Welsh springer spaniels: ‘They find a way of winding themselves around your heart’

The Welsh springer spaniel is smaller than its English counterpart, and makes a wonderful pet. Katy Birchall takes a look and meets some owners.

Strong, active and compact, the Welsh springer has exceptional stamina and a friendly, merry temperament, making it an appealing pet as well as a working companion. It is a handsome dog, distinctive by its rich red-and-white coat — the only colour in which it is bred — and has smaller and typically less feathery ears than those of the English springer spaniel. The two also differ in that the Welsh is a dual-purpose spaniel, whereas the working English springer is a far cry from its show counterpart.

The breed was officially recognised by the Kennel Club (KC) in 1902, although red-and-white, spaniel-type dogs can be found in paintings and literature dated much earlier — in Dr Caius’s Of English Dogges (1570), he writes of ‘spanniells whose skynness are white and if they are marcked with any spottes, they are commonly red’.

Puppy love: Kieron Moore’s pack of Welsh springer spaniels. ©Sarah Farnsworth for Country Life

One of the most prominent advocates of the breed during the 1900s was Mr A. T. Williams of the Neath Valley in south Wales, who confirmed this variety of springer had been kept for sporting purposes in his family kennels for years, traced back to his grandfather owning them in the 18th century.

Considerable interest remained after the First World War, but, as with so many breeds, numbers took a hit during the Second World War, its devotees ensuring its survival. Today, the Welsh springer is on the KC’s vulnerable list, with only 271 registrations in 2021.

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Butter wouldn’t melt… © Sarah Farnsworth for Country Life

‘A lot of people don’t know about the breed, even in Wales,’ says Jan Janes of the WSSCSW, who has bred, worked and shown Welsh springers for more than 40 years.

‘When I was growing up, there were some well-renowned kennels in the south Wales area, near where I live, but they’ve disappeared. We try very hard as a club to encourage owners to get out there and make their dogs visible. Welsh springers make great gundogs and wonderful pets — they’re brilliant all-round dogs.’

Secretary of the South Eastern Welsh Springer Spaniel Club Julie Revill confirms the reputation of the Welsh springer as a ‘Velcro’ dog. ‘They want to be with you wherever you go and don’t take too kindly to being left on their own,’ she emphasises. ‘It’s important to teach them to be left from a young age.’

Having bred nine generations of Welsh springers over 40 years, Mrs Revill has worked all of her spaniels and currently has two, Tasha and Crackle.

‘They’ll never be as fast as the working English springer, but that’s not what we expect from them,’ she explains.

‘Welshies are good, methodical workers… They work all day, no problem.’

© Sarah Farnsworth for Country Life

Mrs Revill warns that potential owners need to be prepared to wait for a puppy, as they aren’t so readily available. She also recommends going to shows to meet owners and breeders, doing thorough research on the breed and joining one of the four UK clubs devoted to the Welsh springer.

‘Welshies are real characters, they’re such lovely dogs,’ she concludes. ‘I was brought up with a lot of breeds, but since my first Welsh springer, I’ve never wanted anything else. They find a way of winding themselves around your heart.’

Welsh springer spaniels: What you need to know

The first registered Welsh springer was a dog named Corrin, originally listed as a Welsh cocker spaniel, owned by Mr A. T. Williams.

A 1767 painting by Thomas Gainsborough of George Venables Vernon, later the 2nd Lord Vernon, shows the subject with his red-and-white spaniel, which looks suspiciously like a Welsh springer.

Maud Earl’s painting of two Welsh springers is on display until January 20, 2023 as part of ‘The Art of the Earl Family’ exhibition at the Kennel Club Art Gallery in Clarges Street, London W1.

©Sarah Farnsworth for Country Life

In 1979, the Welsh springer was featured by the UK Post Office on the 10½p postage stamp as one of four representative breeds of Great Britain. The other three breeds to be featured were the Old English sheepdog, the West Highland terrier and the Irish setter.

There are four clubs in the UK devoted to the dogs:

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