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Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
The Sussex is one of the few breeds that has changed little since his 19th-century origins. He looks serious, but he is a cheerful and friendly family dog as well as a determined hunting dog who can flush and retrieve game. He stands out for his coat color of rich golden-liver.
The Sussex is named for the county in England where he was favored as a hunting dog. He was mentioned as early as 1803 in a magazine called "Sportsmen’s Cabinet."
The low-slung Sussex Spaniel has a compact, rectangular body and weighs 35 to 45 pounds. He stands out for his coat color of rich golden liver and his large, sad eyes, so typical of the spaniel family. In the field, he’s slow but steady, beating his way through thick cover to flush and retrieve birds for a hunter on foot. He’s also a super family dog for people who can give him the exercise and firm, but loving guidance he needs. One Sussex recently put the spotlight on the breed, taking Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in 2009 and earning the breed some new fans.
The Sussex is calm but enthusiastic. A laidback appearance belies a clownish, energetic, and sometimes protective personality. He barks and howls, making him an excellent watchdog, though not particularly quiet to live with.
He’s highly intelligent but can be stubborn, so he’s not always easy to train. That said, if you find the right motivation — like making use of his super scenting ability — you can teach the Sussex to do almost anything. Train him with positive reinforcement techniques. He is particularly fond of food rewards. Be patient when it comes to housetraining. It can take a long time for a Sussex, especially females, to be trustworthy in this regard.
The Sussex walks at a slow pace and doesn’t require the frenetic levels of exercise needed by some other sporting breeds, but he’s not a couch potato, either, at least not when he’s young. He’ll enjoy moderate to long strolls or hikes, although he’s not the companion for a jogger or runner. His versatility and athleticism make him suited to a number of dog sports including hunt tests, freestyle, obedience, rally, and tracking. The Sussex easily learns to retrieve, making him a great playmate for the kid who likes to play ball. Once he reaches maturity, his calm demeanor makes him a natural for therapy work.
When a Sussex is raised with children, the two generally go together like strawberries and cream. Sussex puppies may be too rambunctious for families with toddlers, however, and adult Sussex Spaniels who are unfamiliar with children may not be comfortable around them.
Like most dogs, Sussex Spaniels become bored when left to their own devices, and the amount of damage they can do is considerable. Don’t give them the run of the house until they’ve reached trustworthy maturity. Sussex puppies tend to develop slowly, so they may not reach maturity until they are 2 or 3 years old. And keep your Sussex busy with training, play and socialization experiences. A bored Sussex is a destructive Sussex.
The Sussex has an abundant flat or wavy coat that requires a fair amount of grooming. Brush him thoroughly once a week to reduce the amount of hair he spreads around the house, as well as to prevent mats and tangles. Trim his nails every two weeks or so and the hair on the bottom of his feet monthly. Check the ears weekly and clean them as needed.
The Sussex loves his people and needs to live in the house. Don’t get one if you want an outside dog. It’s an unhappy Sussex who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.
The Sussex is named for the county in England where he was favored as a hunting dog. He hails from the estate of Rosehill Park, where he was developed in the 18th century, and was mentioned as early as 1803 in a magazine called Sportsmen’s Cabinet.
Sussex gentlemen created a dog suited to their heavy clay soil, dense undergrowth, and thick hedgerows, a dog that could go all day long and bark in bell-like tones to alert the hunters that they were on the right track. The dogs were exhibited at the Crystal Palace dog show in 1862 and were among the first 10 breeds admitted to American Kennel Club registration in 1884.
Because they were limited mainly to Sussex County, the spaniels were necessarily inbred, with only an occasional breeding to Field Spaniels to bring in new blood. As time went on, hunters developed new interests and the Sussex fell by the way side. He might have been lost to history, like so many dogs, but breeders Moses Woolland and Campbell Newington stepped in to bring them back from the brink of extinction and even improved them. The breed faced extinction again during World War II but was saved by the efforts of breeder Joy Scholefield.
Today the Sussex is still rare, but he is in no danger of disappearing. He ranks 155th among the breeds registered by the AKC.
Looks can be deceptive when it comes to the Sussex Spaniel. Hiding beneath a somber and serious expression is a friendly, cheerful dog with a placid character. He loves being around people and joins into any activity with a controlled enthusiasm. More so than many spaniels, the Sussex has a protective nature, always keeping his large, sad eyes on his family to make sure all is well. He loves children, and his calm attitude makes him an excellent therapy dog.
As a hunting dog, the Sussex moves at a slower pace than some other sporting dogs, but that doesn’t mean he’s lazy or doesn’t need much exercise. Far from it! He loves to hunt and has plenty of energy and endurance. Because of his ability to navigate thick growth, he makes an excellent walking or hiking companion, tail wagging all the way. If you’re a birder, he’ll help you find your quarry. With his super scenting ability, you might enjoy putting a tracking title or two on him.
This is a highly intelligent dog who is not always easy to train. He can be stubborn, but his soft spaniel nature means that he shrinks from correction. Be firm but kind, rewarding behavior you like with praise, play, and treats. Keep in mind that he matures slowly. He will not be trained instantly, and that includes housetraining. This is a breed that requires patience to bring out his best, not to mention a sense of humor for those times he outwits or embarrasses you — and they will happen.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 8 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is six months old to begin training, or you will have a bigger, 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. Whatever you want from a Sussex, 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 her dogs have experienced and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Sussex Spaniels are healthy in general, but some conditions can be a concern, especially if you aren’t cautious about whom you buy from. They include some heart problems, like cardiomyopathy and pulmonic stenosis, as well as an exercise intolerance syndrome called pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency (PDH). Hip dysplasia, deafness, and eye problems (like entropion and retinal dysplasia) have also been reported. Females can have difficulty whelping and often require Caesarean sections.
The PDH deficiency is present in 20 percent of Sussex Spaniels, but a genetic test is available to identify normal, carrier, and affected dogs. Ask the breeder to show evidence that at least one of a puppy’s parents is clear of PDH deficiency. Breeding dogs should have up-to-date health certifications for heart and hips from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, and eye certifications from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs vet checked is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
The Sussex has an abundant coat that is flat or slightly wavy with feathering on the legs and tail and a pretty frill beneath the neck. The coat can be cared for by brushing at least once or twice a week to remove tangles or mats and distribute skin oils. Bathe him as needed. The Sussex sheds moderately, and daily brushing will reduce the amount of hair that lands on your floor, furniture and clothing.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, and keep the hanging ears clean and dry. Good dental hygiene is also important. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste 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 a great way to find 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 possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes, as opposed to 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.
A list of breeders is available on the website of the Sussex Spaniel Club of America. Choose one who is committed to following the SSCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to sell puppies with a written contract. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the American Kennel Club.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers 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.
Lots of 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. Quickie online purchases 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 a Sussex Spaniel puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring 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) 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.
And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Sussex Spaniel 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 Sussex Spaniel 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.
Sussex Spaniels are few and far between. It’s unlikely you will ever find one in a shelter. In rare instances, however, adults may be available for adoption through Sussex Spaniel rescue. Nevertheless, if you are interested in adopting a Sussex Spaniel, it’s worth trying every avenue. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Sussex Spaniel 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 Sussex Spaniels available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org 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 Sussex Spaniel. 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 Sussex Spaniels love all Sussex Spaniels. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Sussex Spaniel Club of America can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Sussex Spaniel 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 Sussex Spaniel home for a trial 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 pup. 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 Sussex Spaniel, 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, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Sussex Spaniel 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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