In 2013, the English springer spaniel ranked 28th in the American Kennel Club’s list of most popular dog breeds. These intelligent, friendly and energetic dogs make great pets. However, the ranking is slightly deceptive, as there are two distinct types of English springer spaniel, field and show. Neither is better than the other, they are merely different in character and appearance.
History and Divergence
The English springer spaniel and the cocker spaniel were once the same dog, used for hunting and flushing, or springing, game. Over time, handlers realized that the smaller specimens were better suited for hunting woodcock, or cocking, while the larger ones were better suited to springing. in 1902 the Kennel Club in England recognized the springer as a separate breed. In the middle of the 20th century, the springer breed was split into two lines. One line became the show type springer and the other became the field type springer.
Instincts and Abilities
The field springers were used for hunting and sport. In that context, looks mattered very little, as handlers and hunters valued their dogs for hunting ability. If one dog was particularly leggy or stocky, it mattered little so long as the dog could hunt. Meanwhile, show springers were prized for their conformation and appearance. Whether they could hunt well didn’t matter, as their owners were more interested in entering them in dog shows. Over time, the traits that separate the two lines became more pronounced. Modern field springers have strong hunting instincts, strong scenting ability and high prey drive, while their show-bred relatives do not necessarily have them. However, both can be trained to the gun, and both are suitable house pets -- though the field springer needs more exercise.
Looks and Appearance
To the untrained eye, a field springer and a show springer may look the same, but subtle differences exist. Field springers are slightly taller, leaner and more athletic than the show type, who typically stand between 19 and 20 inches at the shoulder. Show springers have heavier bones, a more pronounced dome shape to their skulls and ears that sit further forward on the head. In field springers, because the focus of breeding is not on appearance, there is a wider variance in size and color. Springers bred for show more closely represent the standard set out by the American Kennel Club.
Field springers are better suited to owners who enjoy active outdoor lifestyles. That’s not to say a field springer can’t be content unless he goes hunting, but they do thrive in an active environment. Show springers love being outside, too, but are more likely to be content with less active, pastoral lifestyles. Show springers tend to suffer more health problems than their field relatives. This is characteristic of conformation breeding, where the gene pool is narrower and the focus is on appearance rather than working ability.