642 Promoting real clumber spaniel

by   David Hancock

At the third International Clumber Spaniel Symposium in Sweden in 1993, Dr Sungren, a leading Swedish geneticist stated that 'the breed may not survive more than thirty years' and recommended an early outcross. In one of the weekly dog papers in December last year a leading Clumber Spaniel breeder rather patronisingly described the working Clumbers as 'the Springer type dogs belonging to those who solely use them for working'. I doubt whether the working Clumbers will need an early outcross, the ones I see are eminently sound dogs. But the dogs I see in the show rings, even at Crufts, have faults, inbuilt faults, which any gundog breed could well do without. For me, the so-called 'Springer type dogs belonging to those who solely use them for working' are more like the original Clumbers than any dog I see in the show ring masquerading as a sporting spaniel. Who needs an 80lb spaniel?

I hope and pray that the Clumber Spaniel does survive more than thirty years; it is a distinctive breed well worth saving and very much part of our sporting dog heritage. Would the Duke of Newcastle have tolerated spaniels at Clumber Park weighing 80lbs, with serious eye problems, whelping difficulties and 'slipping kneecaps'? If he had, we would not have the breed of Clumber spaniel with us today. If we do, then we are betraying a trust, the belief that we too would care for such dogs and perpetuate them in their own mould. The show ring Clumber is not being perpetuated in its own mould, but in a form a misguided group of fanciers have decided is better for their purposes. This is not breed loyalty but breed dishonesty.

But what do the experts say about health in this breed? The Weston-Blower survey for this breed found that 61% of Clumber bitches suffer birth problems, 36% from entropion and 38% from hip dysplasia. Clark and Stainer's Medical and Genetic Aspects of Purebred Dogs (Forum, 1994) states that: undershot and wry mouths, missing adult teeth are reported, hip dysplasia is encountered as are disc problems attributable to its low, long, heavy build, entropion is the most common hereditary defect, with ectropion and 'diamond eye' also a health problem. The mean hip score in the breed is 40, worryingly high, the second worst breed mean score in the BVA/KC scheme as at Oct 2001. The breed standard actually demands slightly sunken eyes with some haw showing. I see dogs in the ring with excessive haw, the red-rimmed socket looking sore and not a desirable feature in any sporting spaniel breed.

 The breed standard also requires the breed to have a massive head, a heavy muzzle and weigh in at an ideal weight of 80lbs for dogs, well over twice the weight of a Cocker. What benefit to any gundog is a massive head? A show ring judge reported in a show critique in 2008: 'Soundness has always been a problem in the breed and it is still a problem today. It also surprises me to find bad mouths and some of these have been winning! There were some who were undershot and a handful who looked like they had had teeth thrown in for good measure as an after thought.' The Crufts Clumber judge in 2006 reported: 'Truly I was disappointed by the number of unsound exhibits and by the number of incorrect mouths.' And these were the best dogs in the breed, on parade at the top show.

But how are the despised 'Springer types' doing on the working side? Dogs like James Darley's Sedgehurst Maxim Venaticus, John Zurich's Sedgehurst Tormentum, David Wood's Julchris Bob, Mrs S Ruffles's Lliojaschar Digby and Bill Cadwell's Greencourt Mistic Meg of Jubiwell have all won trials. These dogs are usually the lighter type, the type promoted by James Farrow the great pioneer breeder of Clumbers. He found that the original Clumbers were around 25 to 30lbs, less than half the weight of today's show ring specimens. His information came from the Duke of Newcastle's kennelman. Why breed away from a breed's history? Farrow also records how the showing of haw in the dogs' eyes was discouraged at the turn of the century but show breeders over-ruled those who worked their dogs and the toleration of haw in the eye remained.

With the Kennel Club's campaign for healthier dogs underway, the desire for massive heads, sunken eyes and eyes showing haw is likely to be curtailed, and not before time. It shouldn't take an outside body to instruct breed clubs how to breed healthier dogs but clearly the need is there and not just in this breed. I am full of admiration for working Clumber fanciers like James Darley and the Zurichs. This is not a popular breed, with 146 registered with the KC in 1906, 143 eighty years later and, encouragingly, 223 in 2007. The triumph of the English Springers in the field, and the sustained popularity of the Cocker shows, what can be attained by unexaggerated spaniels. With the Fields and Sussex Spaniels also struggling (only just over 60 registered for each of these breeds in 2007) the minor spaniels need support.

 The perhaps predictable response from the show breeders to any criticism is to fault the base on which any such critical comments are made. The Weston-Blower survey is alleged to be founded on the wrong methodology, the hip score rating was run by a man who isn't an expert on the breed, no Clumber weighing 80lbs is allegedly ever seen in the show ring (where the entries are never weighed), there are Clumbers being exhibited without a display of haw so the problem doesn't exist, and so on. It doesn't seem to occur to them that real breed lovers welcome criticism, they want problems to be faced, they want to learn lessons which will benefit their breed. The closed mind so often goes with closed gene pools; the best 'Clumber' I've ever seen was a Springer-Clumber cross, full of breed type and a sounder gundog than so many Clumbers exhibited in the ring. Breed purity in so many pedigree breeds is considered more important than inbreeding coefficients, precisely why those breeds are having inheritable defects.

 Over the last quarter-century, the movement to re-establish the breed as a sound and effective working spaniel has been headed by The Working Clumber Spaniel Society. Its aims include: the restoration of physical soundness and working qualities, the promotion and encouragement of training for work and the breeding from sound work-proven dogs, and resistance to moves to alter type which may damage utility. These aims alone indicate serious concerns about the departure of the modern pedigree breed from its true type. This society has already reawakened awareness of the breed's special characteristics, revived and run the minor breeds' field trial, highlighted the importance of soundness and purpose-breeding for field work and developed its own unique breeding commendation scheme, rooted in hip-scoring, eye tests and a working capability assessment. This is quite admirable work.

Every breed of gundog came to us designed by function. The Duke of Newcastle's white spaniels didn't need to weigh 80lbs, have a massive skull and a rolling gait or show haw or be heavily-boned dogs, as today's breed standard dictates. These are show-breeder inflictions. Every real gundog man should give support to the admirable Working Clumber Spaniel Society and applaud its work. The sneered-at 'Springer types' are the genuine Clumbers; the breed of Clumber Spaniel now depends on James Darley and his Society members. They will be helped by the KC's 'fit for purpose' clause, now being applied to such breeds. In the end, they will succeed and all credit to them; they will have saved the breed.