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Which is the best of the working spaniel breeds?

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?

Spaniel off the lead


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.

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.