The Origin of Field Spaniels, Today's Field Spaniels, and Early American Field Spaniels History

The Origin of Field Spaniels, Today's Field Spaniels, and Early American Field Spaniels History

copyright by Carole Kaye

Origins of the Field Spaniel


Spaniels have been documented for many centuries, particularly in Europe and the UK.  The breeds and categories of today have evolved from earlier distinctions.  The smallest of the spaniels were known as ‘comforters’ and were the foundations of today’s “toy” varieties.   The larger, working spaniels were classified as either “land” spaniels or as “water” spaniels.  Of the ‘land” spaniels, those that were largest and which had a tendency to crouch or “set” when detecting game evolved into the various “setter” breeds.  The other, more flushing land spaniels began to be divided into “strains” according to size, function, and regional characteristics.


            In the UK and the USA, the smaller of the land spaniels became known as “cocker spaniels” because of their unique specialty of working the woodcock birds.  Larger flushing spaniels were commonly referred to as “field spaniels” or “springers” because of the way they would ‘spring’ or flush out the game.  Today’s breeds known as Clumbers, Sussex, Field, English Springer (formerly Norfolk), and Welsh Springer Spaniels all belonged in the latter category of springers or field spaniels during the 19th century. Near the turn of the 20th century, these other varieties of spaniels became distinct breeds, and the breed known as Field Spaniels were the larger springers that were generally black or liver or roan in color.  Fields were those spaniels that did not particularly fit into the toy, Cocker, Clumber, Sussex, Norfolk (English Springer) or Welsh Springer categories, although they commonly interbred.  The breed type standard for the Field Spaniel was established by the kennel clubs and expert writers of the day.


            When the dog show phenomenon began to take hold in the latter part of the 19th century, the various strains of spaniels became more carefully defined by these ‘breed standards’ and the whims and fancies of the breeders and the judges of the day greatly influenced the evolution of the spaniel family.  With very few exceptions among breeders who still hunted over their dogs, spaniels were no longer being selectively bred for their usefulness as working dogs in the field.  They were instead being bred according to the fancy notions of what would ‘win’ in the dog show world, which of course was in part defined by whimsical ideas of what a good spaniel should look like.  The then current fad for purebred dogs was influenced by the rise of the middle class and the social acknowledgement that having a pure bred dog gave a person status and respectability.  Hunting was a gentleman’s sport, and sporting dogs were very popular status symbols. Although in the United States the very wealthy were primarily the leaders in the dog show world, there was still an opportunity for the middle class to join their ranks in dog show exhibitions, or at least in owning a pure bred dog.


            By 1900 the breed that had come to be known as the “Field Spaniel” had just passed its peek of popularity amongst the spaniel fanciers. Many of the breeders of the day had caused the breed to become excessively long and low because that was what was thought to be superior and was winning in the show rings, but then the press began to ridicule them for their extremes, causing them to be less desirable.  The Field Spaniel was left with only a few dedicated breeders, and their numbers diminished significantly while other breeds, notably the cocker and the English Springer Spaniel began to soar in notoriety and popularity.  The remaining breeders did what they could to reestablish the breed’s appearance, or “type”, to be higher up on leg and of a more moderate length, while preserving the very special and distinguishing head of the Field Spaniel.  Even though they were successful in reestablishing the quality of the breed, unfortunately their efforts did not win back the popularity for the breed because other breeds had by then captured the public’s fancy, and because of the advent of the world wars. 


            Throughout the 1900’s, the Field Spaniel had some ups and downs, but these were mostly downs until the current revival began in the late 1960’s.  All of today’s Field Spaniels can be traced back in lineage to 4 dogs from that era.  We can all be grateful to that handful of breeders who salvaged the breed throughout the 1900’s.  Without them, we wouldn’t have these wonderful dogs that we have today!



            Still a relatively rare breed, the Field Spaniel of today is watched over by the breeders and the parent clubs for the breed.  In the USA, there is the Field Spaniel Society of America; founded by a small group of fanciers in 1978, we now have over 200 members.  In the UK, there is the Field Spaniel Society, founded 1923.  There are several Field Spaniels in Australia and in the Netherlands, but the numbers are very limited outside of these regions.  Worldwide the number of Field Spaniels is probably in the vicinity of 3000 total.  The Field Spaniel ranks number 135 out of 154 breeds in the American Kennel Club’s 2005 annual listing of breeds by their numbers registered, this reflects 137 total Field Spaniels registered in 2005.


            In the USA, breeders have tried to be very careful not to allow their dogs to get into the wrong hands where they might be breed indiscriminately by backyard breeders or puppy mill owners.  Most FS are sold with contracts and limited AKC registrations that do not permit offspring to be bred and registered by the AKC.  The best specimens of the litters might go to ‘show homes’ where they will eventually compete in the breed conformation ring (the Westminster type dog shows) where judges decide which are the most ‘typey’ (or best representatives of their breed) dogs and award them points to be applied toward attaining the title of CH or Champion.   Before they are ever used for breeding, these choice specimens are generally studied for breed type, for potential health problems in themselves and in their pedigrees, and a mate is sought to make a good match.


            While the original purpose of the breed had its roots in hunting stock, today’s FS serves in many capacities and is most frequently found happily settled in as the family’s beloved pet.  The use of dogs for hunting is becoming more obsolete due to the changing nature of our environment and society, but the natural skills and instincts of the hunting dog remain strong and can be called into action by those who wish to pursue hunting with a flushing dog.  These natural skills and instincts also lend themselves to the many other uses for which the breed is employed today.


            Their willingness to please and intelligent, easy to train nature makes the FS a well behaved pet, an excellent obedience dog, hunting companion, or service dog such as a therapy dog, assistance dog, search and rescue, social and sniffing dog. Their superior noses make them very desirable for those who enjoy the sport of ‘Tracking.’  There are several Fields today that enjoy competing in the Agility ring and in the AKC sport of Rally obedience.   The successful show dog (breed conformation shows) is in fact a very well trained animal with a socially acceptable temperament and has other characteristics including the physical appearance that exemplify the correct ‘type’ of the breed, or the features that distinguish one breed from another.


 The Field Spaniel is truly a versatile companion and excels in being the family dog, a loyal and fun loving best friend to every member of the family.  Even though the breed has plenty of energy, the mature dogs tend not to be hyperactive and annoying in the home.  That is so long as they get an opportunity to get at least a moderate amount of exercise daily. A few good walks or runs about in the yard can keep them content.  They delight in off lead romps and can really get into high gear when set loose for a good run…. which is something that they do need every now and then in addition to the daily walks or back yard excursions.                .... continued below after photos.....

Puppies will however, be puppies, and are prone to household disruption and carryings on.  Patience and consistency in setting limits while they grow up will eventually do the trick.  Fields have wonderful senses of humor which they don’t loose as they age. They do eventually learn the rules of the house as time goes on so their comedy is a bit more proper or acceptable.  The silly and fun loving antics of the Field Spaniel has inspired our kennel name prefix, “Kaper,” for they are the merry pranksters of our family.  In keeping with their noble character, they do it all in a most dignified fashion.

 Early American Field Spaniels

                                                by Carole Kaye

(This Article first appeared in the Field Spaniel Society of America FSSA Newsletter.)

Field Spaniels were one of the first breeds to be shown and registered in America. Odd as it may seem, their show careers trace back to well before the AKC was founded in 1884, and even before the American Spaniel Club was founded in 1881.  They were recorded in some of our country’s earliest stud books.  Black Field Spaniel Champion Benedict was an American Champion before the AKC was even contemplated!

How did a dog become an American champion before the AKC was even founded?  The dog fancy did not stop and restart because the AKC was formed.  The AKC recognized the records of those shows that occurred before its founding, and eventually listed several Champions in their ‘Champions of Record’ that had never even been registered.   The AKC also adopted one of the older stud book registers as the foundation of its own, that of the National American Kennel Club.  The NAKC Stud Book Register was first published in 1879, but Vol.  II did not get published until 1885, perhaps due to financial constraints.  The NAKC Stud Book’s first 3 volumes were continued in the 1887 publication of the AKC Stud Book Vol. IV. 

The earliest recorded dog show in the US occurred in Manhattan on Nov 30, 1858.  The first bench show in America was on June 2, 1874 in Chicago, and it was quickly followed by the second bench show on June 22, 1874 at the New York State Sportsmen's Association at Oswego.  That year, 1874, seems to have been the springboard for an upsurge of popularity of the benched dog show in America, and that same year the Tennessee Sportsmen's Association offered this country’s first ever combined dog bench show and a field trial.  It was held for sporting breeds only – meaning pointers and setters.  Many other dog shows preceded that all-important event: the Westminster Kennel Club’s first bench show held on May 8-10, 1877, a show that drew 1,201 dogs to the Gilmore Garden in New York.  This very first WKC show was held a decade before the first AKC produced stud book in 1887!

Sometimes there were classifications at early dog shows for Field Spaniels, Cockers, Water Spaniels and Clumbers, but all spaniels tended to be recorded together under the same classification in the earliest American stud books as “Spaniels” or “Water Spaniels.”  Field Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels were recorded jointly up until the beginning of the 20th century in the AKC Stud Books.  To differentiate who was what, you have to study the pedigrees and the show results and the books, newspaper articles and magazines of the era.  This is not a task for the faint-hearted, believe me.  I’m sure that Peggy Grayson, who sought to untangle the British spaniel history, and Francis Greer, who spent years researching American spaniels, would agree! One of the most difficult researcher’s tasks is to determine when and where dogs finished their championships.

 FS CH Black Prince AKC 12524 Whelped 7/15/1881 resembled his sire FS CH Benedict.

Photo Courtesy of the ASC Archives

So who were the early American Field Spaniels?  While many spaniel strains were interbred and some of the imports were intermingled with the American locals, I’m going to skip all the forbearers going back to the Mayflower and start with the beginnings of the stud books and dog shows.  That is when the written tracking of the purity of the strains and the written standards for the spaniel breeds emerged.  I’m also going to focus on those dogs that were in the stud books and who were participants in dog shows, even though there were, of course, plenty of others that were not part of ‘the fancy.’  For the purpose of this article and so as not to make it excessively long (ok, so it’s already long,) I’m going to mention only a few of those early dogs: those who were the earliest, and how they came to be here.

The huge success in England of the Field Spaniels out of the Bachelor litters from Negress and Smutty lead to an interest in America.   In 1880 and out of the second breeding of Bachelor and Negress, (an early FS breeding by Mr. Jacobs –Newton Abbot-  in England) Mr. James Watson and his associates imported Benedict, the dog who by 1883 would become our first American Field Spaniel Champion.  Mr. A. H. Moore, who (later became the first president of the ASC) had a tremendous collection of quality dogs and was a leading exhibitor here, imported “Dash” out of the Bachelor - Smutty litter.

                             (photos pending upload)
Bachelor - Sussex Sire of Benedict, Dash , Kaffir and numerous other early FS

Dash became the first Field Spaniel in the Stud Books as recognized by the AKC.  His registration was published in the 1885 NAKC Vol. II Stud Book:  "Dash. 3126 - Mr. A. H. Moore, Philadelphia, Pa..  Breeder, Mr. Jacobs, England.  Whelped June 25, 1879; black; by Bachelor, out of Smutty; …”

Registered on the next page (they were alphabetical, dogs then bitches) is “3137 Toronto Beau. - Mr. J. F. Kirk, Toronto, Can.  Breeder, Mr. T. Jacobs, England.  Whelped Aug., 1880; liver; by Kaffir, out of Squaw…”  Registrations of Bitches that same year 1885 in Vol. II of the NAKC Stud Book included:   “3150 Negress II. – Mr. J. F. Kirk, Toronto, Can.  Breeder, Mr. T. Jacobs, England.  Whelped Sept., 1881; black; by Kaffir, out of Negress; Kaffir by Bachelor, out of Smutty; Negress by Lad o’Beverly, out of Lass O’York,” and  Mr . Kirk’s  Jacobs bred  import “3157 Toronto Jet. … black; by Nigger, out of Belle, Nigger by Palm, out of Flirt.”   Mr. Kirk also imported Negress to his Toronto kennel. Yet another early import was Success bred by Mr. Schofield from Bachelor out of Salus (and winner of third at the Crystal Palace) owned here by Mr. J. H. Winslow and shown with limited success, in spite of his name.   

Those were the most famous of the earliest FS imports, but there was another Field Spaniel Champion of note who is officially recognized as an AKC Field Spaniel Champion, and she may be our first American bred Field Spaniel Champion:  Daisy Dean, AKC 4,313 a black and white and ticked bitch, whelped Oct. 17, 1879, Breeder, Mr. Burr Hollis, Allentown, NY.  Daisy Dean goes back to some of the first cocker spaniels registered in America but was considered a Field Spaniel probably due to her size.  Although Daisy Dean is the earliest registered and whelped American bred Field Spaniel to have achieved her Championship, it is possible that another Am Bred FS became a CH before she did; a thorough search of all early show records would be the only way to determine this.
                                           (photo pending upload )

Kaffir – Mr. Jacobs Black Spaniel  -

This sire of Several FS Imports was sired by Bachelor.

Partly due to the lack of breeding options, the US had many cross breedings between Cockers and Fields in the late 1800’s.  The most successful earliest show FS initially came from the Newton Abbot (Mr. Jacobs) lines which utilized the Sussex outcross to Bachelor and others to cause the Blacks and sports (livers and roans) to be lower and longer in stature.  The illustrations here are two of the early influential dogs, Kaffir and the Sussex Bachelor, behind these imports. 

The black dog American Champion Benedict was written about as being weak in muzzle, but was unbeaten in the show ring because of his good front and beautiful coat.  Mr. A. C. Wilmerding said of him, “He (Benedict) was of about 38 pounds weight, long, low, with a good flat coat and field spaniel head and type throughout.  He could win today.  Dash (Moore’s), Bob Jr. (Luckwell’s) and others of lesser note, came into the field at different times endeavoring to wrest the laurels from the old dog; but it was to no purpose, as he scored with ease over them all, and kept piling up prizes as though he were always alone in his class.”    Benedict was widely used as a sire and many of his get show up in the stud books.  FS Champion Black Prince was one of them, bred by Mr. A. C. Wilmerding using a cocker bitch.  Unluckily, Benedict died at a young age in a railroad accident. 

(photo pending upload) 

FS CH Black Prince AKC 12524

As the early FS  imports were bred and cross bred with cockers,  many great spaniels were whelped.  Many more were imported and some were exported as the dog fancy expanded exponentially.   Once they got started, the FS became one of the most popular breeds with the American fancy and their registrations grew phenomenally.  Sadly, that popularity sputtered out in the earliest decades of the twentieth century, both here and abroad… but that’s another story. 


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