The low-slung Sussex Spaniel has a compact, rectangular body and weighs 35 to 45 pounds. He stands out for his coat color of rich golden liver and his large, sad eyes, so typical of the spaniel family. In the field, he’s slow but steady, beating his way through thick cover to flush and retrieve birds for a hunter on foot. He’s also a super family dog for people who can give him the exercise and firm but loving guidance he needs. One Sussex recently put the spotlight on the breed, taking home the top honor at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show and earning the breed some new fans. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering acquiring a Sussex Spaniel.
Is the Sussex Spaniel the Right Dog for You?
The Sussex is calm but enthusiastic. A laidback appearance belies a clownish, energetic and sometimes protective personality. He barks and howls, making him an excellent watchdog, although not particularly quiet to live with.
He’s highly intelligent but can be stubborn, so he’s not always easy to train. That said, if you find the right motivation—like making use of his super scenting ability—you can teach the Sussex to do almost anything. Train him with positive reinforcement techniques. He is particularly fond of food rewards. Be patient when it comes to housetraining. It can take a long time for a Sussex, especially females, to be trustworthy in this regard.
The Sussex walks at a slow pace and doesn’t require the frenetic levels of exercise needed by some other sporting breeds, but he’s not a couch potato, either, at least not when he’s young. He’ll enjoy moderate to long strolls or hikes, although he’s not the companion for a jogger or runner. His versatility and athleticism make him suited to a number of dog sports: hunt tests, freestyle, obedience, rally and tracking. The Sussex easily learns to retrieve, making him a great playmate for the kid who likes to play ball. Once he reaches maturity, his calm demeanor makes him a natural for therapy work.
When a Sussex is raised with children, the two generally go together like strawberries and cream. Sussex puppies may be too rambunctious for families with toddlers, however, and adult Sussex Spaniels who are unfamiliar with children may not be comfortable around them.
Like most dogs, Sussex Spaniels become bored when left to their own devices, and the amount of damage they can do is considerable. Don’t give them the run of the house until they’ve reached trustworthy maturity. Sussex puppies tend to develop slowly, so that may not be until they are 2 or 3 years old. And keep your Sussex busy with training, play and socialization experiences. A bored Sussex is a destructive Sussex.
The Sussex has an abundant flat or wavy coat that requires a fair amount of grooming. Brush him thoroughly once a week to reduce the amount of hair he spreads around the house, as well as to prevent mats and tangles. Trim his nails every two weeks or so and the hair on the bottom of his feet monthly. Check the ears weekly and clean them as needed to prevent ear infections.
The Sussex loves his people and needs to live in the house. Don’t get one if you want an outside dog. It’s an unhappy Sussex who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.
Be patient. The Sussex is an uncommon breed, so you may experience a wait of six months or even a year or two before a puppy is available.
5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Sussex Spaniel Puppy
- Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You’re more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
- Finding a good breeder is more important than 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. A list of breeders is available on the website of the Sussex Spaniel Club of America; choose one who is committed to following the SSCA’s Code of Ethics.
- Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Sussex Spaniels aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, Sussex Spaniels can live 12 to 14 years, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.
- Puppy or adult, take your Sussex Spaniel to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
- Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Health Issues Common to Sussex Spaniels
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 her dogs have experienced and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Sussex Spaniels are healthy in general, but some conditions can be a concern, especially if you aren’t cautious about whom you buy from. They include some heart problems—pulmonic stenosis, patent ductus arteriosus and tetralogy of fallot—as well as an exercise intolerance syndrome called pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency, hip dysplasia, deafness, eye problems, hypothyroidism (common in middle-aged dogs of many breeds), allergies and periodontal disease. Females can have difficulty whelping and often require Caesarean sections.
The PDH deficiency is present in 20 percent of Sussex Spaniels, but a genetic test is available to identify normal, carrier and affected dogs. Hip dysplasia affects 42 percent of the Sussex Spaniels tested for it, but it is generally not debilitating. Ask the breeder to show evidence that at least one of a puppy’s parents is clear of PDH deficiency and have up-to-date health certifications for heart and hips from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and eye certifications from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.
Pet Insurance for Sussex Spaniels
Pet insurance for Sussex Spaniels costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Sussex Spaniels are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Sussex Spaniels are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Sussex Spaniel is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.