With their silky coats and gorgeous drop ears, it’s relatively easy to identify a spaniel. Used as gundogs in the past, spaniels have become widely loved as family pets.
They might have sweet faces, but some can be ferocious when provoked, and many of them require ample exercise and stimulation. Without which, they may become unruly.
Read on to find out which spaniel is best suited for you!
Table of Contents
Specially bred for prey that resides in the dense brushes, there are a few categories of spaniels.
Land spaniels hunted on land, whereas water spaniels specialized in hunting in marshes and rivers, although there are also versatile breeds.
What truly sets them apart is how they aid their hunting companions.
Land spaniels are essentially setters which made them proficient pointers. Water spaniels were largely springers, springing birds and rabbits from their hiding places.
Here’s an example of a spaniel springing peasants:
The origins of spaniels are murky at best, with many theorizing that they have Spanish origins. Spaniel is a derivative of the old French word espaigneul, which means Spanish dog.
Many of these dogs that arose from France were dotted with black on white, whereas the more common types were speckled with red on a white coat.
There are two popular theories regarding the origins of the spaniel.
Some believe the Celts brought these little hardy dogs to European shores, while there are even those that insist spaniels originated in the Middle East or China.
The only thing anyone can seem to agree on is that spaniels have been around since the 14th century and the fact that they are amazing at what they do.
Whether they came from Spain or Asia, there’s no escaping from the fact that these dogs are beloved all over the world.
From right here in the United States to the far reaches of Europe, these dogs have made their mark as incredible hunters as well as loving companions.
American Spaniel breeds
Many dog breeds were imported into American soil. According to records, the first spaniel was brought to North America in the 1600s.
Today, there are three notable spaniel breeds that America was responsible for.
1. American Water Spaniel
With the English Water Spaniel and the Irish Water Spaniel as its ancestors, the American Water Spaniel possesses webbed toes and a waterproof coat that is curly and comes in all shades of brown.
Developed in Wisconsin to brave the icy cold waters of the Great Lakes region, these large dogs are adept at working in harsh conditions.
2. American Cocker Spaniel
Descended from English Cocker Spaniels, the Merry Cocker, as it’s affectionately known, is a jolly little fella that does well on the hunting field and in the home.
These small pups were used for hunting woodcock at one point, but they are now mostly kept as companions.
They do require a fair amount of grooming and are susceptible to separation anxiety.
3. Boykin Spaniel
A relatively new breed touted as South Carolina’s best-kept secret, the Boykin Spaniel is South Carolina’s official dog.
This medium-sized spaniel was only recognized by the American Kennel Club back in 2009.
Turkey hunters with a penchant for swimming, the Boykins have a stocky build and are a joy to be around.
With the appropriate training and stimulation, they can be snuggly without being overly attached.
British Spaniel breeds
The English were very serious about their spaniels and created not one but two breeds. One of them stole the heart of King Charles II, with puppies whelped right in his bedroom.
This continued with Queen Victoria and her lovable spaniel, Dash, and with the English Cocker Spaniel of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Clearly, the monarchy’s love for the spaniels has remained steadfast.
4. English Cocker Spaniel
Often confused with the American Cocker Spaniel, the English Cocker Spaniel is known simply as the Cocker Spaniel in the States. The ECS is squarer than their American counterpart.
They also have a sleeker profile with a less pronounced stop, but that’s where the similarities end.
Both types of Cocker Spaniels sport a cheerful, people-loving disposition and would gladly bring home the agility champion title and curl up at your feet.
They hate being left alone, and breed-lovers know that their unofficial nickname is Velcro.
5. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Not to be confused with King Charles Spaniel, the Cavalier is amongst the smallest spaniel breeds. They might be small, but they are sporty.
Their compact size makes them wonderful playmates for young children. You can trust them to be gentle when they need to be.
This toy breed has a propensity for hereditary health problems, and it’s doubly important to seek out a reputable breeder when searching for a puppy.
6. King Charles Spaniel
Produced by merging different toy dogs, it was given the nickname King Charles Spaniel after King Charles II, who adored these small, proud dogs.
Also called the English Toy Spaniel, these tiny dogs are haughty but entirely devoted to their owners and make delightful lapdogs.
They are considered one of the smallest spaniel dog breeds. Because of this, they are not fit to go hunting with you unless you plan to carry him around in a secure backpack.
7. Clumber Spaniel
A royal favorite, the bulky Clumber Spaniel might be a small-sized dog, but its lumbering gait and massive head make it look as though it’s larger than it really is.
If you’re not a fan of slobber, watch out! The Clumber is jowly and will leave trails of drool around the house.
They often have a light or white coat, and like many of the spaniel breeds, are wonderful hunters and playmates.
However, they can be warier of strangers than other spaniel breeds, making them apt as watchdogs.
8. English Springer Spaniel
The English Springer Spaniel dogs have two kinds. The short-coated variety was bred specifically for hunting, whereas the dogs with long ears and lush coats dominated the conformation ring.
Although the AKC does not distinguish between the two, fanciers of the breed know that the dogs with docked tails and lighter coats are often for the field.
Fun fact: Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels were one and the same save for size.
The smaller dogs in a litter would be designated as Cockers, whereas the rest were all Springers. By the 20th century, they were separated into two distinct breeds.
9. Welsh Springer Spaniel
Also goes by the name of Welsh Cocker Spaniels, these dogs were saved from extinction sometime by the early 20th century.
Being one of the most versatile breeds, they are weather-proof and can perform under any kind of climate or terrain.
Similar to their English cousin, these red and white dogs are exuberant with their affection. If you want a devoted family dog, you will find it in these medium-sized dogs.
10. Field Spaniel
Once used as a retriever, these small- to medium-sized dogs are now more commonly found in the show ring.
Compared to the other spaniel breeds, the Field Spaniel requires less grooming because of its single coat.
Described as a sweet companion dog with high energy, they’d do best in active families. The Field Spaniel isn’t overly fond of loud children, preferring to bond to just one or two humans.
11. Sussex Spaniel
Their personalities are distinctly spaniel, cheery, playful, and affectionate. Although, you won’t be able to guess it from the perpetual frown they wear on their faces.
Dutch Spaniel breeds
The Dutch produce dogs that mean business, as you can see below.
The spaniels that come from the Netherlands are highly efficient, but this also means that they require experienced handlers that can mold them to their full potential.
12. Kooikerhondje Spaniel
The Kooikerhondje Spaniel or Nederlandse Kooikerhondje is a Dutch spaniel bred for farm life. These small dogs have a lovely plumed tail and a coat that’s always orange and white.
These pretty dogs can also hunt and are quite good as watchdogs due to their mistrust of anything foreign.
13. Drentse Patrijshond
Drentse is partridge in Dutch, and rightly so, the Drentse Patrijshond Spaniel was bred for hunting waterfowl.
These energetic working dogs are often brown or orange, with white covering most of their body.
They need active owners who can keep up with them. Life as a house dog would not make this large breed content.
14. Markiesje Spaniel
These small black dogs can be mean if not well trained and socialized from a puppy. Also known as the Dutch Tulip Hound, the Markiesje Spaniel are an old breed dating back to the 17th century.
They have only been actively bred in the mid-1970s. Spirited and alert, they make great sporting companions and watchdogs for experienced owners.
15. Stabyhoun Spaniel
A rare ratter, the Stabij is a medium-sized spaniel that is also used as a pointer and a retriever.
They have extremely soft mouths and a gentle demeanor, although there’s no escaping that independent streak that all spaniels are known for.
These dogs are also highly hardy, with very few health problems.
French Spaniel breeds
There’s something to be said about the aesthetics of the French.
While spaniels are, in general, pretty-looking dogs, the French have taken them to the next level and have produced one oddball breed, along with one of the cutest dog breeds in the world.
Find out which is which below!
16. French Spaniel (Épagneul Français)
Also known as the French Setter or Canadian Setter, the French Spaniel is a large-sized spaniel used for hunting in the woods.
They have coats of brown and liver, giving them ample coverage when hunting wildfowl. Obedient and friendly, they can be as amenable as retrievers.
17. Blue Picardy Spaniel (Épagneul bleu de Picardie)
A versatile hunting breed that can work well on both land and water, the Blue Picardy Spaniel is descended from the English Setter and the Picardy Spaniel.
They are also known as Bleu Picard and Épagneul Bleu de Picardie. They are large dogs that didn’t inherit the spaniel’s tendency to be yappy, but they still need plenty of exercises.
The Papillon dog has to be the smallest and prettiest of all spaniel breeds, and they’re incredibly intelligent. They love showing off new tricks and can very quickly pick up on agility.
Though small, they have a big voice, so you might want to work on teaching them the quiet command from the get-go.
As you can imagine, these elegant dogs were popular as show dogs due to their large expressive butterfly-like ears.
An old French breed, they’ve been called the Continental Toy Spaniel and were beloved by aristocrats.
19. Pont-Audemer Spaniel (Épagneul Pont-Audemer)
A medium-sized dog with a medium-length coat, the Pont-Audemer Spaniel is not extremely popular.
But among French fanciers of the breed, they refer to them lovingly as le petit clown des marais or the little clown of the marshes.
High-spirited and goofy, this odd-looking dog remains relatively rare, even today.
20. Picardy Spaniel (Épagneul picard)
A breed with no known hereditary health problems, this large dog is child-friendly and laid back. Despite their size, they could live comfortably in an apartment.
They also do well hunting on land and won’t hesitate to splash into icy cold water.
21. Brittany Spaniel
The word spaniel was officially dropped from the breed’s name in 1982.
This medium-sized hunting dog also does well at agility trials. They require large amounts of stimulation and would not fare well as lap dogs.
German Spaniel breeds
Germans know exactly how to develop confident and popular dog breeds. While their spaniels aren’t as popular, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t as on point.
22. German Spaniel (Deutscher Wachtelhund)
A powerful hunter, these medium-sized sporting dogs hunted quail. The German Spaniels are brave dogs that are seldom kept simply as pets due to their driven nature.
These dogs also have a keen sense of smell that makes them exceptional scent hounds.
23. Small Munsterlander
Family-oriented and instinct-led, the Small Munsterlander is an agile dog capable of hunting, pointing, retriever, and tracking.
They are versatile pooches that also do extremely well at agility trials. Despite their name, these dogs are medium-sized and not a small breed.
Belgian Spaniel breeds
Historians are foggy on whether or not Belgian has their own breed of spaniel, as they share a murky history with France.
Many insist that while the Phalène dog is the same as the French Papillons, it seems that the former has found more success in Belgian, following a near extinction.
According to the AKC, Phalène spaniels are a variant of Papillons.
In countries that follow the FCI’s code, these dogs are a different breed altogether. Where Papillons stand for butterflies, Phalene means moth.
Also known as the Continental Toy Spaniel, they were also popular with royals and aristocrats.
These companion dogs are sharp, requiring proper stimulation, or might turn destructive and prone to aggression.
Russian Spaniel breeds
The Russians took the Cocker spaniel and made it their own.
After World War II, they began to cultivate their own kind of breed that is reminiscent of its American counterpart but with a lighter coat and a calmer demeanor.
25. Russian Spaniel (Rosyjski)
A small dog, the Russian Spaniel, was popular for hunting in the woodlands or marshes as they were spirited and sturdy.
Friendly and calm, he’d easily be the most popular dog at obedience school. Indeed, these dogs are incredibly popular as pets in their country of origin, Russia.
Irish Spaniel breeds
Ireland may only have one spaniel breed, but it’s one of the most outstanding.
Aside from its appearance, the dogs they produced were highly prized in Victorian times, being one of the original nine breeds that the AKC recognized.
26. Irish Water Spaniel (An Spáinnéar Uisce)
A retriever-type dog that was commonly used for hunting waterfowl, this medium-sized dog has a unique tightly curled coat in the shade of deep liver.
They also have a characteristic rat-like tail. These dogs don’t come highly recommended for first-time owners due to their willful nature, although they can be rather affectionate.
Extinct Spaniel breeds
Humans have bred dogs for many years, and there are bound to be a few breeds that fell out of favor and went extinct. Here are a few spaniels that didn’t manage to survive the years.
- Alpine Spaniel (Switzerland)
- English Water Spaniel (England)
- Norfolk Spaniel (England)
- Toy Trawler Spaniel (United Kingdom)
- Tweed Water Spaniel (England)
Misnamed Spaniel breeds
Spaniels are often mistaken for companion dogs. Therefore, some companion dogs have been misnamed as spaniels.
Here are some dogs that look like spaniels but don’t have the same tenacity and work ethic as the dog group:
- Japanese Chin (Japan)
- Pekingese (China)
- Tibetan Spaniel (Tibet)
A New Breed of Spaniel
The 27th spaniel on this list, the Sprocker Spaniel, is not really a purebred dog in its own right, but a designer breed.
Mixed between an English Springer spaniel and an American Cocker spaniel, these dogs are lower maintenance than the Cocker.
Eager to please and intelligent to boot, these dogs will thrive under proper care and guidance. These gentle dogs will make a fine addition to any family, even if there are little children in the household.
Which Spaniels make the best pet?
Spaniels are devoted dogs that require devoted owners. Both Cocker spaniel breeds make wonderful family pets for the same reason that they continue to be popular in their respective countries.
They are independent enough to give you a bit of sass but amenable enough to get along well in all types of households.
The calmest spaniel would most probably be the Clumber spaniel, although you would have to put up with his tendency to drool.
Each spaniel has different personalities and temperaments. They are happy dogs who enjoy playing with their humans.
It’s important to learn about which breed would suit your lifestyle best before deciding on which one to get.
If you have a spaniel pup, we’d love to know more about them! Tell us which one you’ve got by commenting below.