The Sussex Spaniel, also known as the Sussex, is a specialized hunting dog known for its low profile, short legs, golden-liver color and massive head. The Sussex was developed specifically as a field hunting dog that was particularly adept at penetrating thick, heavy undergrowth to reach and flush game birds. The Sussex Spaniel has an especially keen nose for finding upland game. One of its more unusual traits is "giving tongue" – or "baying" - while on the hunt, keeping the hunter informed about the type and location of quarry being flushed. According to one author: "He is a noisy, babbling sort, that will rouse a cock from the densest covert. So natural does this babbling seem... that no matter how young, down go their heads and out comes the music."
His expression is somber and serious, but in temperament he is friendly and tractable. This is one of the rarest of all English spaniels. The Sussex Spaniel was accepted into the Stud Book of the American Kennel Club in 1884 – one of the original ten breeds to be so recognized - as a member of the Sporting Group. The mature Sussex Spaniel stands from 13 to 15 inches at the withers and weighs between 35 and 45 pounds. He is longer than he is tall and is a characteristic rich golden-liver in color.
The Sussex Spaniel reportedly originated on the Rosehill Park estate in Brightling, Sussex County, England, in the 1850s. Augustus Elliot Fuller, the owner of Rosehill, is credited with developing the breed as a field dog built to easily penetrate dense brush and flush game. It is thought that Fuller crossed a variety of spaniel breeds, including the Springer, with hounds to create the Sussex. In 1882, Moses Woolland became involved with the breed and within a few years his Sussex Spaniels were dominating the English show ring. He also bred and showed Field Spaniels under the kennel name Bridford. Another key person in the history of the Sussex Spaniel is Campbell Newington, who obtained his first Sussex in 1887 and adopted the kennel prefix Rosehill. Together, Newington and Woolland refined the Sussex Spaniel and achieved unparalleled consistency in quality and type. In 1909, another gentleman, J. E. Kerr, started showing and breeding Sussex Spaniels at Harviestoun Castle in Scotland, where he also was known for his Shetland ponies and Cairn Terriers.
World War I affected this breed along with so many others. The hunting preferences of British sportsmen changed with time, and rather than a low-slung spaniel they wanted a more all-around hunting dog, with longer legs for speed in the field. That was not the Sussex Spaniel as it had been developed by Woolland, Newington and Kerr. The breed suffered during the 1920s. By the late 1930s, specimens of the old type began to reappear. A few Sussex Spaniels were imported to the United States during this time, with one of the last imports reportedly rescued from a ship that had been torpedoed by a German U-boat. World War II almost extinguished this breed in the United Kingdom. Fortunately, a breed enthusiast named Joy Freer virtually single-handedly saved the Sussex from extinction.
Ms. Freer got her first Sussex Spaniel in 1923 and began competing and breeding under the kennel name Four Clover. She bred her first champion in 1925 – an old-style Sussex reported to be one of the finest of the time. Freer is credited with saving the breed during World War II. She kept eight Sussex Spaniels during that time; these dogs are thought to be the ancestors of all Sussex Spaniels today. After the war, the breed experienced a bit of a revival in the United States. A number of dogs were imported in 1969 and the following few years. While still a rare breed, the Sussex Spaniel is no longer in danger of disappearing. Today's Sussex is competitive in the show ring and has been titled in all performance events sponsored by the American Kennel Club which are open to sporting breeds. This is a docile dog which retains its keen hunting instincts and also makes a cheerful, albeit laid-back family pet.
The average life span of the Sussex Spaniel is 12 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include congenital deafness, ear infections, distichiasis, retinal dysplasia, hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, patent ductus arteriosus, prostate cancer, pulmonary stenosis and Tetralogy of Fallot.
Sussex Spaniels are gentle, easy-going, affectionate dogs who enjoy being active participants in family life. They are happy to be lazy on the couch for a relaxing Sunday afternoon, but when they are outdoors the Sussex springs to life, running, leaping and playing like a puppy. These hunting dogs were designed to withstand long days in the field, working in rough terrain and all types of weather. This background gives the Sussex energy to spare, so don't take this little dog for a couch potato. He needs several walks a day and plenty of time to run, but as long as the activity involves the people he loves, he is happy. The Sussex Spaniel is good with older children, gets along well with other family pets and makes an all-around fine family companion.
Sussex Spaniels need a lot of vigorous activity to keep them healthy, happy and even-tempered. They are small enough to live in an apartment or condo, but owners should be prepared to commit to an active lifestyle. The Sussex enjoys walks, short jogs, hikes and dips in a pool or lake. They also enjoy basic backyard games and can entertain themselves with kids for hours at a time.
This breed is very smart and agile, and if possible should be enrolled in agility or flyball activities to burn off energy while using their brains. The Sussex gets bored easily and needs to have interesting activities to do, so that he doesn't entertain himself by chewing your furniture or digging up your garden.
The Sussex is an easy going spaniel, but can be difficult to train. Breeders encourage owners to begin training as soon as you bring your puppy home, at about 8 to 12 week of age. Positive reinforcement and treats are the best method use in order to get your Sussex to respond. Harsh discipline will cause your dog to simply ignore you. They are little dogs but they can exhibit dominance, so leadership is an owners 24 hour responsibility. If you bend the rules just once for a Sussex, he will take that as an invitation to walk all over you.
Though they can be a handful to train, once leadership has been established and basic obedience has been mastered, you should enroll your Sussex in advanced activities like agility or flyball to keep him on his toes mentally and physically.
Sussex Spaniels bark in the field to communicate with hunters, and their tendency to be vocal carries into their home life. A Sussex will bark to let you know someone is approaching, walking away or crossing the street. They are very quick to alert you to every little thing that goes on around him, which makes the Sussex a good watchdog, but an annoying housemate. Teaching your Sussex a command to stop barking can save your eardrums and your sanity.
Sussex Spaniels, when properly trained and socialized have a very enjoyable temperament and are polite to strangers and other dogs. When not properly trained and socialized, they can be wary of strangers, possessive of their family members and impatient with other dogs. It is very important to expose your Sussex to new people and new experiences as much as possible when he is young, so that he can grow to be a well-adjusted dog.
Separation anxiety is common in the Sussex. They love to be around people and can become depressed and anxious when left alone for long periods of time. While proper exercise can help, it is best for a Sussex to live in a home where the work schedule is flexible or there is a stay at home parent.
The Sussex Spaniel was among the first ten breeds to be recognized and admitted to the Stud Book when the American Kennel Club was formed in 1884, but it has existed as a distinct breed for much longer. As its name implies, it derives its origin from the county of Sussex, England, and it was used there since the eighteenth century as a field dog. During the late 1800's the reputation of the Sussex Spaniel as an excellent hunting companion was well known among the estates surrounding Sussex County. Its short legs, massive build, long body, and habit of giving tongue when on scent made the breed ideally suited to penetrating the dense undergrowth and flushing game within range of the gun. Strength, maneuverability, and desire were essential for this purpose. Although it has never gained great popularity in numbers, the Sussex Spaniel continues today essentially unchanged in character and general appearance from those 19th century sporting dogs.
The Sussex Spaniel presents a long and low, rectangular and rather massive appearance coupled with free movements and nice tail action. The breed has a somber and serious expression. The rich golden liver color is unique to the breed.
Size, Proportion, Substance
Size--The height of the Sussex Spaniel as measured at the withers ranges from 13 to 15 inches. Any deviation from these measurements is a minor fault. The weight of the Sussex Spaniel ranges between 35 and 45 pounds. Proportion--The Sussex Spaniel presents a rectangular outline as the breed is longer in body than it is tall. Substance--The Sussex Spaniel is muscular and rather massive.
Correct head and expression are important features of the breed. Eyes--The eyes are hazel in color, fairly large, soft and languishing, but do not show the haw overmuch. Expression--The Sussex Spaniel has a somber and serious appearance, and its fairly heavy brows produce a frowning expression. Ears--The ears are thick, fairly large, and lobe-shaped and are set moderately low, slightly above the outside corner of the eye. Skull and Muzzle--The skull is moderately long and also wide with an indentation in the middle and with a full stop. The brows are fairly heavy, the occiput is full but not pointed, the whole giving an appearance of heaviness without dullness. The muzzle should be approximately three inches long, broad, and square in profile. The skull as measured from the stop to the occiput is longer than the muzzle. The nostrils are well-developed and liver colored. The lips are somewhat pendulous. Bite-- A scissors bite is preferred. Any deviation from a scissors bite is a minor fault.
Neck, Topline, Body
Neck--The neck is rather short, strong, and slightly arched, but does not carry the head much above the level of the back. There should not be much throatiness about the skin. Topline and Body-- he whole body is characterized as low and long with a level topline. The chest is round, especially behind the shoulders, and is deep and wide which gives a good girth. The back and loin are long and very muscular both in width and depth. For this development, the back ribs must be deep. Tail-- The tail is docked from 5 to 7 inches and set low. When gaiting the Sussex Spaniel exhibits nice tail action, but does not carry the tail above the level of the back.
The shoulders are well laid back and muscular. The upper arm should correspond in length and angle of return to the shoulder blade so that the legs are set well under the dog. The forelegs should be very short, strong, and heavily boned. They may show a slight bow. Both straight and slightly bowed constructions are proper and correct. The pasterns are very short and heavily boned. The feet are large and round with short hair between the toes.
The hindquarters are full and well-rounded, strong, and heavily boned. They should be parallel with each other and also set wide apart--about as wide as the dog at the shoulders. The hind legs are short from the hock to the ground, heavily boned, and should seem neither shorter than the forelegs nor much bent at the hocks. The hindquarters must correspond in angulation to the forequarters. The hocks should turn neither in nor out. The rear feet are like the front feet.
The body coat is abundant, flat or slightly waved, with no tendency to curl. The legs are moderately well-feathered, but clean below the hocks. The ears are furnished with soft, wavy hair. The neck has a well-marked frill in the coat. The tail is thickly covered with moderately long feather. No trimming is acceptable except to shape foot feather, or to remove feather between the pads or between the hock and the feet. The feather between the toes must be left in sufficient length to cover the nails.
Rich golden liver is the only acceptable color and is a certain sign of the purity of the breed. Dark liver or puce is a major fault. White on the chest is a minor fault. White on any other part of the body is a major fault.
The round, deep and wide chest of the Sussex Spaniel coupled with its short legs and long body produce a rolling gait. While its movement is deliberate, the Sussex Spaniel is in no sense clumsy. Gait is powerful and true with perfect coordination between the front and hind legs. The front legs do not paddle, wave, or overlap. The head is held low when gaiting. The breed should be shown on a loose lead so that its natural gait is evident.
Despite its somber and serious expression, the breed is friendly and has a cheerful and tractable disposition.
The standard ranks features of the breed into three categories. The most important features of the breed are color and general appearance. The features of secondary importance are the head, ears, back and back ribs, legs, and feet. The features of lesser importance are the eyes, nose, neck, chest and shoulders, tail, and coat. Faults also fall into three categories. Major faults are color that is too light or too dark, white on any part of the body other than the chest, and a curled coat. Serious faults are a narrow head, weak muzzle, the presence of a topknot, and a general appearance that is sour and crouching. Minor faults are light eyes, white on chest, the deviation from proper height ranges, lightness of bone, shortness of body or a body that is flat-sided, and a bite other than scissors. There are no disqualifications in the Sussex Spaniel standard.
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Sources: American Kennel Club