Boykin Spaniel

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Boykin Spaniel

The first example of the breed was developed in South Carolina in the early 1900s. The Boykin Spaniels were initially developed to efficiently hunt the fowl and turkeys from boats in the local swamps. Their easy-going nature meant that, while being prized outside the home for their retrieving abilities, they soon became established as a wonderful family pet.

This brown spaniel is medium in size with a glossy brown coat, and thick, lustrous ears. They are affable and kind, fitting in well with most children and other pets. Their high-energy requirements mean they are best suited to those with an active lifestyle and access to the great outdoors.

About & History

It is widely conceded that the original predecessor of the Boykin Spaniel was a stray Spaniel-type dog who befriended a man called Alexander White, as he walked home from work one day. Mr. White christened the dog the rather unattractive name of ‘Dumpy’ and soon discovered it had a natural affinity for retrieving. Owing to this, Mr. White decided to give Dumpy to his friend, a keen hunter, called Whit Boykin. Mr. Boykin was hugely impressed with Dumpy’s ability to retrieve waterfowl and turkeys, so much so, that, through deliberate breeding, he used Dumpy to develop what is today known as the ‘Boykin Spaniel’.

The Spaniel that Mr. Boykin was looking to produce had to be compact enough to fit easily on a boat, athletic enough to keep up with the hunt and eager enough to flush and retrieve both in and out of the swamps and rivers. The Boykin Spaniel is the official state dog of South Carolina in the USA, where it originated. It is thought to be a combination of such breeds as the Springer Spaniel, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Cocker Spaniel and the American Water Spaniel.

With a lovely personality and a willingness to please, these attractive dogs have easily made the transition from working retriever to family pet. While commonly kept as a companion animal alone today, they are still well adapted to their original job, and are often found out and about on hunting trips.


Boykin Spaniel Large Photo

Pleasing to look at, the Boykin Spaniel is a handsome medium-sized dog. The male will stand 40-45cms at the shoulders, while the female measures 35cm to 41cm. Males weigh in at 13-18kg, while the female who is more petite, weighs 11-16kg.

With an inherent need to run and swim, the body of the Boykin Spaniel should be somewhat compact, and sturdy, but not too heavy. Their medium-sized head is in proportion to their body, with a muzzle that is a similar length to their skull. Their nose should have wide nostrils (all the better for smelling!) and be a dark liver colour. Their eyes are set relatively far apart and can be any shade from yellow to brown. Their thickly coated ears should lie close to their head. Their tails are commonly docked, particularly in those dogs who will be working in their adult life.

Their coat should be either a dark liver or a chocolate brown colour and, save for a small patch of white, which may or may not appear on their chest and there should be no other pigment. Their thick coat may curl in places and can be feathery on the limbs, face and chest.

Character & Temperament

A pleasant and social dog, the Boykin Spaniel is typically loving and affectionate with humans and eager to please when outside and working. A good all-rounder, the Boykin Spaniel is also smart and inquisitive and will learn quickly and easily. They should be confident and make great companions for children and other pets alike. Be mindful, however, if around pet birds, or smaller animals, as they are a retrieving breed by nature, and should never be completely trusted.

A placid dog, they tend to take most things in their stride, and so can fit into a hectic family life particularly well. Their adaptability and easygoing nature are just two of the assets that make them such fantastic pets.


Very trainable, the Boykin Spaniel can be said to take to new tasks like a duck to water! Rarely shying away from any job, they love to be both on land and in water.

With their natural athleticism, intelligence and desire to please their master, these are a fantastically rewarding breed to train. As with many dogs, they respond best to positive reinforcement, and will not react well to punishments or harsh words.


There are several diseases which are known to be more prevalent in the Boykin Spaniel breed, and prudent breeders will screen for these conditions in their dogs.

Hip Dysplasia

A high number of Boykin Spaniels were found to be suffering from this chronic disease. While a big effort has been made within the breeding communities to reduce the numbers affected, it remains an issue to this day. Hip dysplasia is a disease caused by the failure of the dog’s hips to form as they should. It will result in lameness and discomfort, and is a progressive condition, which means it gets worse as the dog ages.

Patellar Luxation

This is an orthopaedic condition which causes the kneecap to pop in and out of place, causing varying degrees of lameness and pain. Surgery may be required in some cases.

Otitis Externa

Due to the Boykin Spaniel possessing the floppy and furry large ears typical of Spaniels, they are prone to getting ear infections throughout their life. Spending time in water only makes this condition more likely to occur. Ears should be thoroughly checked and dried after every swim to minimise the risk of infection.

Exercise Induced Collapse

In 2010, this disease was identified for the first time in the DNA of, no other than the Boykin Spaniel! As indicated by the name, this is a disease characterised by physical collapse after strenuous exercise. Affected animals can lead relatively normal lives, though should not be used for working.

Collie Eye Anomaly

This disease occurs due to an underdevelopment of the choroid within both eyes and results in blindness. While most commonly seen in the Border Collie, many other breeds, including the Boykin Spaniel, can be affected.

Degenerative Myelopathy

More common in the German Shepherd, this disease has also been described in the Boykin Spaniel. Limb weakness, paw dragging and lameness are the first signs, but this is a progressive disease that can ultimately lead to paralysis.

Juvenile Cataracts

Juvenile cataracts occur in young dogs, when the transparency of the lens is lost. Some cataracts affect vision more than others, and not all dogs are blinded. In some cases, surgery is a viable option to improve vision.

Pulmonic Stenosis

This is a congenital (present at birth) heart defect that causes improper blood flow and can result in heart failure. There is a procedure available to treat some cases, in which the affected heart valve is dilated with a ‘balloon’ by a veterinary cardiologist.

Exercise and Activity Levels

A typically energetic breed, this dog has a high tolerance for exercise, and does not like to lead a sedentary life. While their energy may at times seem endless, they will usually be satisfied with a vigorous hour-long walk each day.

Natural retrievers, they are ball crazy. Having said this, they perform well in a variety of activities, and should be given the opportunity to compete in agility and flyball, which they typically excel in. Additionally, they love to get wet and will relish the opportunity to go for a swim whenever given the opportunity.


Their double coat can be a magnet for briars, grass seeds and brambles, so always routinely check your Boykin Spaniel’s ears, coat and paws to ensure they are free from debris after being outside. Moderate shedders, they require weekly brushing and occasional bathing. Their ears must be routinely cleaned to avoid infection. A clean and dry ear canal, that is free of wax and debris, is much less likely to develop a painful infection.

Famous Boykin Spaniels

The original predecessor of the breed was a small, brown dog called Dumpy. You could say that all Boykin Spaniels today owe their life to him!

The Boykin Spaniel Society is a good starting point if you're researching the breed, as well as the tag #boykinspaniel on Instagram (for endless photos shared by owners of the breed) with many being "famous" on the popular photo sharing site.


There are no well-known Boykin Spaniel crosses yet.

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