Field Spaniel

Catharine Hennessy
Dr Catharine Hennessy (DVM, North Carolina State University)
 
Photo of adult Field Spaniel

The Field Spaniel is a sporting dog that originated in the United Kingdom and was further developed with in the United States. These handsome, intelligent dogs are hunting dogs, developed originally as flushing and gundogs. They excel equally in the field and as family companion dogs due to their endurance and docile demeanor.

This rare breed may be the ideal dog for both sporting and family pets. While the original breed development was focused on flushing and hunting ability, breed refinement had more to do with what was considered desirable in the show ring, with little regard to propagating hunting traits. The result is an easy-going, gentle, intelligent family dog that is also a willing field and hunting companion. Field Spaniels are appropriate for houses with children and other dogs if introduced early. They need daily activity, or a purpose, to prevent destructive behaviour. Their average life span is 11 to 13 years.

About & History

Field Spaniels began to appear in the early 1800s, originally as larger, dark-colored Cocker Spaniels (spaniels bred specifically for flushing woodcocks). In fact, the only real difference between Cocker and Field Spaniels was their size, and to a lesser extent, their color. The early Field Spaniels were developed for flushing larger game (hare and larger game birds), and were of great utility for their human companions at the time, since hunting was still used for sustenance and not solely for sport. Field Spaniels are land spaniels, but are capable of retrieving game in water.

In the late 1800s, the breeding of Spaniels changed dramatically. No longer driven by the purpose and necessity of field effectiveness, Spaniel breeds began to be developed and refined based on the show ring, and what was considered fashionable, desirable, and even whimsical. The influence of judges, dog enthusiasts and general public opinion cannot be overstated with regard to the changes in Spaniel breeds. The Field Spaniel became longer in the back and low-slung due to the influence of Sussex Spaniels and even Basset Hounds in breeding programs. Public opinion began to change and these dogs were so whimsical that favour in the show ring shifted to the more popular Cocker and English Springer Spaniels. As a result, the breed nearly disappeared, but a few enthusiasts continued breeding efforts, attempting to increase the height of the dogs, while preserving their distinctive head shape. The dogs we currently recognise as Field Spaniels descended from 4 dogs bred in England in the 1950s and 1960s. The breed was recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1894, but was not popular in the show ring until 1968. The breed remains obscure, with few individuals registered each year both in the UK and in the US.

Appearance

Field Spaniel Large Photo
Peter / Flickr.com

Field Spaniels are sturdy and solid in overall appearance, moderately boned, well-balanced, and are slightly longer than they are tall. The head is in perfect proportion to the body; any deviation from this is not acceptable for the breed. Overall, the head is noble in appearance and the expression is intelligent and gentle. The nose is long and the lips should not be pendulous (both traits accommodate retrieval of larger game in the field). The eyes should be almond shaped, moderately wide in set, but remaining in the front, and should not show the haw (third eyelid). They should be dark in color. Ears should be set low, moderately feathered, and reach the end of the muzzle.

The neck of the Field Spaniel is long and muscular with only a slight arch, and blends into the back smoothly. The back is level and the chest deep and well developed. The rib cage is long in comparison to other Spaniels, but remains well sprung to accommodate endurance work. The forelegs should be straight, and both fore and hindlegs should have moderate bone. The hindlegs should remain strong and powerful without suggestion of weakness. The tail can be docked to maintain balance with the overall appearance of the body, or remain undocked. The coat is a dense, single coat, but is still water repellant. It is long, glossy, and either flat or slightly wavy. Feathers should be present on the chest, underside, legs, and tail.

Similar to most breeds, male Field Spaniels are typically taller in height and weigh slightly more than their female counterparts. The breed ranges from 43 to 46 cm in height and 18 to 21 kg in weight (female) and 23 to 25 kg (male). Coat colour includes black (preferred), liver, golden liver, roan and can include tan points. White patches are acceptable as long as roan ticking is present in the patches. Occasionally, solid white can be seen on the chest. The gait of the Field Spaniel is effortless, allowing for endurance in the field. The stride is smooth and long, but parallel to the ground, with efficient ground coverage. Emphasis of movement is on hindleg strength and foreleg reach. The tail is typically carried level or slightly low, and may wag slowly back and forth as the Spaniel retrieves.

Character & Temperament

Field Spaniels are intelligent and independent dogs, due to their breeding for sporting purposes, but are more docile than other spaniel breeds. These dogs thrive when part of a family, and should be included in family activities. However, they are frequently reserved when first meeting new people, and should be given a chance to interact on their own timeline. They are typically not shy or fearful, and aggression is rarely seen in this breed.

While they are more docile than other sporting spaniels, these dogs do need interaction and outside activity to prevent boredom and destructive behaviour. They are not prone to separation anxiety, but do best when they have a purpose or a job for mental stimulation. They are wonderful and patient with children of all ages, and are generally good with other dogs and cats as long as they are introduced early in life. They are excellent watchdogs, but will need to be taught when it is appropriate to bark. When walking, staying on leash is critical to prevent flushing behaviour from becoming a problem. A large garden or access to a dog park can provide needed off-leash activity time.

Trainability

Photo of Field Spaniel puppy
RAYANDBEE / Flickr.com

Field Spaniels are easy to train due to their intelligence and eager-to-please nature. But their docile attitude requires positive training techniques to prevent them from feeling crushed and to maintain great spirit. The best approach with this breed is praise, play sessions, and training treats to reinforce good behaviour.

Health

Field Spaniels are relatively long lived and healthy, with an expected life span of 11 to 13 years. There are a few heritable conditions that bear mentioning.

  • Ocular Problems – Field Spaniels are prone to a few eye issues. Retinal folds can be seen in juveniles and may or may not resolve as the individual ages. The consequence to vision is unknown. Ectropion or sagging eyelids can occur in this breed and may lead to trapping of foreign material in the eyelid. Entropion is not common, but can occur in this breed and will cause the eyelashes to rub against the cornea. This condition is surgically correctable. Cataracts can develop later in life in this breed, and individuals from lines that are affected should not be bred.
  • Hip Dysplasia – Field Spaniels, like most other Spaniel breeds, can develop arthritis as a result of hip dysplasia. This is an inherited condition, but the development of arthritis later in life as a result of dysplastic hips may depend more on activity level and weight than genetic factors. Regardless, radiographs with expert review should be performed on breeding pairs to minimise the likelihood of disease development.
  • Hypothyroidism – Low thyroid function occurs with some frequency in Field Spaniels. There are no known genetic markers, but affected individuals should not be bred. While this disease can cause weight gain, lethargy and issues with coat condition, it is easily treatable with a daily thyroid supplement.
  • Epilepsy – While this condition is rarely seen at a young age in Field Spaniels, it can occur later in life, but the underlying cause is unknown. Seizures that present later in life can also be related to a brain tumor, so it is unclear if this breed is affected by true epilepsy or if there may be an underling cause (such as cancer) in affected individuals. More research is needed to characterise seizures in this breed.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Field Spaniels are easy going and docile, but these traits should not be mistaken for laziness. They were originally developed for sporting and need activity, just like all other sporting breeds. Somewhere in between the activity requirements of American and English Cocker Spaniels, they do best with about an hour of exercise a day, and are happiest when engaged in a combination of walks and more vigorous play time.

They also thrive in organised activities, such as agility, obedience, rally and tracking. Involving a Field Spaniel in an organised activity gives the individual a sense of purpose, which can be critical for preventing boredom and destructive behaviours.

Grooming

Field Spaniels have minimal grooming requirements. Weekly brushing should remove mats in this breed’s single layer coat. Additionally, the feathers will need to be brushed a little more often to remove twigs and leaves from being outside. The hair does not need to be cut if the dog does not enter the show ring, but the hair inside the ears and in between the foot pads should be trimmed to prevent skin infections.

Bathing should be infrequent and only occur as needed (more often in dogs that swim regularly). Field Spaniels are moderate year-round shedders, with seasonal increases in shedding. Cut nails monthly unless they are worn by walking on concrete or pavement. Daily tooth-brushing is recommended for all dogs.

Famous Field Spaniels

While Field Spaniels have not reached stardom, the breed should be considered as potential therapeutic heroes, due to their intelligence, affability, docile nature, and trainability.

Cross-Breeds

There are no recognised cross-breeds involving Field Spaniels, although early cross-breeding was extensive in development and refinement, ultimately saving the breed that we recognise today.

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