Don't Buy a Springer Spaniel ...
You've probably heard how marvelous Springers are. You should also hear, before it's too late, that SPRINGERS ARE NOT THE PERFECT BREED FOR EVERYONE. As a breed they have features that some people find charming, others find mildly unpleasant, and some find downright intolerable.
There are over 200 purebred breeds of dogs in the world - different breeds for different needs. Maybe you'd be better off with another breed. Maybe you'd be better off with a cat, a goldfish, or some houseplants.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU ARE ATTRACTED CHIEFLY BY ITS APPEARANCE.
The appearance of the Springers you have seen in the show ring is the product of many hours of bathing and grooming. This carefully constructed beauty is fleeting; a few minutes of freedom, romping through the fields or strolling in the rain restores the natural look.
The natural look of a Springer is that of a medium size, shaggy dog, usually with some dirt and weeds clinging to their coat. Their esthetics are those of an unmade bed. The true beauty of the Springer lies in their character, not in their appearance. Some other breeds' appearances are less dependent on grooming than the Springer.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU ARE UNWILLING TO SHARE YOUR HOUSE AND LIFE.
Originally bred as hunting dogs that work alongside their owner in the field, Springers need to be part of the family, rather than being an outdoor dog. They thrive on companionship and want to be wherever you are. They are happiest living with you in your house and going with you when you go out. While they usually tolerate being left at home by themselves (preferably with a dog-door giving access to the garden), they should not be relegated to the garden or kennel.
A puppy exiled from the house is likely to grow up to be unsociable (fearful and/or unprovokedly aggressive), unruly, and unhappy. They may well develop hobbies, such as
digging or barking, that will displease you and/or your neighbours. An exiled adult will be miserable too.
If you don't prefer to have your dog's companionship as much as possible, enjoying having them sleep in your bedroom at night and sharing many of your activities by day, you should choose a breed less oriented to human companionship. Likewise if your job or other obligations prevent you from spending much time with your dog. No dog is really happy without companionship but the pack hounds are more tolerant of being kenneled, as long as it is in groups of 2 or more.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU DON'T INTEND TO TRAIN YOUR DOG.
Basic obedience and household rules training are NOT optional for the Springer. As an absolute minimum, you must teach them to reliably respond to commands to come, to lie down, to stay, and to walk at your side, on or off the lead, regardless of temptations.
You must also teach them to respect your household rules; e.g. are they allowed to get on the furniture? are they allowed to beg at the table? What you allow or forbid is unimportant; but it is *critical* that you, not the dog, make these choices, and that you enforce your rules consistently. You must commit yourself to attending an 8 to 10 week series of weekly lessons at a local obedience club, or with a professional trainer, and to doing at least one or two short (5 to 20 minutes) homework sessions per day.
As commands are learned, they must be integrated into your daily life by being used whenever appropriate, and enforced consistently. Young Springer puppies are easy to train; they are eager to please, intelligent, and calm natured, with a good attention span. Once a Springer has learned something, they retain it well.
If you do not intend to train your dog, preferably during puppyhood, you would be better off with a breed that is socially submissive, e.g. a Shetland Sheepdog. Such a dog does require training, but a little bit goes a lot further than with a Springer.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU LACK LEADERSHIP (ASSERTIVE PERSONALITY).
Dogs do not believe in social equality. They live in a social hierarchy led by a pack-leader (Alpha). The Alpha dog is generally benevolent, affectionate, and non-bullying towards their subordinates; but there is never any doubt in their mind, or the packs', that the Alpha dog is the boss and makes the rules. Whatever the breed, if you do not assume the leadership, the dog will do so sooner or later, and with unpleasant consequences for the abdicating owner.
Like the untrained dog, the pack-leader dog makes their own rules and enforces them against other members of the household by means of a dominant physical posture and a hard-eyed stare, followed by a snarl, then a knockdown blow or a bite.
Springers as a breed tend to be of a socially dominant personality. You really cannot afford to let a Springer become your boss. You do not have to have the personality or mannerisms of an army Sergeant, but you do have to have the calm, quiet self-assurance and assertion of the successful parent ("Because I'm your Mother, that's why.") or successful primary school teacher. If you think you might have difficulty asserting yourself calmly and confidently to exercise leadership, then choose a breed known for its socially subordinate disposition, such as a Golden Retriever or a Shetland Sheepdog, and be sure to ask the breeder to select one of the more submissive pups in the litter for you.
Leadership and training are inextricably intertwined; leadership personality enables you to train your dog, and being trained by you reinforces your dog's perception of you as the Alpha. If the whole idea of "being the boss" frightens or repels you, don't get a dog at all.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU ARE FASTIDIOUS ABOUT THE TIDINESS OF YOUR HOME.
The Springers' shaggy coat, and their love of playing in water & mud, combine to make them a highly efficient transporter of dirt into your home, depositing same on your floors & rugs, and possibly also on your furniture and clothes. One Springer coming in from a few minutes outdoors on a rainy day can turn an immaculate house into an instant pig sty.
You don't need to be a slob or slattern to live happily with a Springer, but you do have to have the attitude that your dog's company means more to you than does tidiness, and you do have to be comfortable with a less than immaculate house.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU DISLIKE DOING REGULAR GROOMING.
A Springer's coat demands regular grooming, not merely to look nice, but also to preserve the health of skin underneath and to detect and remove ticks or other parasites.
For pet grooming, you should expect to spend 10-15 minutes a day (e.g. while listening to music or watching television) on alternate days, or half an hour twice a week. In Lyme disease areas during tick season, you will need to inspect for ticks daily. Pet grooming does not require a great deal of skill, but does require time and regularity. Keeping the dog in a short or semi-short "working clip" substantially reduces grooming time, but does not eliminate the need for regularity.
Show (competition) grooming requires a great deal of skill, and considerably more time and effort, or expensive professional grooming.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU DISLIKE DAILY PHYSICAL EXERCISE.
Springers need exercise to maintain health and muscle tone. An adult Springer should have, at the very least, three 30min+ periods of vigorous play, or brisk walking each day, spread out through the day.
For puppies, shorter and slower walks, or gentle play, are preferred for exercise several times a day, while their bones are still growing.
If providing this exercise is beyond you, physically or temperamentally, then choose a less energetic breed.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU BELIEVE THAT DOGS SHOULD RUN FREE.
Whether you live in a town, or the countryside, no dog can safely be left to run free outside your property without your supervision and control. The price of such "freedom" is inevitably injury or death; from dogfights, from cars, or from irate neighbours.
If you don't want the responsibility of confining and supervising your dog, then no breed of dog is suitable for you.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO FEED AND CARE FOR ONE.
Springers are not a cheap breed to buy, as running a careful breeding program with due regard for temperament, trainability, and physical soundness cannot be done cheaply. The time the breeder should put into each puppy's early learning & socialization is also costly. A "bargain" puppy from an irresponsible breeder, who unselectively mates any two Springers who happen to be of opposite sex, may well prove to be extremely costly in terms of bad temperament, bad health, and lack of essential socialization.
Whatever the initial cost of your Springer, upkeep will not be cheap. Spaying or neutering is an essential expense for virtually all pet Springers, prevents serious health problems in later life, and makes the dog a more pleasant companion.
Professional grooming is expensive. An adequate set of grooming tools for use at home also adds up to a tidy sum, but once purchased should last many dog life-times.
The fees for participation in a series of basic obedience training classes is an essential investment in harmonious living with your dog; such fees are the same for all breeds, as are the annual outlays for vaccinations & parasite treatments.
All dogs should be insured against potentially expensive veterinary emergencies.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO COMMIT YOURSELF FOR THE DOG'S ENTIRE LIFETIME.
No dog deserves to be cast out because their owners want to move to a no-pet flat, or because they are no longer a cute puppy, or didn't grow up to be a competition winner, or because their owners lack of leadership & training have allowed them to become an unruly juvenile delinquent with a repertoire of undesirable behaviour.
The prospects of a responsible and affectionate second home for an unwanted dog are never very bright, but they are especially dim for a shaggy, poorly mannered dog.
Contact your breeder, or local English Springer Spaniel club, if you begin to have difficulties in training your Springer, so that these can be resolved. Be sure to make arrangements in your will, or with your family, to ensure continued care or an adoptive home for your Springer if you should die before they do.
The usual lifespan of a Springer is between 10 and 15 years. If that seems too long a time for you to give to your Springer, then please do not get one. Indeed, as most dogs have a life expectancy that is as long, or longer, please do not get any dog.
If all the preceding "bad news" about Springers hasn't turned you away from the breed, then by all means DO GET A SPRINGER. They are every bit as wonderful as you have probably heard.
If buying a puppy, be sure to shop carefully for a responsible and knowledgeable breeder who places a high priority on breeding for sound temperament and good health. Such a breeder will vet potential buyers and be prepared to help & educate them. Such a breeder will continue to be available for advice and consultation for the rest of the puppy's life, and will insist on receiving the dog back if ever you are unable to keep it.
© 2016 Ian Thomas.