SI Vault
Ed Zern
November 03, 1958
At home, in competition or on a hunt, the English springer spaniel is a convivial, all-round sporting companion
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November 03, 1958

Springers Are Special

At home, in competition or on a hunt, the English springer spaniel is a convivial, all-round sporting companion

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Most springers entered in the National Championship Trial, and even in the important regional events, are handled by professional trainers—even dogs whose owners are expert handlers themselves. Mrs. Roy Chapin Jr., whose Staindrop Breckonhill Chip was handled to the championship in last year's National by Professional Trainer Elmore Chick of Lemont, Ill., is a charter member of LASH A—the Lady Amateur Spaniel Handlers of America—all of whose members are capable field-trial handlers. Another LASHA member, Mrs. Philip D. Armour Jr., handled one of the Armforth Kennels entries herself at the same National, but three other Armour dogs were handled by Professional Steve Studnicki of Frankfort, Ill. Many major trials include a special amateur stake, and at each National there are trophies for the best performance by an amateur-handled springer.

To the average one-dog gunner, whose relationship with his dog may be almost as sentimental as his relationship with his wife (and in some cases more so), it seems strange that a dog should be handled by a professional trainer rather than by his owner—especially when the owner is both a gunner and an experienced gun-dog handler. But the springer that earns the right to compete in the National is usually one of a number of good dogs owned by a breeder or amateur fancier; he has been trained for field-trial work by a professional who knows the dog even better than the owner, is more familiar with the dog's strong and weak points, and is best able to handle him in a manner to impress the judges. In fact, the dog may never have been handled by anyone except the trainer, and could not be expected to work as hard and enthusiastically for another man.

If you'd like to own an English springer spaniel, for field trials and/or for bird shooting, there are several ways to go about acquiring one. You may buy a puppy and train him yourself. You may buy a puppy, give him basic training, then have it finished by a professional. Or you may buy a fully trained adult dog. This last procedure would probably prove the cheapest, even though you can't hope to buy a first-class, well-trained springer for less than $500 (a young dog which has done well in novice stakes or qualifying stakes at licensed field trials may cost you several times that). But when you buy a mature, trained dog from a reputable breeder, you have a pretty good idea of what you're getting. You will have watched the dog work under actual field or field-trial conditions, and you can expect him to work as well, or even better, for you in years to come.


On the other hand, if you buy an untrained puppy and train him yourself, there is a fair chance that you will end up without much to show for your time, effort and money. For one thing, not all springer spaniel puppies, even with good ancestry, are potentially good gun dogs. There is no sure way to tell until you've had the dog so long that parting with him would be painful for you and your family (especially if you have dog-loving children). For another thing, few people have the temperament, the tact or the time to be successful spaniel trainers. It is a job that requires unlimited patience, an unruffleable disposition and at least a solid hour of free time daily—together with such assets as suitable and convenient fields to work in and a source of live birds to use in training. Even a potentially great gun dog can be quickly and permanently ruined by an inept or short-tempered amateur trainer, and starting with a good puppy is no assurance that you will end with a good gun dog—whereas the professional can take even a dog without great talent and turn him into a useful gunning companion.

Conversely, it is also true that there are few greater satisfactions for the springer spaniel owner than successfully training his own dog from puppyhood. And, of course, the dog that has known and depended on a single trainer-master all his life will probably be more anxious to please him and more understanding of his wishes and directions than the spaniel that was trained by someone else.

For the man with limited time and uncertain temper there is no better way to acquire a good, well-trained springer than to buy a puppy 3 to 6 months old, of proved field-trial ancestry, and give it basic obedience training—teach it to sit, to stay, to walk at heel and to retrieve small objects—and then turn it over to a professional trainer, at 8 to 10 months of age, for a thorough education. If you buy a puppy younger than 3 months old you will pay less but run more risk. The younger the litter the more difficult it is to detect the traits you want your dog to have: boldness, intelligence, keen nose, merry disposition and good looks. If you buy one older than 6 months, he may be harder to train, as his learning ability, like yours, decreases with age.

To locate a good source of puppies in your area, get in touch with a reliable professional trainer if there is one nearby. He probably won't have puppies to sell but is likely to know of local litters and their ancestry. Most trainers will be happy to help you pick a puppy from the litter, especially if they expect to be called on to train him later, and they can help you negotiate a fair price. For a 3-month-old puppy of good breeding you may expect to pay from $75 to $200, depending partly on quality of ancestry and partly on the eagerness of the breeder to get rid of the pups. (I mentioned one time to Phil Armour Jr., then the secretary of the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association, that I was lucky at raffles. He said he had won only twice in his life. At a time when the Armforth Kennels held several large litters of English springer spaniel puppies, he bought several raffle tickets to support a worthy cause and won an English springer spaniel puppy. In another raffle he won an Armour Star ham.)

You can get a list of trainers and kennels in your area by writing to Albert Winslow, Secretary, the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association, Goshen, N.Y. State your problem in the letter and it is likely that you'll get some sound advice in reply, since the association is anxious to attract newcomers to the fancy and will be as helpful as possible.

Never buy a puppy (or any dog) by mail without a written understanding that the deal is not final until after a reasonable trial period. Most reputable kennels, if they accept orders by mail at all, do business this way. If the breeder demands full payment without a trial period, look for another breeder.

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