The Welsh Springer Spaniel is an often mistaken breed of hunting dog that has made a wonderful transition to being a family pet. They are similar in appearance to the English Cocker Spaniel and the English Springer Spaniel, from which they share a common ancestry. Typically the Welsh Springer Spaniel is bulkier and somewhat taller than the English Cocker Spaniel but also not as large or leggy as the English Springer Spaniel. Considered to be a medium sized dog the Welsh Springer is a true spaniel at heart and they have a very natural hunting instinct, make terrific retrievers and also have the spaniel's love for being outdoors and exploring.
The Welsh Springer Spaniel, like all of the spaniels, originally was considered to be part of a group of dogs simply called cocking spaniels, after the woodcock birds that they were so effective at finding, flushing and retrieving. The Welsh Springer Spaniel is considered to be one of the oldest types, with references to the red and white, medium sized dogs going back into the earlier part of the 1300's. However, like almost all hunting or sporting dogs they were not bred for a particular look, rather they were bred for hunting abilities and temperament.
In the later part of the 1800's, greater effort was made to divide up this very large and diverse group of dogs. In the earliest stages there were both land and water spaniels, which were then further defined based on local breeding. Within the United Kingdom where these dogs were highly popular, the Springer Spaniels were divided off from the Cocker Spaniels and then the English and Welsh Springers were also separated. This didn't happen until the later part of the 1800s. The Welsh Springer Spaniel has a distinctly different look than the English Springer Spaniel once you know what to look for. The Welsh Springer Spaniel has a longer body overall and more moderately sized ears, plus they are only ever a rich red and white color.
The Welsh Springer Spaniel is a bit more reserved than either the English Springer Spaniel or the American or English Cocker Spaniels. This means that they also tend to make good watchdogs and will bark to let you know if someone they don't know approaches. Typically once a well socialized Welsh Springer Spaniel becomes familiar with an individual they are a friend for life. Naturally very playful and loving, the Welsh Springer Spaniel makes a great dog for the family. They are typically very good with children of all ages and have a natural patience that translates into a great kid's companion pet. Like any dog they do best with children when raised with kids from a puppy, but even older Welsh Springer Spaniel can learn to adjust to children in the home.
The Welsh Springer Spaniel does have a slightly more independent nature than some of the spaniels but they are still very focused on keeping the family happy and working to please their owners. They are great obedience dogs as well as agility competitors, however they do need to have time and attention focused on working off lead. As a hunting dog the Welsh Springer Spaniel ranges further than many of the spaniels and this aspect of training needs to be a central piece of both initial puppy training as well as ongoing obedience work.
Unlike many of the hunting or sporting dogs, there is really no distinction between a working or field and show or pet line of Welsh Springer Spaniels. This means for owners that the hunting instincts are going to be very strong in this particular breed, however their outstanding personality and non-aggressive overall behavior still make them a great companion dog and pet. Breeders and trainers recommend working with the natural instincts of the dog rather than trying to completely eliminate them from the dog's repertoire of behaviors. This may include using lots of fetching games or even teaching the dog basic tracking to allow them to use their skills while still staying in control.
The Welsh Springer Spaniel is a great pet for busy households and homes with other types of pets. This is still largely based on the early socialization and the exposure of the puppy to cats and other smaller and larger animals. Since the Welsh Springer Spaniel is a very active dog are good farm type dogs and can adjust to living outside in most climates, although they really do prefer to be inside with the people rather than outside on their own. Most of the Welsh Springer Spaniel are not prone to chasing poultry when trained not to bother chickens or ducks, which is a very different from some of the other sporting dogs.
The coat of the Welsh Springer Spaniel is very durable and double, providing both water resistance as well as a protective and insulating coat. As an average year round shedder the Welsh Springer Spaniel will typically have two heavier shedding periods each year as the inner coat is lost in the spring and fall. The shed is typically heaviest in the spring when daily grooming for indoor dogs will be a must. As with any water dog, it is not recommended to bathe the Welsh Springer Spaniel unless it is absolutely necessary. Dry shampoo can be used to freshen up the coat and help to remove debris and dirt. Typically these dogs are naturally very clean and with routine opportunity to swim they have little if any dog odor.
Generally a very healthy dog they are sometimes found to have conditions such as epilepsy and hip dysplasia. It is important to ask breeders for health information on at least the parent dogs, ideally going back two to three generations. Eye conditions, especially entropion, is common in all spaniel types so it is important to watch puppies and dogs for any signs of tearing or irritation on the eye. This is a surgically correctable procedure but dogs with entropion should not be used in breeding programs.
Other articles under "Unusual Sporting Group Breeds"