose, hunting ability, and response to training rather than appearance. Show dogs have longer fur and more pendant ears, dewlaps and dangling flews. The tail is docked to a short stub in those countries that permit docking. They are generally more thickly boned and heavier than field-bred springers. The English Springer Spaniel is similar to the English Cocker Spaniel and at first glance the only major difference is the latter's smaller size. However English Springers also tend to have shorter, and higher-set ears than English Cockers. In addition Springers also tend to have a longer muzzle, their eyes are not as prominent and the coat is less abundant. The major differences between the Welsh Springer and the English Springer is that the Welsh have more limited colours and tend to be slightly smaller.
Coat & Colours Field-bred dogs tend to have shorter, coarser coats than the longer furred show-bred dogs. They normally only shed in summer and spring months, but shed occasionally in the autumn. The coat comes in black or liver (dark brown) with white markings or predominantly white with black or liver markings; Tricolour: black and white or liver and white with tan markings, usually found on eyebrows, cheeks, inside of ears and under the tail. Any white portion of the coat may be flecked with ticking.
Sizes Males in the show dog line average approximately 18 to 20 inches (46 to 51 cm) at the withers and weigh on average 50 to 55 lb (23 to 25 kg). According to the UK (FCI) Breed Standard, the English Springer Spaniel should be 20 inches (51 cm) at the withers. The females should be 17 to 19 inches (43 to 48 cm) and usually 35 to 45 lb (16 to 20 kg). Working types can be lighter in weight and finer in bone.
The typical Spaniel is friendly, eager to please, quick to learn and willing to obey. An affectionate and easy-going family dog, its alertness and attentiveness make it the ideal hunting companion. The English Springer Spaniel ranks 13th in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, considered an excellent working dog. It has exceptional stamina and needs moderate amounts of activity, to focus its mind and to provide exercise, although this is different for each dog. Its long-legged build makes it among the fastest of the spaniels. It is a sociable breed that enjoys the company of children and handles the company of other pets well. If left alone for too long, they can become destructive and mischievous through boredom. They love the water, and tend to get wet whenever they have the chance.
Health The English Springer Spaniel has an average lifespan of 10.5 to 15 years. As in most breeds, there are some health problems that are more likely to occur. Hip dysplasia, a malformation of the hip joints that leads to arthritis, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), which is a degeneration of the retina causing vision loss leading to blindness, are two such diseases for which veterinarians are working on genetic markers to determine carriers. Another problem can be elbow dysplasia. Retinal dysplasia (RD), which can cause blindness and Phosphofructokinase deficiency (PFK), which is genetic deficiency which impairs the ability of cells using carbohydrates for energy are two other hereditary conditions for which both lines of the English springer spaniel should be screened prior to breeding. Health issues are usually similar in both types of English Springer however phosphofructokinase deficiency in particular can appear more in field lines, however carriers in show lines have been identified. As with most spaniels and floppy eared dogs, they are prone to ear infections. Treatment includes cleaning the ear canal weekly with a solution that will leave the ear in an acidic state to retard the growth of yeast and bacteria. Other health problems include autoimmune diseases, which include allergies and other sensitivities to the environment. They can also be susceptible to various eye problems including inward or outward curling eyelashes or even an additional row of eyelashes, all of which can require corrective surgery. English Springer Spaniels tend to gain weight easily, and owners need to be careful about their food consumption.
An English Springer Spaniel is foremost an upland flushing dog. There are a number of skills that breeders train the dog to perform for their occupation. Retrieve to Hand Most hunters and all hunt test or field trial judges require that a dog deliver a bird to hand, meaning that a dog will hold the bird until told to give it to the hunter directly. Soft Mouth Springers are taught to deliver game with a soft mouth, meaning he does not puncture it with his teeth. The game should always be fit for the table. If a springer damages the bird, it may be hard mouthed. This is a serious fault, but it can be difficult to determine whether it may have been genetic or caused by poor training methods. Breeders generally avoid using any springer that is hard mouthed. Quarter A flushing spaniel's primary role is often as an upland flushing dog. Dogs must work in a zig-zag pattern in front of the hunter seeking upland game birds. The dog is taught to stay within gun range to avoid flushing a bird outside shooting distance. This pattern is one of the primary criteria used to judge a dog in a field trial. Scenting Having the ability to scent game is of vital importance to the hunter. A springer should have a good nose in both wet and dry conditions. A dog with a good nose will learn to use the wind as it quests for game, ever adjusting its pattern according to the nuances of the wind. Flushing The springer should have a positive flush. It should not hesitate or point when encountering game. Some field trial dogs will often get airborne during a flush. This is exciting to watch, but is not necessary to win. Most hunters prefer that their dog not flush in that style, as it can present a risk to the dog. Hup This is the traditional command to sit and stay. When hupped the dog can be given direction called to the handler. The ability to hup a dog actively working a running bird allow the handler and any gunners to keep up without having to run. Follow Hand Signals Upland hunting involves pursuing wild game in its native habitat. Gun dogs must investigate likely covers for upland game birds. The dog must be responsive to hand signals in order for the hunter to be able to direct the dog into areas of particular interest. Steady When hunting upland birds, a flushing dog should be steady to wing and shot, meaning that he sits when a bird rises or a gun is fired. He does this in order to mark the fall and to avoid flushing other birds when pursuing a missed bird. Blind Retrieve An adequately trained and experienced working springer can be expected to use all of the aforementioned attributes to be conducted by hand, whistle and command to a position whereby an unmarked lost game bird can be picked and retrieved to hand.
English physician Dr. John Caius described the spaniel in his book the Treatise of Englishe Dogs published in 1576. His book was the first work to describe the various British breeds by function. By 1801, Sydenham Edwards explained in the Cynographia Britannica that the land spaniel should be split into two kinds, the Springing, Hawking Spaniel, or Starter, and the Cocking or Cocker Spaniel. At this point in time, both cocker spaniels and springer spaniels were born in the same litters. The purpose of the breed was to serve as a hunting dog. The smaller cockers were used to hunt woodcock, while their larger littermates, the springer spaniels, would "spring"—or flush—the gamebird into the air where a trained falcon or hawk would bring it to the handler. Many spaniel breeds were developed during the 19th century, and often named after the counties in which they were developed, or after their owners, who were usually nobility. Two strains of larger land spaniel were predominant and were said to have been of "true springer type." These were the Norfolk and the Shropshire spaniels, and by the 1850s, these were shown under the breed name of Norfolk spaniel. In January 1899, the Spaniel Club of England and the Sporting Spaniel Society held their trials together for the first time. Two years later, in 1902, a combination of the physical standard from the Spaniel Club of England and the ability standard from the Sporting Spaniel Society led to the English Springer Spaniel breed being officially recognised by the English Kennel Club. The American Kennel Club followed in 1910. In 1914, the first English Field Champion was crowned, FTC Rivington Sam, whose dam was a registered cocker spaniel, Rivington Riband. Sam is considered one of the foundation sires for modern field lines.
Use as sniffer dogs
Springer Spaniels are commonly used as sniffer dogs for a variety of tasks. Notable cases of explosive search dogs have included Buster, a Dickin Medal recipient, Royal Army Veterinary Corps arms and explosives search dog serving with the Duke of Wellington's Regiment in Iraq, for finding an extremist group's hidden arsenal of weapons and explosives. Another example is Jake, aka Hubble Keck People's Dispensary for Sick Animals Gold Medal and Blue Cross Animal Hospital Medal recipient, a London Metropolitan Police explosives search dog. He was deployed at Tavistock Square, Russell Square and King's Cross following the 7 July 2005 London Bombings. However the Springer's use is not limited to detection of explosives, it can extend to other work. Murphy, a male Springer has been trained by HM Prison Service in HMP Norwich to search for mobile phones. He can tell the difference between the guards' phones and illegal phones held by inmates. Other varied uses for the Springer can include sniffing out bumblebee nests, illegal immigrants, and blood. Springer Spaniels are also used as search and rescue dogs for mountain rescue teams where their willingness to work and cover rough terrain makes them an excellent choice alongside other more traditional search dog breeds. Springers are used as drug dogs by agencies in various places including Sweden, Finland, Britain, Isle of Man, Canada CBSA and Qatar.