Ken Hough's Website

My Dogs

My preference is for working english springer spaniels. Unlike show dogs, many working dogs are not bred for appearance or to comply with a breed standard laid down by The Kennel Club. Modern working springer spaniels tend to be smaller than stated in the KC breed standard and have shorter coats that are more suited to working in thick undergrowth. Working dogs need to be able to think for themselves when some distance away from the owner.

Gun dogs generally, including springer spaniels, must be able to get along well with other dogs and with people in general, and of course should not be upset by unexpected noises -- such as gunshots. Other breeds might not be so good with other dogs (such as some terriers) or with people and can be terrified by unfamiliar noises.

Well bred and well adjusted gun dogs can IMHO be some of the nicest and most reliable of all dogs. The three most common pure bred dogs (ie not crossbreeds) in the UK are labrador, cocker spaniel, and english springer spaniel, in that order. Many of these dogs are show dog/domestic derivatives of the true working gundogs, but have similar characteristics to the working dogs.

Gun dogs love to work. Labradors will enthusiastically search out and retrieve game that has been shot. Springers will work tirelessly in thick undergrowth to flush out (ie to 'spring') game and then will pick up afterwards. Both have very soft mouths and will not normally kill anything. When watching these dogs in action, it's difficult not be be impressed by their considerable physical and mental abilities, and enthusiasm to work.

Some owners of gun dog breeds do not work their dogs with the gun, but like me have the dogs simply for their characters. In these cases it is vitally important that the dogs get enough physical and mental excercise. A 10 minute walk around the block will not be enough for these dogs! They need space and the opportunity to run free, especially so for working springer spaniels. That of course means that the dogs must be well trained and safe to be allowed off the lead, possibly in the presence of livestock.

Images on the left show some of my local terrain. Over a year, these meadows are likely to hold horses, cattle, and sheep/lambs. Local wildlife includes rabbits, hares, foxes, badgers, and roe deer.

There is also a local beck (a small river) where the dogs can enjoy a swim.

I prefer bitches to dogs because, for most of the year, they tend to be more level headed than testosterone charged dogs. Bitches don't often get into fights or go wandering off as much as some dogs do. Bitches typically come into season twice a year and of course during these periods, care must be taken to avoid unwanted contact with dogs.

At some stage it will be necessary to arrange for a bitch to be spayed (ie neutured). The earliest that this should be done is three or four months after first coming into season. There are practical and possibly health benefits in doing this, but there are also some disadvantages. For example in springers in particular, the typically short and soft coat will most likely become longer, coarser, and somewhat "woolly". The dog might become less active and tend to put on weight, although the latter can be managed.

My first experience of a spaniel was with a 3/4 springer/1/4 chocolate labrador cross. She grew up to live in a kennel situated in the garden. My son worked her with a gun. She was good with other dogs and with people. Her character was essentially springer like, but perhaps with some stubbornness that was more typical of a chocolate labrador. Overall, a reliable dog and a good friend.

This dog was almost entirely liver/chocolate coloured -- a good colour to hide mud that stuck to her while out working. She had just a hint of white on her chest. Because of her overall colour, my son named her "Brandy".

After loosing the dog referred to above, I decided that I wanted another springer spaniel. A friend suggested that I should visit Cruft's dog show and that there I would find working dogs as well as show dogs. Indeed, I did find real working dogs, and met a breeder who at that time had a litter of working english springer spaniel pups. The two dogs that he had with him at Cruft's were very good natured and well mannered. I arranged to visit his kennels and was introduced to both the mother and the father of the litter. There was just one bitch remaining unclaimed. I was captivated!. I took her home when she was 8 weeks old.

Sally was a Kennel Club registered pedigree english springer spaniel. Her pedigree document showed that all of her predecessors going back to great great grand parents had been either Field Trial Champions or Field Trial Award Winners. Canine blue blood!

Most springer spaniels are coloured liver and white. Some like Sally are black and white.

She developed into a very responsive and gentle natured dog, although very lively. I didn't work her with a gun, but she showed no distress to loud noises such as thunder or gun shots.

As Sally grew up she went with me on long walks in the mountains, including Snowdon, Scafell Pike, and Ben Nevis! Being out on open moorland, she had to be safe with sheep, etc. She was safe to the extent that lambs could (and often did) run right up to her. She would stand quite still with her tail wagging. On one occasion, I found her gently pushing her head underneath a sick lamb to make it stand up, exactly what she had done to me when I was lying down with a bout of flu.

Sally was a very caring dog and this showed while she worked as a "Pets As Therapy" dog. In this role she visited many elderly and infirm people. One of these people was mentally ill to the extent that she did not normally communicate with anybody. Somehow, Sally was able to get through to this lady and to bring her out of her isolation. Doctors, nurses, and other people were not able to do this.

Sally lived for 13½ years. At the end, I had the very upsetting task of holding her in my arms while a vet put her to sleep. That was one of the hardest things that I have had to do. We were very close.

After loosing Sally, I realised that I didn't wish to remain without a dog. I missed the company on walks and the house was too quiet. Of course, the next dog also had to be a working springer spaniel, and I was in luck. I found a 4 week old litter less than 20 miles from home. Again, they were Kennel Club registered and had a good working pedrigree.

There were eight pups in the litter. Six were black and white. Two were liver and white. Five were bitches. I had almost the entire litter to choose from. Very difficult!

At first, I was tempted by a beautifully marked and somewhat timid little bitch, but when I picked up Jenny something clicked.

Jenny turned out to be anything but timid. By the time she was ready to leave the litter at 8 weeks old, she was literally pushing her siblings out of her way. I was beginning to wonder if I had made the best choice. I needn't have worried. Although she is quite an extrovert and can be strong in both body and mind, she also has a gentle, affectionate, and very responsive nature, and is a quick learner.

At 10 weeks old she would sit to receive a treat, and not long after that was retrieving her toys to me. At about 14 weeks I introduced her to games of "find it" where she sat and waited until I had hidden a dummy somewhere in the house. Then she would race off and bring it right back to me.

When she was 5 months old, I began to let her run off the lead. She responded very quickly to my call, even when playing with other dogs.

More to come..........