Living with an ESS

Well, some would say that you have a mental problem to even consider a Springer - possibly true! Comments such as :- " So bouncy, such hard work, uncontrollable, and definitely mad dogs " spring to peoples' lips. They are bouncy, and they are hard work; but totally, absolutely rewarding to live with. Despite the rather mournful expression given by the almond eyes and long, drooping ears, a Springer is NEVER sad. They may pretend to be miserable for five minutes, after they've been reprimanded - but this is an act. Springers only know HAPPY!

The word Spaniel is thought to originate from either the French for Spain (Espagnol) or the Latin (Hispania), and there are recordings of dogs called spaniels as long ago as AD 450.

Mum offered to buy me a pedigree dog for my twenty-fifth birthday. I had endured five years of dogless necessity whilst I started my career in Path. Lab. work. However, as we were about to move from Brighton to the lovely Brecon in Wales, dog ownership became a realistic obsession. I had always owned dogs at home, and had to leave behind my two beloved Labradors when I began work.

'A Giant Schnauzer would be nice' said Mum, 'Or a German Shorthaired Pointer perhaps?' But, in looking through all the dog books I could find in the library, I had seen a photograph of Ch. Teesview Titus. Look into those eyes, and you just melt!

Coming home from work one day on the bus, I saw a lady crossing the road. By her side was this handsome liver and white chap; and when he set off with that inimitable jog trot, my mind was made up. Nothing else would do. Had to be an E.S.S.!

A somewhat disappointed Mum rallied round, and it just happened that she knew of the 'one and only' Jean Taylor. And so, in time, Pepper was collected from the farm in North Yorkshire, and came with us to Wales. Since then, I've not been without a Springer - which must say something!

The name Springer doesn't refer to the character of the dog; they were bred to 'spring' game for the gun from heavy cover, and were once called Norfolk Spaniels. In a similar fashion, Cockers were bred to put up Woodcock from the less dense cover of some estates. Nowadays, working dogs of either breed must take on other aspects of field work, including retrieving, and are often referred to as 'all-round' gundogs for this reason.

Now - I must also tell you of the defect that all spaniels suffer from to some degree, but Springers more than the others. The 'Spaniel Moment' occurs throughout their lives, decreasing with old age; but they are never completely free of it. The 'Moment' can occur at any time, and for no apparent reason. It can be identified by stiff limbs, a raising of the set of the ears, and the onset of very round, staring eyes, which appear to be focussed on infinity. The dog stands stock still for a few seconds - then suddenly charges off - never in a straight line, usually in a zig-zag fashion. In a headlong charge it goes under, over, or through anything that gets in the way. If there are no obstacles around, then they are imagined; and for the next few minutes the animal will career and twist about in a wild manner. If it occurs inside the house, the 'Moment' may cause some consternation; but although furniture and ornaments have sometimes come to grief, I have never yet had a Springer hurt itself when suffering the affliction!

Whilst on the topic of the walk, I must say that, for me, the movement of the E.S.S. is an absolute joy to watch. One minute it's a sack of potatoes with legs, bumbling about in the dead leaves. The next minute, the head comes up, that wonderful free shoulder movement and drive comes into action - and it's off! Effortlessly covering the ground, and reminding me of the young Shire horses out to grass in the springtime! Ahh! Nostalgia!

Springers always cheer you up in the early morning. They assume you need cheering up (usually true!), and after doing the 'front-down-to-the-floor' yawn simultaneously, they do a strange up-and-down dance. First the front end and then the rear end; not going anywhere, just in the same spot. Looks a bit like one of those bucking bronco machines! They carry on until they have your attention - and then they smile! Possibly other dogs smile too, but I've only seen Springers do it.

Once you've smiled back, they can begin their day - happy in the knowledge that they've done their bit, and we're all agreed that it is a nice day, after all!

Mind you - you must remember that if it's a wet day, you've already got wet paw marks all over; you do have to have dress sense with Springers!!

They are also extraordinarily sensitive to your moods, and if you are really down, and having a miserable moment, someone will quietly sneak up and simply place their head on your lap. The eyes look into yours, and all the sympathy in the world is there for you to see!

Whenever you have visitors to your house, Springers treat them to the special 'Springer Welcome'. This involves siphoning water from the drinking bowl into their mouths. They then immediately go over to place their heads on the nearest guest's lap in affectionate manner! Reactions to this are so intense, that they often repeat the procedure without being asked!

I know that those of you who attend Obedience classes will find this hard to believe, but Springers do brilliant natural retrieves. Jo-Elle has never yet done a correct retrieve in Class - but only recently she carried out a faultless performance when we were out on our walk. It wasn't the usual retrieve article though - she proudly presented me with a dead woodpigeon, complete with maggots! Well, Thanks, just what I wanted!

Retrieving instinct is also apparent in other ways. They regularly bring water and mud into the house. Also compost from your flowerpots, earth, gravel and sticks from the garden, dried-up dead earthworms, slugs, snails, dead birds - well, anything at all really! If they're not carrying it in their mouths, then it falls off them as they run around. They're great collectors of debris of any description, and most of it seems to get deposited in the house!

The coats are hard work. If you have an aversion to brushes, combs and scissors, then don't own a Springer. The body coat in particular, becomes very thick and rough if left untended. When you buy your puppy, you are lulled into a false sense of ease, but once they have their adult coat, you begin to realise that you need to be a full-time hairdresser!

Forget everything about feeding problems with dogs - Springers will eat ANYTHING!

One of the most rewarding aspects of Springer ownership is their enjoyment of going for a walk, and they are good to deal with both on and off the lead. On the lead, they need to be nearest to the side of the road or pavement, as they constantly examine hedgerows and banks with microscopic intensity. The only problem with this is that, off the lead, they often become so engrossed with a particularly interesting tuft of grass that you end up waiting for ages rather than walking along at a sensible pace! So it's a bit of a stop-start affair. But you do find yourself examining hedgerows and banks too, so you never miss out on interesting flowers, fungi, birds etc. Something of an observation ramble! If you want to have a brisk walk, they need to be on a lead.

The 'Spaniel Moment' is over as quickly as it began, and the dog reverts to normal - although with a big self-satisfied grin on its face! All my Springers have suffered from 'Moments', and the Cockers to a lesser degree; and I think it's incurable. But there are two things to bear in mind:

1 Never, ever, laugh at the dog's antics, as this simply prolongs the 'Moment'.

2 Pray that they don't suffer a 'Moment' when in the show ring!

Well then, if you enjoy hairdressing, housework, being embarrassed in public, examining closely every blade of grass within a three-mile radius of your home, watching wildlife, sharing sandwiches, generally clowning around, and above all being HAPPY - an English Springer Spaniel may be just the dog for you!!

Written by Lynn Ozanne "Lyntonridge Spaniels"