Description & History

The English Springer is described as being of ancient and pure origin and the oldest of British sporting gundog breeds. It is probably the forebear from which all spaniel stock has evolved, apart from the Clumber Spaniel.

Records show that spaniels have been in existence for 800 years. In the Middle Ages, long before the invention of early sporting guns, netting was one of the methods used when hunting. The dogs would find, flush or 'spring' game for the nets or Greyhounds. These dogs were the forerunners of the present day Springer.

Although there were no distinct types of spaniels until the early part of the nineteenth century, there were Springers and Cockers, but they were not two separate breeds. Gradually different breeds emerged and by the middle of the nineteenth century the Springer as we know it today was established.

In 1902 the British Kennel Club recognised the Springer as a separate breed and in 1905 the first field trials for spaniels were held.

There are two types of English Springer - the working and the show dog. The working dog is smaller, lighter boned and is active and robust: it delights in finding, flushing and retrieving either wing or fur from undergrowth, thick cover and marsh land. The show dog is larger and heavier boned than its working cousin and also has longer ears and feathering. In 1974, 1985 and 1998 the English Springer was the group finalist at Crufts Dog Show.

Many working dogs that compete successfully at field trials also take part in working tests. Field trials are held in natural surroundings as would be found in an average day's shooting. Gundog or working tests, however, are carried out on set courses using dummies instead of game. They probably benefit the inexperienced dog rather than the mature one which is used to working in natural conditions.

As well as working and show dogs some members of the breed are trained to detect drugs. They are particularly successful when working at docks and airports where large consignments arrive illegally from various parts of the world.

Rosamund Walters.

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