Why is the springer spaniel something regarded as a problem dog? It's poor training that's at fault, says Justin Clarke, not the breed.

The springer spaniel holds the greatest appeal of all gundog breeds for me. Springer spaniel skills include multi-tasking, drive, pace and style. No other breed comes close to a hard-going springer.

However, the behaviour of some springers in the field has given the field a somewhat chequered reputation. Springer faux pas have included:

  • Running in
  • Finishing a drive long before the beating line
  • Selective hearing
  • Self-employed retrieving
springer spaniel

Springers are adept at multi-tasking

Springer spaniel skills and characteristics

To witness a well-trained, hard-going springer at the top of its game is a joy to behold.

There is no greater thrill than spending a day walking up behind two or three springers that hunt flat-out whilst keeping their noses to the ground, demolishing any cover that dares to get in the way. On occasions the ground seems to shake with their very presence and determination to find game. The combination of watching a dog one has trained working well, together with the knowledge that a shot might present itself at any given moment, makes this type of shooting extremely hard to beat.


Much of the enjoyment in walked-up shooting stems from watching a dog that is adept at multi-tasking. Having a dog that can hunt, has good game-finding abilities and is steady to the flush is absolutely essential. Equally important are its handling and retrieving qualities – at which a well-trained springer spaniel excels.

Marking and delivering to hand

To see a well-schooled springer nudge a rabbit out from under its seat and then sit back without so much as thinking about running-in never fails to excite me. And many a time I have watched a springer mark an area of a fall well and follow the line on account of a bird running, only for it to return and deliver it tenderly to hand. Without the skills of that springer, the bird would have been lost, let alone flushed in the first place.

Returning home at the end of a good day with a mixed bag of half a dozen or so head of game harvested as a result of that unique dog/handler relationship is both timeless and rewarding.

springer spaniels

Springers today are more biddable than in the past

Training a springer spaniel

It is often said that Labradors are easier to train than springer spaniels. To a degree this is true but not because springers are difficult, it is because when training a springer (or working cocker) correctly, you have to teach it to do twice as much as a retriever.

Training a retriever is all about the handling and retrieving. The springer, however, is expected to handle out in a similar fashion one minute, whilst also hunting, flushing and leaving game the next, in order that a shot might be taken. Obviously this process can take longer to teach and can certainly test the training abilities of the handler . But once you get it right you will never look back.

More biddable

Springers nowadays are considerably more biddable than in the past. Years ago it was vital to get the handling into a dog before encouraging the hunting. This was because the hunting gene was so strong that if done the other way around they could become fixated on their hunting and would not respond very well to handling.