Boykin Spaniels deliver high energy flushing and retrieving in a low-profile package
This series of Project Upland hunting dog breed profiles focuses on the hunting characteristics that set one breed apart from another – understanding that within a breed individual dogs may vary in temperament, conformation, instincts and abilities. This particular article focuses on the Boykin spaniel.
Original purpose of the Boykin spaniel
In the early 1900s, the Boykin spaniel was developed for waterfowling in South Carolina where hunters needed a rugged but compact-sized dog to make river and swamp retrieves from small assembled sectional boats. The breed traces back to a petite spaniel stray picked up by a banker named Alexander White who turned him over to his hunting partner, Whit Boykin, for training and breeding. Boykin mixed Chesapeake Bay retrievers, springers, cockers, and American water spaniels into the lines creating a multi-purpose turkey dog, waterfowl retriever, and upland bird dog. Today, Boykins are especially valued for dove and quail hunting because of their high tolerance for hot weather.
Hunting style and temperament of the Boykin spaniel
In the field, Boykins have an enthusiastic, bouncy style. Instead of quartering as many flushing breeds do, the Boykins range ahead of the hunters then hesitate and look before flushing. Many like to bark their way into the field. Because of their small size, Boykins don’t handle deep cover, large geese, or rough water well. Nonetheless, their tenacity and exuberance help them excel at most upland work.
Despite being friendly and adorable almost to the point of being comical, Boykins are known to test their owners. Many hunters recommend training in retrieving first, then using the instilled discipline to develop field search and flushing skills. At home, the Boykin is sociable and good with kids but needs a fair amount of outdoor time – walks, runs, fenced yard play time – to burn off energy.
Traits important to hunters
The Boykin spaniel male should weigh 30-40 pounds; the female should weigh 25-35 pounds. They are larger and rangier than cocker spaniels.
Boykins have a double coat – a short dense undercoat and wavy, longer outer coat – that handles water well. Although it doesn’t have the feathering other spaniels have on their legs and tails, the Boykin’s coat does need regular brushing. They are moderate shedders.
Supercharged energy and an independent mind require early training and ongoing contact between hunter and dog while in the field.
Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) is present in the breed. Eye problems such as cataracts and ear infections are possible. Parents can be tested for EIC, hip dysplasia, and a few other inheritable conditions that have appeared.
Finding a good breeder
The Boykin Spaniel Society, formed at the Boykin’s roots in Camden, S.C., developed a breed registry and provides hunt tests, field trials, regional clubs, and a wealth of information on selecting a breeder. The Boykin Spaniel Club, the AKC recognized breed club, is also an excellent resource for finding breeders, information, and testing or trialing events.
Nancy Anisfield is an outdoor writer and hunting dog photographer, creative director for the Ugly Dog Hunting Company, member of the Pheasants Forever / Quail Forever Board of Directors, and co-owner of the Track2Wing Project which grants Action trackchairs to individuals with mobility challenges who want to train and hunt with bird dogs. She and her husband live in Hinesburg, Vermont, where their lives are governed by her two German shorthaired pointers and his two German wirehaired pointers.