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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
The English Springer Spaniel is a family dog first and foremost with a happy, lively personality, but his versatility makes him popular for a variety of activities: hunting, field trials, the show ring, and all kinds of dog sports.
English Springer Spaniels are bred either as hunting dogs or show dogs -- but never as both. There hasn’t been an English Springer Spaniel that has excelled in both the show ring and hunting grounds in more than 50 years.
The division between working and show lines is perhaps no wider than in the breed known as the English Springer Spaniel. English Springers from hunting lines have a coat of moderate length and lots of brown ticking worked into their white fur. They are keen, smart, birdy and very, very active. English Springers from show lines are have solid patches of color next to solid white fur, long, flowing coats, heavier bodies and more health problems.
Middle ground? There isn’t any, and there hasn’t been a dog that has excelled in both the show ring and hunting grounds in more than 50 years. Since dogs from both sides of the great English Springer divide are likely to find their way into homes and families, it's important to evaluate any given dog as an individual rather than as a member of the breed.
English Springers from hunting lines weigh between 35 and 45 pounds, and have a fairly short coat that comes in a variety of colors marked with white, which is usually "ticked" with small dark markings. Their coats need little grooming, and while they shed, it can be kept under control with a quick brushing every couple of days.
These dogs tend to have an abundance of energy and thrive on plenty of exercise. While hunting dogs that are regularly trained and worked can live in kennel situations, that doesn't mean they can live in the yard or a kennel 11 months out of the year. A bright, high-energy dog like the English Springer will go crazy cooped up, and he won't form the bond that would make him excel at his work. Bring him into your home as a family companion, or treat him as a serious working partner and train him all year long.
English Springers from show lines are usually heavier than field dogs, weighing between 40 and 50 pounds, and judges reward a dog with clear definition between white and dark patches and even, eye-pleasing patterns. While they may not need quite as much exercise as their field-bred cousins, they're still very active dogs. They'll do best in a home where they're given the chance to run and play daily, and they are not usually happy unless kept as house dogs. Their coats are much longer and more profuse than dogs from hunting lines and therefore require a great deal more grooming. Most pet owners keep their English Springers' coats clipped, usually professionally.
If you're lucky enough to find a puppy from a good breeder, get him off on the right foot with gentle and consistent training right from the start. A well-bred English Springer of show or field lines should be easy to house-train, happy to be with you, good with other dogs and cats and eager to experience new things, even if it means walking on a leash, riding in the car or going to puppy training classes.
Spaniel-type dogs have been popular with hunters for centuries, used to flush feathered and furred game. Spaniels came in several sizes, and it wasn’t unusual for puppies in the same litter to grow up to be different sizes. The smaller ones were used to hunt woodcock, giving rise to the name Cocker Spaniel, and the larger ones were used to “spring” game for the hunter, flushing birds from the brush so they could be shot. They became known as English Springer Spaniels. In 1902, England’s Kennel Club separated the two types into distinct breeds, one becoming the English English Springer Spaniel, the other the English Cocker Spaniel.
In the U.S., the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association formed in 1924 and began the competitions known as field trials, in which the dogs were judged for not only hunting ability but also that elusive quality, style. Since then, the breed has split into two types: the smaller field-bred English Springer prized for his hunting ability and the somewhat larger, beautified show-bred English Springer, known for a milder temperament and a heavier coat. Despite their differences, both types are registered as a single breed with the American Kennel Club. They rank 29th in popularity, down just slightly from 26th in 2000, so their appeal holds steady.
Whether the English Springer is a hunting dog, a field trial competitor or a show dog, he is always a family dog. The English Springer is a loving companion who is happiest when he is with his people. He barks to warn them that someone is approaching the house, but it’s more likely in anticipation of making a new friend than in warning. As befits a Sporting dog, he’s curious, outgoing and active, but “hyper” is not a word that should be used to describe him. If he gets plenty of daily exercise and face time with his family, the English Springer is adaptable to any type of home, from a city apartment to a sprawling ranch.
As a hunting dog, the English Springer has plenty of stamina and great scenting ability and retrieving skills. Field trial English Springers are athletes designed for speed and style. English Springers from show lines can hunt, but they are slower and more methodical than the field trial English Springers. All of those skills can be channeled in a English Springer who is a companion to make him a great competitor in dog sports such as agility, flyball, dock diving, rally, tracking and obedience.
Whether he comes from hunting lines or show lines, an English Springer is highly intelligent and trainable. He has a natural desire to chase down prey and flush birds and those instincts must be molded by the hunter so the dog learns to focus on the appropriate types of birds or other game, but he learns quickly and remembers what he learns.
The perfect English Springer doesn’t come ready-made from the breeder. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. In the case of the English Springer, the “teen” years can start at six months and continue until the dog is about 18 months old.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect English Springer doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from an English Springer, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
The English Springer can develop certain health problems. Here’s a brief rundown on what you should know.
English Springer Spaniels are susceptible to a number of health problems that are at least partly genetic. These include many different eye disorders including cataracts and glaucoma, as well as painful defects of the hips and knees. Disc disease can make movement painful for the English Springer Spaniel, by nature an active dog that loves to run and play. Heart disease, liver shunts, epilepsy, immune-mediated hemolytic anemia -- the English Springer is at risk for all of them.
Phosphofructokinase (PFK) deficiency is a genetic disease that occurs in both field and show lines of English Springer Spaniels. PFK is an enzyme used by the metabolic system to turn glucose into energy. Without it, some cells cannot function, and affected dogs become weak and lethargic. They may experience muscle cramps and anemia as well as dark-colored urine after exertion, barking or panting.
Fortunately, because PFK deficiency is an autosomal recessive trait, a dog will only have the condition if both his parents carry the gene that causes it. The University of Pennsylvania has a simple test that detects that gene, so your puppy's breeder should be able to show you documentation from U of Penn that at least one of his parents is clear of the condition, to ensure that your dog won't be affected.
Most troubling of the breed-specific genetic problems in the English Springer Spaniel is a tendency towards different kinds of aggression. This is more common in show lines, and while it has been called "English Springer Rage Syndrome," it is assumed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and can result in episodes of aggression that may occur without warning. A more complete discussion of the syndrome can be found on the breed club website, and buyers need to be extremely cautious about the temperament of the parents and relatives of any puppy they are considering.
The ESS is at risk of a genetic hip deformity known as hip dysplasia. The head of the thigh bone doesn't fit properly into the hip socket, and over time the cartilage on the bone surface begins to wear away. The constant inflammation leads to arthritis. It's often treated with surgery, usually total hip replacement in older dogs. Untreated, the dog will most likely suffer pain and lameness. This condition is usually diagnosed by X-rays and manual manipulation of the hip. It's impossible to know if a dog has hip dysplasia simply from examining him or watching him move.
The variety of eye problems that can afflict the English Springer Spaniel ranges from the cosmetic to the sight-threatening, such as progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). Make sure to have your English Springer Spaniel's eyes examined regularly, and seek veterinary care immediately at any signs of cloudiness, redness, itching or irritation of the eyes or if the dog is squinting or pawing at them.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The ESSFTA Foundation DNA Bank, through the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, is doing research in breed-specific genetic diseases and maintains a database similar to that of the Canine Health Information Center, but more comprehensive in terms of genetic diseases affecting English Springers. The goal is to eliminate the diseases within the gene pool.
Ask your puppy's breeder to provide you with documentation from either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip) stating that your puppy’s parents are free of hip dysplasia. She should also have test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) that her dogs are clear of genetic eye disorders known to occur in the English Springer Spaniel. Since temperament is heritable and is a particular concern in the breed, it’s ideal if both your puppy's parents as well as other relatives have a "TT" certificate issued by the American Temperament Test Society.
If a breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Not every English Springer visit to the vet is for a genetic problem. English Springer Spaniels are notoriously prone to ear infections because of their long, hanging ears. Chronic ear problems can usually be prevented or treated as long as the owner is attentive and takes the dog to the vet any time a problem is suspected. Follow-up care is especially important in matters of the ear to prevent new flare-ups of old problems.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping an English Springer at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The amount of grooming required for this breed depends on whether you choose a field-bred or conformation-bred English Springer. Dogs from show lines have a more profuse coat that requires additional brushing and trimming to keep it looking beautiful, and any English Springer who goes out in the field is going to come back with burrs and brush stuck in his coat.
Like all dogs, English Springers shed. They lose dead hair year-round, not just during a spring and fall shedding season. If you brush your English Springer regularly, you can reduce the amount of hair that floats off the dog and onto your floors, furniture and clothing.
English Springers require a certain amount of grooming and trimming to keep them looking neat and free from mats and tangles. It can be enjoyable to learn to do this yourself; or you can locate a professional groomer to provide assistance from time to time. Regular grooming helps control coat loss, and keeps the coat in top condition.
The rest is basic care. Trim his nails as needed, usually every few weeks, and brush his teeth for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Start with a breeder who is a member in good standing of the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association. Your breeder should agree to abide by the organization's guidelines for breeders, which prohibit its members from selling puppies to a pet store or through any kind of third party retailer and lay out the breeder's obligations to the puppies they produce and to the people who buy them. Choose a breeder who is not only willing but insists on being a resource in helping you train and care for your new dog.
Ask your puppy's breeder to provide you with documentation from either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip) stating that your puppy’s parents are free of hip dysplasia. She should also have test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) that her dogs are clear of genetic eye disorders known to occur in the English Springer Spaniel.
Since temperament is a particular concern in the breed, make sure you spend time with the breeder's dogs, and if possible, with your puppy's mother or father. Very often the father won't be on the premises – good breeders look for the best possible male for their females, not just the best one they happen to own – so don't view that as any kind of red flag. But if the breeder won't let you meet the mother of the puppies, and won't let you meet any of her dogs, consider that the worst of all signs and look elsewhere. Do not take temperament issues lightly. Ideally, both your puppy's parents and other relatives will have a "TT" certificate issued by the American Temperament Test Society.
Ask about your breeder's involvement with the breed and dogs in general. Good breeders don't just sit home having their dogs churn out litters for sale; they get out there with their dogs and make sure they're happy and stable in the kinds of real world situations every family pet needs to take in stride. Good field line breeders hunt with their dogs as well as compete in field trials. Good show line breeders compete in dog shows or in canine sports such as obedience and agility. There are also many good show breeders who compete with their dogs in AKC hunting tests.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the ESSFTA and the American Kennel Club. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an English Springer Spaniel puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring, a field trial or hunting home, or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult English Springer might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for an English Springer in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the English Springers available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a English Springer. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love English Springers love all English Springers. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The English Springer Spaniel Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other English Springer rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a English Springer home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your English Springer, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your English Springer to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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