There’s no single breed of hunting dog that is perfect for every situation, but with a little knowledge about the breeds you’re considering, you can narrow your search for your next hunting partner. This series offers a primer on the most popular breeds of hunting dogs. Today, we discuss the English springer spaniel.
You might not be able to tell just by looking that the English springer spaniel is a top-notch upland bird hunter. Those ears! That coat! A well-groomed springer spaniel almost looks ornamental, a dog you want to keep indoors to show off to your grandmother’s friends. Their even temperaments and eager-to-please personalities make them perfect companions. But the attributes that make springers great family pets also make them unrivaled in the field.
Originally bred in England to flush upland game birds (generally classified as non-waterfowl like pheasant, quail and grouse), the springer combines multiple jobs into one. It’ll flush the prey, point it out and retrieve it on land or even swim for it in case of a water landing. Their scent ability is the best in the biz, and even though their long, fluffy coat seems like it would be a magnet for burrs and sticks, the opposite is true. Springers glide through the bush with minimal effort, and their superb endurance and trainability makes them perfect for long trips in search of prey.
According to the American Kennel Club, “springers are tough, muscular hunters standing 19 to 20 inches at the shoulder and weighing between 40 and 50 pounds.” The compact size makes them easy to kennel for long trips into the wilderness, and once free to do their job, their stout musculature gives them the power they need for short bursts of energy over a long period of time. Springers tend to stay within gun range, darting back and forth over a wide field. They cover a lot of ground “horizontally” as you move upfield “vertically.”
The combination of relatively low ground clearance, long ears and powerful sniffers means that springers are perfect for tracking down land-dwelling birds. Their long ears kick scent forward as they bust through cover for an immensely accurate one-two punch that pinpoints prey with the greatest of ease.
When it comes time to retrieve birds that fell into a pond or lake, the springer’s webbed feet make for great water mobility.
Springer spaniels have a double-layered, brush-resistant coat that makes them great for charging through brush without getting poked or picking up lots of debris. But that coat does need maintenance! Regular brushing, especially around the ears, will keep the longer hair matting to a minimum, especially if done immediately after a hunt. It’s a good idea to trim the more feathery hair around the ears and legs before hunting season, to keep after-hunt maintenance to a minimum.
Any dog with long, floppy ears should have those ears checked regularly for infection or mites, and in the springer’s case, it’s important to keep those mats and tangles off the ears.
Springers are moderately energetic and while they can be happy just hanging out on the couch with the family, they are at their best with daily exercise. Since they’re bred for the great outdoors, scent training and agility courses can help burn some energy while prepping for hunting season.
As ambitious as they are intelligent, springers are easy to train if you stick with it. If training lapses, the springer’s natural instinct to wander and explore can get the better of them. It’s not that they’re actively stubborn or prone to ignore commands; it’s that they’re hard-wired to move forward. However, they’re very eager to please and more than happy to play “number two” to a strong leader.
English springer spaniels need a well-balanced diet specially designed for performance dogs. Their typical day in the field consists of lots of quick-burst activity over a long period of time, and they can cover a lot more ground than it seems. They need nutrients that support a long day of hard work, so a food that’s high in fat and protein is ideal. A high-fat diet provides the fuel they need to canvas dozens of acres in search of prey, while quality protein helps them bounce back from that effort.
These are dogs who love their people, and they can suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for too long. But if you’re in the market for a smart, even-tempered dog who will spend all day running down prey and all night hunting for love, the English spring spaniel is your dog.