The "Right" Springer by Cathy Lewis
Put a "typical" show-bred Springer next to a "typical" field-bred Springer, and the most striking contrast will probably be in color, markings, and quantity of coat. The field-bred may have more white, to the point of being all white, with a dark head and ears and a few patches of color on the body, and may be ticked. The field-bred will most likely have less body coat and feathering, which can be an attractive feature for owners who don't wish to spend a great deal of time grooming.
You may next note differences in head conformation, body length, and tail length. The field-bred might have a less square muzzle with less lip and will probably have a higher ear set. The field-bred might have a longer back and a longer loin than the show bred. Because the dog's tail action provides a primary cue to the handler in the field that the dog has scented a bird, the field-bred's tail will have been docked longer than the show-bred's.
What's inside the two Springer packages is more difficult to predict. Personality and behavior among dogs from either breeding subset vary, and generalizing results in inaccurate characterizations. In particular, I've heard accusations of "hyperactivity" or energy levels undesirable for a companion dog against both sides, and although busy dogs exist on both sides, hyperactivity is not typical of a Springer from either background. Whether field-bred or show-bred, a properly socialized and trained Springer with a proper Springer temperament can make a highly satisfactory companion.
So how do you maximize your chances of getting the "right" Springer for you? If you wish to show, contact show breeders for your puppy, and if you wish to field trial, seek out litters of puppies from proven field trial lines.
The best choice for those who don't wish to compete is not so obvious. You'll increase your chances of obtaining a satisfactory hunting companion by purchasing a puppy from parents who have demonstrated hunting ability. If you use titles to measure ability, be sure you understand exactly what level of performance the dog must demonstrate to earn a particular title. This process is similar to buying an automobile: it's not always comfortable to have more horsepower than you need, but it's also very disappointing not to have enough to get the job done.
If you're looking primarily for a companion, personally acquaint yourself as much as possible with the parents of the litter, and work with a responsible breeder whose goal is to match the puppies they've lovingly produced with homes where they will meet the buyer's needs. Talk to a number of people, ask a lot of questions, express as clearly as possible your needs and expectations, and be honest about your activity level so the breeder can assess which puppy is best for you. If necessary, wait for that ideal litter. With patience, you should be able to find the combination of traits that you seek in your ideal Springer. Happy "hunting!"
An edited version of this article appeared in the April, 1999 issue of the American Kennel Club Gazette.
See the Breeder Referral Page if you would like additional information on obtaining an English Springer Spaniel from a breeder who agrees to support and follow the ESSFTA Guidelines for Responsible Breeders.