Hunting tips

FT Spaniels


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Working spaniels or Field Trial Spaniels are also known as Field Trial Cocker Spaniels (FT Cocker) and Field Trial Springer Spaniels (FT Springer). In recent years, these two dog breeds have become tremendously popular among Danish hunters.

Field Trial Cocker spaniel

FT Cocker

Field Trial springer spaniel

FT Springer

There are several reasons for this. Their popularity is partly due to the fact that hunting in Denmark has changed, and partly due to these dogs possessing an impressive energy, excellent contact with their handler and a keen desire to hunt. As the breeds are also friendly and biddable and in a size that appeals to many Danish hunters, this type of dog has become the preferred hunting dog for many.

FT Spaniels belong to the group of aggressive flushers and retrievers. The breeds have a short range (working under the gun) and when the dog senses game, it will flush (make fly/move) the pheasant, snipe, partridge, hare, etc., which it must then respect, allowing the hunter to get a shot. Subsequently, the dog retrieves the shot game.

FT Cocker spaniel
FT Cocker spaniel

History of the Spaniel

You only need to look at paintings to see that Spaniels have been used as gun dogs for many years. All the way back to a time before guns, these types of Spaniels were used to drive birds into large nets, or they would be used to 'nudge' birds, after which a hunting falcon was sent after the prey.

It is difficult to clarify where the breed originates from, but it is clearly believed that it came from Spain and subsequently grew from there. Going back in time, probably as far back as the 1500s, these Spaniels were divided into two main types. The Water Spaniels were used primarily for retrieving and working in water. The Land Spaniels were used for land hunting. The latter type was further divided, creating Setting spaniels that developed into pointers, while others were further developed into Springer Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels.

The Spaniels we know today are descendants of these types of Land Spaniels, although FT Spaniels as we know them, come from England where they are renowned for their hunting characteristics.

Until end of the Second World War II, in the UK, Spaniels were used exclusively as hunting dogs, and puppies were only sold to hunters. After World War II, dog shows started to become very popular in the UK, which meant that the charming Spaniel became popular with "non-hunters”. The breeding of Spaniels went in two directions, which led to two breed types having formed by the mid-1950s. The original ”hunting dog” and the new "show dog”. Show breeders bred in one direction while hunters bred in another direction, which is why Spaniels were often referred to as either Show Spaniels or Working Spaniels. Hunters did not cross their dogs with show Spaniels, but purposely cultivated the breed based on hunting and working characteristics following the "brain before beauty" approach. These working spaniels or Field Trial Spaniels were bred for the purpose of creating good and well-functioning gun dogs.

Spaniels in Denmark

Even though there are currently many Spaniels in Denmark, these FT Spaniels are relatively new to the country. The first dogs of this breed were imported from the UK in the early 1980s. Many elements come into play when it comes to this popularity, but as mentioned above, the breeds are excellent for the hunting style we know today. There is no doubt that the changed hunting methods in Denmark over the last 50 years have contributed to the breed's popularity. Previously, there was more hunting in the open country for game such as partridge, and here the preferred breeds were pointers. But hunting culture has changed in Denmark, and field hunting is no longer the main form of hunting. Bird hunting is often done in game plantations, biotope plantations, along bushes and natural windbreaks, and in smaller woodland, and Spaniels are ideal for these types of conditions.

The last decade has seen an emergence of hunts using aggressive flushers and retrievers and fewer shooters and rough shooting, and this type of hunting is better with effective and short-legged dogs. FT Spaniels have therefore become very popular with Danish hunters. Enthusiasts have worked hard to find the best breeding dogs in the UK, resulting in FT Spaniels having reached a high level – and they continue to improve.

Establishment in Denmark did not take place without a fight, as the Danish Kennel Club had a rule that dogs should have at least a second prize on display before breeding pedigree puppies. This caused problems, as at the time the best Spaniels for hunting were not able to handle it. This was the starting point for creating the Danish Hunting Dog Registration, where the dogs were registered in the pedigree records. In 2014, the special breed club - the Club for FT Spaniels – entered into an agreement with the Danish Kennel Club on pedigrees, so that you can now also record FT Spaniels as pedigrees under DKK (Danish Kennel Club).


These dogs were relatively quickly organised into club frameworks, which led to the foundation of the club for F.T. Spaniels in 1996. Since its establishment, the club has gained a large membership, and today there are almost 2000 members. This makes it one of the largest clubs for gun dogs in Denmark. The club holds numerous activities all year round – both for the new and experienced Spaniel owner. There are many training sessions available, from puppy to complete hunt training. Here, skilled and experienced trainers are available to help. Going on hunt/field trials with FT Spaniels and FT cockers has become very popular, which is why both training field trials and recognised field trials are held. Many of these trials, which are held in autumn, resemble hunts, and the dogs are often judged by judges from England and Ireland. The level is high and the best Danish trial dogs also participate in major championships in other countries.

Appearance and temper

As mentioned earlier, there is a difference between the size of Springer and Cockers. Exhibition standards are not relevant for these breeds, as the main thing is that they are well-functioning on the hunt.

The FT Springer Spaniel is a medium-sized dog that is robustly built. Typically, the ideal size of a Springer Spaniel for males is 39-42 cm, and for bitches, 37-39 cm. The Springers are mainly white/black or white/brown.

The Cocker is slightly smaller than the Springer and comes in many different colour variations – both as solid and multicoloured. The solid-coloured are typically black, brown or reddish brown (golden-coloured). If the colours are multi-coloured, the most common colours are black/white, brown/white or more "liver coloured”. However, there are ”small Springers” and ”big Cockers”, so the size difference is not necessarily so pronounced. When the dogs are working off-road, some will claim that the Cocker is slightly more independent in its search, and not as consistent and systematic as the Springer. Likewise, there is a difference in the pattern of movement and style, where Springers seem livelier than Cockers.

Both types of Spaniel are lively dogs that require motivation, training and exercise. They are said to have an on/off switch: fast-paced and full-on during exercise and hunting, and nice and calm when at home and inside the house.

The latter in particular must of course be supported by training, good habits and firm rules. But FT Spaniels are charming and good-natured dogs that make great family pets and quickly adapt to their surroundings. Equally, a Spaniel needs to be motivated and it's essential it goes outside to expend some of that energy!

Spaniels on the hunt

Spaniels are bred mainly to search ahead of their handler, to nudge and flush the wild game and then retrieve. Both the Springer and the Cocker make fantastic gun dogs and they are bred with a great passion for hunting primarily before the shoot - however, it must be said that a Spaniel is also an excellent retriever.

They are hard-working on the hunt, and since it is an offensive dog, it is absolutely necessary that it is trained to work in short ranges – close to the hunter.

Field Trial Spaniel
Field Trial Spaniel

This is also what the dog has been bred to do – hunting close to its handler and thus searching for the area to the side and in front of the hunter. These dogs work with low noses and lively tail movements. If there is game, the dog must nudge (flush) the game, but never further away than the hunter can shoot. A good rule of thumb is that a Spaniel should not have a search range of more than 15 metres away from the handler. Dogs need to work in a range where they make the most of wind conditions while also moving forward in the terrain. A well-trained Spaniel that is under control is excellent when there are many birds in the terrain. The dogs flush the birds in a controlled manner and in small quantities, giving the shooters greater opportunity to take advantage of the shot chances. This is one of the reasons why the ability to stay close to the handler is important and bred deep into the dog, it is its nature… but it must be trained!

It is certainly not the intention that a Spaniel should work as a pointer during a search. It is this excellent contact with the handler that has contributed to the breed's success.

The breeds are suitable and skilled at hunting in areas with overgrown terrain and in the game's traditional home environment. That's why the dogs are also specialists in terrain with bushes and natural windbreaks, biotope plantations, bogs, thickets and forests, where they will search energetically for their handler. It is impressive to see a well-functioning Spaniel at work. They give 100% and don't protect themselves - even in thorny blackberry bushes and other difficult terrain. I think their work is very courageous and it's fantastic to see how they master the different terrains.

It's really exciting to hunt with a Spaniel and it's clear when it's caught a scent. Where a pointer dog stands and points, a Spaniel reacts by becoming very determined, the tail movements intensify and the dog becomes more intense. It is fascinating to watch a Spaniel flush a bird and then a fraction of a second later display spontaneous respect by promptly sitting down so that the shooter can shoot in peace and quiet.

A Spaniel is also a good retriever – both on land and in water, and it can easily be told to "stand to attention” with its handler, where it can then carry out the retrieving tasks on command.

Training Spaniels

The club for FT Spaniels offers help with training, and it is always worth registering for some of these events, especially for first-time Spaniel owners. A well-functioning Spaniel is fantastic, but they also have a great willingness to hunt and if this gets out of hand, it's not hard to imagine how they will behave on the hunt.

Spaniels must be easy to train, and extraordinary efforts are made during breeding to ensure cooperative traits are present in the dog. Collaboration with the dog must of course be trained, but this also means that a first- time owner of an FT Spaniel or Cocker has the opportunity to train them to a high level.

Search training and retrieving is inherent to a Spaniel, but of course it needs to be trained to be brought out. It is important that a Spaniel is obedience-trained, where classic disciplines and basic commands, such as 'sit' and 'stay', good recall, walking well both on and off the lead, and being able to 'calm down', are all completely in order before the dog goes hunting. Spaniels are very inquisitive and want to investigate very carefully, which is why it is important to train the basic disciplines.

More information

The club for FT Spaniels has plenty of information on their website and there are many activities held all over the country. The website features films about Spaniels in trials – including their championships, as well as clips with training tips and hunting situations.

Good luck with your Spaniel.

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