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Posts Tagged ‘working spaniels’

Here’s footage of a Clumber hunting. Compare it with the working cockers in the earlier post. These dogs operate in very different manner. I’ve never seen a flushing dog operate with such sedation!

I have always wondered about this breed. Most of the gun dog breeds are similar in temperament. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is an outlier, because it’s far more protective than any of the other breeds in the gourp. The Clumber is also an outlier in that it apparently always worked game in this slow fashion. Now that it’s no longer being bred for that purpose, my guess is that it is even more sedate.

All sorts of theories exist about its origins. One is that a breed called an Alpine Spaniel, which I’ve never heard of and there’s no record of, was the ancestor of the breed. I wonder if this isn’t a cross between a St. Bernard and spaniel. The Clumber is almost exactly like a St. Bernard in behavior, just it has a spanielness to it. May there’s a touch of basset in the dog, too.

Whatever it is, my guess is most modern gun dog fanciers will go with springers. This dog is a museum piece. It has a wonderful history, but in utility, it’s certainly lacking.

BTW, flews have little to do with soft mouth, as I’m sure all the retriever people who saw this video screamed when they heard that part. If this were true, all the retrievers would have heavier lips than any mastiff. I have actually never seen a Clumber retrieve shot game, but maybe they do. I’ve only actually seen one Clumber in my entire life, but it didn’t act anything like what I expected a gun dog to act like.

Now this breed does well at conformation shows. One won Westminster a few years back. He’s depicted in that video, as is the one that won Cruft’s.

Now, as a pet, my guess is that such a sedate dog would be a better choice than a golden retriever or a springer spaniel, which are far more active dogs. It’s likely that this breed will be pet rather than a hunting dog, especially when it lacks the biddability and speed of all the other spaniels used for flushing.

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These are working cockers. By the standardized view of spaniels, these are technically English cockers. These are the working form of cocker spaniel, and there are no specific lines of American cocker that can be used as high level hunting dogs. (Although there are few brave breeders and handlers who try).

Most North Americans know about working type English springer spaniels, which have similar conformation to these dogs. I associate the English springer as a gun dog of the pheasant country in the Midwest (where I also place the golden retriever) or in some stuffy British baron’s hunting preserve.   Both working spaniels are high energy dogs, and like all species bred for behavioral traits (such as bird sense and biddability), the appearance tends to vary.  Both working English springers and cockers have less feathering than the show forms of English springer and English cocker, which is useful if you’re running a dog throug the brambles and bracken.

These two breeds have a close ancestry. Through most of their history, the big ones were called springers and the little ones were called cockers. The in-between sizes were later categorized as field spaniels. All three exist today, but the field spaniel is rarely used as a gun dog (because it’s a very rare dog anyway). The cocker and springer have similar show forms. Both have the rage syndome in their show lines, which causes otherwise friendly dogs to attack without warning. The springer has fewer colors than the cocker, although there were red English springers well into the twentieth century. (Welsh springers are red and white, of course.)

Does anyone know whether Clumbers and Sussex spaniels are still used for flushing birds? The Sussex was portrayed as the sporting spaniel in George Stubbs’s paintings of pastoral scenes and country sports. It later became a short-legged, long backed dog that was crossed with the field spaniel. When field spaniels developed the same traits, both breeds fell out of favor. Clumbers don’t look like any breed of gun dog, and from what I’ve seen they don’t really act like them either. They were a pets owned by a few nobles, who really didn’t want a fast flushing dog. The were kept at the royal family’s Sandringham estate, but I heard they were shot, when Edward VIII, who was a patron of the dogs at the estate, abdicated the throne.

Because we’re talking about flushing dogs, my grandfather had several interesting dogs for this purpose. He used Norwegian elkhounds to flush ruffed grouse, which sounds strange, but these dogs do have some interest in birds.  He also trained his chihauhua to flush grouse, too. The grouse would think the chihuahua was a fox and would fly from the ground and perch in a tree where they could be easily shot. The chihuahua appeared to be a weird form of red fox, which the grouse fear above all else. However, when a fox comes, the grouse perch in trees, rather than taking to the air, as they do when confronted with a dog. I know it’s not good sportsmanship to shoot perched birds, but using a chihuahua as a flushing dog is one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard of. It’s right up there with the pack of 15 jack russells that are used on black bears.

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