Although its origin is not specifically known as fact, the Clumber Spaniels’ history is marked with vivid and fanciful theories. That he is of Aristocratic heritage is certain, and the Clumber Spaniel is known for being the largest and most gentle of the Spaniel breeds. It is said that the Clumber Spaniel may have descended from the English breed of Spaniel called the Bleinheim Spaniel, or he may be the result of an interbreeding of such dogs as the Alpine Spaniel, Bloodhound, or even the St. Bernard.
One of the more colorful, and romantic tales of the origin of the Clumber Spaniel is of a clandestine escape across the English Channel. This theory being that the Clumber Spaniel bloodline originates in 18th century France, where it is said that Duc of Noialles, when threatened by the French Revolution, promptly transferred his kennel of prized Spaniels (to spare their destruction), to Duke Newcastle of England, who was close to the family.
However, there is no factual basis of that happening, and of this theory, James Farrow wrote, in his 1912 book “The Clumber Spaniel”:
“we are able to avail ourselves of the help of several French spaniel experts, no trace of their origin could be discovered in that country…where, indeed the Clumber seems to be generally looked upon as a purely English breed. “
Despite the mystery to his lineage, what is commonly accepted is the Clumber Spaniel originated on the grounds of Duke of Newcastle’s 3800 acre estate known as Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, England. The name Clumber Park most likely derived from the an ancient River in this area called the “Clun”. What is certain is the breed took its name from Clumber Park, and it was there that the Clumber Spaniel would be perfected.
William Mansell, the gameskeeper to the Duke of Newcastle, is credited with developing the specific breed, possibly crossing older breeds of hunting spaniels with other dog breeds, developing a breed that fit specific needs and functions for the field. “It is known that he and his descendants worked in that area for a long time with a significant number of hunting spaniels.”
What is also known is that until the mid-19th Century the breeding of the Clumber Spaniel was mostly restricted to the nobility. At this time in history, the Clumber Spaniel lived only among “titled families and landed gentry”. These families hunted with the Clumber Spaniel and cross-breeding among these aristocratic kennels is recorded. At Clumber Park, a painting by Sir Francis Wheatley, hangs in the hall. Titled “The Return from Shooting”, this 1788 painting depicts The Duke of Newcastle atop his horse, and his companions, on a hunt, accompanied by four Clumber Spaniels.
It is said the Clumber Spaniel was favored by several British Monarchs including Prince Albert, a companion to Queen Victoria, as well as his son King Edward VII, and King George V. An entry in Victoria’s diary on October 1840, reads:
“Walked out directly after breakfast before Albert went to shoot. He had his 7 fine Clumber Spaniels with us and we went into the Slopes, with such a funny Gamekeeper, Walters, in order that I should see how the dogs found out their game. They are such dear, nice dogs”.
The Clumber Spaniel had a successful showing career in England before making his way to the United States. The Clumber Spaniel traveled to North America, first making his appearance in Canada in 1844, when accompanying British Military Officer, Lieutenant Venables , who was stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Just four years later, Bustler, an orange and white Clumber owned by Benjamin Smith of Nova Scotia, would become the first Clumber Spaniel listed in the American Kennel Club (AKC) registry in 1878 . In this same year, the first Clumber Spaniel was entered into the prestigious Westminster Dog Show. By 1884 there were enough Clumber Spaniels in the United States that the breed became one of the first nine breeds to be recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The Clumber Spaniel is listed as part of the Sporting Group.
During World War I breeding of the Clumber Spaniel was stopped entirely, as the emphasis at the time was on the war effort and money and resources were not available for non-essentials. This caused the Clumber Spaniels’ numbers to decrease to a dangerous low. After the war, however, King George V re-developed a line of Clumber Spaniels in the Royal Kennel in 1925. Rated highly, the King’s Clumbers were used in a pack to work the vast rhododendron field around the Sandringham Estate.” The Clumber Spaniel could again be seen hunting with a group and searching out the scent of birds, just as they had done prior to the war. The end of the war also saw the appearance of some prominent English kennels, and breeding of the Clumber Spaniel, although still a rare dog, continued in England. It was, however, no longer restricted only to the nobility.
The breeding of Clumber Spaniels continues to be few and far between, with it being placed on the UK Kennel Club’s “Vulnerable Native Breeds” list. A group of breeds originating in the United Kingdom and Ireland make up the Vulnerable Natives Breeds list. With fewer than 300 new registrations per year, Clumbers are rare and hard to find. Owners of dogs on the Kennel Club’s Vulnerable Native Breeds list are actually encouraged to mate their dogs in order to preserve the breed.
While they continued to develop and show successfully in England, the Clumber Spaniel’s rise in popularity would be slow in the United States. The Clumber Spaniel was not shown widely in the United States prior to the late 1960’s. On February 14, 1972, The Clumber Spaniel Club of America (CSCA) was founded by Eunice Gies, after the Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden, in New York. “One of the Club’s first activities was to document those Clumbers that existed in the United States. By late May of that year, they had a list of 37 Clumbers, along with their sires and dams.”
In 1978 the first National Specialty competition for Clumber Spaniels was sanctioned by the AKC; 39 Clumbers were judged. The National Specialty for Clumbers was then held annually. 1981 saw the first Clumber Spaniel Puppy Sweepstakes and in 1988, the first Obedience Trial. A first again, in 1989 when the Clumber Hunting tests were held; with the first Tracking tests following in 1991. And in 1989 “The CSCA became a member club of the AKC.” Starting in England in 1987,the CSCA, English Clumber Spaniel Club, and the Swedish Clumber Spaniel Club held International seminars every three years. In recent years the breed’s popularity has steadily increased. “In the United States by 1995, over 500 Clumbers have placed with either an AKC Championship title before their name, or AKC Obedience, Tracking, and Hunting titles after their name.” And in 1996, “Brady” became the only Clumber Spaniel to win the ultimate prize, Westminster’s Best in Show.
The Clumber is the largest of all Spaniels, a heavy-boned, low to the ground dog with short legs. The Clumbers deep chest, massive bone structure, straight forelegs and powerful hind legs give it the power and endurance, needed to pursue game through dense underbrush. The male Clumber Spaniel stands 18 to 20 inches in height and weighs 70 to 85 pounds; females stand 15 to 18 inches in height and weigh 55 to 70 pounds.
The Clumber has a large head with a heavy brow, flat top skull and marked stop. The muzzle is broad and deep with a scissor bite. The strongly developed upper jaw overlaps the lower jaw, giving it a square look when viewed from the side. The nose is large and square and comes in various shades of brown which include beige, rose and cherry. The eyes are dark amber, large, and soft in expression, giving it a pensive and inquisitive look. The Clumber Spaniel has been described as having a mournful, “sleepy” look. The Clumber Spaniels ears are broad, thick, and triangular. They are set low and attached at eye level.
The Clumber Spaniel has a long neck fitting into strong and muscular shoulders. The back is straight, long and level, accentuating the Clumber’s wide deep chest. The forelegs are short, straight and heavy boned with the elbows held close to the body. The hind legs are heavily muscled. The paws are large, compact , and have thick pads with the front paws being larger than the hind paws. The feathered tail can be either docked or left natural.
The Clumber’s white coat enables it to be seen as it works close to the hunter. The body coat is dense, straight and flat, making it of good weather resistance. The Clumber Spaniels coat is very thick with an undercoat which protects it from cold water. Feathering can be found on the ears, legs, belly and tail. The Clumber is primarily a white dog with lemon, brown, or orange coloring. Markings are often found on one or both of the ears, near the base of the tail and on the face. Facial markings include color around one or both eyes. Freckles are commonly found on the legs, near the base of the tail, and on the face.
A paper written by Farret, and kept at the British Museum states of the Clumber Spaniel, “…the way in which the characteristics of the breed have been preserved for over two centuries is very remarkable and points to their having been bred with the greatest of care, and thoroughly established for many generations…”
To truly understand the Clumber Spaniel’s personality and temperament, it is best to examine and understand the historical purpose for which the dog was bred. Bred as hunting partners and family companions to the English nobility, the Clumber Spaniel has been described as gentle and affectionate, but dignified and aloof to strangers, leading to it commonly being referred to as “a retired gentleman’s dog”. An intelligent and independent thinker, the Clumber possesses an intrinsic desireto please, often displayed in its determination and a strong sense of purpose while working. However, when improperly handled, the Clumber Spaniel can become stubborn, he may “refuse to budge”. People have mistaken this for stupidity in the past, but it is quite the opposite as the Clumber is highly intelligent.
The Clumber’s determination is best illustrated when at work. While they have a reputation for being sweet and gentle, they have tremendous drive and self-will. The Clumber Spaniels was specifically bred for use in tough, woody-stemmed cover, like thickets, found in briars and swamps. Since the cover was so difficult to penetrate, a hard flush was almost impossible, and a dog that hunts fast and hard in these hard-wooded areas would soon cripple itself. Clumbers were bred to hunt at a trot or a pace, with extreme determination and persistence, to “work out” how to force the bird to the edge of cover without injuring itself in the thick underbrush.
The Clumber Spaniel was developed to be a scent hunter, opposed to a sight hunter. Thus, the Clumber Spaniel is often seen with its nose to-the-ground, similar to Blood hounds or Basset hounds, conducting a “painstaking search” for the scent that peaked their interest. When covering ground devoid of a scent , the Clumber Spaniel may appear lackadaisical. However, if a Clumber has found a scent, it will track it relentlessly, appearing cat-like as it stalks its prey, never rushing, often stopping in order to locate the bird before pouncing on it. It has been said of the Clumber Spaniel that, “Enthusiasm and speed are not synonymous. Nothing portrays a good Clumber’s attitude better than the word ‘intense’”.
In the field they are quiet workers, and you will find them to be quiet in the home as well. Although they will alert you to danger, they are not indiscriminate barkers. Consistent with its roots as a “silent hunter”, Clumbers tend to be poor watchdogs. Clumbers are good with children and other animals. Their happy and low-key personality and perceptive intellect make it a much loved member of the family although to people unknown to him or strangers, the Clumber can be aloof but rarely aggressive.
“That’s a Good Dog” by Brian Ghent says of the Clumber Spaniel’s personality, “A Clumber Spaniel puppy looks like a happy little bear and a full grown Clumber is a great bustling creature that reminds me of an Irish washerwoman with the same tenderness of heart and loyalty of spirit…the chief charm of a Clumber is that he looks and goes about his job as though nature had intended him for it, a solid and sturdy worker who simply loves a day in the fields. He will carry things around as soon as he is old enough for his pudgy little legs to stagger him about and goes on doing it until the evening of his days…”
Generally known to be a friendly breed, the Clumber Spaniel has even been said to “wag their whole back ends…their long bodies …almost touches the rear-all the while dancing a little jig.” Easy to keep entertained, the Clumber Spaniel thrives on attention and loves to fetch and play. Consistent with its hunting genes, they have an incessant need to and love for carry things in their mouth. The Clumber Spaniel will often greet people with a “trophy” in its mouth. The Clumber Spaniel loves to pick things off the ground and children who play fetch, often growing tired before the Clumber does, will find him to be a companion with limitless energy. The Clumber Spaniel is said to be protective of young children as with their own pups. Clumber females are known to be good mothers to their young.
Calm and sedate, the Clumber enjoys the company of his people and bonds with the entire family easily. The Clumber Spaniel will however, as with many breeds of dog, often choose a favorite. Especially fond of home and hearth, the Clumber can often be found resting close to the family. They are a good choice for the first time dog owner because of their easy going and happy temperament. If your Clumber puppy is raised with a toddler you will often see their relationship blossom into a great friendship and Clumbers tend to be unusually protective of children they identify as part of their pack and are more likely to walk away from unwanted attention then to snap or growl. Clumbers also tend to do well around other pets, although due to their history, it is important to watch Clumbers that are paired with birds, as they have a subconscious desire to track and retrieve.
Clumber puppies are especially curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held, and respond best to positive reinforcement and praise. Consistency and patience is the key to all obedience training and the sensitive Clumber Spaniel does not respond well to harsh treatment. The ideal time to start training Clumber puppies is as soon as they get home. They should be taught to walk on a loose lead and to come and stay when called. Clumbers, with their inherent nature to please, are easily trained with praise and encouragement.
Adolescent male Clumbers can be a hand full. The same determination and will so prized in the hunting characteristic of the Clumber can become problematic if leadership is not established early on. “Where today this avuncular dog methodically tracks and retrieves fallen leaves and hidden insects, at one time it worked as a team to very carefully, step by step, beat game toward the hunters waiting at the end of the field.” An untrained Clumber can develop bad habits such as digging, counter-surfing, fridge-raiding and chewing. Sometimes referred to as the “scavenger Spaniel”, they’ll steal food from children, off the counters, out of the trash or from any place else they can get it. Despite being short, the Clumber’s long body enables them to reach even the deepest of counter spaces. Therefore, it is important to dog-proof your house as the intelligent Clumber Spaniel can figure out how to open cabinets, drawers, and refrigerators. In fact, the hunting Clumber Spaniels nature is to seek out prey in the deep, dark underbrush and is similar to the domestic Clumber’s seeking out of food in deep drawers and dark cabinets. Clumbers can also be destructive when bored or at play, and household items can be easily destroyed. The Clumber Spaniel is even known for destroying so-called indestructible toys.
Like with every dog, Clumber Spaniel puppies need early socialization – exposure to different sights, sounds, people and experiences – when they are young. Taking him to busy parks or taking him on walks to meet neighbors will help polish the dog’s social skills. Socialization helps the Clumber puppy develop into a well-rounded dog. It is even a good idea to invite guests over to meet your Clumber Spaniel pup.
The Clumber Spaniel’s temperament is affected by a number of factors including training, socialization and heredity. If possible, meet one of the parents of your Clumber puppy to ensure they have the temperament you desire. Meeting the parents is helpful in evaluating what the puppy will be like when grown. However, Clumber Spaniels are determined, self-willed and like to get their way, so regardless of that the parent it is like, training or socialization are key in the dog’s development.
“People continue to be intrigued by this ‘big-little’ dog with the aristocratic air.” Whether as a hunting buddy or a family dog, people who have owned and loved Clumber Spaniels say once you’ve had one, you’ll never want to be without one.
Clumber Spaniels are not for neat freaks, as they themselves are not necessarily “neat”. They slobber and are heavy shedders; their thick coat requires daily grooming to keep it free of dead hair. Even then, you will find Clumber hair everywhere. Trimming of the coat, especially the feathered portions like the ears and legs need to be trimmed regularly, with special care being paid to the hair around the ears. As with all dogs of the Spaniel family, the Clumber Spaniel is prone to ear infections, so this grooming attention to the ears is of the utmost importance.
Their sporting heritage means they will enjoy a good walk and can excel at a variety of dog sports, including swimming. Thirty minutes of daily exercise are essential and can include playing, walking, swimming, and other outdoor activities. Clumber Spaniels greatly enjoy a walk with their master at their slow plodding pace so they may sniff out potential “prey” as is their nature. The Clumber Spaniel will adjust their activity levels to the owners need, but is not recommended for a runner or someone looking to cover long distances with their dog.
If not exercised daily, the Clumber Spaniel can become overweight. If you are unsure if your Clumber is overweight, use the “hands-on” test. Placing your hands on his back, thumbs on the spine, spread your fingers downward. You should be able to feel the dog’s ribs. If you cannot your Clumber is overweight and its food should be reduced. If you can see your Clumber’s ribs with the naked eye, your dog is underweight. Needless to say, highly active Clumbers require more food while “couch potato” Clumbers requires less. Generally, Clumbers can do well in apartments or condos if their daily exercise requirement is met.
The average life span for the Clumber Spaniel is anywhere from 10-13 years. Clumber puppies are active and they grow very rapidly. Because of this, two major health problems for Clumber Spaniels are Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) and Panosteitis (juvenile lameness). A health survey conducted by the CSCA in 2001 also mentions the following as being health concerns for the Clumber Spaniel breed:
A good dietary standard for the Clumber Spaniel is a diet full of Lamb and rice, as this can help ease the incidence of Clumber weight problems and allergies. Non-health issues that may affect the Clumber Spaniel are drooling, wheezing, and snoring.