If you thought all Springer Spaniels were alike, be ready for a big surprise: the English Springer Spaniel has been two breeds for almost 70 years! While all Springers go back to similar British stock, breeders with hunting dogs and those with bench dogs have had different aims during those seven decades.
Bench Dogs vs. Field Dog
A “bench” Springer Spaniel is one that competes in conformation shows. A “field” Springer Spaniel is one that hunts and competes in field trials. The last dual champion earned conformation and hunting titles in the early 1940s.
Temperament & Behavior
A bench Springer Spaniel typically is more relaxed than a field-bred dog. She must tolerate being touched by others and in the presence of many dogs. Like the field Springer, she must tolerate loud noises -- but not necessarily gun shots! The field Springer also is bred to act more independently than the bench Springer, given that she is supposed to work away from her owner while hunting or in field trials.
All bench dogs must meet a set of written criteria, known as a “standard.” The American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club standards describe a dog that “looks the part” of a hunting dog, but that also has style and beauty. The standards make much of the bench dog’s coat, describing its density, waviness, profusion and even how it is trimmed. The bench Springer Spaniels generally is a dark-colored dog, being primarily liver and white or black and white in color, although blue-gray or liver roan (brown hairs mingled with white) are acceptable. Most bench Springers have docked tails and are heavyish, with deep chests and bodies slightly longer than the dog is tall at the shoulders.
The field Springer has a shorter and wavier coat. While the bench dog requires frequent grooming to keep her profuse coat clean and free of tangles, the field Springer’s coat is apt to require little to no grooming. This trait is a distinct advantage in a busy home! Many field dogs are primarily white, with patches of the same colors acceptable in the bench dogs. Field dogs have shorter ears and their lips do not hang as much. The field dog also may have a docked tail, but it is typically a longer dock than that of a bench dog.
Value as a Pet
The bench and field Springers both make good pets for the right people. Ethical breeders of both varieties are obligated to match puppies with buyers according to personality/temperament and intended purpose. Puppy buyers of either variety need only be patient and trust the breeder to know his or her dogs well enough to help find the right puppy for them.
- English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association (ESSFTA): AKC Parent Club of the Breed
- English Springer Spaniel Information and Field Trial Page: Know the Difference between a Show Bred & Field Bred English Springer Spaniel
- American Kennel Club: AKC Meet the Breeds -- English Springer Spaniel
- United Kennel Club: English Springer Spaniel