Spaniels: Dogs Bred for Hunting and Companionship

Spaniels are one of the most beloved types of dogs in the world. When originally developed (primarily in Europe), these canines served as field bird hunting or waterfowl hunting dogs. Today, Spaniels function as family pets though some still work as hunting companions while others serve as therapy dogs due to their calm, affectionate nature.

There are many breeds of spaniels; most are part of the American Kennel Club’s (AKC’s) Sporting Group, which also includes pointers and retrievers. As such, spaniels are quite active, and therefore, require lots of physical and mental exercise.

American Water Spaniel
Considered a rare breed, the American Water Spaniel (AWS) was developed in the Great Lakes area and was the first dog breed created in the United States as an all-around hunter. It originated as a retriever from boats, and therefore, possesses an oily, double coat. The breed’s short dark brown or liver-colored coat is either wavy or curly and needs regular brushing. This muscular, medium-sized dog is considered energetic and easy to please; it responds well to obedience and enjoys regular exercise. The breed’s pleasant, friendly disposition makes it a wonderful family pet. It stands 15 to 18 inches (36 to 46 cm) tall and weighs 25 to 45 pounds (11 to 20 kg). The AWS is the State Dog of Wisconsin.

Boykin Spanielboykin spaniel
A delightful, energetic dog, the Boykin Spaniel is the state dog of South Carolina, where it was developed during the early 1900s. Known for its stamina and loving demeanor, this is another Spaniel that makes an excellent hunting dog as well as family pet. The breed has both an outer and under-coat; coloring is liver or dark brown, and the coat can be flat or wavy. It is known for its intelligence, trainability and cheerful personality. The Boykin is both a water and land retriever and is similar in size to the American Water Spaniel.

This long-legged dual-purpose dog originated in France. Considered strong, fast-moving and agile, this breed stands 17 to 21 inches (43 to 53 cm) and weighs 30 to 40 pounds (14 to 18 kg). It’s short, dense flat to wavy coat requires minimal upkeep. Coloring is orange and white or liver and white. This happy, alert dog was once known as the Brittany Spaniel, but now is simply called the Brittany as its hunting style more closely resembles that of pointing breeds.

Clumber Spaniel
A unique-looking dog, the Clumber’s frame is long and low to the ground. Originating in France, many believe the dog’s lineage includes the Bassett Hound. Although not as quick as other Spaniels, the Clumber possesses great stamina and can hunt all day. Deep-chested and massive in bone structure, this breed is powerfully built. It stands 16 to 20 inches (41 to 51 cm) tall and weighs 55 to 85 pounds (25 to 39 kg). Clumbers are considered gentle, loyal, intelligent and eager to please and make excellent pets as well as fine hunting dogs, able to easily go into thick brush.

Cocker Spaniel (American)
cocker spanielConsidered one of the most popular dog breeds according to AKC registration statistics, this is the smallest of the spaniels as well as within the AKC’s Sporting Group. Originally used a hunting dog, flushing and retrieving game birds, the cocker is a popular family pet and show dog. It is known as a gentle, yet energetic breed that needs regular exercise. It has a sturdy, compact body, standing 14 to 15 inches (37 to 38 cm) tall and weighing 15 to 30 pounds (7 to 14 kg). A cocker’s coat is usually medium length with ears, chest, stomach and legs well-feathered. The coat requires regular brushing and trimming. Coat color varies, from solid colors like black, tan and red to parti-color, which are two or more solid colors with white. The American Cocker is now distinguished from the English Cocker.

English Cocker Spaniel
This energetic, enthusiastic dog loves to work in the field and possesses great endurance and an eagerness to please. Its cheerful disposition and affectionate nature make this dog a wonderful companion as well. The breed descended from the spaniels of Spain; the English Cocker became a separate, distinct breed from the American Cocker in 1946. Larger than its American cousin; the English Cocker stands 15 to 17 inches (38 to 43 cm) tall and weighs 26 to 34 pounds (12 to 16 kg). However, like its American counterpart, its medium-length, feathery coat requires regular grooming, including trimming. Coat color is similar, coming in either solid or parti-color, but the English Cocker Spaniel’s coat can also have speckles and spots like its relative the English Springer Spaniel.

English Springer Spaniel
This breed originated from the same litters as English Cockers; the cockers (smaller) were used to hunt small game birds, such as woodcock, while their larger littermates, the Springers, were used to flush or “spring” larger game. In 1902, the Kennel Club of England separated the springers and the cockers, making the English Springer Spaniel a distinct breed. It was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1910. Known for its affectionate and cheerful demeanor, the Springer Spaniel is an intelligent dog that’s easy to train. Springers stand 1 to 21 inches (46 to 56 cm) tall at the shoulder and weigh an average of 50 pounds (23 kg). Their long, fine feathery coat requires daily brushing and regular grooming. Coat color is black and white, liver and white, or tri-color; some even have blue or liver roan coloration. These dogs make excellent family pets but their energetic nature requires regular, often vigorous, exercise.

Field Spaniel
The Field Spaniel originated in England during the mid-1800s for hunting on both land and in water. Its docile demeanor and attachment toward people make it an excellent family dog. The Field Spaniel nearly became extinct due to lack of popularity and breeding during the early 1900s. However, the breed was resurrected in the 1960s although it is still considered rare. It stands about 18 inches (46 cm) tall and weighs an average of 42 pounds (19 kg). Its silky, dense, medium-length coat requires minimal grooming; a weekly brushing generally suffices. Coat color is usually black, liver or golden-liver or can be dual-colored with ticking or roaning.

Irish Water Spaniel
irish water spanielA dog of long lineage, this breed dates back to the 7th and 8th centuries. It’s one of the largest of the spaniel breeds, standing 21 to 24 inches (53 to 61 cm) tall and weighing 45 to 65 pounds (20 to 30 kg). It serves as a hunting dog both in water and on land and is active and energetic. This breed is considered the clown of the Spaniels, finding creative ways to accomplish tasks. Intelligent and eager to please, the Irish Water Spaniel is very trainable. Regular, vigorous exercise is important for this inquisitive and alert dog. Its short, curly coat is considered hypoallergenic, making this breed suitable for allergy suffers. One of its unique features is the topknot, made of long, loose curls that cover the head. Minimal grooming is required. Coat coloring is usually dark liver with a purple tinge, another unique characteristic.

Sussex Spaniel
This spaniel was one of the original breeds recognized by the AKC in 1884. Developed in Sussex county England during the 1700s, this long, low-built dog is well-suited for working in dense underbrush. It possesses a great nose, helping it excel as a flushing and retrieving game bird dog. The Sussex possesses a somber and serious expression; however, this dog is noted for its friendly and cheerful personality; it is also known as a breed that’s excellent with children and other dogs. Similar in height to cockers, but stockier, they range in size from 13 to 15 inches (33 to 38 cm) tall and 35 to 45 pounds (16 to 20 kg). The Sussex possesses a golden-liver colored coat, unique to the breed. Its long, thick ears are prone to capture weeds and other briars from the field; so dutiful attention must be paid to that part of the dog’s body. Weekly brushing should also be done. Beware: this breed is prone to drooling!

Welsh Springer Spaniel
Similar in hunting style to the English Springer Spaniel, “springing” onto game birds, the Welsh Springer Spaniel has been a distinct breed since the Renaissance. As noted in the name, it was developed in Wales. Nobility used these dogs for hunting, and the breed was fashionable during the 1700s. However, the Welsh Springer was replaced in popularity by the English Springer, but a small group of concerned, diligent people kept the breed from becoming extinct. It is known for its lovely red and white coat that requires weekly brushing. Although affectionate with its human family, this breed is somewhat wary of strangers. More independent than most other spaniels, the Welsh Springer is still trainable, especially if done early. Although not very large, these dogs are active and athletic and therefore, require plenty of exercise. They average 18 inches (46 cm) tall and 40 pounds (18 kg) in weight. The Welsh Springer Spaniel truly enjoys being with its people, and this makes it a wonderful pet. However, these dogs can be independent-minded and sensitive to people’s voices.

French Spaniel
french spanielNot officially recognized by the AKC, this large spaniel’s lineage dates back to 14th century France. It was popular with royalty during the Middle Ages, however, it nearly became extinct around the 20th century; the breed was saved by a French priest. French Spaniels were not imported to the United States until 1997. The primary coat color is brown and white, often with speckles, and the coat is dense and water resistant. Considered enthusiastic, hardy hunting dogs, they persist in locating game. A fairly large spaniel, these dogs stand 21 to 24 inches (55 to 61 cm) tall and weigh 44 to 55 pounds (20 to 25 kg). Because of their great stamina, French Spaniels need daily, intense exercise. They are considered calm, even-tempered and intelligent, and get along very well with children and other dogs. Therefore, they make excellent family pets. Although not part of the official AKC registry, the breed is recognized by other dog groups, including the National Kennel Club, the American Canine Registry, and the Dog Registry of America, Inc. The breed is, however, recorded in the AKC Foundation Stock Service®.

Cavalier King Charles
The namesake of King Charles II of Britain, these small, affectionate dogs were the companions of the aristocracy. Although used somewhat for hunting small game, the Cavalier’s true purpose has been that of beloved pet. Additionally, today’s Cavaliers enjoy the role of therapy dog and participant in conformation, obedience and agility. Part of the Toy Group, the breed was recgonized by the AKC in 1995. These minute dogs stand only 10 to 13 inches (25 to 33 cm) tall and weigh 13 to 18 pounds (6 to 8 kg). They are known for their sweet and gentle nature and can be quite playful. Long walks suffice for exercise, and though these dogs possess long, silky coats, they require only weekly brushing. Coat color comes in four varieties: blenheim (chestnut and white), tricolor (black, white, and tan), ruby (solid red) and black and tan.

English Toy Spanielenglish toy spaniel
Another spaniel of the Toy Group, this little dog stands about 10 inches (25 cm) tall and weighs only 8 to 14 pounds (3.6 to 5.5 kg). The breed has been recognized by the AKC since 1886. Another small dog of the nobility, English Toys originated in the Far East and were imported to England; representatives appear in paintings dating to the 17th century. The breed is divided into four varieties based on color: blenheim (rich mahogany red and white); ruby (rich mahogany red); Prince Charles (white with black and tan markings); and King Charles (black and tan). The coat lengths in the Prince Charles and King Charles types are longer than the other two. Their coats are easy to groom, requiring twice-weekly brushing and combing. Playful and loving, these spaniels are wonderful companions, including for families with children. Their small size make them great dogs for apartment life.

Tibetan Spaniel
Part of the AKC’s Non-Sporting group, this breed was recognized by the organization in 1983. It is one of three native breeds of Tibet and thrives on human companionship. Considered intelligent, active and alert, Tibetans excel at conformation, agility and obedience events. The heritage of these little dogs dates back to 1100 BC. They were prized companions for Tibetan monks; these small dogs continue in their role of beloved pet. Although somewhat aloof with strangers, Tibetan Spaniels enjoy the company of their special people. The double, silky coat comes in a variety of colors and requires weekly brushing. This breed, which averages 10 inches (25 cm) tall and ranges from 9 to 15 pounds (4 to 7 kg), makes an excellent dog for apartment life not only because of its small size, but also because its exercise requirement is a simple daily walk.

Spaniels come in a variety of sizes and coat colors. Most are known for their friendly, loyal and happy dispositions. Although most were originally bred for hunting upland game birds and waterfowl, all have served as faithful family companions for centuries, a role they still fill today.

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