A Look At The Clumber Spaniel
September 23, 2010
Slow and steady gets the birds
Mickey (Ch. Cactus Dauntless SH WDX ), owned by CSCA President Jack Rutherford and his wife Vanna Wells, at a hunt test.
In Aesop's fable about the tortoise and the hare, the slow-moving tortoise did not seem to have a ghost of a chance in the race against the fast, flashy hare. But the plodding tortoise stuck to his task while the hare flitted about doing other things, secure in the knowledge that he could catch and pass the pokey tortoise any time he chose.
Unfortunately, the moment he chose was a bit late as the tortoise reached the winning post just ahead of the swift hare. As he smiled at the losing hare, the tortoise said, "Slowly does it every time."
The people who hunt with Clumber spaniels would agree with the tortoise's assessment. The race is not always to the swift. A steady, methodical hunting dog often finds more birds than the fast, flashy one. Passed birds are rarely a problem when the dog on the ground is a Clumber.
"Clumbers are deliberate, thorough and tenacious," said Roe Froman, DVM, who with her husband Gordie owns Ch. BlueMoon's Heart and Soul CD SH TD WDX CGCc6 ("Tillie") and Ch. BlueMoon's Straight From the Heart JH ("D Too") who has one qualifying score at the master level. "But this does not mean they're really slow. That's a common misconception about Clumbers.
"They hunt all likely bird cover and will go through anything to get a bird. They are steady and reliable with magnificent noses. It is a rare occurrence indeed when a Clumber misses a bird."
"These can include seeing the dog trot off in an unexpected direction with its nose to the ground, an increase in the snorting sound that they often make, or seeing them suddenly stop and swivel their head around so they are staring right at a clump of cover. When that happens, you better get ready.
Tillie (Ch. BlueMoon's Heart and Soul CD SH TD WDX CGCc6 ), one of Gordie and Roe Froman's Clumbers, stops to a flush.
Valana Wells and her husband Jack Rutherford, the current president of the Clumber Spaniel Club of America, own Ch. Cactus Dauntless SH WDX ("Mickey"), Cactus Wilbur Wright SH WDX ("Wilbur"), Marchland Most Secret SH WDX ("Amity"), an import from the United Kingdom, and "Pancho" (Cactus Flying Solo) who has two qualifying scores in junior and is working on her championship. Valana noted, "A hunter who likes working behind a wide-ranging pointer or a speedy field-bred springer will probably be disappointed with a Clumber.
"The breed was originally developed to penetrate very heavy and thorny cover in order to flush birds from areas that were inaccessible to lighter spaniels. This job did not require great speed but did necessitate great strength and determination. The Clumber does not cover large expanses quickly. It proceeds methodically and thoroughly. It has a notably excellent nose which means it rarely misses a bird and is a natural tracker."
Bob Wickwire is the field chair for the Clumber Spaniel Club of America, and he and his wife Julie owned Ch. Cameo Comedy the Divine Ms. M MH WD, the first Clumber to achieve master hunter status. Bob said hunting with a Clumber requires the hunter to stay alert.
"Clumbers tend to be methodical and stay fairly close to the hunter when quartering or hunting through a field. They are also ground scenting dogs that excel at finding and trailing game. What this means is that the hunter has to learn to spot and key into the subtle behaviors that indicate when a Clumber is birdy.
"The Clumber's 'hesitation' flush is the hunter's best friend. Often when they locate game, they will hesitate in their motion to flush the bird with their head down staring right at the bird. What they're telling you is, 'The next move is up to you. Start reaching for the safety.'
Ch. Creswick Cameo Simply Red MH WDX ("Red"), one of Bob and Julie Wickwire's Clumbers, also has many placements in conformation shows.
"The other benefit of this type of flush is that it makes for relatively short falls, typically 30 yards or less. This is an advantage because Clumbers are not typically good long distance markers as they do not seem to possess the best long-range vision. On longer falls, you need to be able to direct the dog to the area of the fall with casting commands just as you would a retriever. Once you get them in the general vicinity, their naturally excellent noses will take over."
Dan Connell, who has Cameo Clumbers, agreed that hunting with a Clumber requires the hunters to stay alert. "Clumbers hunt very methodically. They search out birds where they live, in the bushes. They will go from bush to bush rather than running in an absolute 'windshield wiper' pattern. They use their noses to locate game from a distance. When they're on a bird, they slow down their search and they work the scent cone to the location. This makes it good for shooting as long as you recognize these signals and get ready for the shot."
Clumbers are tougher than most other spaniel breeds in more ways than one. "Clumbers are beautiful to watch work and they really enjoy busting through the toughest cover," said Froman. "We call them the Hum-Vees of the spaniel world. Generally they take quite readily to field work. They are quite biddable and most are very birdy. However, learning to mark can be an issue with them. For one thing, they often forget to look up when they flush a bird as they are still so busy scenting the roost."
While the breed has a reputation for being very docile and tractable, that reputation may be more a result of its looks rather than its actual temperament. "The Clumber is very appealing with its deep-set, soulful eyes and its soft, silky coat. But, behind that sweet exterior is often a willful and independent-minded dog," said Wells.
"There is some DNA evidence that the Clumber is more closely related to the scent hounds than to the other spaniels which would explain the stubbornness and the excellent scenting ability. This has to be taken into account when you are training a Clumber. The breed is not necessarily 'difficult' to train but they need a reason to do what they are told.
"They do not take well to endless repetition. In general, they don't enjoy making retrieve after retrieve. You can't let training become routine with a Clumber and despite their stubborn streak, they tend to be a sensitive dog. This means techniques such as ear-pinching and shock collar corrections are usually only mildly effective if they're effective at all."
She added that Clumbers are not necessarily a good choice for families with very small children. "The dog's size and its propensity to believe that all toys are fair game can lead to some serious misunderstandings between a toddler and a young Clumber."
Wickwire noted that there are some things you need to keep in mind when training a Clumber. "I think Clumbers are unique in that they don't generally have an automatic need to please like I've seen in other breeds so you do have to keep the training interesting and fun. They are very intelligent and as long as you make sure the training is interesting and fun, they will excel.
However, they do not take well to heavy-handed pressure and harsh corrections. They are very loyal and tend to work best as part of a team with their owners."
Ch. Woodsman CW Chestersun MH ("Brutus"), one of Darrell and Carol Reeves' Clumbers, shows that the breed does indeed "do water."
"In some ways, training a Clumber can be easy but in other ways it is difficult," said Carol Reeves, who with her husband Darrell owns Ch. Woodsman CW Chestersun MH, Ch. Woodsman Celebration O'Cameo SH CGC and Ch. Woodsman Daddy's Girl SH CGC. "They will retrieve just to have something in their mouth which makes teaching retrieving easy.
"But they're not much interested in a lot of repetition so only three or four retrieves at a time is enough. They are difficult in that you can work with them and work with them and they don't seem to 'get it.' Then, all of a sudden the light goes on and not only do they 'get it' but they NEVER FORGET."
Wells noted that they will retrieve from water but that is not what they were developed to do. "Clumbers were developed for finding and flushing birds, not for water retrieving. Despite the fact that they are generally very strong swimmers, some Clumbers are reluctant to enter the water. However, for most, their desire for the bird overcomes their resistance to getting wet."
Wickwire added that while a Clumber's large body mass makes them quite buoyant and they are good swimmers with a coat that keeps them warm in all but the coldest water, two things about the breed may hinder their performance as waterfowl dogs.
"Their limitation with regard to marking is one drawback to using them as a waterfowl hunter. The other is that they are typical spaniels, which tend to not be very patient about sitting in a blind.
"They have a strong desire to 'get going' and this means they don't usually make very good blind companions. I took my dogs on a dove hunt once and vowed I would never do it again. They did sit by me in the blind but squeaked, whined and fidgeted the entire time we were there."
While still a relatively rare breed--there were only 260 registered with the AKC in 2007--Clumber spaniels are becoming more popular thanks to several top-winning show dogs that have made the breed much more visible. The downside of increased popularity is that there are always unscrupulous breeders eager to make a profit from it.
Another problem that increasing popularity creates is pressure for the breed to split into "show" and "field" lines.
"Our hope is that the dedicated group of present and future Clumber fanciers who value the field work that this breed was created to do will be able to successfully keep this from happening through education, encouragement of new owners and continuing to develop dual purpose lines," said Wickwire.
"Some hunting enthusiasts have begun to breed smaller, weedier Clumbers that look and act more like other field-bred spaniels, thus losing the breed type and hunting style that are the distinguishing attributes of the breed," said Wells. "Fortunately, there is a small but growing contingent of dedicated Clumber spaniel enthusiasts who are committed to maintaining the characteristic Clumber type as well as enjoying a day in the field with their dogs."