For most people, several types of spaniels are a great option to consider. They are, as a group, a very outgoing and easygoing type of dog that is really geared towards pleasing the owners. Most types of spaniels will the great for first time dog owners, with the exceptions being the American Water Spaniel and the English Spaniel, which may still be great options for first time owners, but the owners have to be prepared to work with dogs that can sometimes show various degrees of dominance. This doesn't mean that the dogs are aggressive; rather it means that the dog may not be compliant at times as it tests to see if the humans or the dog is the boss of the family. Consistent, firm and positive training methods are the keys to ensuring that working with a dominant type of dog is not a problem and that your relationship with the dog stays just the way you both need it to be.
Spaniels as a whole are very energetic dogs. As puppies the spaniels can require as much exercise as a Border Collie or even a Jack Russell Terrier, however typically spaniels will decrease the amount of intensive exercise they need after they reach maturity. This doesn't mean that they won't need at least two long walks a day and lots of play time, but it does mean that they will be content to stay in the house or the yard while you are away. Most spaniel breeds stay very active throughout their life and are always up for a walk, jog, hike or a trip. However, all spaniels will also become couch potatoes if not provided routine exercise. Some breeds, such as the Cockers, Sussex and the Clumber, are more typically sedate as they mature than the other spaniels if not provided routine exercise throughout their lives. This makes them prone to weight gain and obesity issues. They are generally very good traveling companions in vehicles and are small enough to be transported in crates, making traveling simple and safe for the dog.
A spaniel that doesn't get enough exercise is no different than any other breed of dog. They are prone to problem barking if they get bored and they can have very loud, deep barks for their moderate size. Routine exercise, lots of human interaction, socialization and obedience training, which are all part of caring for a dog, will prevent this from becoming an issue. Spaniels are not considered a good breed for kennels and staying outdoors. The exception to this is really the American Water Spaniel that is often an exception outdoor dog, however they still need routine time with humans to be truly happy and well adjusted dogs. Other spaniel breeds are best in a family where the dogs are welcome in the house and are included in typical family activities.
Always playful, the spaniel breeds are great retrievers and quick to learn games. They are outstanding with children provided they have been raised together with children and the kids understand that these dogs should not be cornered or frightened. All spaniels, but particularly the Cockers and the American Water Spaniel, will respond with a startle or frightened aggression, which may result in them growling, nipping or lunging if they feel threatened, frightened or confused. Kids have to learn to read the dog and stop any activities that are causing the dog discomfort. With socialization and the parents working with the children and the dog this issue can quickly be managed. Most Cockers raised with kids don't have this problem, but mature Cockers unfamiliar with children may be more challenging to socialize with very young children.
All spaniels are hunting dogs and most will exhibit some signs of tracking, retrieving and even flushing or pointing type behaviors from a young age. Field lines, those bred for hunting, are more likely to show these traits than those dogs bred as show lines or companion pets. They also may have a relatively high to very low prey drive, depending on the individual dog and the specific breed and breeding line. Of course the field lines tend to have a higher prey instinct than the show lines, but both lines can typically learn to live with cats and other pets. Rodent types of pets are not recommended for households with spaniels unless the smaller animals are caged and well out of reach of the dog at all times. Some spaniels can live very nicely in houses with caged birds, however others are simply too instinctive in their hunting behaviors to really be trusted with birds in the residence.
Most spaniels are natural wanderers and roamers and should be kept in a secured, fenced yard when outdoors. Spaniels, if raised on farms or in rural areas do learn to stay within a designated area without a fence, however in areas where there is traffic they are very much at risk for chasing something out onto a roadway and possibly being hit. Once on a scent or chase the spaniel is highly focused, often not realizing that there may be vehicles approaching. Always keep a spaniel on a leash when outside of the yard for this reason.
Since the spaniels, when obedience trained and socialized are very non-aggressive types of dogs, they are wonderful for dog parks and off-leash areas. Spaniels also make good obedience event dogs and some are outstanding at agility as well. Flyball may be a great option for some spaniels as they can combine their natural retrieval instincts with running and jumping down the course.
Training a spaniel is typically easy and very pleasant for both the dog and the owner. Some people mistakenly assume that spaniels aren't intelligent, when in fact they are smart but are highly focused. Learning to keep the spaniels focus on you is the first step in obedience work. All spaniel breeds are very sensitive to punishment and will become timid and non-compliant with harsh types of training methods. Using positive training and working through a positive based puppy obedience class is highly recommended to get you both off on the right foot.