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Living with Welsh Springers
Here is a slightly tongue-in cheek article I wrote for a breed feature in Our Dogs.

Living with Welsh Springer Spaniels - Some personal observations
by Christine McDonald (Northey)

Whether dog owners believe in reincarnation or not, one thing’s sure in my mind, that most of the Welsh Springers I’ve known and loved think that they’ve been on this planet before and their knowledge is far greater than that of their owner.

Welsh Springers like to be a part of your life. They enjoy just being with you, and have deep and complex personalities. They are very intelligent, and have long memories. They do things because they want to and because they get enjoyment from doing so. They like praise, but feel it must be earned otherwise you will be mocked. They like to be challenged in their training. You can teach a WSS to sing and dance (ask Gill Tully) or ride a horse (ditto Maggie Mullins) if you love and respect it enough…and have enough time on your hands! But first, a few basics about the philosophy of Welsh Springers.

Commands and conventions are questioned
The Welsh Springer wants to know:
Why should it sit and stay when it’s more interesting to have a look up the garden, or more comfortable to have a cuddle?
Why do you expect it to perform a simple retrieve that it has already proved it can do with ease?
Why are you wildly gesticulating for it to run around in cover when its nose tells it there’s no game for miles around?
Why should it retrieve when there are other birds or rabbits to flush?
Why can’t it snuggle up and share your sandwiches at lunchtime after a long walk in the mud?
Why should it lie on the hard floor when there's a nice cosy bed - with pillows - available?

My memory of the breed starts with a family pet in 1967, and encompasses over 25 years of ownership in my own right; but I have to admit my understanding of their character was only crystallised after my husband decided to buy in a working English Springer Spaniel as a shooting aide. As the training process began, it was apparent that each command to his ESS is greeted by an expression and action that says: “Of course, master, you said ‘jump’, how high would you like me to jump and how often, and perhaps afterwards I could lick your boots?” My WSSs faced with the same ‘command’, also meet it with questions.
“Why should I do that?” “What’s in it for me?” “Is this negotiable?”

Modern analogies
To present an analogy in modern IT terminology, I consider my husband’s working-bred ESS as a CD-rom. On the day of a shoot, one inserts the CD-rom into the CD drive, presses a few buttons on the state-of-the-art Windows 2001 computer, and sets off the programme to interpret the data it receives and accomplish its task. At the end of the day, the CD-rom goes happily into its kennel with the most biddable expression, before settling down with its kennel mates full of appreciation that it has been given the opportunity to serve its master.

Welsh Springers on the other hand, at least those I’ve had close connections with, can be equated to a floppy disk, possibly corrupted, running on an old DOS system. You may be able to produce the same result, but it will take more time, more patience, more tenacity and more understanding. Others have found alternative ways to parody the link between the breeds. A man propping up the bar in the local pub was talking about the countryside, shooting and gundogs with a close friend of mine. She told him proudly: “I have Welsh Springers.” To which he replied: "My dear, you have my admiration and my sympathy”.

Multi-purpose companions
But, despite the breed’s foibles, its popularity is increasing all the time. New owners are drawn by their attractive colour, handy size, and general characteristics of strength, merriness and activity.
From my experience, the working-bred English Springer is easier to train as an obedient spaniel to master in the shooting field; but if you want a companion to walk the countryside with, to appreciate nature with, and to share your shooting day with, you could do no better than to do so with a Welsh Springer Spaniel by your side. And when the day is done, your red and white friend will be just as happy relaxing with you in front of the television or playing with the children, or getting ready for a dog show the next day. To adapt a phrase from another gundog standard - Welsh Springers are: “Multi-purpose companions, ideal for the rough shooter, country lover, family, showring …. and a lot more besides.”

Copyright©2003 Christine McDonald 

 “I like this game” – Ch Northey Whittington and football.

“We’d rather be with you”
Working–bred ESS on the right: “Yes, master, your wish is my command”, WSS on the left: “Hey, something good’s happening over there. I’ll go look in a moment.”

“Obviously built for endurance and hard work…and cuddles.” A shot from about 30 years ago showing, from left to right - Christine McDonald, Maggie Mullins, and Val Roach with their three bitches on their laps.

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