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Breed Priorities – English Springer Spaniel

English Springer Spaniels

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262 – April, 2015

By Nikki Riggsbee

I wasn’t expecting to find many breeder-judges, so we included the parent club Judges Education Committee members to the list of experts invited to take a survey on English Springer breed priorities. I was surprised to learn that there were forty breeder-judges to add to the JEC members. Twenty-seven of the judges and twelve JEC folks agreed to participate. By the deadline, nineteen surveys from judges and eight from the JEC were received, for a total of twenty seven.

Most of the judges have judged the national and almost all have judged English Springer Spaniel specialties. All have been in the breed for over twenty years, with the average being nearly forty years. The breeder-judges have been judging the breed for nearly twenty years on average.

English Springer Spaniel Virtues

The experts were asked to rank a list of breed characteristics from the English Springer standard. Below is the list in sequence by the average ranks, starting with the most important.

1. Shoulder blades and upper arm of apparent equal length, forming nearly 90 degree angle

2. Topline firm, slopes very gently

3. Correct substance

4. Length of body slightly greater than height at withers

5. Neck moderately long, blends smoothly into sloping shoulders

6. Long, ground-covering stride

7. Muzzle approximately same length as and one-half the width of skull

8. Correct size, shape, placement, and color of eyes

9. Tail carried horizontally or slightly elevated, with lively, merry action

10. Head approximately same length as moderately long neck

11. Hard, muscular condition with well-developed hips and thighs

12. Carriage proud and upstanding

13. As speed increases, tendency for legs to converge toward a center line

14. Ears long, fairly wide, hanging close to cheeks, set level with eye

15. Correct quality and condition of coat

16. Close scissors bite

The greatest agreement, seventy-four percent, put “Close scissors bite” last. It is interesting how the different breeds value dentition and occlusion, from disqualification to less important. Next most concurrence was on “Ears long, fairly wide, hanging close to cheeks, set level with eye” (14th), with two-thirds putting it in the last quartile. Ears, like teeth, vary greatly in importance among breeds.

None of the virtues was an overall favorite. The most important, “Shoulder blades and upper arm of apparent equal length, forming nearly 90 degree angle,” had an average rank of almost 5, with a bare majority placing it in the top quartile. Its overall rank was lowered with seven experts considering it middling or below. Of the most important features, “Topline firm, slopes very gently” (2nd) was most consistently placed, but six experts put it below midpoint, lowering its average.

“Neck moderately long, blends smoothly into sloping shoulders” (5th) had the next most agreement, although nearly a quarter put it below midpoint. Only four other virtues had a majority agreeing: “Shoulder/upper arm length/angle” (1st), “Correct substance” (3rd), “As speed increases, tendency for legs to converge toward a center line” (13th), and “Correct quality and condition of coat” (14th).

While a majority had “Substance” (3rd) in the second quartile, six put it near the top, raising its average. “Coat quality/condition” (15th) was placed towards the bottom by more than half, but eleven experts ranked it closer to middle importance.

The remaining virtues had bi-polar opinions even as many with majorities did. “Length of body slightly greater than height at withers” (4th) was placed first or second by thirteen, but eight had it midpoint or lower. Almost the reverse distribution was on “Muzzle approximately same length as and one half the width of skull” (7th), with almost a majority in the middle, but more than a quarter having it very important.

“Long, ground-covering stride” (6th) was evenly split, with ten having it very important, and the same number about average. Similarly, “Tail carried horizontally or slightly elevated, with lively, merry action” (9th) had forty-five percent consider it important, and almost as many below midpoint.

“Correct size, shape, placement, and color of eyes” (8th) was important on eleven, while eight had it below average. A similar split occurred on “Head approximately same length as moderately long neck” (10th). Eleven had “Hard, muscular condition with well-developed hips and thighs” (11th) middling value, but nine thought less so.

“Carriage proud and upstanding” had one of the widest disagreements, with twelve ranking in the bottom quartile, and ten in the top. This virtue is part of Beauchamp’s Breed Character, one of the five components of type, although others may not value it as highly.

Many averages were close, and additional input could change the relative rankings. “Substance” (2nd) and “Length greater than height” (3rd) were slightly more than a tenth of a point apart as were “Neck” (5th) and “Long stride” (6th). “Head length” (10th), “Muscular hips/thighs,” (11th), and “Carriage” (12th) were even closer.

There was nearly a three point gap between the averages of “Carriage” (12th) and “Converging” (13th), emphasizing the lesser importance of the last four.

While this survey produced only eight majority opinions of the sixteen virtues, many had very close average ranks. The averages from the first to the twelfth varied by less than four points. So on those first twelve characteristics, I think the experts were aiming for the whole dog: construction, proportion, head, and movement.

English Springer Spaniel Faults

The survey included a list of English Springer faults from or derived from their standard. The experts prioritized these, and they are listed below in sequence by their average ranks, from most serious to least serious. One fault was inadvertently included twice; the duplicate was removed.

1. Excessive timidity

2. Too short in leg length

3. Short, choppy stride

4. Tail carried at a right angle to the backline in Terrier fashion

5. Front legs not set well under the body

6. In gait, tendency to dip, roach or roll from side to side

7. Eyes round, small, or protruding

7. (tie) Angulation of hindquarter greater than forequarter or appreciably less

9. Too long body, long loin

10. Skull and muzzle not in approximately parallel planes

11. Undershot, overshot, or wry

12. Feet not compact and well-arched

12. (tie) Jaws not of sufficient length to carry game easily

14. More than one inch under/over breed ideal heights

15. Overtrimming, especially the body coat, or excessive feathering

As with the virtues, the greatest agreement among the experts was on last place “Overtrimming, especially the body coat, or excessive feathering.” Nineteen of the surveys concurred on “Short, choppy stride” (3rd). Close behind was “Excessive timidity” (1st) and “More than one inch under/over breed ideal heights” (14th), with eighteen surveys each.

Only two other surveys had a majority in agreement: “Too short in leg length” (2nd) and “Jaws not of sufficient length to carry game easily” (tied for 12th). “Feet not compact and well-arched” (tied for 12th) had almost half place it middling, but eleven put it in the last quartile, lowering its rank.

Again, there were many faults with divergent opinions. “Tail carried at a right angle to the backline in Terrier fashion” (4th) had twelve surveys consider it very important, but nine had it just above midpoint. Eleven experts thought “Front legs not set well under the body” (5th) above average seriousness, with nine had it below.

“In gait, tendency to dip, roach or roll from side to side” (6th) was quite important for forty percent, but just one less had it below midpoint. About the same percent thought “Eyes round, small, or protruding” (tied for 7th) fairly important, but almost as many had it distinctly lower. A mirror-image distribution for “Angulation of hindquarter greater than forequarter or appreciably less” (tied for 7th) had the bigger plurality rank it lower, but a distinct group considering it more serious.

“Too long body, long loin” (9th) was very important for nine, but eleven below average ranks put it lower in the list. “Skull and muzzle not in approximately parallel planes” (10th) had a similar distribution. Thirteen placed “Feet not compact and well-arched” around average seriousness, but almost as many had it in the last quartile.

While there were two sets of ties, unusual with so many surveys, the other averages weren’t particularly close to each other. There was a gap of almost two between “Bad bite” (11th) and the tie at twelfth, emphasizing the lower seriousness of the last four. Last place “Overtrimming” was about one-and-a-half points lower than the previous fault, keeping it firmly as the least of the problems.

Those features on both the virtues and faults lists didn’t align neatly. This is not unusual. The faults and virtues lists are not mirror images, so there are other features to consider on each. Also, some features become more of an issue when incorrect than they contributed when not.


The experts were asked to evaluate the outlines of six English Springer dogs and six English Springer bitches, and place each set first through fourth based on outline only, and then to select one as Best of Breed. The outlines were made from photographs of real dogs, so none is perfect and none are at identical angles. A few of the feet may have been in grass, and are therefore approximated; so don’t weigh feet heavily in your consideration.

English Springer “A” had the best average placement among the dogs. Those who placed him first gave the following reasons: “ very balanced, well set under himself, nice fat thigh,” “parallel head planes, moderately angled rear,” “upstanding, broad second thigh, well let down hock, excellent reach of neck, very gently sloping topline, and the most correct head profile,” “correct length of body, typey,” “good amount of lip, nice arch of neck,” “most correct outline, proper leg length, flat skull, long deep muzzle,” and “all things moderate.”

Dog “E” had an average placement just slightly lower than “A,” and he had more first placements, eleven to “A’s” eight. So first place may be open to discussion. Those who placed “E” first commented “correct head planes, good length and depth of muzzle, good tail set and carriage,” “moderate dog,” “overall balance, correct ear set, strong topline, compact feet,” “proper proportions and neck and head length,” “looks like a Springer,” “best overall shape,” and “best head type.”

Bitch “U” had the best average placement and the most first placements among the bitches. Comments on her included “the only bitch correctly longer than tall, matching angles, correct topline, excellent croup/tail set, muzzle and backskull equal and approximately parallel, moderate,” “breeder’s dream, exactly what the standard describes,” “the only one with a naturally held tail, perfect make and shape,” “balanced, gentle croup, breed type,” “nice squareness of muzzle,” “not ‘shoved’ together, good leg length,” and “feminine, obviously a bitch.”

Just behind “U” in average placements was English Springer “V.” Those who selected her first wrote “lovely feminine head, good topline and tail set, nice ears, perfect balance, excellent foot placement,” “correct proportions,” “good leg length, equal muzzle to skull, front set well under,” “nicest head, good shoulder, rear where it belongs, moderate substance,” and “better head, longer muzzle.”

Bitch “V’s” average was less than a tenth of a point behind “U,” but “U” had eleven first placements and “V” had seven.

Dog “A” had the best average placement of all twelve. Dog “E” and bitch “U” had the most first placements, eleven each. Dog “E” and bitch “U” were both selected Best of Breed six times. Dogs “A” and “D” were each selected Best four times. So who should be BOB?

Every outline was placed first by at least one expert except for dogs “C” and “F.” Every outline was left out of the ribbons by at least one survey.

Essential Characteristics

The survey had the experts name four to six characteristics that an English Springer Spaniel must have to be a good one. Head was named most often, including such features expression, eyes (shape and placement), length, and head planes. Next most often listed was movement, both side gait and up and back. Balance, proportions, and outline were frequently specified as well.


The following comments were offered by the English Springer Spaniel experts on evaluating their breed.

• Coat quality matters, not coat quantity.

• Undersize is a current issue.

• Evaluate the dogs, not the trained showmanship and stylized grooming.

• Coats should not be dyed; there is no “one” correct coat pattern. Dyed coats make the normal colored coats look light.

• Use your hands to evaluate shoulders, length of loin, tail set, not just what you see.

• Have them move on a loose lead.

• Be easy with puppies; they can be sensitive.

• Judge the whole dog; avoid fault judging.

• This is a moderate breed, without exaggeration.

• Outline, balance, and the ability to cover ground freely are essential.

• Always judge type first, then reward the soundest of the typical dogs.

• Problems today include too much length of body and too much feathering and coat.

• Markings should be ignored. Look past them.

• Look for a Springer that exudes sporting spaniel type and could work in the field.

• Look for the same make, shape, and balance on the move that you saw standing.

• Cockery or Settery individuals are not English Springer Spaniels.

• Tails should be carried straight or slightly above the topline, not up like a terrier.

• Look for slightly longer than tall, correct head with a good amount of squareness to the lip, oval eyes, and a kind expression, good bone without being coarse.

• Don’t put up oversized dogs.

• Springers should always be friendly, happy, and enthusiastic.

• Don’t reward the unbalanced dog or the square, pretty, refined dog that looks like a bitch.

• Consider bitches equally when judging Best of Breed. They may not have as much coat, but they may be better.

• Give the non-traditionally marked Springers the same opportunity to win.

Our appreciation to the English Springer experts for sharing their knowledge and contributing to this project.

NOTE: This discussion is not intended to promote fault or part judging. One should always evaluate a whole dog as a package. Based on their comments, this was done by the judges evaluating the outlines in this article. However, one develops and improves his picture of excellence by deciding what to emphasize for each breed. They say that evaluating dogs is a matter of what you will forgive. Having priorities can help with that process.

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Posted by on Apr 24 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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