Traits, Personality and Behavior
Hunting Lines of the English Springer Spaniel
Springers from hunting lines weigh between 35 and 45 pounds, and have a fairly short coat that comes in a variety of colors marked with white, which is usually "ticked" with small dark markings. Their coats need little grooming, and while they shed, it can be kept under control with a quick brushing every couple of days.
These dogs tend to have a lot of energy and thrive on plenty of exercise. While hunting dogs that are regularly trained and worked can live in kennel situations, that doesn't mean they can live in the yard or a kennel 11 months out of the year. A bright, high-energy dog like the Springer will go crazy cooped up, and he won't form the bond that would make him excel at his work. Bring him into your home as a family companion, or treat him as a serious working partner and train him all year long.
Show Lines of the English Springer Spaniel
Springers from show lines are usually heavier than field dogs, weighing between 40 and 50 pounds, and judges reward a dog with clear definition between white and dark patches with even, eye-pleasing patterns. While they may not need quite as much exercise as their field-bred cousins, they're still a pretty active dog. They'll do best in a home where they're given the chance to run and play daily, and they are not usually happy unless kept as house dogs. Their coats are much longer and more profuse than dogs from hunting lines and therefore require a great deal more grooming. Most pet owners keep their Springers' coats clipped, usually professionally.
If you're lucky enough to find a puppy from a good breeder, get him off on the right foot with gentle and consistent training right from the start. A well-bred Springer of show or field lines should be easy to house-train, happy to be with you, good with other dogs and cats and eager to experience new things, even if it means walking on a leash, riding in the car or going to puppy training classes.
Health Issues Common to English Springer Spaniels
English Springer Spaniels are susceptible to a number of health problems that are at least partly genetic. These include many different eye disorders including cataracts and glaucoma, as well as painful defects of the hips and knees. Disc disease can make movement painful for the English Springer Spaniel, which is by nature an active dog that loves to run and play. Heart disease, liver disease, epilepsy -- the Springer is at risk for all of them.
Phosphofructokinase (PFK) deficiency is a genetic disease that occurs in both field and show lines of English Springer Spaniels. In a randomized trial conducted by the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, 2.7% of Springers were found to be carriers of the mutant PFK allele. PFK is an enzyme used by the metabolic system to turn glucose into energy. Without it, some cells cannot function, and affected dogs become weak and lethargic. They may experience muscle cramps and anemia as well as dark-colored urine after exertion, barking or panting.
Fortunately, because PFK deficiency is an autosomal recessive trait, a dog will only have the condition if both his parents carry the gene that causes it. The University of Pennsylvania has a simple test that detects that gene, so your puppy's breeder should be able to show you documentation from UPenn that at least one of his parents is clear of the condition, to ensure that your dog won't be affected.
Most troubling of the breed-specific genetic problems in the English Springer Spaniel is a tendency towards different kinds of aggression. This is more common in show lines, and while it's often called "Springer Rage Syndrome," there are probably a number of different temperament problems in the breed. A more complete discussion of the syndrome can be found on the breed club website, and buyers need to be extremely cautious about the temperament of the parents and relatives of any puppy they are considering.
English Springer Spaniels are notoriously prone to ear infections because of their long, hanging ears. Chronic ear problems can usually be prevented or treated as long as the owner is attentive and takes the dog to the vet any time a problem is suspected. Follow-up care is especially important in matters of the ear to prevent new flare-ups of old problems.
The ESS is at risk of a genetic hip deformity known as hip dysplasia. The head of the thigh bone doesn't fit properly into the hip socket, and over time, the bone begins to wear away. The constant inflammation leads to arthritis. It's treated with surgery, usually total hip replacement. Untreated, the dog will suffer pain and lameness. A puppy's hips can't be evaluated, but by the age of two you can know if a dog is or isn't affected. This condition can only be diagnosed by X-rays evaluated by an orthopedic specialist. It's impossible to know if a dog has hip dysplasia simply from examining him or watching him move.
The variety of eye problems that can afflict the English Springer Spaniel ranges from the cosmetic to the sight-threatening. For instance, the Springer is 24.6 times more likely to be at risk for progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) compared to all other breeds according to a study conducted by the College of Veterinary Medicine at the Ohio State University. Make sure to have your English Springer Spaniel's eyes examined once a year by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, and seek veterinary care immediately at any signs of cloudiness, redness, itching or irritation of the eyes or if the dog is squinting or pawing at them.
9 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy English Springer Spaniel Puppy
Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers all breeds and popular mixes shipped with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
Start with a breeder who is a member in good standing of the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association. Your breeder should agree to abide by the organization's guidelines for breeders, which prohibit its members from selling puppies to a pet store or through any kind of third-party retailer and layout the breeder's obligations to the puppies they produce and to the people who buy them.
Ask your puppy's breeder to provide you with documentation from either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip) stating that your puppy's parents are free of hip dysplasia. She should also have test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) that her dogs are clear of genetic eye disorders known to occur in the English Springer Spaniel.
Since temperament is a particular concern in the breed, make sure you spend time with the breeder's dogs, and if possible, with your puppy's mother or father. Very often the father won't be on the premises -- good breeders look for the best possible male for their females, not just the best one they happen to own -- so don't view that as any kind of red flag. But if the breeder won't let you meet the mother of the puppies, and won't let you meet any of her dogs, consider that the worst of all signs and look elsewhere.
Ask about your breeder's involvement with the breed and dogs in general. Good breeders don't just sit home having their dogs churn out litters for sale; they get out there with their dogs and make sure they're happy and stable in the kinds of real world situations every family pet needs to take in stride. Good field line breeders hunt with their dogs as well as compete in field trials. Good show line breeders compete in dog shows or in canine sports such as obedience and agility. There are also many good show breeders who compete with their dogs in AKC hunting tests.
Do not take temperament issues lightly. Ideally, both your puppy's parents and other relatives will have a "TT" certificate issued by the American Temperament Test Society.
Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in English Springer Spaniels aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out.
Puppy or adult, take your English Springer 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, particularly ear infections and eye problems.
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.
Pet Insurance for English Springer Spaniels
Pet insurance for English Springer Spaniels costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because English Springer Spaniels are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which English Springer Spaniels are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your English Springer 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.