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English Springer Spaniel – Bird Hunting Dogs Series

English Springer Spaniel – Bird Hunting Dogs Series

An English Springer Spaniel in a field hunting birds

Distinct from bench Springers, the field bred English Springer Spaniel is born and built for upland bird hunting

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 English Springer Spaniel. 

Original purpose of the English springer spaniel

Spaniels are ancient breeds with recorded recognition as early as 300 A.D. The spaniels of Great Britain are described in writings of the 1500s as flushing game for hawks or netting. In the 1800s, spaniel breeding and training shifted to serve upland gunners. As the smaller spaniels used for hunting woodcock became known as “cockers,” the larger ones were named “springers” for being used to flush or “spring” game birds.

The AKC recognized the English springer spaniel in 1910. The breed has evolved into two distinct types – field and bench. The English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association (ESSFTA) is the primary parent club in the U.S.

Hunting style and temperament of the English springer spaniel

Topping the English springer’s list of hunting attributes are nose and stamina. These are solid dogs, designed to bust through thick cover and quarter diligently. They excel as pheasant dogs and perform admirably in the grouse woods. Field springers have a fairly good retrieving instinct which results in first-rate upland work when it is developed through training. Many hunters use springers for waterfowling, although because of their smaller size and less water-resistant coats, they are not as popular for big-water duck and goose hunting as breeds like Labs, Chessies, and German wirehairs.

Field bred English springers are happy, active, even-tempered family dogs. Their hunting style is described as having an animated but medium pace and easy-to-read body language. Springers are eager to please and willing to learn which is important because their desire to hunt can push them beyond gun range. Early training to handle in range is helpful. On the “pro” side, the springers’ drive and scenting ability make them champions at trailing running pheasants. On the “con” side, hunters do need to be able to handle them to maintain a workable distance from the gun.

Traits of the English springer spaniel important to hunters


English springer spaniels are a medium-sized sporting dog with a docked tail. Male springers should weigh about 50 pounds and be 20 inches at the shoulder; females should weigh around 40 pounds and average 19 inches at the shoulder. In general, field bred springers are a little smaller than those bred for the show ring; their ears are usually shorter and higher set.


English springers from strong hunting lines have brush-resistant coats with a soft, dense undercoat topped by medium-length flat or wavy hair. Feathering on the ears, chest, legs and belly should be moderate, and some hunters find that trimming the feathers during hunting season cuts down on post-hunt grooming. In color, English springers predominantly have either black or liver spots on white. Less common are roan coloration or tricolor.


Active and energetic, springers respond well to early training and socialization. They are intelligent but need focus to develop good field skills.

Health risks

Along with hip dysplasia which can appear in many hunting breeds, English springers are prone to ear infections, particularly if they spend a lot of time in the water.

Finding a good breeder

It is very important for prospective English springer owners to be sure the dog they’re looking at comes from proven field lines. A starting point for information would be the ESSFTA Breeder Education and Referral Program.

View Comments (13)
  • Field Bred English Springers and Cockers have th he first 1/3 of their tails docked. Show bred springers and cockers leave only 1/3. It is a very important distinction when looking for a reputable breeder who can help find the right match for you.

    • You have to prove to me the who, what, when and why of “how to dock a springer’s tail.” Is this a commandment someone found in stone somewhere: “DOCK ONLY THE FIRST 1/3….” I think this is a personal choice only. I think springers with long tails are ugly.

      • Jeff, you are absolutely right it is a personal choice. However their are traditions on both sides. On the field bred side a tail that is left un docked can be prone to injury; however, docking it a bit shorter, only removing the first third, with a preference for a white tip has throughout history shown to be beneficial. A springer will become very animated when on game, birds or rabbits. The tail can help the hunter recognize this behavior. And a longer tail makes for more visibility when questing. It also is an indication that the breeder has held true to the tradition of the breed and has bred for hunting traits, and conformation. Not for a certain coat color, pattern, or arbitrary appearence. A tail that is docked down to leaving only 1/3 is a dog that has been bred for appearacne or those unfamiliar with what a true field bred springer is and what traits have been coveted and chosen to bring about the wonderful natural instincts of the dog. A show bred dog has long been removed from a program selecting for these qualities. And if you compare the two, they are very diffrent looking in apperance, and it is obvious to see how form has followed function.

        In short, the length of the tail is a very good indication of what type of springer it is. Is it one bred selectively for a century for one purpose or the other. It can also be an indicator of a dog bred out of ignorance of the centuries of progress with no real purpose to better the breed.

      • Jeff, The shorter tail on the bench bred is more about show than hunting. The longer 2/3 tail in the purpose of hunting line is for the handler to better see tail reaction to bird scent. Docking in and of itself is to reduce injury when hunting heavy thorny cover. I have a 13 year old female field bred that has a short tail. Some field trial judges did have negative comments about it. But I never cared she is an AKC Master hunter and a HRC 500 point champion retriever. I have a 10 foot wall in my home office lined with her ribbons metals and trophies.

  • I’ve been an ethical breeder of Field-bred English Springer Spaniels for over 40 years. This article was ok at best. To say “Field Springers have a fairly good retrieving instinct” is not only an insult to the breed but 100% incorrect. In addition she leaves out the most important genetic issues suck as PFK and Retinal Dysplasia. This article was obviously written by someone not at all knowledgeable about Field-type Springers. It’s peppered with information about Bench-type Springers. And doesn’t even mention Field Spaniels. Please do some more research before you decide to write articles. Thanks so much. Jim owner and operator of Briar Ridge Springers

    • Relax Jim. Who cares how long you been breeding! Just great to see an article on spaniels, when everything seems to be on labs theses days

    • I have to say I am glad Field bred ESS don’t have the following and popularity like labs. The last thing we need is a silver springer LOL.

  • No matter which tail style you choose, when you have a springer that has all of the positive traits, then you have a great dog that is to be cherished for a lifetime. I have owned field springers for more than 45yrs. and have had memorable moments with each and every one of them.
    They are truly a pleasure to train and appreciate!!

  • Nothing against a 2/3 dock, but the length of the tail has zero influence on the dogs ability and doesn’t make you any better of a hunter.

    Pay attention to the breeder and lineage. A good springer shows you a lot more in the field than the last inch of white hair on its tail.

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