While initially descending from ancient and noble Spaniel lineage, the Boykin Spaniel is not himself of ancient origins. He does not share the same European upbringing, breeding, and development as many of his Spaniel cousins. Of somewhat more modest beginnings, the Boykin Spaniel is an American dog, a Southern dog, bred in the early 20th century, to hunt game in the moist swamps and waterways of the American South.
The official state dog of South Carolina, the Boykin Spaniel boasts that status of being the only dog originally bred for South Carolina hunters by South Carolinians. His exact lineage is however, uncertain but the Boykin Spaniel is truly a modern breed of dog, with an equally modern story.
In the early 1900s, Alexander L. White was walking home from the First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina and encountered a stray dog. Taking a liking to the dog, White brought it home with him and named it “Dumpy”, no doubt for the original appearance of the dog. After Dumpy showed an aptitude for retrieving, White sent him to his longtime friend and hunting partner L.W. “Whit” Boykin for training. Dumpy, in the hands of Boykin (a well-known sportsman) developed into a superb turkey dog and waterfowl retriever.
Boykin and his kinsmen, the Canteys, began experimenting with many other breeds to develop a gun dog bred specifically to meet the needs of the men hunting in and around the Wateree River in South Carolina. With a little selective breeding and some luck, the unknown stray Spaniel known as “Dumpy” became the foundation for the Boykin Spaniel breed, named for its developer.
At this time in the American South, trains, wagons, and boats gave hunters access to corridors rich with game along the Wateree River. However, boat travel limited what equipment the hunters could bring and the typical large, heavyweight Retriever was a liability on a boat already overloaded with hunters, guns, equipment, and supplies. Being that “section boats” were easily broken down for travel, they were used commonly by these hunters, making the need for a more compact dog who was skilled in land and water retrieval ever present.
Being small in stature and of Spaniel origins, The Boykin was bred to meet those needs. While it is unknown the exact lineage of the Boykin Spaniel, it is reported that some of the Boykin’s ancestry lies with the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the Cocker Spaniel, the Springer Spaniel, and the American Water Spaniel.
Retaining its Spaniel flushing abilities, the newly developed Boykin Spaniel, whose compact size allowed it to be carried in boats or canoes, its stamina in hot weather, and aptitude for water retrieving became especially popular among hunters who operated in shallow rivers and swamps. The games of choice for these hunters being dove, pheasant, quail and grouse, which were a good retrieving size for the Boykin Spaniel.
Once it was discovered that the Boykin Spaniel was adept in deer driving and in tracking wounded deer as well, the Boykin became more popular with sportsmen who hunted other game in addition to birds and waterfowl.
Like many of the sporting breeds, Boykin Spaniels made the transition from hunting dog to family pet easily, making it a true dual-purpose breed. Of the Boykin Spaniel, it has been written that…
“The Boykin Spaniel carries a unique set of credentials that no other breed of canine can honestly claim…He was developed initially as the ideal dog for hunting wild turkeys in the Wateree River Swamp during the early 1900’s and now beautifully adapts to the dove fields, the duck marshes and the home fires of his modern-day masters. Most Boykin Spaniels have a special personality and enthusiastic field ability that no other dog can match.”
The area where the Boykin spaniel was developed, around Camden, South Carolina, in the 1900’s, was a resort area. Visitors to that area, on a hunting excursion, were occasionally provided a Boykin Spaniel to accompany them. These travelers saw the Boykin’s abilities and skill. They began to appreciate the dog’s attributes. This added to the popularity of the breed and a desire to acquire this “little brown dog” led to the spread of the Boykin Spaniel throughout the United States.
The highest concentration of Boykin Spaniels remains, however, on the Atlantic seaboard. The Boykin Spaniel, the little brown retriever known as “the dog that doesn’t rock the boat”, could be found on hunts across America.
For the next several decades, the skills of this little hunting retriever would continue to be developed, and perfected; and in the summer of 1977, in Camden, South Carolina, the Boykin Spaniel Society was founded. It began maintaining its stud book in 1979. Within year one of its inception, The Boykin Spaniel Society acquired three hundred members from twenty-five different states. The Boykin Spaniel Society’s first National Hunting Test was held in May of 1980. They compete regularly in sanctioned hunting trials hosted by the North American Hunting Retriever Association (NAHRA) and the Hunting Retriever Club, INC. (HRC).
Objectives of The Boykin Spaniel Society are:
In 1982, the Carolina Boykin Spaniel Retriever Club was founded. In South Carolina, National Hunting Tests are held each spring, and the Carolina Boykin Spaniel Retriever Club holds six hunting tests a year, as well as providing training, seminars, and judging clinics regularly.
The objectives of The Carolina Boykin Spaniel Retriever Club were not unlike those of the The Boykin Spaniel Society, but are listed as:
In 1984, Governor Richard W. Riley proclaimed the first day of dove hunting season to be Boykin Spaniel Day. And in that same year, The South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Commission endorsed the Boykin Spaniel as state dog of South Carolina, to which, Governor Riley made the title official on March 26, 1985.
Recognition by the United Kennel Club followed in 1985, as well as recognition by several minor kennel clubs. They were promoted as a “rare breed”. And the 1988-1989 South Carolina state duck stamp would feature a painting by artist Jim Killen, depicting the Boykin Spaniel.
As the popularity of the Boykin Spaniel grew, other Boykin clubs were founded. They include The Midsouth Boykin Spaniel Retriever Club; made up of Boykin Spaniel owners living in Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee; as well as the Dang Yankee Boykin Spaniel Club (DYBSC).
Dedicated to the advancement and promotion of the Boykin Spaniel breed in the Northeastern United States, the DYBSC was formed by Boykin owners living in New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The core tenants of the DYBSC being a focus on the uniqueness of the breed both in training and in competition, a mind for responsible breeding, and health screening practices, and an overall sense or responsibility to one of the world’s finest hunting dogs.
However, because of breeding standard discrepancies with the AKC, The Boykin Spaniel Society remained the main registry for the Boykin Spaniel. Of any association or recognition with the AKC, The Boykin Spaniel Society made this statement:
“The Boykin Spaniel Society has not worked to have the breed recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and has instead maintained its own registry of purebred Boykin Spaniels. The founding members of the Boykin Spaniel Society and its leadership and membership have seen no benefit that would be derived of any affiliation with the American Kennel Club. The current leadership still agrees with this position and continues to work to promote the Boykin Spaniel within the guidelines and objectives as set forth in the Boykin Spaniel Society constitution.”
But in the late 1990s a group of Boykin Spaniel enthusiasts formed the Boykin Spaniel Club and Breeders Association of America (BSCBAA), the first Boykin Spaniel organization to maintain a code of ethics. Its purpose was to help the Boykin Spaniel achieve AKC recognition.
In 2006 the AKC felt that enough progress with the Boykin Spaniel breed had been made by the BSCBAA and the Boykin Spaniel became eligible to compete in AKC Spaniel Hunt Tests, for official AKC titles; as well as became eligible to compete in AKC agility, tracking, and obedience trials. In January of 2007, the AKC recognized the BSCBAA as the official parent club for the breed. In 2008, the BSCBAA’s efforts were rewarded and the AKC voted to have the Boykin spaniel included in its Miscellaneous Group. Then in 2009 the Boykin Spaniel was moved into the Sporting Group and later that year, officially became a recognized AKC breed.
Although originally an American dog, the Boykin Spaniel’s popularity is now widespread. The Boykin Spaniel Society membership has grown to 2500 members; these hailing from across the United States, as well as from Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
From the BSCBAA:
“The Boykin Spaniel is unmistakable, if you know what you are looking for. He is a little brown dog with a spaniel’s flop ears and a deep liver-brown coat, bleached to reddish fringes by the sun. Backwoods legends has it that the spaniel’s brown coat was bred-in to provide the dog camouflage as he lay nervously on the floor listening to his master call a turkey in. The docked tail came as a man-made modification to keep a long twitching tail from rattling leaves in a turkey blind.”
The Boykin Spaniel, originally bred as a smaller breed hunting dog, has a neat and compact body, commonly with a docked tale; sturdy and typically Spaniel in build. The Boykin is medium in size, smaller than most retrieving dogs such as the Labrador and Golden retrievers although it is slightly larger than the English Cocker Spaniel. The Boykin is built to cover rough ground in all conditions with reasonable agility and speed. Thus, the Boykin should be of medium size, neither too small nor too large to the work it was intended.
Solidly built with firm muscles, the Boykin Spaniel ideal height range for males is between 15.5 inches to 18 inches, weighing about 30 to 40 pounds, while females are smaller, between 12.5 inches to 16 inches and weighing 25 to 30 pounds. The height at the shoulders should be roughly equal the length of the body from shoulder to tail.
The Boykin Spaniel has muscular shoulders that slope to a straight, strong back and a well-developed barrel chest, which moves freely and permits a long stride; this being essential to provide the driving power from the hindquarters. The Boykin Spaniel’s forelegs are muscular and straight, when viewed from the front, and the hindquarters are sturdily constructed with a dip in the back. The feet are large, oval, and webbed, allowing the Boykin Spaniel to swim powerfully when in the water. With a strong drive from the rear, and a good reach in the front, the Boykin Spaniel’s movements should be free and flowing in nature.
The Boykin Spaniel’s head is broad, flat on the top and rounded at the sides and back, proportionally in balance to the dog’s body. The forehead is covered in short, smooth hair. The nose has a moderate stop and should be liver colored with broad, well-opened nostrils for searching out scents. The jaws are of sufficient length to carry retrieved game. The Boykin Spaniel should have straight teeth that meet in a close scissors bite, meaning the lower teeth touch just behind the upper incisors.
The Boykin’s ears are slightly above the eye line and lie flat and close to the head. The ears are set wide apart; as are the eyes, and they are expressive, engaging and bright, ranging from brilliant gold to dark amber, to harmonize with the coat, either a solid dark chocolate or solid, rich reddish liver color, often with a white spot on the chest, however, no other white markings should be present.
The Boykin Spaniel, bred only as a southern water spaniel type dog, needed only to adapt to the moderate climate of the Southeastern United States. Because of this, coat length and density vary widely due to the much varied breeds that make up the Boykin Spaniel’s background, with some Boykin’s having a coat that is flat and short, much like the Labrador retriever, with still other Boykin’s will have a curly coat like the American Water Spaniel. Feathering can be found on the legs, feet, belly and ears, often with the feathering on the ears taking a sun-bleached golden hew.
The Boykin Spaniel is a diverse breed and they can have varying personalities, as well as hunting styles. “He is first and foremost a hunting dog with proven retrieving and hunting abilities characterized by boundless enthusiasm and endurance, moderate speed and agility.” He is a Spaniel through and through, and flushing game is his specialty.
The Boykin Spaniel is a skilled swimmer, and a capable hunter and retriever; however, pointing is not common of his hunting style. The Boykin Spaniel displays great endurance, often willing to work all day, and their stamina in hot weather is remarkable.
Since the Boykin Spaniel responds best to training that he finds to be fun, love and attention will only help to bond this breed to his trainer or owner. When time and effort is put forth in the training of a Boykin Spaniel, he can be very easy to train; a highly intelligent breed, the Boykin Spaniel learns quickly but does, however, require intense training and lots of attention in order for him to reach his full potential as a hunter.
Friendly and eager to please, the Boykin Spaniel is an excellent choice as a hunting companion, as well as being a great choice as a pet. The Boykin Spaniel thrives as part of a family unit and should be allowed plenty of time with his family, as love and attention will do little to harm his natural hunting instincts.
The Boykin Spaniel’s “most outstanding feature…is a super-energized personality that adds an extra special twist to the usually mundane chores.” The Boykin Spaniel is an active and social breed. He requires a great deal of exercise and outdoor play. It has been said that “as a pet and companion (the Boykin Spaniel) is exceptional with an amicable disposition.”
Around children or other dogs, the Boykin Spaniel remains friendly and social; he has a very stable and adaptable personality. The Boykin Spaniel is slow to anger, making him an ideal addition to any family, or to any hunting group.
Boykin spaniels are also fantastic swimmers and they enjoy swimming and being near the water. Although a useful way to exercise your dog and burn off excess energy, it is important to dry your Boykin Spaniel, especially their ear, as their long flat ears can trap water in the ear canal, making them prone to ear infections.
Grooming a Boykin Spaniel depends on individual taste and requirements. If being work in the field, then clipping the Boykin Spaniel’s hair is recommended to keep briar damage to a minimum. The soft coat of the Boykin acts like Velcro to cockleburs, foxtails, sandspurs, and blackberry brambles, which could wreck havoc on a Boykin’s coat.
There is no set way or length in shaving down a Boykin Spaniel for field use. Some owners like to clip their dogs all the way down, all over so that the dog looks smooth coated. Others prefer to leave the feathers on the legs, ears, and belly. Still, for others who don’t intend to work their Boykin Spaniel in the field, they just like to brush the coat and leave The Boykin looking natural.
The top of the head, ears and the feet can be trimmed to get a cleaner look. If you decide to clip your Boykin but want to keep some of the feathers then most clip them like a Springer Spaniel. Shave the top of the head, the sides and down the back of the neck, down the back and the sides, the fronts of the legs and the top of the tail, the underside and the base of the ears are clipped to reduce matting. The armpits and inside flanks are clipped as well. Male dogs often need to have the hair trimmed around their testicles to reduce matting. What’s left is the feathers on the ears, the backs of the legs, the chest, and the belly. If your Boykin Spaniel has a short tail, it can be clipped all over.
The main advantage to clipping your Boykin at least once a year is that you can see any blemishes on the skin, possibly dry, flaky conditions, and correct any problems with fleas and ticks that could be hidden in a heavy coat. The best time to clip your Boykin is in the late spring or early summer. Whether you clip or don't clip, brush your Boykin Spaniel’s coat once a week to keep the shedding down to a minimum. It's recommended not to bathe your dog more often than once a month and then to only use pet shampoos. Grooming a Boykin Spaniel’s nails is important if they will be working in the field.
The average life span for the Boykin Spaniel is anywhere from 14 to 16 years. Because of their diverse genetic background, the Boykin Spaniel shares many of the health problems seen in other Spaniel and Retriever breeds, especially Hip Dysplasia. According to 2006 statistics provided by the Boykin Spaniel Society, 37% of Boykin Spaniel puppies have a chance of being born with Hip Dysplasia. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, in its evaluation of 157 canine breeds (data collected between 1974 and 2009), Boykin Spaniel is ranked thirteenth worst for Hip Dysplasia.
The University of Minnesota, in 2010, (in conjunction with the AKC health group) positively indentified Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) as commonly seen in the Boykin Spaniels breed. The Boykin Spaniel Society conducted a further study on EIC. Their results showed 56% of the Boykin Spaniels studied tested positive for two copies of the gene causing EIC. This is a shockingly high statistic and is the highest incidence of the genes in any breed currently undergoing testing for the condition.
In some Boykin Spaniel bloodlines, treatable skin conditions are also quite common. Additional health problems associated with Spaniel breeds, including the Boykin Spaniel have been listed as: