If you think you’re the only one who sees a litter of puppies and falls in love with the one with the most heart, guess again. Janie Haworth, the AKC 2019 Breeder of the Year for Spaniel Field Events, selects her future field trial stars for precisely the same reason. Her goal focuses on producing an English Springer Spaniel with a happy and gentle personality. This stable temperament helps a skillful hunting companion to retrieve waterfowl and flush game birds in all conditions. A bold and brave puppy dog personality isn’t the only quality this Pheasant Feathers English Springer Spaniel breeder looks for in a champ-to-be, but it ranks at the top of her list.
In 2002, Haworth bred a litter and kept Drake, a male who fit her ideal description. Her decision proved a wise one. Drake, officially NAFC/FC/AFC/CFC Pheasant Feathers Black Powder, became the foundation sire for her Pheasant Feathers Springers. In 2008, Drake won the AKC National Amateur English Springer Spaniel Championship and sired fifteen field champions in the U.S. and Canada.
What other attributes does a 40- to 50-pound sweet-faced, lovable bird dog need to win Haworth’s lottery? Add an abundance of energy, stamina, and intelligence to the mix. These stylish gun dogs are pets at home and trustful hunting pals in the field. Avid sport hunters rely on this dual-purpose, stable Springer, and Haworth strives to produce them.
What’s a Spaniel Field Trial?
In trials, eager and reliable Spaniels simulate a day in the field hunting game with their owners. The dogs must seek, find upland game birds in high grass or shrub, and flush, or “spring” the birds from their cover quietly. After the game is shot, the Springer must mark where it falls and carefully retrieve the downed bird. Judges observe the dog’s participation throughout a trial.
“When I evaluate puppies, a pleasing physical appearance may matter, but I want a friendly, outgoing Springer who watches me,” says Haworth. “Maybe one looks my way every time I enter the whelping room and runs over to greet me.”
When outdoors, if a pup follows her, picks up a bumper, and brings it to her, the Pheasant Feathers breeder recognizes it as a sign that the puppy may be a keeper.
“I prefer a calm personality, rather than the boldest pup, as sometimes this temperament may be a handful to train later,” says Haworth “My top priority is choosing a pup with an impeccable temperament because, at a competition, dogs must get along.”
The Lebanon, Pennsylvania-based breeder also looks for a pup with the physical attributes of a big chest and a sturdy athletic build. These characteristics mean they have the stamina to spend a long day in the field. An intelligent puppy who’s willing to please Haworth earns big bonus points, as do fast-running pups.
“If a pup is enthusiastic and excited about chasing after a bird, there’s a higher chance of winning a trial,” adds Haworth. “I lean strongly toward pups with natural talent who show an ability to mark and a passion for retrieving.”
A Spaniel with a soft mouth figures into the “pick-me” category, too. To test the pup’s ability to return a bird without damaging it, Haworth gives a puppy clipped wings and evaluates how gingerly the young Springer returns it. According to Haworth, these traits speed the training process. However, she believes a well-adjusted, high-achieving adult field trial Springer begins with the sire and dam.
Whelping Box Startup
“Choosing the right pup begins with the best breeding stock you can buy,” she says. “The next step is meeting health requirements.”
Before proceeding with any breeding, Haworth screens the adults for the inherited conditions recommended by the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association. These include progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and phosphofructokinase (PFK) disorder. Parents of puppies are examined yearly for the presence of eye problems. After her adult dogs receive clear health reports, Haworth weighs their attributes.
“I breed a female who is intelligent, talented, and biddable to a sire with a flawless temperament, an excellent sense of smell, and an amenable temperament,” she says.
Breeding Sound Spaniels
“As a breeder, it takes several years to know what you want,” Haworth says. “You don’t always get what you’re hoping for in one litter, but you keep trying to achieve the qualities.
After 30 years of developing her line of field Springers, Haworth prides herself on a system that works. Her program begins with whelping and raising her puppies in the house. When the puppies are 8-to 9-weeks old, Haworth singles out the male or female puppy she wants to keep. Next comes the socialization process, with the Pheasant Feathers breeder taking the youngster everywhere she goes.
“When the weather is warm, the pup learns how to swim and goes everywhere with me,” Haworth says. “The new prospect rides in the truck with me, meets plenty of people, children, and other dogs. By becoming a member of the family, the pup learns it belongs to a group.”
At six months, formal training begins by turning the pup over to local trainer Tom Motley.
“Motley excels at training young dogs,” she says. “He has a superb knack for working with the puppy’s mind and figuring out what makes them tick.”
After a period of training, Haworth and Motley evaluate the puppy’s chances as a field trial competitor. If the pup doesn’t show promise in that arena, the breeder matches it with a waiting home as a gun dog. When Haworth first began breeding Springers, she sold her puppies to upland hunters. Today, due to her success yielding field trial competitors, field hunters contact her for puppies.
“Field trialing is a very elite sport requiring Spaniels of the finest bloodlines with special qualities,” Haworth affirms. “I wouldn’t have a successful career as a field trial breeder without the support of the professional trainers and amateur handlers who have purchased my puppies. I owe them much gratitude.”