Would a sprocker be the right breed for you? Tony Buckwell advises ...
Should you get a sprocker puppy?
Q: I am intending to get a gundog puppy this spring that I can train to accompany me shooting. Having done some homework and looked at various breeds, I had decided on either a cocker or springer spaniel, but I am a little concerned at the number of hereditary diseases that these dogs seem to suffer. Would I be correct in thinking that a sprocker puppy, as a mix of the two types, avoids the issue?
A: Most people I know who work a sprocker acquired it for the breed’s inherent characteristics, not simply
to avoid the risk of inherited disease.
I should also emphasise that the number of conditions listed for a particular pedigree breed should not be interpreted as indicating that the breed is necessarily that unhealthy.
For most gundog breeds, the number of conditions listed reflects the dedication and commitment of the breeders to work with vets and other experts to identify and characterise health conditions in their breed with the aim of reducing the incidence or eradicating the defect. That said, one advantage of a sprocker spaniel is that, properly bred, it can avoid the risk of inbreeding that we understand to affect certain cocker and springer spaniels. This means that the sprocker should be less prone to their inherited diseases and, in principle, should be a hardier dog. But there are never guarantees.
A first-generation cross — that is a dog with one parent that is a springer and the other a cocker — should exhibit “hybrid vigour” and, in this respect, represent a healthier, hardier individual in comparison with its parental stock. However, if you then start breeding sprocker to sprocker, or back to either of the parental pedigree lines, the greater the risk of combining undesirable genetics and reintroducing inherited diseases. This applies to any such cross-breed, not only sprocker spaniels.
Bred from sturdy parents, only a few hereditary health conditions are associated with this breed. However, some health issues remain with sprockers, most notably hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, hepatitis, phosphofructokinase (PFK) deficiency and “eye problems”.
What happened when a sprocker puppy was brought home for the first time?
Two years ago David Tomlinson went down the sprocker route. He shared the experience.
It is 12 years since my springer Rowan was a puppy but as she was home-bred she had her mother for company, who not only provides companionship but also discipline. My previous two springers were also home-bred, so it has been many years since a young puppy, recently separated from her mother, had come to live in the Tomlinson household.
When Emma the sprocker puppy arrived here, aged eight weeks and one day, I was fearing the worst.
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Night-time woofs and squeaks
The first night she protested from her cage from dusk to dawn: a heart-rending mixture of squeaks, pips and small woofs. We tried the old trick of providing a hot-water bottle in her bed to replicate the warmth of her litter mates, but it didn’t make any difference. At 4am my wife Jan finally gave in, taking her out into the garden. Though it was still quite dark, there was a skylark singing, so Jan decided that there was at least one reward for being up at such an hour.
The second night the protests were repeated and I was beginning to think that Michael was right; perhaps we should have got a more mature dog. Then things started to improve rapidly. Emma not only went to bed without protest, but slept on progressively later, with not a woof all night. She now wakes around 6am, which is not a bad time on a spring morning with the sun shining and the cuckoo calling.
House training a sprocker puppy
Puppies are enormously entertaining and I had forgotten quite how energetic they can be, the intense bursts of energy, followed by total collapse as batteries are recharged. From the moment she stepped into the house, Emma has oozed confidence and has been as bold and inquisitive a puppy as you could wish for. She has also been demanding, so we are treading the fine line between giving her attention without giving in.
As she will be an indoor dog, house-training has been a top priority and she has been quick to learn: after just three weeks, accidents are rare. The fine, sunny weather during May undoubtedly helped, as it meant that for much of the time she had free access to the garden
This, however, was a mixed blessing, as puppies and gardens — or at least well-tended ones — aren’t a good mixture. She soon discovered my raised beds which she thought were terrific fun, as she could race through them and leap off them. Makeshift barriers have had to be erected around the vegetable garden.
Feeding a youngster
Like most healthy puppies, she likes her food. She has found raw chicken wings a challenge but is keen to try.
Older dog with a puppy
Rowan’s relationship with Emma has been fascinating to observe as it has developed. At first the old spaniel was clearly ill at ease with such a small and demanding intruder, and there were many warning growls. But every day she has become more tolerant and now she even permits the puppy to share her bed, and will play with her. Most amusingly, she was quite protective of her when a visiting springer came for the day.
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I’ve always maintained that training should start from the moment the puppy arrives in its new home, though it is not easy with a wriggling puppy.
Emma responds naturally to the whistle, which is a good start. However, she has the typical cocker enthusiasm for jumping up at you. I think that this has to be tolerated in small puppies, but it is something that we must soon start to dissuade her from doing. I hate dogs that jump up.
As for retrieving, she has astounded us by not only showing a passion for picking up her tennis ball or ragger, but bringing it back to hand for it to be thrown again. She has two field trial champion grandparents on her father’s side and three on her mother’s, so she has the right DNA. I think we can just about cope with a sprocker puppy.