Judging The English Springer Spaniel By David Swartwood
“SpringingSpaniels” got there nick name by springing
game up for falconers in the 1500’s. By the time guns came into vogue for
hunting birds, sportsman of the 17th century wrote that the spaniel
“is gentle loving and courteous to man more than any other dog… of free
untiring ranging, beating a full course over and over neither desisting nor
showing less delight in his labors at night than he did in the morning.” From
the very beginnings, the ability to hunt and to live with the family was
spaniel litters were of mixed parentage and varying sizes. Small ones weighing up to 25 lbs. called
“cockers” because of their use in hunting woodcock. Larger Spaniels 17-18
inches tall and weighing 25 – 45 lbs. were simply known as “field spaniels” and
a third class the “English Spaniels” were diligently bred in England, this
class included the Springers, Sussex, and Clumbers.The subsequent breed title was determined by
the offsprings resulting size and use rather than the bloodlines. Separation of sizes began in earnest in the
1880’s. The American Spaniel Club, founded in 1881, set the top weight for a
cocker at 28 lbs. Once a dog was over this weight it could be reclassified and
shown as a springer.
first Springer registered with the CKC was in 1914, a dog brought back from Crufts whose parents
were Welsh Springers but he was registered as an English Springer Spaniel. This
dog measured 18 ½ inches and weighed
about 45 lbs. When left with a field dog trainer, he relates “no more faithful
and wise dog ever entered my family circle…well mannered, kind with children
and all this coddling did not affect his working ability. Word of this dog’s
hunting ability spread across Canada and articles in Field and Stream and The
American Kennel Club Gazette along with word of mouth drove the popularity
to a frenzy after the war and the “Golden Twenty’s” saw a surge in litters and
both imports and exports of this “new breed”. This handler imported as many as
50 springers in 1923 alone and over 850 from England in his lifetime. Imports
and breeding took an almost unknown breed to Top Ten All Breeds in less than a decade. A position it would hold
for a number of years.
Early greats helped stamp some consistency in
the breed bringing a foundation of the normal
colours of liver and white, black and white and tricolor. No more lemon,
oranges and off colours . Eyes darkened and haws were less noticeable as well
as many other faults prevalent in the early years of development. They helped
turn a once freckled or roaned sporting
dog of varying sizes into a breed of such beauty that they would be undeniable
in the show ring and the record books. The
show ring was calling for the Springer. Here was a beautiful dog with the
heart, soul and the energy level to compete under any condition.Back then both Canada and the United States
had dual purpose dogs. Show dogs had field titles and visa versa. At one time
the Springer had more dual titled dogs than all the other breeds put
together.A division towards a “bench”
type and “field” type did not begin until the 40’s and continues to this day.
Dual titled dogs with Show and Field Titles is more rare today than ever
Form and Function:
Springer’s job was to search for game by nose and to flush it out and make it
run or fly. His ability to “quarter” back and forth over the terrain made him
invaluable as he didn’t miss a thing by running too far and too fast. He was a
“Gentleman’s” hunting dog. Flushing up a bird too far away to shoot was not an
option so the Springer was bred to work in close proximity. His build and drive
where always the priority in early breeding decisions so that he was capable of
doing his job.
standard has seen many changes over the years. First written descriptions date as
far back as 1616 describes the spaniel
as “this dog is by nature very gentle and courteous and loving to man more than
any other dog whatsoever”. Later, the division of simply under or over 28lbs.
further divided the spaniels. Then differences like the “springer is more
active and animated than the clumber and exhibits courage and determination in
his carriage” drew comparisons that further separated the cousins.Early descriptions of ”lower and longer than
that of a cocker” and ”a peaked occiput is an esteemed mark of beauty” have
gone by the wayside. Colours such as lemon and orange were also included as
allowable under the old descriptions.
English Springer Field Trail Association was developed as the parent club in
the US and patterned their Breed Standard after the UK version in 1927.It was just a few years later in 1932 another
revision was drafted. It described the
ideal dog as “medium in size, sound and sturdy and not in any way coarse or
ponderous… a well balanced sporting dog combining beauty and utility”.It did however increase the size once again
from the original or 40 to the 1927 weightof 45 and now in 1932 “not to exceed 50lbs.” Correct height was stated
as 18 ½” for males and 18” for females although many dogs of the day were
already over this mark. By 1956 the revision to a more standard size of 20” for
males and 19” for females came into being with an inch over or under not to be
faulted, this mark stands today.
that same revision a new subject titled Temperament
was proposed to remind breeders against nervousness and timidity. The words
that so describe our breed are still in use today: “The typical springer is friendly and eager to obey. In the show ring
he should exhibit poise, attentiveness, tractability and should permit himself
to be examined by the judge without resentment or cringing”. In an attempt
to describe all the Springers qualities the 1956 revision became the second
longest in the history of breed standards. The CKC adopted this standard in
1960 and even though it has been revised, it too is one of the longest of all
our current CKC standard is very long and spends a full page on faults to be
considered, it is one that attempts to describe the perfect Springer. The
overall consideration should always be to look for “a sound moving, free from
exaggeration, and balanced dog of sturdy build. His soft gentle expression and
wagging tail proclaim his unmistakably a member of the spaniel family”.
to the standard have been proposed (but yet to be adopted) to clarify some
areas. An attempt to concentrate on what makes the perfect Springer rather than
what doesn’t was adopted to shorten and clarify this lengthy and somewhat
confusing standard for the benefit of breeder, exhibitor and judges.
Judging the English Springer Spaniel:
Areas to concentrate on “IN MY OPINION” as a breeder of more than three decades and as a judge would be as follows: Remember the key words in the general description and throughout the standard mention time and again moderation, soundness, free from exaggeration, symmetry and ease of movement. If any one part of the dog, standing still or in motion, draws your eye then the balance is not intact.
General Appearance, Outline, Soundness and Temperament.
A Springer’s carriage is proud and upstanding but that does not mean straight shoulders with open angles causing more height with high set withers and short upper arm. In order to go all day in the field the Springer needs to have a well set on front assembly with a matching balanced rear. Any exaggeration in the angles front and rear will affect the free and easy movement. Faster is not necessarily better. Slow any dog down who you are unable to get a proper assessment of movement.
The dimensions of the Springer come into question quite often and need to be clarified. A Springer when measured from point of shoulder to buttocks should be slightly longer than tall (*adopted by the AKC after many years of research). Our current CKC standard measures from the top of the shoulders to root of tail and calls it nearly equal. This could lead to a dog either to short or too long depending on the layback of the shoulders. Too long in body is as bad as too short which restricts the gait. Look for a front assembly that is set well back on the body with the withers directly over the front feet. This would allow fill and forechestin front of the shoulders and this along with a length of upper arm matching the length of the shoulder would allow full reach ahead while on the move. A matching moderately angled rear that does not extend too far back and whose angle is not greater than the front assembly allows for maximum drive. Some dogs have a tendency towards a sweeping rear that plants itself well beyond the point of the buttocks that it should be set under.
The head is well described as having its beauty in a combination of strength and refinement. In profile the planes should be of equal length and parallel. Many of today’s dogs have diverging planes with a down faced look. It is to be viewed from the side as looking at the face from in front can be very pleasing even with diverging planes. The width of the skull should be fairly broad and flattened on top. The width of the skull is to be twice the width of the muzzle allowing for plenty of brain room. A narrow ”brick on brick” setter style head is incorrect. A groove or ”fluting” indicates the stop between the eyes and is moderate. The eyes are described as “neither small, round, hard or full”. Better still would be if they described what in fact they should be which is dark, well set, almond or oval in shape with tight lids with little or no haw showing. The bony structure or brow around the eyes along with the fluting contribute to the Springer’s beautiful soft expression.
The ears are pendulous and set in line with the eye and not too far back, the leather to reach approximately the nose.Teeth can be either a scissor or even (level) bite. An even bite was pretty common for many years and when the US Standard changed to scissors it suddenly faulted many top dogs and kennels. The standard was revised and even was once again written in the standard.
The Springer’ body should be well coupled and strong. A straight level back with slight arch over the hips leads to the proper tail set. The tail set and carriage is always a debate point as what we describe versus what is winning in the ring can be far apart. The tail follows the natural line of the croup and is described as “somewhat low” and the carriage to be nearly horizontal or slightly elevated when the dog is excited. “Carried straight up is untypical of the breed”. Many Springers may actually have the correct tail set but then are groomed with a higher set to fit in the ring. A flat croup may result in a higher set but it will not have the drive necessary to propel the dog properly. Don’t get so hung up on the tail that an otherwise good dog is lost. More importantly is the fact that the springer’s tail is an indicator of it’s temperament and it’s continuous “merry” action is an important characteristic not to be overlooked.
A moderate coat is window dressing for this balanced sporting dog. A wavy or straight coat of “moderate” length and heaviness covers the body. This is a sporting dog who works in thick cover, any excessive length would deter it’s function and get them stuck in the briars. It is legitimate to trim the dog in order to give a smart clean appearance but over trimming that destroys the clean outline of the dog is to be penalized. Correct quality and condition should take precedence over the quantity. A profuse and soft cottony coat similar to what one might see on an American Cocker is wrong and should be penalized
There are no such things as preferred markings. A wide white collar and a white muzzle and head blaze can be attractive and even make a faulty dog appear more correct. Don’t be fooled, look past markings when judging to find the best sporting dog in spite of how it’s painted. Black or liver with white or Tri-colour markings are the acceptable colours. Red, lemon and orange should not be placed. Freckles or ticking have long been a part of the breed, they are not to be faulted. Ticking heavily patterned will appear roaned which is acceptable.
The size for a male springer is 20” at the withers and for bitches 19”, both give or take an inch. A soundly built 20” dog will weigh approximately 45-50lbs.Springers should be shown in hard muscled condition.
A note on temperament. The Springer as previously mentioned is one of the most loving, faithful and endearing dogs on Earth. All Springer standards mention willingness to learn, attentive, or poised. A springer must always allow itself to be examined in the ring with out resentment (with due allowance for puppies and novice exhibits). Aggression towards people or other dogs is not in keeping with true spaniel temperament and must be penalized.