A hunter’s companion bred to find, flush, and fetch game, the spaniel’s exact origin is unknown.
Some scholars speculate the type originated in Spain, hence the name. Other research suggests that they originated in Asia and migrated west, to Europe and beyond. Spaniels go back to at least the 14th century, but their ancestry may be even older.
Today, the AKC recognizes the following 15 spaniel-type breeds:
The American Water Spaniel, native to the lake country of the upper Midwest, is an upbeat, outdoorsy athlete who loves to hunt and swim. They are known to be happy, eager, and charming, though aloof with strangers and a bit stubborn.
A medium-sized flushing and retrieving dog known for its rich brown coat, the Boykin Spaniel is avid, eager, merry, and trainable. This mellow housedog and tenacious bird dog was once South Carolina’s best-kept secret.
Sportsmen on both sides of the Atlantic cherish the agile, energetic Brittany as a stylish and versatile gundog. Bright and eager at home, and tireless afield, Brittanys require a lot of exercises, preferably with their favorite humans.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel wears his connection to British history in his breed’s name. Cavaliers are the best of two worlds, combining the gentle attentiveness of a toy breed with the verve and athleticism of a sporting spaniel.
A dignified and mellow hunting companion of kings, the Clumber Spaniel is the largest of the AKC flushing spaniels. For those who can handle some shedding and drooling, the amiable Clumber is an amusing best friend and a gentlemanly housemate.
The merry and frolicsome Cocker Spaniel, with his big, dreamy eyes and impish personality, is one of the world’s best-loved breeds. They were developed as hunting dogs, but Cockers gained their wide popularity as all-around companions.
English Cocker Spaniel lovers often use the word “merry” to describe their breed. Upbeat in the field and mellow at home, this compact, silky-coated bird dog is widely admired for his delightful personality and irresistible good looks.
The English Springer Spaniel is a sweet-faced, lovable bird dog of great energy, stamina, and brains. Sport hunters cherish the duality of working Springers: handsome, mannerly pets during the week, and trusty hunting buddies on weekends.
The merry English Toy Spaniel was bred to be the companion of kings. But ETS are spaniels first and pampered lapdogs second, and beneath the patrician exterior beats the heart of a real doggy dog—bright, loving, and willing to please.
The sweet and sensitive Field Spaniel is famously docile, but vigorous and game for anything when at play or in the field. These close cousins to Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels may be small in number, but their charm is enormous.
The tallest of the AKC’s spaniels, the Irish Water Spaniel is instantly recognizable by its crisply curled coat and tapering “rat tail.” Among the champion swimmers of dogdom, the alert and inquisitive IWS is hardworking and brave in the field, and playfully affectionate at home.
The Nederlandse Kooikerhondje is lively, agile, self-confident, good-natured and alert. The breed is faithful, easy-going and friendly in the home. Outdoors he is a true sporting dog being keen, swift, tough, attentive and energetic. With sufficient perseverance and stamina, he enjoys working and does so with a cheerful character.
The quick, curious Papillon is a toy dog of singular beauty and upbeat athleticism. Despite his refined appearance, the Pap is truly a “doggy dog” blessed with a hardy constitution. Papillon fanciers describe their breed as happy, alert, and friendly.
“Placid, affectionate, even-tempered, true-blue, loyal” — all are words used to describe the Sussex Spaniel, a slow-but-steady hunter, and congenial housedog. His frowning expression is delightfully at odds with a typically cheerful nature.
The Welsh Springer Spaniel is a vigorous, medium-sized bird dog of happy disposition, known for versatility in the field, companionability at home, and dashing good looks anywhere. The Welshie is among Britain’s oldest sporting breeds.