A member of the land variety of the Spaniel type, the Field Spaniel is a Springer in size and working distinction that shares a historic past with the Cocker Spaniel, having been considered the same breed until the 1800’s. Differing, at that time, only in size, a Cocker Spaniel over 25 pounds would be considered a Field Spaniel. When first conceived the Field Spaniel was a most prized and popular breed, but times would change and it would later be met with criticism; he would be cast aside and over-looked in later centuries.
The Field Spaniel is thought to have been bred, early on with other Spaniel types such as the Irish Water Spaniel, the Norfolk Spaniel, and the English Springer Spaniel. Originally, the Field Spaniel, as listed in the English Kennel Club’s Stud Book, was put into a broad group of Spaniel type dogs that would include most Springers and Cockers; in other publications of the time he was more specifically classified.
Of this variety of breeds classified as “Field Spaniel”, The American Book of the Dog, published in 1891, included an article written by J. F. Kirk that states:
“Thus there are many varieties, having distinct and separate characteristics, admitted and recognized under the comprehensive cognomen of Field Spaniel…”
In his book, The Illustrated Book of the Dog, 1881, Vero Shaw goes on to support the notion that the Field Spaniel distinction originally encompassed many breeds of Spaniel type dog when he writes:
"Opinions differ very considerably upon the purity of the breed, and even its most ardent admirers have in some instances been brought to affirm that the Black Spaniel is a mongrel; others are equally positive in their assertions that it is nothing of the sort, but that many specimens can trace an unbroken pedigree.”
Not only size, but color became a significant factor when indentifying a dog as a member of the true Field Spaniel breed. Often a solid black, dark liver, or roan, the breed has been described by the Field Spaniel Society (FSS) as “One of the handsomest and noble looking of all the Spaniel varieties.” As the name would imply, the Field Spaniel was originally developed with field work in mind; however, being of a solid, dark color, the breed was difficult to locate in the brush and therefore little preferred by hunters.
Field Spaniels would therefore, find the most success in the show ring when a handful of breeders began trying to develop an all black Spaniel to be used solely for this purpose. And when the phenomena of the dog show began in the later 1800’s, the Field Spaniel, and many of the Spaniel breeds, found their true calling.
J. F. Kirk, in The American Book of the Dog, continues:
“After the introduction of the dog show in England…the blacks appear to have monopolized the most attention , and several breeders of historical renown succeeded in improving, by judicious selection and crosses, the very beautiful Black Spaniel till he fairly eclipsed all competitors for honors. “
As their popularity in the show ring increased, a Breed Standard was developed by dog show judges that listed all of the required attributes and characteristics specifically required to be recognized as a member of the breed. It was at this point that Spaniels became less bred for field use and began to be bred to these show standards. These show judges, having had part in developing a standard based upon their own whims and preferences would greatly influence the overall look and development of the Spaniel breeds from this point on. The Field Spaniel, once over-looked for successful field work, would become a favorite in the show arena. J. F. Kirk continues:
“I am quite free to confess that there is a strong tendency on the part of modern breeders to exaggerate “fancy” points, and, as a consequence, an undo appreciation is apt to be given, in the cultivation of the different breeds, to abnormal excess in the admired and difficult-to-be-obtained qualities that differentiate each class from its kindred and allied breeds, sometimes at the expense of more useful characteristics.”
With these preferences in mind, in the 1870’s Phineas Bullock developed a low-slung variety of Field Spaniel, with which was immensely successful on the dog show circuit. Crossing the large black Cockers Spaniels of the day with the Sussex and possibly the English Water Spaniel, his strain became quite low and long; completely unsuited for any type of work the Spaniel is naturally bred for. His success in the show arena, however, continued and Bullock’s breed of Field Spaniel; a frequent recipient of praise and prizes for its beauty, would become the fancy of the day.
Hoping to further improve upon the breed, the Field Spaniel was then bred with Basset Hounds and other breeds of dog, with very poor results in terms of both health and appearance. This not so well thought out cross-breeding produced a version of the Field Spaniel that was not only too low to the ground and too long in body but also had crooked, short legs, excessive feathering of the coat, and a heavy head. The excesses and extremes resulting from this botched breeding created a dog; that by the 1900’s, was met with sharp criticism by both the public and in the show ring. The once popular Field Spaniel fell from grace; its new attributes unwanted and undesirable; so much so that it would bring the breed to near extinction.
Realizing the folly of their previous ways, the few remaining dedicated breeders, in an attempt to reestablish the original breed so prized on the show circuit subjected the Field Spaniel to further cross-breeding. This redevelopment effort hoped to recreate a type with longer legs and a more medium length body, while maintaining the most prized feature of the breed; his distinguishable head. Crosses with the English Springer Spaniel would bring some success at improving the health problems of previous crosses, as well as, alter his physique to include those much desired longer legs. It was through the efforts of this dedicated restoration effort that we have the Field Spaniel type of today.
Prior to his drop from elite status in England and throughout the late 1800’s, the Field Spaniel made its way to America. The first Field Spaniel registered in America was “Dash”, whelped in 1879, making the Field Spaniel one of the first breeds registered and shown in the United States. Another Field Spaniel “Benedict”, a handsome dog with a midnight black coat would go on to become a champion on the American show circuit by 1881. When the American Kennel Club (AKC) was founded in 1884, the Field Spaniel was already an established breed and champion. But it was not officially recognized by the AKC until 1894, when it was placed as a member of the Sporting group.
After the breeds initial success, the Field Spaniel fared no better in popularity in America than it did in their native England; quickly falling out of favor in the American show ring, in a decline parallel to the Field Spaniel’s decline in its home country. A decline that was likewise marked by botched breedings and bad decisions. It was a slippery slope for the Field Spaniel breed throughout the 1900’s, and however beautiful the Field Spaniel once was, or would become, he never regained his elite status as a show favorite. By the time breeders on the American side of the ocean bred the Field Spaniel back to his original and prestigious breed standard, other varieties of dog had captured the attention of the dog loving public.
Even after the return of the breed to its original standard, it was once again confronted with the possibility of extinction as a result of the World War I. Breeders, due to wartime hardships, found themselves unable to maintain their kennels, (a problem faced by many breeds of the era) and had it not been for the dedicated efforts of a small group of English breed enthusiast the Field Spaniel would have most assuredly been lost. These breeders would maintain a small but successful lineage of Field Spaniel that would provide the foundation dogs to create the Field Spaniel we have today. This same group of dedicated fanciers would go on to found the Field Spaniel Society (FSS) in 1923 and begin holding Field Trials for the breed.
Although many of the right steps were being taken it did little to assuage negative sentiment toward the breed or increase its popularity and registration of Field Spaniels would remain frighteningly low from the 1920’s throughout the 1940’s. It was so bad in fact, that by 1942 there were no registrations of the Field Spaniel breed listed in the AKC stud book; a condition that would last 19 years. Meanwhile on the other side of the ocean in England; a group of breeders realizing the breed was about to once again be lost dedicated themselves to saving and reestablishing the Field Spaniel and in so doing they also reformed the FSS in 1948. It would be from these English revival dogs that American breeders and showmen Dick Squier and Carl Tuttle would began re-importing Field Spaniels in 1967; recording the first new AKC registrations in nearly two decades. Their renewed interest in the breed and frequent exhibition of it at Flushing shows and other competitions would start a small revival of the breed in America.
All modern Field Spaniels trace their ancestry back to English dogs bred just prior to this revival, in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Four of these dogs would produce two famous litters (the A and the J) that would be imported into America. These dogs would be the foundation for the revival and subsequent longevity of the Field Spaniel breed. Even in modern day, when one examines the extended pedigrees of a modern Field Spaniel litter, you may see the names Columbina of Teffont, Elmbury Morwenna of Rhiwlas, Ronayne Regal, and Gormac Teal; the original four.
Breeding and registration continued to increase, and in 1978, the Field Spaniel Society of America (FSSA) was formed. The club would become the AKC parent club to the Field Spaniel breed by 1988. The Field Spaniel was then officially recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1984.
Interest in the Field Spaniel has continued to slowly increase in America, and in 2003, another club dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the breed was formed; The Fox River Field Spaniel Club (FRFSC), operating primarily out of Illinois and Wisconsin.
Despite his tumultuous past, the Field Spaniel has endured. Today, the Field Spaniel enjoys a permanent place in the United States and many other countries. He does remain however, a rare breed even today, being registered on the UK’s Vulnerable Native Breeds list. This is a classification specifically given to English dog breeds with fewer than 300 registrations per year.
In 2009, only 51 Field Spaniels were registered with The Kennel Club. With these consistently low numbers, the Field Spaniel continuously remains the lowest registered breed with The Kennel Club (UK). According to the FRFSC, the Field Spaniel is not much more successful today in America, with yearly registrations failing to exceed 200 a year in the United States. Now rarely seen in dog shows, the Field Spaniel, as of 2010, was ranked 132nd out of 167 on the AKC’s list of most popular dog breeds.
The Field Spaniel’s lineage can claim a great number of varying types of Spaniel ancestors, and due in part to a history of being bred mainly to win prizes in the dog show arena, the appearance of the Field Spaniel has often changed and has greatly evolved over time. However, the Field Spaniel of today conveys an air of noble breeding and character. He is described quite accurately by the FSSA when they write that he is “a combination of beauty and utility.”
A medium sized Spaniel, the field variety is solidly built averaging 18 inches at the withers for males, and 17 inches for females, weighing 34-50 lbs. The Field Spaniel should be longer in body than it is tall.
He has a well chiseled head that is thin below the eyes, a most unique trait of the Field Spaniel, giving him an almost regal appearance. The skull is wide at the back with a muzzle that is long and lean, never square, with a slight slope from his skull , down to a nose that is well developed, with large, open nostrils. His jaw is rectangular and strong, with a complete scissors bite.
The Field Spaniel’s eyes are open with tight lids, almond in shape and dark hazel in color, set wide apart and just below slightly raised eyebrows and a moderate stop. The Field Spaniel’s expression is often gentle and inquisitive.
The well feathered ears of the Field Spaniel are set low, not overly wide or long. His neck is muscular and long; it slopes smoothly to a strong, muscular back and a chest that is well-developed and deep. He has a long rib cage that leads into a short loin, with forequarters that are straight and moderate in length. The back is level. Giving the Field Spaniel a strong driving look, the hindquarter is anchored on broad and muscular hips, with strong thighs. The Field Spaniel’s feet are round with strong pads.
The tail is customarily docked, but not always, and is lively in action. Never carried above the level of his back, it is set low and amply feathered. The Field Spaniel’s coat is straight and silky, neither curly nor wiry at any point. He is clean from his hock to the ground, however, abundantly feathered on his chest, back of the legs, and under his body. Although bred to showcase an all black coat, the color of the Field Spaniel today can be black, liver, or roan. The coat is often a solid color, but may include tan or white markings primarily on the chest. The coat is a single layer, but is dense and water repellant, often silky in appearance. These characteristics only add to the Field Spaniels beauty, and his stately look.
Despite a distinct similarity to many other Spaniel breeds, the Field Spaniel’s most noticeable feature is its trademark head. The shape and look of the Field Spaniel’s head sets it apart from all the other breeds of his variety, and in the show arena, it is the most scrutinized facet of his appearance.
Once greatly criticized for its appearance and extremes, the Field Spaniel has been redeemed through careful breeding standards. Like the Black Spaniels of days past, today the Field Spaniel is known once again for his majestic beauty.
The Field Spaniel’s expression is gentle and intelligent, conveying his temperament well. It, like all Spaniels, was originally bred for the field, making it a working dog. A bundle of energy, this breed works tirelessly when allowed. With hunting tendencies ever present, the Field Spaniel is abundantly fond of both work and his playtime. Having a “job” is very important to the Field Spaniel, even if that job is simply fetching balls, as the breed enjoys being a useful member of the family.
The breed is a great outdoorsman that loves to swim, hike, hunt, and play in nature. The Field Spaniel is not overly hyper, but is very active, giving them the appearance of being a busy little dog. Owning a Field Spaniel is in essence, committing yourself to an active lifestyle, as the breed requires lots of exercise and activity to remain healthy, happy, and even-tempered.
Room to run and explore are important to the Field Spaniel, but keep in mind that they will follow their nose as is its tendency as a hunter, and therefore should be kept on a leash or in a fenced yard. At least one moderately long walk a day is the absolute minimum exercise for a Field Spaniel; multiple walks being preferred.
The Field Spaniel has been described as a real “country man” and apartment living, while it may be ok, is not ideal for this breed; a house or condo with a yard would be a better alternative. The Field Spaniels history of excellence in agility and retrieving, lends the breed well to enrollment in classes for these activities that help burn energy and remain healthy and well-adjusted. Like other hunting Spaniels, the Field Spaniel can get bored easily and become destructive. This breed needs to be adequately entertained, or it will find ways of “entertaining” itself, often to the detriment of yard or home.
The Field Spaniel has a generally stable personality; friendly but not overly social. The Field Spaniel is however, passive in nature; kind and gentle, and nice to everyone it meets. The Field Spaniel is not known for being a shy breed, but like many of its Spaniel relatives, can be aloof with strangers. The Field Spaniel may give strangers a “once-over” before deciding if they warrant further investigation, but as a loyal breed if that stranger peaks the interest of the Field Spaniel, that stranger will have gained a friend for life.
To the Field Spaniel, family is very important. They love children and want to be involved in the goings on of their family. They greatly enjoy the company of their people, and can be pleasant with cats and other dogs. However, birds, rabbits, and other tiny creatures may be considered prey by the Field Spaniel. Therefore, early socialization is necessary to prevent or correct this tendency. Plan to include them in your activities if you are considering a Field Spaniel as part of your family. Crating or kenneling a Field Spaniel is not recommended. Like other Spaniels, the Field Spaniel can be sensitive and become destructive if agitated. When left alone, or with insufficient exercise and attention, the Field Spaniel can become nervous and anxious, leading to even more destructive behavior.
For all his sweet and good qualities, there are a few things about the Field Spaniel that you may find troublesome if you decide to have him as a housemate. Field Spaniels love water, and when available may see it as an opportunity to play. The Field Spaniel may treat a drinking bowl as a wading pool. This breed has been described as having never met a puddle it didn’t like. They can be sloppy drinkers, often letting water run from their mouth creating puddles. They are generally disorganized and messy with their toys, and may steal clothes from the hamper. They also have a reputation as snorers. They are also known to use barks, whines, and “yodels” to express themselves, with some Field Spaniels being very noisy, although in general they are considered a moderately noisy breed.
Important to all Spaniels and extremely important to the Field Spaniel is an early socialization and training routine. They lean toward dominance, and a passive owner will not do, as the Field Spaniel may become stubborn and temperamental. If properly socialized however, the Field Spaniel is docile and easy going. They are quick learners and respond well to voice commands. Stanley Coren, in The Intelligence of Dogs, rated the Field Spaniel 34th in intelligence, meaning he displays “above average working intelligence”, understanding new commands within 15 to 25 repetitions and obeying first commands 70% of the time or better.
Training should be kind and consistent. Spaniels generally do not respond well to harsh training, and the Field Spaniel is no different. They also do not enjoy rough or harsh play. The Field Spaniel has a sensitive personality, so roughness will only make him neurotic. Establishing leadership and pack order early on is important in the development and growth of the Field Spaniel. Exposure to new people, places, and experiences will work well to secure a stable and agreeable personality in your Field Spaniel.
The Field Spaniel’s water-repellent coat has less hair than many other Spaniel breeds, but it is dense and thick, requiring regular brushing. The Field Spaniel is a year round, average shedder. His coat should be brushed once or twice a week to remove loose hair. His shedding occurs most in the Spring and Fall, but when residing in a cool climate, his shedding will be less.
Trimming and style of the Field Spaniel’s coat is the owners preference, however, in the show arena, the Field Spaniels often visit a professional groomer once a quarter. Because of his long pendulous ears, special grooming attention should be paid to this area. Every few months, dead hair should be trimmed away and the ears should be kept clean and dry. The Field Spaniel’s neck and leg hair tends to grow fast and trimming at regular intervals in these areas is encouraged.
The Field Spaniel is a generally healthy breed of Spaniel, with an average life span ranging from 10-15 years, with the median age for the breed being 11 years 8 months (5 months longer than the median age for all dog breeds). He is however, prone to many of the same health risk and problems as other Spaniels the such as Cataracts, Retinal Atrophy, Retinal Dysplasia, Distichiasis (extra eyelashes), Ectropion (loose eyelashes), and Entropion (inward turned eyelashes). All of which are fairly common in this breed as such it is recommended that owners of Field Spaniels have annual eye exams with a veterinarian are recommended for the Field Spaniel breed. Canine Hip Dyspalsia (CHD) is also a concern for the Field Spaniel, as well as Hypothyroidism and Otitis Externa (outer ear infection).The leading cause of death for the Field Spaniels is cancer, with old age listed as second most common cause.
Other problems that have been reported in this breed include: