The world of dog breeds and kennel clubs can be confusing and contradictory. This is even more true when you dip your toes into international waters. Take a look at the Akita. One breed in the United States and Canada whereas the rest of the world has the larger American Akita and traditional Akita Inu. Breeds like the Brittany have never split, but there is a distinction between the North American Brittany (no longer called a spaniel) and France’s Epagneul Briton.
Names alone can cause confusion, even without a language barrier. English Toy Spaniels are King Charles Spaniels in England where the smaller variety of the Manchester Terrier is known as the English Toy Terrier. And don't get me started on Russell terriers - Jack, Parson, or neither!
Perhaps one of the most confusing breed (or breeds) is the German Spitz. One dog with five sizes under the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) and several breeds everywhere else.
To attempt simplicity, let's examine the FCI standard first, before trying to explain where everyone else fits in. The German Spitz is a classic northern breed, spitzen, or arctic, if you prefer. Reminiscent of dogs like the Lapphunds and Samoyed, they are believed to be amongst the oldest European breeds. Just how old the German Spitz is remains unknown, but it has been present in the region since at least the 1400s and may have arrived via the Vikings.
This next post will dive deeper in to the Spaniel tree, to look at the 'non-flushing' group and to become more debated. These breeds are certainly related to the Spaniels, but more distant cousins than those we examined previously. We will look at 16 additional breeds, the majority of which are French, German, or from the United Kingdom.
We will start with the United Kingdom and their small family grouping of setters. This may sound like an odd addition, but setters were once known as ‘setting spaniels’ and although they have been developed along a different path their lineage with flushing dogs is evident.
There are only four surviving setters, the English, Gordon, Irish Red and White, and Irish (solid red). The first mention of a setting spaniel traces back to the 1620s and it seems likely that these dogs shared the same ancestry as their flushing cousins. Instead of flushing birds these dogs were trained to freeze and ‘set’ when prey was located.
All four setters are believed to have been developed around the 1700s, with the Gordon possibly being the oldest. Although the Irish Setter is more well-known than the Irish Red and White the latter has existed for longer.
Next we will add the breeds that the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) classifies as Continental Pointers, spaniel type (excluding the Pont-Audemer Spaniel which will be in our last post on water dogs). Remember how we discussed before that in the United States the Brittany Spaniel is no longer classified as a spaniel? That is because these dogs are all-around gundogs instead of just being used to flush prey.
Aside from the Brittany there are three other French breeds, the French Spaniel, Picardy Spaniel and Blue Picardy Spaniel. The French is the oldest, having existed since at least 1600s. The Picardy and Brittany are almost as old, dating back to the 1700s. The Blue Picardy was not developed until English Setter crosses were made to some bloodlines of the Picardy in the late 1800s.
Germany has three Continental spaniel-like pointers; the German Longhaired Pointer, Large Münsterländer, and Small Münsterländer.
Labeling the German Longhaired Pointer as a spaniel may seem odd, as it is closely related to the other German Pointers (Shorthaired, Wirehaired and Rough Haired). However in appearance it is more setter than pointer and it is likely that the English and Gordon Setters, along with the French Spaniels were used in its development. As for the two Münsterländers, the Large began life as a color variation of the German Longhaired Pointer and the Small is linked to the Deutscher Wachtelhund.
The Deutscher Wachtelhund is a fourth dog from Germany that the FCI classifies as an actual spaniel – although like the French breeds listed above the it actually works as an all-around gun dog rather than as a spaniel.
This leaves only the Drentse Patrijshond, Stabyhoun, Kooikerhondje, and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
The Drentse Patrijshond and Stabyhoun are Dutch and closely related, both recognized as Continental Pointers by the FCI (spaniel type). They are very similar to the old type of spaniels, although aside from flushing they are adapt at pointing and retrieving.
The Kooikerhondje is an anomaly as the FCI recognizes them as a flushing spaniel when they, along with the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, are actually the only breeds that are decoy dogs. Decoys will actually entice ducks and waterfowl either into nets or within range of guns rather than flushing out prey. These dogs do both have spaniel blood in their veins, and both descend from the extinct English Red Decoy Dog.
Next week we will finish the Spaniel tree by adding the water dogs, which is somehow even more complicated than the non-flushing list.
Throughout the centuries the name spaniel has been given to more than a dozen breed of dogs, but when asked how many spaniels there are in the world of dogs that question can be hard to answer. It all depends on who you ask and which spaniels you want to count. Trying to use the title only makes it more difficult because breeds like the Tibetan Spaniel are not spaniels at all - but the little known Kooikerhondje is. To add another level of confusion the Brittany Spaniel in its homeland of France it is still known as the Epagneul Breton, but in the United States the spaniel was dropped. Why?
Perhaps we should start with what makes a spaniel a spaniel. The easiest answer would be spaniels were traditionally bred and trained to flush prey for hunters, but small companion dogs have also existed for just as long which are clearly spaniels. These dogs all share the same root ancestry and appearance, but their actual origin is unknown. Most scholars point to Spain, from the French word epagneul, but other theories involving Romans and Celts also exist.
Due to the size of this question we will explore this family grouping in separate posts through over several days by looking at the early spaniels decedents both through type (appearance) as well as function. To simplify we have divided the spaniels into four groups: flushing, companion, non-flushing, and water.
This specific post will explore the “true” spaniels – those that were specifically developed for flushing. There are seven breeds in this grouping, five of which hail from England. Each of these dogs descends directly from the early land spaniels and includes the English and Welsh Springers, English and American Cockers, Clumber, Sussex, and Field.
These dogs are a tight grouping, beginning with the English Springer and English Cocker. These two were once so closely related that they were considered the same breed, separated only by size. Larger dogs were destined to become Springing Spaniels (also known at the time as Hawking or Starter) while their smaller littermates became Cocking Spaniels. It wasn't until the late 1800s that attempts were formally made to separate the two sizes.
The English Cocker would also lead directly to the development of the Field Spaniel (due to breeders wanting a solid and slightly larger spaniel) and the American Cocker in the United States. The American Cocker is the only dog in this group that developed away from a hunting breed to become solely used as an companion. It was separated from the English Cocker by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1946. Ironically both of these dogs are known simply as 'Cocker Spaniel' in it's homeland, while the foreign cousin is give the title American or English.
It is believed the Sussex and Clumber were created from crosses with the English Springer and hounds (the Clumber's hound addition being French rather than English). Both of these breeds came close to extinction after WWII and although they were saved their numbers have never truly recovered. Both are listed in their homeland as Vulnerable Native Breeds by the Kennel Club (KC) and the Sussex has been in the bottom ten of AKC registrations for several years.
The only dog that may or not share these close relations is the Welsh Springer, which many experts believe to be older than the English breeds. It is mentioned in texts dating from the early 10th century, long before any documentation of spaniels in England.