A Brief History of the Breed

The Welsh Springer is described in the breed standard as a very ancient and distinctive breed of pure origin. Spaniels are considered one of the oldest dogs known to man.  They appear to have been in Europe for centuries and are thought to have originated in Spain and come to England in the Dark Ages.  Red and white spaniels were thought to be in Wales in the 6th century.  Dr Caius in his book Treatise of English Dogges(1570) made mention of springer spaniels and in particular red and white spaniels and described the way that dogs allowed themselves to be caught under the net when hunting fowl.  He divided spaniels into Land Spaniels and Water Spaniels.  He refers to “the spaniels whose skins are white and if they are marked with any spottes, they are commonly red.”  At this time spaniels were used to drive birds towards fowlers who stood ready with their nets extended.  Dogs and birds were caught under the nets.  With the invention of the gun, netting disappeared and game was caught by shooting.  Setting Spaniels (ancestors of today’s Setters) were used to find the game and Springing Spaniels flushed the game from cover so that it could be shot.  The Welsh name Y Tarfgi or Starter was used to describe this work.

During the 19th century a more scientific approach was applied to dog breeding leading to more distinctive types of dogs. The basis for the new types of spaniels was mainly the red and white Land spaniel, one of Britain’s most popular dogs in the 18th century.  The red and white spaniel became confined to the Neath Valley in Wales.  These spaniels were of uniform type, although varying in their shade of coat colour and in nose colour, the flesh coloured nose was considered more correct than the black.  These spaniels were bred for work and the dog’s working ability was considered above all else.  At dog shows there were classes for Welsh Spaniels and Land Spaniels of any variety.  However there was a lot of variation with offspring of English Springers being registered as Field spaniels according to size and colour.  Springers and Cockers could be produced from the same litter according to weight (under 25lbs Cockers, over 25lbs Springers).  In 1902 Welsh breeders submitted to the Kennel club that the Welsh Springer Spaniel was a separate breed.  The Welsh Springer Spaniel was formally recognised as a separate breed on 4th March 1902.  The first standard was adopted in 1906.  The first registered Welsh Springer was a dog called “Corrin”, who was a very successful show dog and was originally registered as a Welsh Cocker.  A breed club was established and the breed did fairly well, being popular as a working dog.  The club set out to safeguard the dual purpose of the breed with the aim that the breed did not become divided into “show types” and “field types”.

Currently Welsh Springer registrations are around 450 per year in the U.K. and they are still considered a multi purpose breed, taking part in field trials, obedience and agility as well as the show ring, where they have been successful at Crufts with 2 winning Best Gundog and another Reserve Gundog.

It is thought that Welsh Springers may have been imported into Australia between WW1 and WW2 as there are numerous anecdotal reports of sightings as far apart as Tasmania and Queensland.  However none were registered with any Australian Canine Council and it is presumed that they were pets or working gundogs.  The first registered litter in Australia was born 30th April, 1974 by Mr & Mrs Jeffrey of Lindfield N.S.W.

From this time until the present day, imports continue to arrive in Australia and although the breed has never become numerically strong, it is in the hands of a dedicated group of enthusiasts who continue to breed Welshies that are competitive at the highest level in the show ring, obedience, tracking, agility, jumping, field trials and Schutzhund.  A breed social club was formed in N.S.W. in 1982, which in 1984 became the Welsh Springer Spaniel Club of N.S.W.  Membership of the club, made up of enthusiasts from all over Australia, remains steady at around 90.  Since 1989 the club has held 2 championship shows each year.

Authors: Bill & Sylvia Crozier (NSW).