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.

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