Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Low, lovely, and uncommon: Clumber and Sussex Spaniels

I almost lived with a Clumber Spaniel many years ago. I have a long standing admiration for these low slung, hard working, steady, thorough hunters and fine family companions.

Their cousins and similarly thorough going, steadfast and strong working Sussex Spaniels are also admirable. These are perhaps the most uncommon members of the Spaniel clan and undeservedly so; both breeds make excellent family members while still being capable of hunting if you care to.

The Clumber is the larger of the two at 17 - 20 inches and 55 - 85 pounds under American Kennel Club standards. The [British] Kennel Club suggests a slightly smaller dog averaging 34 kilos or 75 pounds. This is a powerful, sturdy dog renowned for the ability to thoroughly work through underbrush as it hunts.

The Clumber is a very pleasant dog, devoted to people, reasonable and responsive. It is said the Clumber was developed to work alongside portly landed gentry who wanted a dog they could reasonably keep up with rather than a breed that would forever be running off and leaving them behind.

 I've also read that upper-class hunters deliberately tried to keep the Clumber as a status symbol and thus out of the hands of commoners. For whatever reason, the Clumber does not enjoy the popularity that such a stalwart and biddable companion deserves.

The Sussex is smaller and even lower to the ground than the Clumber; the Kennel Club classifies the Sussex as a medium dog vs. the Clumber which they list as a large breed. According to AKC standards, the Sussex should be 13 - 15 inches and 35 - 45 pounds (approx. 33 - 38 cm, and 16 - 21 kilos.)

There is one reason why the Sussex is said to never have caught on as a hunting partner the way other Spaniels have -- they tend to be vocal hunters.

Unlike hounds, where being vocal is encouraged as a way of keeping track of dog and game, there seems to be less tolerance for a dog that loudly flushes birds. In part this was part of the 'fashion' in hunting around the turn of the last century, where quieter upland game dogs where suddenly in favor.  The Sussex failed to catch on at that time and remains uncommon.

As a family companion though, the Sussex is an ideal breed. They require less exercise then their longer legged cousins in the Spaniel family, they are trainable, agreeable, and friendly. This is a fair minded dog that tends to get along with just about everyone and does so without taking up a great deal of room or bouncing off the walls.

If you like to get out and walk the countryside with an amiable dog that is not determined to run away from you, if you have a family that wants an agreeable companion, and if you like pleasant natured dogs, then the Clumber Spaniel and the Sussex Spaniel are both breeds worthy of a closer look.

While they are both uncommon, responsible breeders still find themselves with dogs who occasionally need new homes and are available for adoption. Once again, even these uncommon breeds also have active breed rescues associated with them.

An occasional adult dog will also be placed by a breeder into an adoptive retirement home; this was how I almost came to live with a Clumber years ago. While things did not work out at that time I certainly would not turn either of these breeds away - they truly are lovely dogs that have potential to live happily in many different homes.

Doggy New Year Resolutions - for People.

New Year resolutions - some people find the beginning of a new calendar year a good time to think about things they would like to do differently.

I'm personally not one of them...if I'm going to make a change I'll make it when I need to and I tend to be fairly reflective throughout the year. I appreciate the prompt though, to reconsider what one is doing at least once a year.

 As long as we're stopping to reflect on how we live, it is appropriate to consider our relationship with our dogs.
Here are some potential resolutions that will improve both your life and your dog's.

1. Regular exercise - some people are very good at this, others need to work on it; every dog appreciates at least one casual walk a day. Some dogs prefer faster movement, or can be happily exercised by playing fetch in the yard. Getting up and moving is good for both you and the dog in your life.

2. Moderation in diet - if you are one of those people who tends to over-treat your dog with food then reconsider how hard this is on the dog's health. The new year is a good time to start gradually modifying your dog's diet so that your dog will enjoy a better quality of life - any size dog will have greater trouble with their joints and mobility due to obesity.

An underweight dog on the other hand, has no weight reserve at all if he should get ill. If you are uncertain of your dog's proper weight then talk to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

3. Training - having a moderately well trained dog can mean the difference between life and death for your dog. A good recall, i.e. a dog who comes when she is called is important - a dog who will immediately sit when told, even from a distance can stop a dog from dashing in front of a vehicle or otherwise putting themself in harm's way.

It is useful to train your dog to several hand signals which will work from a distance even if the dog should not be able to hear your voice. Both "come" and "down" can be taught with large visual movement so that if a dog should get loose he can still see what you are instructing him to do.

I have known people who have kept their dog from being hurt or killed by having a dog respond to a distant "down" command quickly and thus not running out in front of a vehicle. 
Of course, if you have a deaf dog hand signals are indispensable.

Resolutions are easily made but often hard to maintain. Routine is vital to making a successful change of practice.  Setting aside 15 minutes a day to review training with a dog will bring about surprising improvements in your relationship with the dog and with the dog's willingness to respond to commands.

Providing another 20 minutes a day for exercise will also improve your relationship with your dog and will promote better physical and mental health for both of you.
You may even find that over time you and your doggy companion will want to increase the amount of physical activity you wish to pursue.

Many of our resolutions fail because they are unreasonably difficult to maintain. Moderation and routine increase the probability that you will have success with your resolutions. And unlike some resolutions which are a trial, spending more quality time with a dog will prove to have more benefits than almost any other resolution a person can set for them-self.

My favorite part about resolving to make a change is that one can make a resolution and follow through on it any time of the year.

As trite as it may sound the truth is today is the first day of the rest of your life - whether "today" is January 1, or July 15, or any other day. Good luck and best wishes for the 365 days ahead of you and your canine companion.

Note: resolve to think twice about how you choose to decorate your dog...they have trees that will hold colored lights for example....

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Flat Coated and Curly Coated Retrievers

The other day I was looking at dog breed rankings for this year based on litters registered with the  AKC.

The current top spot is held by the Labrador Retriever and the number four spot belongs to the Golden Retriever. The last time I checked the Lab was also top dog in Britain, New Zealand and Australia. Yet several of of the Lab and Golden's retriever cousins do not fair so well in popularity.

The Flat Coated Retriever is down the list at 90, and the Curly Coated Retriever is at 154 (out of 173 AKC recognized breeds.) These Retrievers may be a little more independent than Labs and Goldens but they're still excellent dogs that do well with families and other animals.

The Flat Coated Retriever developed in England from a mixing of Labs, field spaniels, Newfoundlands (or perhaps the now extinct St. John's Water Dog,) and perhaps even some collie.

The Flat Coated is a single coated breed and one of the breeds used to help develop the breed that would go on to eclipse them in popularity - the Golden Retriever.

The Flat Coated knew much greater popularity in England before WWI, however, after the war the breed experienced a vicious cycle -- less common than Labradors and Goldens, they became more expensive and thus even less common....

The Flat Coat comes in two colors: black and liver.
 This retriever is a bit longer than tall and is a fun loving, trainable breed.

The Curly Coat also comes in two colors: black and liver. This breed is a leggy retriever and is a bit taller than long. The Curly was designed to be an upland game bird that could also retrieve.

Also intelligent and trainable, the Curly is a little more stubborn than the Flat Coat. Both breeds make excellent family companions as long as they receive regular exercise and are fairly and consistently trained.

The Curly Coated is a big and strong willed dog but very devoted and intelligent. Uncommon and loving, this is a great option for a unique hunting dog or companion for an active family.

For those considering adding a retriever to their life remember, your choices come in more varieties than just Labs and Goldens.

The Flat Coated and Curly Coated Retriever are trainable breeds, ready to accompany their people into fun and adventure in the outdoors. If you enjoy an uncommon breed and like to be active consider one of these very likable retriever breeds.

And yes - there are rescue groups that help rehome both breeds as needed.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Black Russian Terrier (Chornyi), Bouvier, and Giant Schnauzer

Black Russian Terrier

Bouvier des Flandres

Giant Schnauzer

Today I am featuring three breeds which can look similar, particularly to those who are not familiar with each of these breeds. They are all working dogs but developed in three different regions: Russia, Belgium, and Germany.

If one wants an impressive looking protector of the family who is loyal with  his/her own people and suspicious of strangers, then the BRT - also known as the Chornyi, is worth considering.

This is not a breed that is suited to first time dog owners but those with experience handling and training dogs might like this big working breed. The breed is supposed to be "calm, confident, and courageous."

The BRT is a recent breed, developed after WWII by Russia's Red Star Kennels charged with supplying dogs for the military. This breed is designed to be trainable, observant, and protective of it's territory. This has also been a working breed who has done well with cart pulling.

 At 27-30" (68 - 76cm) the BRT is supposed to come in one color - black. The tail if docked is docked to 3-5 digits; otherwise the breed has a tail that tends to curl up slightly

The Bouvier des Flandres is an older breed than the BRT and comes in a wider range of colors. And unlike the BRT was developed as a farm dog, not a military assistant.

The Bouvier is generally known as a herding and cart dog although they would have been a general working farm dog, protecting their people and livestock. This is anther breed that is known for being protective, intelligent, and devoted to their family.

Bouvier colors under the American Kennel Club include a wider range of colors than are typically present in Europe or commonly seen in large numbers anywhere:





Gray Brindle

Pepper & Salt

Black & Brindle

Black & Brown

Black & Fawn

Black & Gray

Black & White


Blue & Gray


Silver & Gray


The dark colors are more common and also seem to do better in the show ring.

The grooming is an important part of giving this breed its signature look - the heavy beard and eyebrows are important.

The breed's size is typically 23 - 27" (59 - 68 cm) at the shoulder.

The Giant Schnauzer is another dog who originated as a farmers dog - particularly useful for helping bring livestock to market and safely bring home the money and goods that farmers got from town.

The Schnauzer is another working dog; also a natural watch dog, however, this high energy breed probably isn't as quiet as the Bouvier or BRT.  Another breed that does best with a job and an experienced owner.

Schnauzers are typically very affectionate however, if they are not socialized and well trained from a young age they can become overly protective of their people and property. 

The colors for this breed are Salt and Pepper, and Black.This breed is basically the same height as the Bouvier, 23 - 27" (59 - 68 cm) at the shoulder.

Black Russian Terrier
Bouvier des Flanders

Giant Schnauzer

Three strong, intelligent, powerful breeds.
Each devoted to family. The Schnauzer is the lightest built and most boisterous; the Bouvier has the most practice being a family companion and living with other animals; the BRT is the  most reserved but still very affectionate with his people. Each has something to offer and despite the similarities in looks these are three unique breeds.

As always, I welcome stories from people who have lived with any of these breeds to share their own observations.