These are the key questions to ask yourself when buying an English Springer, Cocker or Welsh Springer Spaniel for training to a high standard:
Look at the mother, is it a dog that you like the look of as puppies on the whole will have 60% to 70% traits of the mother. God willing, you are going to be taking this dog out for the next 10 – 15 years so it’s good to be proud of the dog that you have on the end of the lead.
If possible in a similar manner check out the father. This may not be possible but the breeder should at least be able to provide images of the dog and be keen to show you these and the pedigree. Looking at both the father and mother if you can, will the puppies be a good result in terms of conformation, intelligence and working ability.
The owner should be happy to demonstrate the mothers working and training ability. From a couple of retrieves and the degree of motivation and drive you see, you should get a feel of how well the puppies will turn out.
Faced with a choice of choosing from a bunch of Spaniel Puppies there is an old theory that if you take all the puppies out of their box and then watch the mother select the first puppy for taking back to the box, then this is her favourite choice and therefore one to be seriously considered.
There is another theory to select the puppy that just takes your fancy and which you form an initial bond with as this is indicative that a relationship has been formed and that both man and dog will do well together.
Look at the Kennel environment. What is it like. Is it a clean and happy environment. If it is not I would question how the puppies have been looked after. Not a good start if the Kennel is dirty.
When the puppies come out to meet you, do they look healthy and lively. Often if the puppies have recently been viewed by some other prospective owner, they will be tired. In this case,I would advise you wait to view until the puppies have fully rested and then you can get a good chance to review their health, energy and character.
When the puppies are out in their run, look for a puppy that shows no fear and presents signs of early hunting ability. Look for a puppy that comes to you easily in a friendly manner for these are the hallmark signs of a biddable Spaniel that will be very easy to train.
Follow the farmers selection of a good sheepdog for work. A broad and round skull are good indications that his head is ‘packed with brains’.
Where tail docking is legal, has this been done properly leaving two thirds of the tail on.
Check the formation of the eye. Is it round and dark brown in colour. If it is then this is good. If it is light and yellow then not good.
Look you see the dogs pedigree and in particular the first three generations which are the most important. If it is a hunting / shooting dog that you require then you are looking for Field Trial Champions FTCH in the pedigree. If you are looking for show champions then you should see SHCH show bench winner. The best spaniels to be trained will the from the working line as they have been developed generation after generation to develop their working instincts. If you are looking for good looks and not training ability then go for the show winning spaniels. Working spaniels are not bred for looks but for brains and for overcoming weaknesses in previous generations.
At the time of writing in the UK, the price of buying a puppy from a working pedigree is between £350 to £550. For this price the dog should be Kennel Club registered.
This is a most fundamental point, but Spaniels are natural hunters with endless amounts of energy. As such, If you live in a city or don’t have the time to exercise a Spaniel then please don’t consider one. Choose another breed as this is not fair on the dog. Most reputable breeders I am aware of are very careful as to where their carefully bred puppies will end up.
If you follow these key steps you will have chosen a great Spaniel puppy as a starting point for a great future. If you put the time and effort in, there is a good chance you will be able to develop the dog to a high standard and have a great companion at the same time.