English Springer Spaniel

Ana Oliveira
Dr Ana Oliveira (DVM, University of Lisbon)
Photo of adult English Springer Spaniel

The English Springer Spaniel is a gun dog breed that dates back to the 14th century in England and whose purpose was flushing and retrieving game. Nowadays, however, it is considered an all-purpose dog or a dog for all seasons, being an affectionate companion to keep as a pet.

Energetic and loving, English Springer Spaniels are always looking to please their owner and willing to take up any task. No wonder they are ranked among the top ten most popular dog breeds in the UK. Yet they may be clingy and some may have a tendency for dominance or even aggression, which is why an early socialization is so important, along with providing for their mental and physical needs.

About & History

The earliest references to the Spaniel group of breeds are from the year 17 AD and 300 AD in the Irish and Welsh laws, respectively. The name “Spaniel” is believed to come from the Roman name “Hispania”, which means Spain. Spaniels are therefore thought to be native of Spain and then to have been spread to other parts of Europe by the Romans – although much uncertainty lies in the breed’s origins.

Later in the 14th century, a French lord and hunter described the work of hunting dogs in his “Book of the Chase”, possibly referring to Spaniels. The behaviour he described included the dog quartering in front of the owner, flushing game and retrieving it from land or water, which is similar to what today’s English Springer Spaniel is known for.

A distinction between land and water Spaniels is found in historical writings dating from the 16th century. One century later, the land Spaniel was then divided into two categories, the Crouching Spaniel and the Springing Spaniel. The latter was divided into small and large dog types, later developing into the Cocker Spaniel (weighing up to 11kg) and the English Spaniel (weighing around 20kg).

The first English Springer Spaniel recognised as such was born in 1812. This dog was called “Mop 1” and was responsible for a lineage of dogs that became increasingly popular in the Norfolk region of England. The breed became official in 1902 after its recognition by the Kennel Club of England. Today, there are two lines of English Springer Spaniels, a show dog line and a working dog line, both differing according to their purpose.

Besides having been traditionally bred as a hunting dog, and due to their sensitive sense of smell, English Springer Spaniels are also used as sniffer dogs by the police, aiding in the detection of bombs, drugs, dead human bodies, and counterfeit materials.


English Springer Spaniel Large Photo

English Springer Spaniels are medium-sized, having a silky medium-length topcoat, which can be flat or wavy, and a short and soft undercoat. They may come in nine different coat colours:

  • Black & White
  • Black, White & Tan
  • Liver (Dark Brown) & White
  • Liver, White & Tan
  • White & Black
  • White & Liver
  • Lemon & White
  • Orange & White
  • Red & White

English Springer Spaniels may also be spotted or roan (an even mixture of white and coloured hairs that do not fade as the dog gets older). Males are 46 to 51 cm tall (18-20 inches) and weigh between 23 and 25 kg (50-55 lb), while females are 43 to 48 cm tall (17-19 inches) and weigh between 16 and 20 kg (35-45 lb).

Character & Temperament

The English Springer Spaniel is an excitable and active dog. Always high-spirited, it is very adaptable to family life, being gentle, loving, charming, and courteous. Being considered all-purpose dogs, they are good as companion pets, as they are as sports dogs, working dogs, and show dogs. In sports, they are good in obedience, tracking, and agility.

The English Springer Spaniel breed needs activity and interesting things to do. The owner of a Springer Spaniel must provide enough exercise opportunities for it to vent its energy, as well as mental stimulation. Boredom will lead to destructiveness around the house, excessive barking, and chewing on objects. They need at least one long and intense run every day.

Because they are people-oriented, Springer Spaniels do not deal well with solitude and they cannot be on their own for more than a few hours, as they tend to suffer from separation anxiety. When left alone for long periods of time, they may have a destructive behaviour. They adapt well to the city as they do to the countryside, as long as they have a fenced yard to run and human company during most of the day.

They are not exactly guardian dogs, although they can be good watchdogs. They are gregarious animals and usually peaceful towards other animals. However, there are cases of aggression towards same-sex animals. In regards to people, their behaviour varies, going from nice and friendly to reserved, fearful, and shy. Early socialization and good, predictable parents will help determining the dog’s tendency for being polite and getting along with pets and people, preventing temperament disorders. Some lines of dogs have dominant and aggressive traits, which may result in a previously well-behaved and peaceful dog turning aggressive unexpectedly.

Springer Spaniels are not among the tidiest pets. In fact, they tend to be messy, as they love to get into puddles, water bowls, and all sorts of muddy places and then go back home as if nothing had happened. They are not very delicate in that sense, as everything is a game for them, and they may also submissively urinate when they are very excited or nervous.


Photo of English Springer Spaniel puppy

English Springer Spaniels are gun dogs and because they have been bred for hunting over several centuries, they are easily trained. Nevertheless, they should be exposed to different people, children, and animals when young, as well as to unusual sounds and sights, so that they grow up mentally and emotionally healthy and able to cope with unexpected situations. When not exposed to variety, they may become suspicious and fearful and may even develop behaviour disorders.


The lifespan of this breed ranges from 12 to 14 years. English Springer Spaniels are prone to a number of diseases and conditions, which include:

Elbow Dysplasia

A disease caused by growth dysfunction of the elbow joint, due to defective cartilage growth, trauma or incorrect diet, although the exact cause is unknown. This leads to a mismatch of growth between the bones, increasing the pressure of the region and subsequent damage of the joint and even fracture. It is a painful condition that causes lameness in dogs.

Ear Infections

Common in Springer Spaniels due to the conformation of their ears, which cuts air circulation and allows the accumulation of moisture, thus creating an ideal environment for bacterial growth. Prevention is achieved by keeping ears clean and dry.

Hip Dysplasia

It happens when the thighbone does not fit properly into the hip joint, causing distress and inflammation, which leads to pain and lameness. It is a hereditary condition, though it can also be triggered by environmental factors, such as inadequate diet (highly caloric) or exercise injuries. When getting a puppy, it is important to make sure its parents are free of hip dysplasia.

Skin Disorders

Allergies are a common example of skin disorders in English Springer Spaniels. The signs that something is wrong with their skin include greasiness, itching, signs of infection, hair loss, and scaling skin.

Eye Diseases

English Springer Spaniels are prone to several eye diseases: progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), multi focal retinal dysplasia, entropion (inward folding of the eyelid), and primary glaucoma. While entropion causes eye discomfort, the other conditions lead to loss of vision, which can progress to total blindness.

Phosphofructokinase (PFK) Deficiency

This enzyme deficiency is inherited and causes abnormalities in muscle cells and red blood cells. Typically, the signs are jaundice (yellowing of the gums and eyes), anaemia (pale gums), loss of appetite, intolerance to exercise, and even refusal to move.

The signs are more noticeable after intense exercise and the disease may be confused with other diseases, such as autoimmune haemolytic anaemia.

Patellar Luxation

Also called kneecap dislocation, it may be caused by a genetic malformation or trauma. It happens when the kneecap is dislocated from its position only going back to its normal anatomic position once the legs relax.

Canine Fucosidosis

This is a severe, progressive, and fatal disease that results from the deterioration of the nervous system due to the deficiency of an enzyme (alpha-L-fucosidase). The signs include incoordination, loss of control of movement, changes in behaviour, loss of balance, depression, and loss of weight. It may also affect swallowing and lead to the regurgitation of food.

Rage Syndrome

Although extremely rarely, English Springer Spaniels may suddenly turn aggressive with no apparent reason and no identifiable stimuli. These episodes of aggression tend to be quite intense and explosive, and dogs usually get a frozen look in their eyes or act confused before an episode occurs. The cause is unknown and rare.

Autoimmune-Mediated Diseases

These are: autoimmune haemolytic anaemia, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, autoimmune thyroiditis, Addison’s disease, immune-mediated polyarthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and autoimmune skin disease.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Vigorous exercise, at least once a day, is mandatory for English Springer Spaniels. Either hunting on land or swimming after waterfowl, Springer Spaniels were initially bred for performing active and dynamic tasks, as their job as gun dogs was to flush and retrieve game.

Dogs that are kept as pets, and therefore do not hunt, need to exercise and have an outlet for all the energy. Mental stimulation, games and activities are also crucial to make English Springer Spaniels happy and balanced.


The dog’s medium-length, wavy coating needs frequent brushing and combing in order to keep its good appearance. They are not the most demanding breed in terms of grooming, though they can be quite a handful. Because they also tend to shed – sometimes a lot, especially in Spring and Autumn – daily combing will make the owner’s life easier. They also need clipping and trimming every couple of months to keep their coating looking great at all times.

Due to having long drooping ears that cut air circulation and trap moisture, Springer Spaniels may develop otitis. Therefore, it is important to check their ears regularly for any signs of inflammation, such as swelling and skin redness, before more advanced signs, such as head shaking or ear scratching take place.

Famous English Springer Spaniels

Famous English Springer Spaniels are:

  • Millie, President George H. W. Bush’s dog. Millie was one of the most famous presidential pets and it even “wrote” a book entitled Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush.
  • The English Springer Spaniel that travelled among the 102 passenger of the “Mayflower”, the ship that transported the Pilgrims from Plymouth to the New World in 1620.
  • Merlin MacDonald was the dog of the Scottish hero, William Wallace, who helped in defeating the English at the battle of Stirling in 1297.


Cross breeding English Springer Spaniels with other dog breeds results in a variety of cross-breeds, such as:

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