Clumber Spaniel

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Clumber Spaniel

"Slow and steady wins the race" could be the Clumber Spaniel’s motto, for it is a thoughtful dog that takes life at its own pace. The largest of the Spaniels, it is a gentle character that is often referred to as “the retired gentleman’s spaniel”. Despite its outwardly sedate appearance, it is a mischievous dog that can make a nuisance of itself if food, clothing, or just about anything it can fit in its mouth are left within reach, and a Clumber’s adolescence can be a trying time for all the family. However, it matures into a mellow and affectionate adult that will repay its owner’s patience in spades, with an abundance of slobbery kisses and a characteristic whole-body tail wag when greeting its favourite people.

Unfortunately, the Clumber Spaniel is not a breed for the very house-proud, for it is a notoriously heavy shedding breed. Not only this, but it also produces a steady stream of drool that can leave a trail around the home. And light sleepers beware – for at night, it’s unlikely any of the humans in the house can match the breed for its ability to snore. The plodding manner in which the Clumber works has allowed a high incidence of hip dysplasia to go unnoticed through many generations, and the majority of dogs are afflicted by this orthopaedic condition to some degree. However, it is otherwise quite a healthy breed, and it has an average life expectancy of around 12 to 13 years.

About & History

The most popular version of the Clumber’s early history is that it is descended from a pack of dogs belonging to a French aristocrat who fled to England around the time of the French Revolution, but this story does not really hold water when closely inspected. Around this same period (the late eighteenth century), the Duke of Nottingham had an already established pack of hunting spaniels, and his gamekeeper, William Mansell, is credited with breeding and refining the modern Clumber Spaniel, most likely through the introduction of some Basset Hound and Alpine Spaniel blood. It was, and remains, a hunting dog first and foremost, and it is particularly useful in heavy cover, where its low-slung body can weave around shrubs and other obstacles, while its keen nose follows a bird’s trail, leading its owner to his prey.

Given the terrain in which it was expected to work, the Clumber did not need to be speedy – in fact, it would be all too easy for the huntsman to fall behind as he himself struggled to work through the heavy growth. Instead, the Clumber’s plodding pace and thorough approach to scenting made sure that neither dog nor hunter missed an opportunity to locate their quarry. The breed was a favourite at some of the earliest dog shows on both sides of the Atlantic, and was among the first ten breeds recognised by the American Kennel Club. Its royal patrons have included Prince Albert, King Edward VII, and George V, who was instrumental in rescuing the Clumber from extinction in the aftermath of the Second World War. It remains rare today, listed by the Kennel Club as a vulnerable native breed, meaning that it has fewer than 300 new registrations each year.

Appearance

Clumber Spaniel Large Photo

The Clumber Spaniel is a large, heavily built dog, and it does have a tendency to excessive weight gain, which owners must guard against so as not to exacerbate any hip problems. It has a broad skull with pronounced frontal ridges, exaggerating the shape of the prominent eyebrows. An obvious stop leads to a wide, square muzzle that is unusually short for a spaniel. Its heavy lips have well-developed flews, and the jaw is thick and strong. The eyes may have a little of the haw (the mucous lining of the eyelid) visible, and they are a dark amber colour. The large ears are set just above eye level, and hang slightly forward.

Clumbers are longer than they are tall, giving them a low-slung appearance. The neck and back are long, well muscled, and powerful, and the broad chest is well let down and extends well back. The abdomen does not have an obvious tuck. Although the breed was traditionally subjected to tail docking, the full tail should be set low on the croup and carried level with the back. The Clumber’s limbs are remarkable for their strength, both in terms of the well-developed muscles and their heavy bone structure, and they should move along a plane perpendicular to the ground in dogs with a healthy conformation.

The coat is extremely dense, designed to withstand scratches and cuts from thorns and sticks. It has a silky texture and lies close to the skin. Ideally, the Clumber Spaniel should be predominantly white in colour, with small lemon or orange markings on the body, and freckling around the head and muzzle. Male Clumbers weigh between 30 and 34 kg, and are around 45 to 50 cm in height, with females weighing 25 to 30 kg, and standing 43 to 46 cm tall.

Character & Temperament

Unusually for a spaniel, the Clumber Spaniel comes across as aloof and reserved when meeting strangers; while never aggressive, it takes its time in warming to new people, just as it does in every other facet of its life. It is a calm, loyal, and gentle companion, and saves its fawning and affection for its family. Only a Clumber owner can fully appreciate the joy of receiving a whole-body wag when returning home after a day’s work, and the breed is not shy about seeking attention and physical affection.

It is commonly a very mouthy dog, leading it to chew all and sundry in its destructive puppy phase, and later in life to habitually carry objects around in its jaws, not chewing, but drooling heavily, which can be just as destructive to a pair of shoes or an item of clothing. Clumbers are generally very good with children, although they have a reputation for counter surfing, and will steal food or toys from youngsters with impunity, so they should not be left unattended with the under-fives.

Trainability

Clumber Spaniels are clever and highly food-oriented. These two traits go some way to overcoming the fact that they also tend to be rather stubborn in training. Owners can usually achieve reasonable success in training by keeping it varied and interesting, as well as providing treats to reward good behaviour.

The breed’s tendency to mouthy behaviour should be tackled from puppyhood, through distraction and by substituting hard-wearing toys for objects not designed to withstand chewing.

Health

There health problems to which the breed is prone are few in number; however, those listed below are quite prevalent:

  • Dystocia – Birthing difficulties are common in the Clumber Spaniel, meaning many litters must be delivered by Caesarean section.
  • Ectropion – Drooping of the eyelids, allowing the fleshy lining of the lids to be seen. This tends to cause irritation through drying of the mucosal surfaces and exposure to dust and other particles. Surgical correction may be necessary in some dogs.
  • Entropion – Essentially the reverse of ectropion, with the eyelids turning inwards towards the eye. Irritation in this case is the result of hairs rubbing on the corneal surface, which can lead to ulceration and scarring. Surgical correction is required to prevent any permanent ocular damage.
  • Hip dysplasia – The breed has the second-worst average hip score of all breeds, and it should be assumed that every Clumber Spaniel is affected unless proven otherwise. Responsible breeding requires the hip scoring of both parents, and selecting only those with the best hips for future breeding. Because of the high incidence of hip dysplasia, all Clumbers should be kept at the lower end of their ideal body weight range, and they should not be exercised excessively, especially when young.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Taken out into a field and allowed to follow its nose, a Clumber Spaniel will maintain a steady pace all day long, but it tends to be far less motivated to perform other sorts of exercise. Fifteen to twenty minutes of walking twice a day is enough for most individuals, and many also appreciate the opportunity to take to the water to swim, when possible.

Grooming

Because the Clumber Spaniel is a heavy shedder, it should be brushed every day to remove loose hair, which otherwise tends to clump and cause skin irritation. It can have quite a strong doggy odour, and so most owners wash their Clumbers around once a month to keep this under control, and the thick hair growth on the paws needs to be clipped regularly to prevent interdigital matting. This is a breed that drools a lot, and keeping a pack of tissues or baby wipes to hand can be very useful in dealing with the slimy trail it tends to leave in its wake!

Famous Clumber Spaniels

Raycroft Socialite, a male Clumber Spaniel owned by an Irishman, Ralph Dunne, is the only Clumber Spaniel to have won the prestigious Best in Show Award at Crufts, a feat he achieved in 1991.

Cross-Breeds

Even though it may not be the most common of breeds, the Clumber Spaniel is a reasonably popular choice of dog for cross-breeding, contributing to the following:

  • Clumber Lab – Cross between a Clumber Spaniel and a Labrador Retriever
  • Clumber Pei – Cross between a Clumber Spaniel and a Shar Pei
  • Clumberton – Cross between a Clumber Spaniel and a Bedlington Terrier
  • Clumbinger Spaniel – Cross between a Clumber Spaniel and a Springer Spaniel
  • Clumberstiff – Cross between a Clumber Spaniel and a Bullmastiff

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