Boykin Spaniel on a blanket
Boykin Spaniel dog
This medium-size sporting breed is a great retriever, loves water, and has a friendly nature. He’s not much of a watchdog, but if you’re looking for a pal to take hunting, boating, or hiking, he’s a great choice. His curly coat needs grooming two to three times a week.The Boykin Spaniel is the product of his native South Carolina, specifically developed to hunt from small boats with little room for the typical large retriever. Hence, the Boykin, one of the smallest of the retrievers and a water dog par excellence. He weighs 25 to 40 pounds and has a wavy or curly coat.

The typical Boykin has a friendly, cheerful, inquisitive personality. His medium size makes him a good choice for families with children, as long as he has been brought up with them and the canine and human playmates are supervised. Boykins can decide rather quickly that kids aren’t fun if they have a bad experience with one.

Like any sporting breed, the Boykin needs daily exercise. If you’re not a hunter, a long walk will do, as well as any opportunity to swim, but you can also channel his energy into dog sports such as agility and flyball. He’ll love anything that involves getting wet and he’s an excellent choice for boaters, including canoers and kayakers, seeing as how he was developed to hunt from a boat.

Some lines can have excessive energy levels or a tendency toward aggression. Begin training and socialization early to ward off problems such as aggression toward unknown dogs. Boykins are smart and respond well to gentle, consistent training techniques. For best results, make training fun, using positive reinforcement techniques such as play, praise and food rewards.

Expect to comb and brush this breed’s curly coat two or three times a week. Comb it first to prevent or remove mats and tangles. Do this every time your dog has been outside and picked up burrs or other debris. Use a slicker brush to remove dead hair. You may need to trim the coat every once in a while to give it a neat appearance. Be sure to give him a thorough freshwater rinse after he has been in saltwater or a lake or pond with algae, and bath as needed. In addition, trim the nails regularly, clean and trim the fur between the foot pads, and keep the ears clean and dry to prevent infections.

Last but not least, it should go without saying that a people-loving dog like the Boykin Spaniel needs to live in the house. It’s an unhappy Boykin who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.

Other Quick Facts

  • The Boykin is a medium-size hunting dog. His compact body is slightly longer than it is tall. He has brown eyes with a trusting, intelligent expression, ears that hang close to the cheeks, and a merrily wagging tail docked to a length of three to five inches. His coat is a solid rich liver, brown or dark chocolate color.
  • The Boykin is one of the rare breeds named after a specific person.

The History of the Boykin Spaniel

Nicknamed “little brown dog” for his liver, brown or dark chocolate-colored coat, the Boykin is the state dog of South Carolina and was developed early in the 20th century to hunt waterfowl, wild turkeys and upland game birds such as pheasants. He’s just the right size to ride in a boat with a hunter and is known as “the little dog that doesn’t rock the boat.” A typical spaniel, he’s enthusiastic when it comes to flushing and retrieving birds.

The progenitor of the Boykin breed was a stray brown dog taken in by Whit Boykin in the early 1900s. The dog, named Dumpy for his short, thick body, turned out to have wonderful bird sense, and Boykin didn’t hesitate to cross him with American Water Spaniels, Cockers, Springer Spaniels and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers to create a hardy retriever of upland game birds and waterfowl. The dogs originally hunted wild turkey in the Wateree River Swamp and are now popular dove and duck dogs.

The dogs are still bred primarily in South Carolina and are found in high concentrations along the Atlantic Seaboard, but they are becoming more popular and spreading throughout the United States. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 2010. The Boykin ranks 133rd among the breeds recognized by the AKC.

Boykin Spaniel Temperament and Personality

In everything he does, from hunting to playing, the Boykin is enthusiastic and energetic. He’s best suited to an active family who can give him the exercise and attention he needs to thrive. He likes children if he’s brought up with them and treated well by them, but he’s not the kind of patient dog who will patiently put up with a clumsy toddler. Older children who understand how to treat dogs will find him to be an excellent playmate.

Hunters like the Boykin’s go-all-day stamina and his biddable nature. Those characteristics translate well to agility, flyball, rally and obedience competitions, as well as hunt tests. If you’re not into dog sports, but want to keep your Boykin active, take him hiking, canoeing, kayaking or boating. He’s made to fit in little boats, after all. He loves to swim and would make a good partner if you enjoy standup paddleboarding or surfing. If you’re looking for a couch potato kind of dog, move along. The Boykin is not for you.

Boykins are affectionate with their family as well as with most people they meet as long as they have been appropriately socialized from puppyhood. A well-socialized Boykin welcomes new experiences and is friendly toward other dogs. He can get along with family cats if he has been raised with them.

The Boykin is alert, but he’s so friendly that he’s not much of a watchdog. He tends to bark only if someone is approaching the home or he hears an unusual sound. It’s not common for him to be a nuisance barker.

Boykins are intelligent and learn quickly with positive reinforcement techniques. Be firm and consistent so you don’t confuse him. If you plan to hunt or compete in field trials with him, you’ll want to seek the services of a professional trainer who is familiar with the breed.

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. Whatever you want from a Boykin Spaniel, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.

What You Need To Know About Boykin Spaniel Health

All purebred 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.

Boykin Spaniels have some health conditions that can be a concern. They include a heart condition called pulmonic stenosis, hemophilia A, and eye problems such as distichiasis.

Ask the breeder to show certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy. You can check the website of the Canine Health Information Center to see if a breeder’s dogs have this certification. For CHIC certification, OFA elbow and cardiac clearances are recommended but optional.

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 Basics of Boykin Spaniel Grooming

The Boykin’s medium length double coat can be flat to slightly wavy with a light fringe of hair, called feathering, on the ears, chest, legs and belly. Weekly brushing and the occasional bath will keep your Boykin’s coat in good shape. If you want, you can have a professional groomer clip the coat as needed for neatness. The coat sheds moderately, but regular brushing will help keep dead hair off your furniture, floors and clothing.

The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually once a month. Brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath. Check the ears weekly for dirt, redness or a bad odor that can indicate an infection. If the ears look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian.

Finding a Boykin Spaniel

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.

Choosing a Boykin Spaniel Breeder

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 possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.

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 breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.

Start your search for a good breeder with the Boykin Spaniel Club and Breeders Association of America, which maintains a referral list of breeders. Choose one who is committed to following the BSCBAA’s Code of Ethics. Be aware that the Boykin is a rare breed. You may have to wait six months to a year or more for a puppy to be available.

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. 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.

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. 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 a Boykin 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. Prices generally range from $800 to $1,500 for a puppy from titled lines with parents who have appropriate health clearances. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, field 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 Boykin 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 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.

Adopting a Dog from Boykin Spaniel Rescue or a Shelter

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 and can have you searching for a Boykin 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 Boykin Spaniels 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 Boykin 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

Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Boykin Spaniels love all Boykin Spaniels. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Boykin 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 Boykin 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 Boykin 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 Boykin 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, take your Boykin 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.