Histories hint that dogs of the Spaniel type have populated the civilized world for many centuries. The Spaniel is thought to have originated in Spain and was perhaps introduced to ancient Britons by the Roman legions. The Spaniel was known in pre-Christian Britain, and is mentioned by name in an ancient law of Wales as early as 300 AD.
Prints and paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries show dogs of similar type to today’s English Springer Spaniel, some with docked tails. The dog was used to spring (flush) or start game, both feathered and fur bearing, for hawks, coursing hounds, and nets. The invention of the wheel lock firearm in the 17th century made “flying shooting” possible, and the Spaniel was highly successful at flushing game for this style of hunting.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century in Britain, smaller dogs in the same litter would be used to hunt woodcock; they were called “cockers.” Larger littermates, used to flush (or “spring”) game, were called “Springers.” The Sporting Spaniel Society of Britain decided upon the name “Springer” in 1902.
The first English Springer Spaniel in North America of traceable lineage was imported from England to Canada in 1913. In little more than a decade, the breed had risen from the ranks of the unknown to become numbered among the most popular of the breeds eligible for American Kennel Club registration. Early importers and breeders were both careful and selective in their breeding practices, and many field trialers enjoyed exhibiting their Springers in conformation competition. The English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association, the parent club of the breed in the United States, was founded in 1924. In those days, dogs might emerge from a day of heavy field work to be presented in conformation competition the next day.
“Dual type” Springers – those capable of competing in both conformation and field trial competition – became a part of history by the early 1940’s, when the last dual championship was earned. Field trial enthusiasts began selecting those qualities in their dogs which produced top caliber performance, while the show-minded endeavored just as earnestly to breed dogs consistent with the breed’s written standard, successful as conformation competitors.
The true beauty of the English Springer Spaniel can be found in its original purpose, that of a companion gundog. The diverse appearance of today’s show and field bred Springers is due to specialization, and to the choices breeders make to achieve success in their endeavors. Competitive field trial Springers are the ultimate in athleticism and performance. Competitive conformation Springers are breathtaking examples of breed type, soundness, and symmetry.