Judging the Field Spaniel

Judging the Field Spaniel (Showsight Magazine, 2013)

Nichole Dooley Bunch, SandsCape Field Spaniels

A few years ago I wrote an article for the last Showsight Field Spaniel Breed Feature. This article was titled “The Field Spaniel – From the Breeders Eye”. It was a brief lesson in moderation & type, and was a compliment to the associated article which was a walk though of the AKC standard for the breed. When I was asked to write again for this feature I immediately decided that I needed to not only discuss type again in an expanded version, but also hone in on how to methodically put the pieces together while judging. Judges have the unique opportunity to make an impact to a breed’s progression by being diligent in learning and applying the standard to dogs they reward. What is most challenging in a rarer breed, such as the Field Spaniel, is applying “Type” to this equation, as well. Considering Field Spaniels have always been on AKC’s “low entry breed” list it is within reason to assume that many judges have not had the privilege of viewing a large entry for the breed or at least on multiple occasions. With that said, it is of the utmost importance for judges to know and understand what makes a Field Spaniel unique regardless of the limited opportunity that prospective and current judges may have to evaluate the breed in person.

The Field Spaniel is a combination of beauty and utility. It is a well balanced, substantial hunter-companion of medium size, built for activity and endurance in a heavy cover and water. It has a noble carriage; a proud but docile attitude; is sound and free moving. Symmetry, gait, attitude and purpose are more important than any one part. The Field Spaniel is a breed in which there is not split between our bench and working dogs. Considering they are bred with this in mind it is imperative they be judged with this in mind as well. “It is a well balanced, substantial hunter-companion of medium size, built for activity and endurance.”

While the Field Spaniel was one of the earliest registered breeds in the United States, dating back to the 1880’s, we are in reality a breed with a young history from a conformational standpoint. Due to a decline in both the US and the home country of England, and near extinction, the breed was not reintroduced to the US until the late 1960’s by way of three littermates imported from the UK. The breed has come a long way since that time due to the commitment of diligent breeders. While this lovely breed continues to grow and improve, we have also (in parallel) proved and maintained the breed’s natural working ability without a split between field and bench. It is very important that the breed remain one of which can conformationally can stand up to the requirements of a day in the Field.

I was once asked what three things I would keep in mind when evaluating a Field Spaniel and my answer was easy: Beauty. Balance. Type. Of course, my answer was not so easy to leave at that and discussion ensued. So, how would you go about judging the breed? How do you define type in your breed? What about movement? What makes the Field Spaniel head distinctive? Are there any hallmarks of your breed? The end of the conversation ended with me quoting a line from our standard, “Symmetry, gait, attitude and purpose are more important than any one part”. This is not the first time I will say this and it will not be the last, you will want to remember this as you continue reading.

“Symmetry, gait, attitude and purpose are more important than any one part”

Your judging begins the moment the dogs walk in the ring. Watch them as they enter. We have many owner handlers in this breed handling inexperienced dogs. Keep this in mind as you move through your assignment. This is a breed that can be reserved at first meetings and may be unsure of the goings on, especially a young dog. This is by no means an excuse for an overly shy or timid dog, particularly in the open class or bred-by class.

“They may be somewhat reserved in initial meetings. Any display of shyness, fear, or aggression is to be severely penalized.”

GingerLook at your entry of exhibits in line/profile and most importantly take a moment to assess the overall outline of the dogs. The front of the dog should be in balance with, and not heavier than the rear. Front and rear angles are also both moderate in balance as well. The initial appearance should be neither coarse nor weedy, but have adequate bone and substance. There should be no extreme exaggerations in any direction. The Field is longer than it is tall in a ratio of 7 to 6, with the length being measured from the forward most point of the shoulder to the rear and the height from the withers to the ground. The depth of chest is roughly equal to the length of the front leg from elbow to ground. The rib cage is long and extending into a short loin with little to no tuck up. The upper thigh broad and powerful; second thigh well muscled. Key points to remember when viewing the outline of a Field Spaniel: It is incorrect for this breed to have a sloping topline. The neck should smoothly slope into the shoulders to a strong level topline. Over extended or, worse, over angulated rears is also not desirable. Overall balance is of the utmost importance. The front must be in balance with the rear with a deep loin connecting to the two! And it is essential that that there is balance between size, proportions, and substance.

“Proportion--A well balanced dog, somewhat longer than tall. The ratio of length to height is approximately 7:6”

Look down the line and view the head and expression. The head conveys the impression of high breeding, character and nobility, and must be in proportion to the size of the dog. Eyes are almond shape and dark hazel to dark brown. A round eye and/or light eye is incorrect and would be less likely to carry the grave/gentle expression and more likely to have a harsh or hard expression which is also incorrect. Adding to the distinctive head and expression is an ear set slightly lower than the level of the eye, a moderate stop, a strong long muzzle neither snipey nor squarely cut; the nasal bone is straight and slightly divergent from parallel from the plane of the top skull. While the breed should have a distinctive head we are NOT A HEAD BREED. Please do not judge the head first and foremost and put primary importance on the head. This is a rarer breed and balance, type, and purpose should rise above personal preference for attributes or fault judging.

Expression--Grave, gentle and intelligent. Eyes--Almond in shape. dark hazel to dark brown.

When moving your entry together or individually it is important to ensure they are gaited at the proper speed for the breed. A natural speed in an endurance trot is appropriate for the breed. They should not be shown charging out and pulling at the end of the lead or zipping around the ring at top speeds. While there is good forward reach, coupled with strong drive, proper Field Spaniel movement should remain effortless in a long and low majestic stride. Fast, tight, and strict movement is incorrect. A loose lead is best to appropriately evaluate movement.

The Field Spaniel should be show at its own natural speed in an endurance trot, preferably on a loose lead, in order to evaluate its movement.

Upon examination, and in order to put your impression of the outline and proper movement together, remember those keys words from earlier: Symmetry, gait, attitude and purpose are more important than any one part. The bite is to be scissors or level, with scissors preferred. The forelegs are straight and well-boned to the feet. As you move along this is your opportunity to let your hands be your eyes. The neck is well set into the shoulder. The prosternum is prominent and well fleshed.   Elbows are closed-set directly below the withers and turned neither in nor out. The ribcage is long and extending into a short loin. The 7:6 length in this breed is to be picked up in the rib, not the loin. Ribs are oval and well-sprung. These dogs should not be narrow from any angle. The loin should be deep with little to no tuck up. The croup is short and gently rounded. Hocks are well let down and should be parallel when viewed from the rear. Tail set on low, in line with the croup, just below the level of the back with a natural downward inclination. Docked tails preferred, natural tails are allowed.

“Substance--Solidly built, with moderate bone, and firm smooth muscles.”

The coat is single and moderately long, flat or slightly wavy and silky. It should be dense and water-repellent. Moderate setter-like feathering adorns the chest, underbody, backs of the legs, buttocks, and may also be present on the second thigh and underside of the tail. Overabundance of coat, or cottony texture, impractical for field work should be penalized. Colors are black, liver, and golden liver. Golden liver is generally considered that of a Sussex Spaniel. Tan-points acceptable on any of the aforementioned colors and are the same as any tan-pointed breed (Gordon Setters, Dobermans, etc.). The breed is either self-colored or bi-colored dog. Bi-colored dogs MUST be roaned and/or ticked in white areas. White is allowed on the throat, chest, and/or brisket, and may be clear, ticked, or roaned on a self color dog.

“Amount of coat or absence of coat should not be faulted as much as structural faults.”

When gaiting a dog to assess front and rear movement, elbows and hocks should move parallel, just as they should be when standing still. Pay attention to this. You will be hard pressed to find a specimen that moves in parallel that does not stand in parallel, especially the rear. The legs move straight, with slight convergence at increased speed, however single tracking is incorrect. Lifting from the pastern is common in younger dogs; however mature dogs should be reaching beginning at the shoulder if moving correctly. Energy wasting movement is incorrect. Specimens should not be throwing out elbows or hocks and the down and back exercise is the best opportunity to judge this. Movement in this breed should be very clean and fluid.

“The Field Spaniel should be show at its own natural speed in an endurance trot.”

Always remember that this is a sturdy hunting companion. One that is not ca

Some keys points to take away from this article are that fault judging alone does a disservice to the breed. Applying personal preference above all else to one area of the dog is also not viewed as favorable. Look at the whole dog and then weigh each dog’s faults and attributes from there in order to make your selections. Type and purpose should go hand in hand. There are NO DISQAULIFICATIONS in the Field Spaniel standard.  Remember that we only have a few decades of conformation building blocks here in the United States and your selections can either help or inhibit a breeds path in the future. Breed type and proper structural build that can stand up to the requirements of a day in the field should always be at the forefront of your judging process.