A reader beats and picks up on his local shoot and sees the enjoyment dog handlers have with their charges. As a result, he wonders what to get as his first working gundog? He's noticed that the English springer spaniel and cocker spaniel are both very popular. But what else should he look at?


Pedigree dog health

Clumber spaniels

Several breeds of working spaniel immediately spring to mind; the field working spaniel, the Welsh springer spaniel, the Sussex spaniel and the Clumber spaniel.

Clumber spaniels

The Working Clumber Spaniel Society have worked hard to keep this breed from near extinction as a working spaniel, and the working Clumber spaniel has become more athletic than its show counterpart.

They are good-looking, with a distinctive pink nose and work close at a steady pace.

Speaking personally,  my complete and ideal spaniel is an English springer spaniel, but for you, looking to start up for the first time with something different, I would say go and look at some working Clumber spaniels and compare the two breeds.

spaniel breeds

Which breed of spaniel should I buy?

Don't overlook the minor breeds, like Clumber, Welsh springer or Brittany spaniels, although their natural hunting, retrieving and training ability…

Shooting UK has a special section on all the different spaniel breeds which you can find here.

A cocker for all quarry?

Another reader writes about springers and cocker spaniels:  Spaniel judge and gundog expert Paul Rawlings replies.

Q: My shooting is mainly driven now, due to advancing years and a hip replacement. I am about to replace my old springer spaniel and fancy getting a cocker, having seen one or two out shooting, but wondered if it would be able to retrieve all game. I have watched one retrieve a hare, but is that an exception? Would it struggle with 
a cock runner, for instance?

A: A good working-strain cocker puppy from a reputable breeder should give you the best chance of success.

Generally, cockers have a real willingness to please, are happy little dogs that are full of courage and love 
the company of humans. They cope naturally with attempting to retrieve any size of article, and with the correct training have no trouble with large game such as hares and cock pheasants. Most can also manage a goose, though 
it may be a drag rather than a carry.

My first good cocker, weighing 18lb when in prime working condition, would bring back all game, albeit 
with a little difficulty and needing 
the occasional rest when carrying 
a lively hare. Of course, do not expect a cocker to fly over a gate with a hare in its mouth; it will usually find the path of least resistance underneath. But, allowing for those sorts of physical limitations, a cocker will try its very best to get everything back to hand.

I have used many different breeds 
at the peg, and with the correct training a cocker is as good as any other breed for this purpose and fits in the car with ease on the way home.

Go with your heart and success 
will be more likely, rather than trying 
to train a breed that you don’t particularly want.

  • Fiona Lucas

    I am a Barbet owner and see another Barbet owner has got here ahead of me! I can only endorse her comments. I am afraid some of the comments by Sandie, the apparent Barbet fan are a little confused. Firstly the Barbet is NOT a French Water Spaniel but a French Water Dog (FCI Group 8 Water Dogs and Retrievers) Secondly I am afraid “TAN retrieval” is a meaningless phrase .. there is no such thing! Although the Barbet is classed as a Spaniel in 3 countries, there is no way it can be compared with the performance of any of the other spaniel breeds mentioned on here … note again .. it is in FCI Group 8 !!
    My Barbet is trained to the gun and more information on training and on the breed can be found at the link already given http://www.barbetchasseurfrancais.info
    If you are looking for a flashy hot gundog don’t look at the Barbet! Good luck with your search!

  • Yvonne

    The barbet statement is enthusiastic, but not quite true! I have 2, one from a strong working line in Poland, and one bred here in the UK. There are approx 1200 worldwide, and maybe 25 in the UK.
    They were ‘historically’ good working dogs, but since they nearly died out, they were then infused with IWS, SWD, PWD and Standard poodle, so alot of original traits of the breed may well have been lost.
    I have trained mine with several other breeds, and though they are adorable pets, they are certainly not what you would call ‘hot’.
    In Finland they are used successfully in blood tracking, in Poland with Hawkers, but over here, there is only one fully trained working barbet,in Wales, my boys litter sister, they mature slowly, and are not consistent. Look at
    for a very honest picture of the breed.


  • Sandie

    Best gundog and TAN retrival is the Barbet the French Water Spaniel….take a look at the website
    Novaforesta.org.uk and Barbet.GB.co.uk….they are excellent…or go to Nick Ridleys website and see his recent events where he took all the fantastic photos of them….under Barbet GB events_pg_Inspire.Well worth an option.Good luck,Wendy Preston will help you so much on the Novaforesta site,she is a great advertisment for the breed with her own dogs.They recently appeared in this magazine in Jan 2011???Take a look.

  • Margaret Hughes

    Having owned clumbers for over 10 years, dispite the fact that they are very strong willed, if you start training in all aspects, hunting and retrieving, in a playful way at a very early age, clumbers are as easy to manage as any other spaniel. However if anyone is considering getting a clumber this year, they must check the Kennel Club ‘mate select’ for the COI (co-efficient of inbreeding) and read all about it before they make a decision. Unfortunatly there are a lot of inbred clumbers that are having inbred litters, which is going to ruin the breed. Clumbers are the largest of the Spaniels, but because of this inbreeding they are loosing all their substance. There are however a few clumber breeders out there who still care and are not in it for financial rewards.

  • Kelsey Bamford

    In the last shooting season my springer spanial has worked really well. She has continually progressed with her training including picking up. She works well with other spanials and they have all got along.
    At the shoots the cocker spanials do as equally as well as my springer which implies that they make a good team.
    Overall with my experiance i think that the best working spanials are the springer and cockers as they both have a unique ability. I have nothing against the other spaniels of the world, however these two breeds of spanial is all that i have worked with so far.

  • Patricia Huskins

    Dear Sir
    I read your “plea” for the Working Clumber and would like to comment that I am extremely pleased that you are giving the Working Clumber, and deservedly so, attention. However it is not the most easiest of breeds to train as I as a first time (gun)dog Clumber owner discovered. They do not necessarily hunt close – my Clumber in fact can (and will if allowed) hunt fast and far, as I do not live in the UK but on the mainland that is at times a blessing as game is sparse and wild (where I go). I totally agree with Michael Skelly’s excellent observations on the the nature and abilities of the Clumber in the last WCSS’ newsletter, in particular with his comment on the Clumber as a “multi-purpose” animal: an excellent dog for beating (close or able to cover large distances)and picking-up, brilliant for “one man and his gun”, tracking and, in my humble opinion to a lesser extent, trialing. I would like to add that I trial my Clumber bitch on the continent (Belgium) and have gained an official FCI qualification at an A/V Open trial…I believe that to be a first for a Clumber (dare I add that the different rules and distances make trialing more difficult on the continent). If nothing else that proves that the “new” Working Clumber is fit and ready to compete in an absolutely ESS and ECS biased setting (no MB FTs where I go)!
    Kind regards
    Patricia Huskins