The Breed History
This breed originates from the common springing spaniel stock that gave rise to both small Cocker spaniels and the Field or Springer spaniels. The breed split occurred around 1800. In 1880, the American Spaniel Club was formed. In 1902, the Kennel Club of England accepted the English Springer Spaniel as a breed. The parent club in the US is the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association.
Breeding for Function
These dogs excel at gun work and field trials, and are also excellent at flushing game. Their working ability has been emphasized during breed development. They excel in hunt trials, agility and obedience trials. The field spaniel is a little different in type from the "bench" or conformation dog.
Height at Withers: female 19" (48 cm), male 20" (51 cm)
Weight: females 40 lb (18 kg), males 50 lb (23 kg).
Coat: They are double-coated, the hair is medium in length, flat to wavy, and colors include liver and white, black and white, tricolor, and blue or liver roan. They possess feathering on limbs, tail and chest areas.
Longevity: 12-15 years.
Points of Conformation: These are the tallest of the spaniels, but still a medium-sized dog with proud carriage and gentle eyes. Their gait is powerful, agile and enthusiastic. Eyes are oval and set deep and the iris colors are usually hazel to dark brown, with black pigment of the palpebral margins. The nose is liver or black. The ears are long and fine, with moderate leather, muzzle is square, and the gradual stop is grooved. The neck is muscular and lightly arched, the back straight, and the topline slopes only slightly down to the tail base. The chest is deep and the tail is carried close to parallel with the back. They move with a long, low smooth stride.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reports characterize the English Springer as a breed of loyal, intelligent dogs. These dogs need close human contact and are considered moderately trainable. They require adequate stimulation and exercise to prevent boredom vices. They should be socialized and trained early and are classed as high-energy dogs. They are solid alarm barkers. They require daily grooming and periodic trimming and clipping, and attention to ear cleanliness is important. Notable in the literature are reports of "Springer rage syndrome"; this is an older term for aggressive behavioral characteristics seen in some lines of the breed. Nowadays, according to research by Dr. Ilana Riesner, the condition is usually classified as a dominance aggression, possibly related to low serotonin levels.1 In this breed, the aggression signs bypass intermediate warning cues, and progresses directly from stare to attack. Dr. Bonnie Beaver has also identified mental lapse aggression, a form of sudden, violent aggression with no known treatment.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 13.3% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 13.7% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 2.1% affected.
Retinal Dysplasia: Autosomal recessive, congenital retinal dysplasia is well documented in the breed. Complex linear folds and rosettes occur predominantly in the peripapillary tapetal area of the sensory retina, causing focal retinal detachment. Identified in 5.84% of English Springer Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any English Springer Spaniel with retinal dysplasia.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)/Cone-Rod Dystrophy (cord1): Hereditary disorder causing progressive loss of vision. Onset of clinical signs from 2-9 years of age. Molecular genetic studies show this is not the prcd form of PRA. Identified in 0.6% of English Springer Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any English Springer Spaniel with PRA. An autosomal recessive mutation in the RPGRIP1 gene is highly correlated to clinical PRA, but does not appear to be the sole cause of the disease. In a small study, 7% of English Springer Spaniels homozygous for the mutation retain normal sight, and 40% of affected dogs do not carry the RPGRIP1 mutation, demonstrating a more complex etiology for this disease. A genetic test for the RPGRIP1 mutation is available, which shows 42% of all English Springer Spaniels homozygous for the mutation, and 38% testing as heterozygous carriers. Testing in the UK shows 6% homozygous and 31% heterozygous for the mutation.
Phosphofructokinase (PFK) Deficiency: Autosomal recessive disorder causing chronic hemolysis and hemolytic crises, especially with exercise. Muscle wasting and mildly increased serum creatine phosphokinase activity are also found. A genetic test is available, which shows 2.7% carriers. Field trial Springer Spaniels have a higher proportion (4.0%) of carriers versus the conformation (1.2%) group.
Fucosidosis (Storage Disease): Rare, fatal autosomal recessive storage disease causing behavioral changes, progressive ataxia, proprioceptive deficits, dysphagia and wasting between 1-3 years of age. A genetic test is available. Testing in the UK shows 7.4% carrier and 0.9% affected.
GM1-Gangliosidosis: Rare, fatal, autosomal recessive lysosomal storage disease, causing dwarfism and neurological impairment by 4-1/2 months of age.
Dominance Aggression: In a large behavioral survey, owner-directed growling or more intense aggression was reported in 48.4% English Springer Spaniels. 26.3% had bitten a human in the past, with two-thirds of these directed at familiar adults and children. Owner-directed aggression in adult English Springer Spaniels was associated with a number of environmental, sex-related, and inherited factors. To reduce the risk of aggression, prospective owners might seek a female, hunting-type English Springer Spaniel from an experienced breeder.
Pectinate Ligament Dysplasia (PLD): 25.5% of English Springer Spaniels show PLD via gonioscopic examination. PLD is positively correlated to narrow iridocorneal angle and the development of primary glaucoma.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 8.35% of English Springer Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 7.0% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Secondary Glaucoma: Glaucoma causes increased pressure within the eyeball and blindness due to damage to the retina. Secondary glaucoma can occur after cataract formation, lens luxation, uveitis, hyphema, and intraocular neoplasia. The breed is listed as predisposed to secondary glaucoma.
Pemphigus Foliaceus: The breed has an increased risk (20.7x odds ratio) of developing pemphigus foliaceus. Clinical signs include crusting lesions to the dorsal part of the muzzle and head, progressing to the body. Diagnosis is with biopsy.
Idiopathic Epilepsy (Inherited Seizures): In English Springer Spaniels, epilepsy can be generalized (47%) or focal onset (53%). Average age of onset is 3 years. One study suggests a partially penetrant autosomal recessive, or polygenic mode of inheritance. Control with anticonvulsant medication.
Primary Seborrhea: Inherited predisposition to developing seborrhea. Affected dogs develop a generalized non-pruritic dry scaling which gradually worsens and develops recurrent secondary pyoderma. Some dogs remained in this dry (seborrhoea sicca) stage, but in most cases the dermatosis became greasy and inflamed (seborrhoea oleosa and seborrhoeic dermatitis). Affected dogs with seborrhoea sicca usually respond to topical emollient-humectant agents or oral omega-3/omega-6 fatty acid supplementation. Dorn reports a 1.94x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Otitis Externa (Chronic Ear Infection): Ear infections can also be secondary to underlying skin allergies. Bacterial and yeast infections. Dorn reports a 1.94x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Bronchiectasis: Clinical signs of chronic cough with excessive airway mucous. Diagnosis with radiographs. Reported at a frequency of 3.1% and an odds ratio of 2.39x versus other breeds. Treatment is with bronchodilators and possibly corticosteroids.
Lichenoid-Psoriasiform Dermatosis: Breed related skin disorder of chronic dermatitis with an onset between 4-18 months. Affected dogs show erythematous papules and plaques, with corrugated surfaces in the ear canal and in the inguinal area. Later, papules, scale, and adherent keratin mounds developed inside the ear, in the inguinal area, around the mouth, eyes, and anus, and occasionally on the thoracic wall and the limbs. Treatment is with high dose corticosteroids and antibiotics. This disease is differentiated from primary seborrhea by histology and the presence of erythematous papules and plaques.
Mammary Cancer: In Sweden, where female dogs are rarely spayed, 38% of English Springer Spaniels develop breast cancer. The presence of breast cancer liability genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 increase the odds ratio for breast cancer 4x, with BRCA1 strongly associated with malignant cases.
Cataracts: Anterior cortex punctate and posterior subcapsular cataracts predominate in the breed. Identified in 1.66% of English Springer Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any English Springer Spaniel with a cataract.
Sebaceous Adenitis: Disorder of immune mediated sebaceous gland destruction, presenting with hair loss, usually beginning with the dorsal midline and ears. Diagnosis by skin biopsy. Treat with isotretinoin. The English springer spaniel is a breed predisposed to SA, and has more severe clinical signs than other breeds. An autosomal recessive mode of inheritance is suspected. Reported at a frequency of 0.6% in Sweden.
Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA): Autoimmune destruction of blood cells. IMHA is reported at an increased frequency versus other breeds. An Australian study showed a 10X odds ratio versus other breeds. There is a female preponderance. Chronic Hepatitis: English Springer Spaniels have a predisposition for a type of chronic hepatitis without copper accumulation which carries a poor prognosis. Mean age of diagnosis of 3.4 years, with an average time to death after diagnosis of 7 months.
Bradyarrhythmia: English Springer Spaniels were over represented in a UK study of dogs with slow heart rates requiring pacemaker implantation. English Springer Spaniels presented at a younger age, with a median survival time of 30 months. Diagnoses included persistent atrial standstill, AV block, and sick sinus syndrome.
Pyothorax: Production and filling of pus in the chest cavity. English Springer Spaniels comprised 6 of 15 reported cases of pyothorax in one study. Treatment is with long-term antibiotics.
Myasthenia Gravis: A rare, congenital form of myasthenia gravis occurs in English Springer Spaniels. Clinical signs are evident from six to eight weeks of age, and include exercise induced weakness without megaesophagus. Raised antibody levels to acetylcholine receptor do not occur.
Congenital Hypomyelinization (Shaking Pups): Rare developmental disorder of lack of myelin in the spinal cord, brainstem and cerebral hemispheres. Affected dogs are reduced size and show gross generalized tremor, particularly when aroused, at about 10-12 days of age. Possible X-linked recessive inheritance.
Ciliary Dyskinesia: Inherited abnormal anatomy and function of cilia. Causes chronic secondary rhinitis and bronchopneumonia due to abnormal respiratory ciliary clearance, and infertility due to abnormal sperm motility. Breeding studies suggest an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance.
Cerebellar abiotrophy, Cutaneous Asthenia, Deafness, Diabetes Mellitus, Ectropion, Entropion, Factor XI Deficiency, Microphthalmia, Narcolepsy, Patent Ductus Arteriosus, Protein-Losing Enteropathy, Ventricular Septal Defect, von Willebrand's Disease, and Wooly Syndrome are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Dyserythropoiesis, Polymyopathy, and Cardiomegaly: Three related English Springer Spaniels were identified with regurgitation from an early age, slowly progressive temporal muscle atrophy with partial trismus, and mild generalized skeletal muscle atrophy. All dogs exhibited moderate dyserythropoietic anemia, polymyopathy with megaesophagus, and varying degrees of cardiomegaly.
Suspected Mitochondrial Myopathy: A three-year-old, male English Springer Spaniel presented with a three-month history of weakness, incoordination and marked muscle atrophy. Electromyography, nerve-conduction velocity, and muscule biopsy studies were consistent with a mitochondrial myopathy.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for Phosphofructokinase (PFK) deficiency is available from HealthGene, Optigen, PennGen, VetGen, and the Animal Health Trust. Direct test for PRA risk factor is available from the University of Missouri and the Animal Health Trust. Direct test for fucosidosis is available from PennGen, and the Animal Health Trust. Direct tests for black or liver colors, and black or brown nose are available from HealthGene and VetGen.
Tests of Phenotype: Recommended tests include hip and elbow radiographs, CERF eye examination, patella evaluation, thyroid profile including autoantibodies, and cardiac evaluation.
- Breed name synonyms: Field spaniel (historical), Springer, Springer spaniel
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 27 (6,690 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association Inc. (parent club in the US): www.essfta.org
The English Springer Spaniel Club of Great Britain: www.englishspringer.org
English Springer Spaniel Club of Canada: www.geocities.com/essccanada/
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