Friday, February 13, 2009

The Failed Sussex Spaniel

Sussex Spaniel

The Sussex Spaniel won Westminster, but it has failed at everything else.

This is a breed whose modern incarnation can be traced to just six dogs, in which over 40% of all dogs have hip dysplasia, and which is so ugly and so useless in the field that no one owns them or hunts them.



Anonymous said...

They weren't always so deformed.

I highly suspect that the field spaniel breed absorbed the old type Sussex, but I can't find any evidence of that. The painting by Stubbs shows a dog that could pass for a field spaniel today, which were originally considered the intermediate size between English cockers and English springers. But the fact that so many Field spaniels are the exact same shade of liver as the Sussex has me wondering.

There is a propaganda piece about hunting with Sussex on their breed club's website:

This person claims that a Sussex has more endurance than a field line golden as a flushing dog. I know why: a golden can actually cover more ground than a Sussex and it won't stop to rest every 45 minutes. I'm very skeptical that this person uses Hovawarts and Dobermanns that often as flushing dogs either. Some Hovawarts look like goldens, but they act like a cross between a Kuvasz and a German shepherd-- that's what they mainly are, a recreation of the old Saxon farm dog. Dobermanns might have some birdiness through two of their ancestors-- the shorthair and the Weimaraner.

PBurns said...

Yes, a bit of an amusing article as "the standard" bird dog against which the Sussex is being compared seems to be a Doberman. A Doberman??

And a Hovawarts. A Hovawarts?

That's another guard dog!

Bottom line is that people vote with their feet, and in a world PACKED with bird hunters all over the world, not many are going to this breed.

We used to have good field cocker spaniels. Some people STILL have them. I am pretty sure that gene pool is bigger than six dogs wide, without 42% hip dysplasia! If you need a small bird dog, that's the way to go.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Retrieverman, that isn't a propaganda piece about the Sussex's hunting abilities. It's true.
I worked my Sussex on a beating line (in Sussex!) for about five years. He certainly never sat down to rest every 45 minutes but had tremendous stamina and was always on the go. We started at 9am and went on until 1.30pm, but he could have gone on all day.
Waorking on a beating line is pretty intensive and afterwards both dogs and handlers are worn out.
Sussex are slow compared to Springers and cockers but they don't waste their energy, which may be why they can keep going so long.
Mine was very through too and invariably flushed pheasants the other, faster, spaniels had left behind.
A friend's Sussex (on the same shoot) once dived into a fast-flowing stream after a pheasant. Both dog and bird disappeared for a bit then the Sussex re-surfaced with the bird in his mouth.
They are amazingly strong and don't feel the cold at all.
The downside of them is that they are rather difficult to train and working tests can be tricky because they see no point going into undergrowth when there's no game there.
They are at their best as beating line dogs.
Terrier man, I do agree with what you say about pedigree dogs and their deformities and inherited problems and I wish the Sussex had a larger gene pool.
In the UK they try to breed the Sussex with longer legs than Stump, although mine was like him.
They may look rather too much like show dogs, with their long ears and excessive coats but they very definitely still have their hunting instinct and an outstanding nose.
Working springer and working cocker people rather look down on Sussex as gundogs over here (UK). The spaniel (gundog) trainers I came across were quite condescending too, implying I was wasting my time with a Sussex.
But on beating lines people do change their mind when they see them in action.
I shall always remember a remark one of my companions made during a shoot - a man who has won several field trials with his working cockers.
He said, having watched my dog hunting in the undergrowth: "that one's better than the lot of them".
My Sussex died 3 weeks ago and I'm heart-broken.
One more thing, they are not the same shade of brown as the Field but are lighter - golden liver, as opposed to liver.

PBurns said...

Very sorry to hear about the loss of your dog; they eventually die no matter how well we take care of them. Never give a heart to a dog to tear!

Why do you think the Sussex Spaniel is such an unpopular dog in the field? I ask, because the world seems to be run over with every kind of retriever, pointer, setter and spaniel you can think of, and the numbers whelped AND found hunting in the field are jaw dropping.

But only about 60 -75 Sussex Spaniels a year are registered in the UK -- perhaps 12 litters in all. Obviously, not all of those pups will even make it into the field, and I do not think the numbers are any higher here in the U.S.

When I look at dogs that bring something with them into the hunt field, even if they are a "new" breed like the Patterdale or Plummer terrier, and even when the sport is FAR less common than bird shooting (fox work with a spade and terrier is rare all over), and even when the "new" dog is not bringing extraordinary competence with it (they are simply dogs as good as the other "traditional" dogs found in the field that are also doing the same job) the rush to get "the new exotic" dog seems to be overwhelming. Why is the story different for the Sussex?

And what REALLY, does a beating dog bring to the day? It has to be steady, to be sure. But it is PLODDING work compared to actually quartering massive fields looking for birds, and it may not even be asked to retrieve. Isn't it -- when the day is done -- simply another set of legs along for a walk in the country with its master? Human beaters are, for the most part, people without any real skills. Can't the same be said for the canine beater?


Novus said...

Wandleb, beating is not hunting - a german shepherd can do it. It is flushing at best. Children do it and doddering oldsters in tennies. Not a serious job!

And what have you to say about the 42 percent dysplasia rate given by your own breed club? Does that not get even a nod from you as a real problem?


Anonymous said...

I've since found that breeding short-legged spaniels for show purposes was a big thing in the nineteenth century. Some did this because they thought a short-legged dog could go into cover well. In reality, a smaller dog is better for charging through the brambles than a short-legged one. That's why we still have working cockers, which are of the English breed. Some of the foundational lines of both breeds of cocker are actually small Sussex.

Springers and cockers are more efficient at this work. Heck, golden and Labrador retrievers aren't bad at it, if they have natural birdiness. The Sussex started out long-legged and trim, then they started experimenting with them. And that was the failure.

I've seen picture of a Sussex swimming. And it has a terrible swimming posture, as you could imagine with a short-legged dog. That's why we don't run dachshunds in duck blinds.

PBurns said...

Man plays God and invents breeds of dogs. Fine. OK. But has no one else noticed that God makes mistakes and lets most things go extinct? Why do we not allow more breeding failures to disappear? The Sussex is a failure, as is the Glen of Imaal, and many other breeds. Let them go!