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Choose The Spaniel That Makes The Best Family Pet

The word that is used most often to describe Spaniels’ temperament is happy. Who doesn’t want a happy dog!

Spaniels are happy, affectionate, and easy-going dogs that make excellent family pets. They are intelligent, loyal, and enjoy being with their family and other family pets. Most spaniels shed require regular grooming and are not hypoallergenic other than the Irish Water Spaniel.

Spaniels range in size from the 10 pounds Papillon,  under 20 pound Cavalier Kings Charles Spaniel up to the big Clumber Spaniel, who can weigh up to 85 pounds. You can easily find a Spaniel that is just the size you want.

American Cocker Spaniels are small dogs usually weighing under 30 pounds. The English version is a bit larger and is a medium dog weighing up to 34 pounds. Before current standards, the difference between a Springer Spaniel and a Cocker Spaniel in England was determined by weight. Dogs from the same litter were sometimes a different breed based on weight alone.

Most Spaniel dog breeds have Spaniel as part of their official recognized AKC name. Three that we will also cover do not have Spaniel in their names: the Brittany, the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, and the Papillon.

American Cocker Spaniel

The American Cocker Spaniel is smart, loyal, and easy to train. They started as hunting dogs, but today, they are more popular family pets, ranking number 30 on the AKC popularity chart. The term “Cocker” is part of their name because the primary game they hunted was the American woodcock.

Cocker Spaniels are small to medium size ranging from 20 to 30 pounds. They are big enough for sports and rough and tumble play but small enough so you can carry one if you need to. They can be a variety of colors, including black, white, brown, and red. The requirements to qualify as an AKC show dog are fairly strict for size and color. The standards are detailed here.

Cockers Spaniels are generally healthy and have a lifespan of 10 to 14 years. They need regular exercise and grooming. They will meet almost everyone’s expectations of what a good family dog should be.

American Water Spaniel

The American Water Spaniel is the state dog of Wisconsin where the breed originated. This is a hunting dog, but it has been bred for a calm temperament suitable for a family pet over the years.

The American Water Spaniel has a thick, two-layer waterproof coat needed for hunting in the Great Lakes region’s cold climate and waters. Their coat will need to be brushed regularly to remove loose hair.  Their coat is a curly or wavy shade of brown or liver (color). Before you take out your liver to see what color it is, let’s say it’s a brown shade.

Liver Color

This breed is relatively healthy, with a life span between 10 to 14 years. Although it is a good family pet, it is not a very popular breed, ranking 166 in AKC’s most popular dog list.

The American Water Spaniel Club publishes a club flyer with information about the breed.  Also, you may want to read the breed standards established by the AKC.

Boykin Spaniel

If you like the liver color, this dog will fit your color taste. The Boykin Spaniel is a friendly, affectionate, and easy-to-train hunting dog who likes home life and near a lake. Its medium size means it’s not too fragile for play and not too big to be a threat.

The dog hails from Boykin, South Carolina, and is the official South Carolina state dog. It is an excellent bird hunting dog and equipped with feet that make it a great swimmer.

Its coat is not high maintenance; a weekly brushing is usually enough. It has an average life span of 10 to 15 years and is generally healthy.

The Boykin Spaniel is a great family dog and is especially good with children. If you are interested in finding a Boykin to adopt, the Boykin Rescue website is a good place to start. Another good resource is the Boykin Spaniel Club and their club flyer.

Brittany (Spaniel?)

Once upon a time, the Brittany was known as the Brittany Spaniel. It is a hunting dog and apparently behaves more like a pointer or setter in the field. Spaniel was dropped from its AKC official name in 1982.

I am not familiar with the finer points of bird hunting, so I will still include Brittanies as a member of the Spaniels family of dogs.

The Brittany Spaniel originated and got its name from the Brittany region of France.  It has a lot of energy and needs plenty of exercises, but it will also sit quietly when its owners watch television.  It is good as a family pet but may be happier with an active family that spends a lot of time outdoors.

It has a two-color coat of white and brown (or liver color), with short hair that only needs occasional grooming.  It is very healthy, with a life span of 12 to 14 years.

American Brittany Club publishes a club flyer and a monthly magazine for its members.

Cavalier Kings Charles Spaniel

Named after a King of England (you can guess the King’s name, but what about his number?), this little dog may be royalty, but it is also a favorite of mere commoners. It may be a toy dog, but it still has plenty of Spaniel personality in its small body.

The Cavalier is a special breed that fits in almost any family. They do great with children and other pets and want to be friends with everyone. They are very social animals and do not want to be left alone. Weighing up to 18 pounds, they are included in the AKC toy dog group. They can be a lap dog who enjoys frolicking in the backyard, perhaps chasing a bird or squirrel.

They do have a few health issues but a good life span of up to 15 years. They have a long silky coat, which needs some attention but is not a real burden. Their color includes black, brown, tan, ruby, and white. The most common color combination is Blenheim, which is white with chestnut markings.

A club flyer contains more about the Cavalier or visits the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club website.

Both King Charles I and his son King Charles II were dog lovers and favored the small Spaniels. Charles, I lost his head, so the dog breed is named after his son. King Charles II apparently was more interested in looking after his dogs than running the affairs of state. He had his priorities right!

Clumber Spaniel

You might want to be a big dog with a name like Clumber, and the Clumber Spaniel is. Weight up to 85 pounds (males), the Clumber is the largest of the Spaniels.  It is a pleasant, amusing, and well-behaved dog that can also be indifferent to strangers.  Its name comes from where it was developed, the Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom.

Their size and gentle nature make them robust playmates for children.  Like most of us, it also enjoys eating and taking a nice long nap.

Its coat is primarily white with orange, brown, and yellow markings.  It has a heavy weather-resistant coat that only needs occasional brushing.

They are usually healthy and live to be 10 to 12 years old.  They sometimes grow too fast for their bones to keep up, so sometimes they are lame while puppies until their bone growth catch up.

As most dog breeds do, they have a fan club, the Clumber Spaniel Club of America.  The club also prints a club flyer.

English Cocker Spaniel

The English Cocker Spaniel, like its cousin the American Cocker Spaniel, is a hunting dog who is a friendly, happy family companion dog. The main difference between the two breeds is the English Cocker is bigger by a few pounds. It is a bird hunting dog with the woodcock being its specialty.

They have a medium-length silky coat that needs regular brushing. It will also need trimming about once a month. Its coat comes in several colors, including our old liver color. When I was a child, my family had a red English Cocker Spaniel, Shiek, who had a very handsome red coat. Shiek was one of the most pleasant, easy-going dogs I ever knew.

These hunting dogs are healthy overall and live to be 12 to 14 years old. They should get plenty of time outdoors but are very happy being inside with the family.

The English Cocker Spaniel Club of America website has more information on this breed and a club flyer.

English Springer Spaniel

The English Springer Spaniel is a smart, friendly, and affectionate dog. They love family and do not like being left alone or ignored. They are good with kids and other family pets.

As a hunting dog, this dog breed had the job of flushing birds from cover, causing the birds to “spring” into the air. They are closely related to Cocker Spaniels, and in the past, dogs from the same litter were classified as either Cockers or Springers based on the dog’s size. The bigger dogs became Springer Spaniels.

They have several coat colors, most combined with white. They need regular grooming to keep their coats clean and shiny. Their lifespan is from 12 to 14 years, and they are generally healthy.

You should visit the English Springer Spaniel website and read their club flyer.

English Toy Spaniel

The English Toy Spaniel also was a favorite of Kings Charles. Often this breed is called King Charles Spaniel.

The English Toy Spaniel is very similar to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The Toy Spaniel was bred to have more of a pug nose like the Pekingnese. The Cavalier has a longer nose.

The English Toy Spaniel is not a highly energetic dog and totally fits the description of a lapdog. They are friendly and affectionate. They are not reliable watchdogs due to their friendly nature but may bark to alert when strange people are around.

They have a long silky coat that needs regular grooming. The coat colors are typically black and tan or black and white. Some are red. The various coat colors have special names: solid red is Ruby; brown and white are Blenheim; black and white is Prince Charles; black and brown is King Charles.

There are some genetic health issues for this dog, but it is generally healthy. Its lifespan is 10 to 12 years.

The website for more information on this breed is the English Toy Spaniel Club of America.

Field Spaniel

Brown Spaniel dog running across a field, retrieving pheasant.The Field Spaniel is a calm, well-mannered dog that makes a great family pet. It is very patient with children and gets along with other family pets is properly socialized. They are up for vigours, play in the backyard but relax when indoors.

This breed is very similar to its Spaniel cousins, the Cocker and Springer Spaniels. In the past, the only criteria for separating a Cocker from a Field was their size.

They have a single-layer coat that needs routine brushing. The coat colors include black, blue roan, liver, white, and tan. They may also have a combination of these colors. Its lifespan is 12 to 14 years, and its health is generally good.

The website for this breed is the Field Spaniel Society of America. They also have a club flyer.

Irish Water Spaniel

The Irish Water Spaniel is a good family pet but will need proper socialization if there are any children or other pets in the home. Weighing around 50 pounds, it is just at the border between being a medium or large dog.

This breed has been around for a long time, and its history may go all the way back to the 700s.  They have an outgoing personality and have the reputation of being the clown of the family.

Unlike most other breeds, the Irish Water Spaniel comes with only a single color coat; you guessed it, liver! They have thick curly fur that needs grooming. They shed very little and are hypoallergenic. Their coat helps protect them when they do what they love to do, jump into the water, even the cold waters of the North Sea.

They are a healthy breed with a lifespan of 12 to 13 years.  Some are allergic to some drugs and medication, so be sure to have your vet check if they are not familiar with the breed.

The Irish Water Spaniel Club of America is a good source for more information. You may also want to read their club flyer.

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

The Kooikerhondje (trans. small orange and white dog) is the Netherlands’ contribution to our Spaniel family of dogs. It also is a hunter that does well with families with well-behaved children. It may need training and socialization to accept other dogs. It is a small dog weighing from 20 to 30 pounds.

Kooikers are showy dogs that are very intelligent, well-behaved, and relatively easy to train. Their coat is red and white, sometimes with black tips. The coat needs routine brushing.

Generally, kooikers are healthy, but they come from a small gene pool. They may have genetic related issues. Their lifespan is a respectable 12 to 15 years.

Visit the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje Club of the USA website for more information.


The Papillon is definitely the smallest of the Spaniels.  Know as the butterfly dog because of its distinctive ears, and the Papillon is a happy and friendly family pet. It usually gets along well with everyone, including other pets.

The Papillon is an intelligent dog and is easy to train. They have a high energy level and need more exercise and activity than other so-called lap dogs. Not enough exercise can make Papillons irritable. They are excellent watchdogs.

They have a single coat with long silky hair that needs grooming every month or so. Their coats come in several colors, even liver, most in combination with white.

They have a nice long lifespan of 14 to 16 years and spend most of those years in good health. Their biggest threat is their small size, making them very easy to injure with rough or careless treatment.

The Papillon Club of America was founded in 1935 and is devoted to this dog breed. The Club is responsible for the Papillon breed standards.

Sussex Spaniel

The Sussex Spaniel is built low to the ground and takes the easy lane of life. They are hunters with a lot of endurance. It likes to be around people and children and will be protective of its family. This breed will make an excellent family pet.

It has a slow-growing coat that does not need much attention other than the routine bath and brushing. It has a single color, golden-liver.

They are generally healthy, with a lifespan of 13 to 15 years. Sussex Spaniels are difficult to breed, and it may be hard to find one to adopt. Although they were one of the first 10 breeds recognized by the AKC in 1884, their popularity steadily decreased over time, especially during and after World War II.

For more information, go to the Sussex Spaniel Club of America website.

Welsh Springer Spaniel

The Welsh Springer Spaniel is a good-looking, active dog that becomes very attached to its family. It gets along with any other family pets. It may vary of strangers and may bark at times.

They are easy to train, although they may have a bit of a stubborn streak. With training, they become obedient and are excellent hunting companions.

Their coats are red and white and need some brushing. They are similar in appearance to the English Springer Spaniel, but the Welsh Springer is red and white while the English Springer is black and white. The Welsh dog is also slightly smaller.

Welsh Springer Spaniels are healthy and have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years. They need regular exercise as most Spaniels do and do not like being left alone.

Visit the Welsh Springer Spaniel Club of America website for the latest Welsh Springer Spaniel information.

Spaniels Compared

BreedHeight (inches)Weight (Pounds)Life Expectancy (Years)Popularity (AKC)Country of Origin
American Cocker Spaniel
14.5-15.5 20-3010-1430United States
American Water Spaniel
15-18 25-45 10-14 166United States
Boykin Spaniel
15.5-1825-4010-15100United States
Cavalier Kings Charles Spaniel
12-1313-1812-1518United Kingdom
Clumber Spaniel
17-20 55-8510-12143United Kingdom
English Cocker Spaniel
15-17 26-3412-1452United Kingdom
English Springer Spaniel
19-2040-5012-14 27United Kingdom
English Toy Spaniel
9-10 i 8-1410-12135United Kingdom
Field Spaniel
17-1835-5012-13149United Kingdom
Irish Water Spaniel
Nederlandse Kooikerhondje
Sussex Spaniel
13-1535-4513-15180United Kingdom
Welsh Springer Spaniel
17-1935-5012-15128United Kingdom

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