The English springer spaniel should embody typical spaniel qualities -- friendly, eager to please and excellent family dogs. Most English springer spaniels behave that way, but there are always exceptions. A condition called "springer rage syndrome" has plagued the breed. It's more common in show rather than working dog lines.
English Springer Spaniels
Once upon a time, the English springer spaniel and the English cocker spaniel were virtually the same breed. According to the American Kennel Club, they were born in the same litter, with the smaller siblings trained to hunt woodcock and the larger ones used to flush, also known as spring, game birds. The two breeds officially separated at the beginning of the 20th century in Great Britain. Today, these medium-sized spaniels are divided into show and hunting lines, and don't even look that much alike. Dogs from show lines have long coats with solid colors next to the overall white and weigh more. Dogs from working hunter lines have shorter coats, with "ticking," or spots, in the hair. Hunting springers tend to be much more energetic than their show dog cousins, while the latter require more grooming.
Springer Rage Syndrome
Whether springer rage syndrome actually exists depends on who you ask. Springer rage occurs when a dog exhibits aggressive behavior seemingly out of the blue. For this reason, only buy a puppy from a reputable breeder, and ask to see the parents. If you don't intend to show your springer, you might want to purchase a puppy from working lines. Dr. Lyn Johnson, of Companion Animal Behavior Services, alleges that most cases of springer rage actually are a form of dominance aggression or another type of aggression, such as fear or territorial behavior. However, Johnson cites research stating that the most severe cases of aggression in the breed could be traced to a common bloodline.
According to the Atlantic Monthly, while aggressive breeds such as German shepherds or Doberman pinschers are usually found on surveys of dogs who have bitten people, so do springer spaniels -- and cockers. It's possible that years of breeding for some traits -- such as a certain appearance in the show ring -- outweighed breeding for temperament.
If dominance aggression is the real cause of springer rage, it's often behavior the owner has unwittingly encouraged. The dog believes he is top dog over his people, ruling the roost. If your springer exhibits dominance issues, you need help from a professional animal behaviorist. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations.
The younger the dog when first displaying signs of aggression, the less likely he can be cured of his issues. Don't wait - seek help as soon as possible. If you've allowed the dog to behave in a dominant, aggressive manner, it's a learned habit that's got to be broken. Severity also factors in. Occasional snapping is one thing, but do you really want the liability of a dog that severely attacks you, other family member or pets? Whether your dog can be rehabilitated also depends on your own personality and those of household members. A dominant dog owned by submissive people is often a recipe for disaster.
- English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association: Springer Rage Syndrome
- American Kennel Club: Get to Know the English Springer Spaniel
- The Atlantic Monthly: The Problem With Breeding
- Veterinary Partner: Rage Syndrome in Springer Spaniel
- VetStreet: English Springer Spaniel
- VetStreet: What You Need to Know About English Springer Spaniel Health
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.