Don't Buy An English Springer Spaniel!!
"Don't Buy a Bouvier" by Pam Green, has become a classic in Bouvier circles. It has been reprinted many times by clubs to use for the education of prospective Bouvier owners.
Pam Green gives her permission to all who wish to reprint and distribute it in hopes of saving innocent Bouviers from neglect and abandonment by those who should never have acquired them in the first place.)
I have adapted the article for English Springer Spaniels, as many of the same ideas apply equally to Springers.
DON'T BUY AN ENGLISH SPRINGER SPANIEL!!
Interested in buying a Sringer? You must be or you wouldn't be reading this.
You've already heard how marvelous Sringers are. Well, I think you should also hear, before it's too late, that SPRINGERS ARE NOT THE PERFECT BREED FOR EVERYONE. As a breed they have a few features that some people find charming, but that some people find mildly unpleasant and some people find downright intolerable.
There are different breeds for different needs. There are over 200 purebred breeds of dogs in the world. Maybe you'd be better off with some other breed. Maybe you'd be better off with a cat. Maybe you'd be better off with goldfish, a parakeet a hamster, or some house-plants.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU ARE ATTRACTED TO THE BREED *CHIEFLY* BY ITS APPEARANCE.
The appearance of the Springers you have seen in the show ring is the product of many hours of bathing and grooming. This carefully constructed beauty is fleeting: a few minutes of freedom, romping through the fields or strolling in the rain restores the natural look.
The natural look of a Springer is that of a medium size, shaggy dog, usually with some dirt and weeds clinging to his tousled coat. His esthetics are those of an unmade bed. The true beauty of the Springer lies in his character, not in his appearance. Some of the other long-coated and most of the short-coated breeds' appearances are less dependent on grooming than is that of the Springer. (See also the section on grooming below.)
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU ARE UNWILLING TO SHARE YOUR HOUSE AND YOUR LIFE WITH YOUR DOG.
Originally bred as hunting dogs that work alongside their owner in the field, Springers need to be part of the family, rather than being an outdoor dog. They thrive on companionship and they want to be wherever you are. They are happiest living with you in your house and going with you when you go out. While they usually tolerate being left at home by themselves (preferably with a dog-door giving access to the fenced yard), they should not be relegated to the backyard or kennel. A puppy exiled from the house is likely to grow up to be unsociable (fearful and/or unprovokedly aggressive), unruly, and unhappy. He may well develop pastimes, such as digging or barking, that will displease you and/or your neighbors. An adult so exiled will be miserable too.
If you don't strongly prefer to have your dog's companionship as much as possible, enjoying having him sleep in your bedroom at night and sharing many of your activities by day, you should choose a breed less oriented to human companionship. Likewise if your job or other obligations prevent you from spending much time with your dog. No dog is really happy without companionship but the pack hounds are more tolerant of being kenneled or yarded so long as it is in groups of 2 or more. A better choice would be a cat, as they are solitary by nature.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU DON'T INTEND TO EDUCATE (TRAIN) YOUR DOG.
Basic obedience and household rules training are NOT optional for the Springer. As an absolute minimum, you must teach him to reliably respond to commands to come, to lie down, to stay, and to walk at your side, on or off leash, regardless of temptations.
You must also teach him to respect your household rules: e.g. is he allowed to get on the furniture? is he allowed to beg at the table?
What you allow or forbid is unimportant; but it is *critical* that you, not the dog, make these choices and that you enforce your rules consistently.
You must commit yourself to attending an 8 to 10 week series of weekly lessons at a local obedience club or professional trainer and to doing one or two short (5 to 20 minutes) homework sessions per day.
As commands are learned, they must be integrated into your daily life by being used whenever appropriate and enforced consistently. Young Springer puppies are easy to train: they are eager to please, intelligent, and calm-natured, with a good attention span. Once a Springer has learned something, he retains it well.
Many of the Springers that are rescued from Pounds and Shelters show clearly that they have received little or no basic training, neither in obedience nor in household deportment; yet these same dogs respond well to such training by the rescuer or the adopter. It seems likely that a failure to train the dog is a significant cause of Springer abandonment.
If you don't intend to educate your dog, preferably during puppyhood, you would be better off with a breed that is socially submissive, e.g. a Shetland Sheepdog. Such a dog does require training, but a little bit goes further than with a Springer.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU LACK LEADERSHIP (SELF-ASSERTIVE) PERSONALITY.
Dogs do not believe in social equality. They live in a social hierarchy led by a pack-leader (Alpha). The alpha dog is generally benevolent, affectionate, and non-bullying towards his subordinates; but there is never any doubt in his mind or in theirs that the alpha is the boss and makes the rules. Whatever the breed, if you do not assume the leadership, the dog will do so sooner or later and with more or less unpleasant consequences for the abdicating owner.
Like the untrained dog, the pack-leader dog makes his own rules and enforces them against other members of the household by means of a dominant physical posture and a hard-eyed stare, followed by a snarl, then a knockdown blow or a bite. Breeds differ in tendencies towards social dominance; and individuals within a breed differ considerably.
Springers as a breed tend to be of a socially dominant personality. You really cannot afford to let a Springer become your boss. You do not have to have the personality or mannerisms of a Marine boot camp Sergeant, but you do have to have the calm, quiet self-assurance and self-assertion of the successful parent ("Because I'm your mother, that's why.") or successful grade-school teacher. If you think you might have difficulty asserting yourself calmly and confidently to exercise leadership, then choose a breed known for its socially subordinate disposition, such as a Golden Retriever or a Shetland Sheepdog, and be sure to ask the breeder to select one of the more submissive pups in the litter for you.
If the whole idea of "being the boss" frightens or repels you, don't get a dog at all. Cats don't expect leadership. A caged bird or hamster, or fish doesn't need leadership or household rules.
Leadership and training are inextricably intertwined: leadership personality enables you to train your dog, and being trained by you reinforces your dog's perception of you was the alpha.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU ARE FASTIDIOUS ABOUT THE NEATNESS OF YOUR HOME.
The Springers' shaggy coat and his love of playing in water and mud combine to make him a highly efficient transporter of dirt into your home, depositing same on your floors and rugs and possibly also on your furniture and clothes. One Springer coming in from a few minutes outdoors on a rainy day can turn an immaculate house into an instant hog wallow.
I don't mean to imply that you must be a slob or slattern to live happily with a Springer, but you do have to have the attitude that your dog's company means more to you than does neatness and you do have to be comfortable with a less than immaculate house.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU DISLIKE DOING REGULAR GROOMING.
The Springer coat demands regular grooming, not merely to look tolerably nice, but also to preserve the health of skin underneath and to detect and remove foxtails, ticks, and other dangerous invaders.
For "pet" grooming, you should expect to spend 10-15 minutes a day (e.g. while listening to music or watching television) on alternate days or half an hour twice a week. Lyme disease areas during tick season, you will need to inspect for ticks daily. "Pet" grooming does not require a great deal of skill, but does require time and regularity. Keeping the dog in a short or semi-short "working clip" substantially reduces grooming time, but does not eliminate the need for regularity.
"Show" (beauty contest) grooming requires a great deal of skill and considerably more time and effort or expensive professional grooming.
Almost every Springer that is rescued out of a Pound or Shelter shows the effects of many months of non-grooming, resulting in massive matting and horrendous filthiness, sometimes with urine and feces cemented into the rear portions of the coat. It appears that unwillingness to keep up with coat care is a primary cause of abandonment. Many other breeds of dog require less grooming; short coated breeds require very little.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU DISLIKE DAILY PHYSICAL EXERCISE.
Springers need exercise to maintain health and muscle tone. An adult Springer should have a morning outing of a mile or more, as you walk briskly, jog, or bicycle beside him, and a similar evening outing.
For puppies, shorter and slower walks, several times a day are preferred for exercise and housebreaking. All dogs need daily exercise of greater or lesser length and vigor.
If providing this exercise is beyond you, physically or temperamentally, then choose one of the many small and energetic breeds that can exercise itself within your fenced yard. Most of the Toys and Terriers fit this description, but don't be surprised if a Terrier is inclined to dig in the earth since digging out critters is the job that they were bred to do.
Cats can be exercised indoors with mouse-on-a-string toys. Hamster will exercise themselves on a wire wheel. House plants don't need exercise.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU BELIEVE THAT DOGS SHOULD RUN "FREE".
Whether you live in town or country, no dog can safely be left to run "free" outside your fenced property and without your direct supervision and control. The price of such "freedom" is inevitably injury or death: from dogfights, from automobiles, from the Pound or from justifiably irate neighbors.
If you don't want the responsibility of confining and supervising your pet, then no breed of dog is suitable for you. A neutered cat will survive such irresponsibly given "freedom" somewhat longer than a dog, but will eventually come to grief.
A better answer for those who crave a "free" pet is to set out feeding stations for some of the indigenous wildlife, such as raccoons, which will visit for handouts and which may eventually tolerate your close observation.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO BUY, FEED, AND PROVIDE HEALTHCARE FOR ONE.
Springers are not a cheap breed to buy, as running a careful breeding program with due regard for temperament, trainability, and physical soundness cannot be done cheaply. The time the breeder should put into each puppy's "pre-school" and socialization is also costly. The "bargain" puppy from a "back-yard breeder" who unselectively mates any two Springers who happen to be of opposite sex may well prove to be extremely costly in terms of bad temperament, bad health, and lack of essential socialization.
In contrast, the occasional adult or older pup is available at modest price from a disenchanted owner or from a breeder, shelter, or rescuer to whom the dog was abandoned; most of these "used" Springers are capable of becoming a marvelous dog for you if you can provide training, leadership, and understanding.
Whatever the initial cost of your Springer, the upkeep will not be cheap. Spaying or neutering is an essential expense for virtually all pet Springers, prevents serious health problems in later life, and makes the dog a more pleasant companion.
Professional grooming, if you use it, is expensive. An adequate set of grooming tools for use at home adds up to a tidy sum, but once purchased will last many dog-lifetimes.
Finally, the modest fee for participation in a series of basic obedience training classes is an essential investment in harmonious living with your dog; such fees are the same for all breeds.
The modest annual outlays for immunizations and for local licensing are generally the same for all breeds, though some counties have a lower license fee for spayed/neutered dogs.
All dogs, of whatever breed and however cheaply acquired, require significant upkeep costs and all are subject to highly expensive veterinary emergencies. Likewise all cats.
DON'T BUY A SPRINGER IF YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO COMMIT YOURSELF FOR THE DOG'S ENTIRE LIFETIME.
No dog deserves to be cast out because his owners want to move to a no-pet apartment or because he is no longer a cute puppy or didn't grow up to be a beauty contest winner or because his owners through lack of leadership and training have allowed him to become an unruly juvenile delinquent with a repertoire of undesirable behaviors.
The prospects of a responsible and affectionate second home for a "used" dog are never very bright, but they are especially dim for a shaggy, poorly mannered dog.
Be sure to contact your breeder or local English Springer Spaniel club if you are beginning to have difficulties in training your Springer so these can be resolved. Be sure to make arrangements in your will or with your family to ensure continued care or adoptive home for your Springer if you should pre-decease him.
The life span of a Springer is from 10 to 15 years. If that seems too long a time for you to give an unequivocal loyalty to your Springer, then please do not get one! Indeed, as most dogs have a life expectancy that is as long or longer, please do not get any dog!
If all the preceding "bad news" about Springers hasn't turned you away from the breed, then by all means DO GET A SPRINGER! They are every bit as wonderful as you have heard!
If buying a puppy, be sure to shop carefully for a *responsible* and *knowledgeable* breeder who places a high priority on breeding for sound temperament and good health in all matings. Such a breeder will interrogate and educate potential buyers carefully. Such a breeder will continue to be available for advice and consultation for the rest of the puppy's life and will insist on receiving the dog back if ever you are unable to keep it.
However as an alternative to buying a Springer puppy, you may want to give some serious consideration to adopting a rescued Springer. Despite the irresponsibility of their previous owner, almost all rescued Springers have proven to be readily rehabilitated so as to become superb family companions for responsible and affectionate adopters.
Many rescuers are skilled trainers who evaluate temperament and provide remedial training before offering dogs for placement, and who offer continued advisory support afterwards. Contact local Springer breeders or Springer club members to learn who is doing Rescue work.
Suncoast English Springer Spaniels
Kathie Milne, Tarpon Springs, Florida
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