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Sussex Spaniel
dog breed information

The calm and happy Sussex Spaniel

The Sussex Spaniel is a relatively rare breed, with a popularity rating of 180 out of 200 by the American Kennel Club. They are smaller and lighter than the Clumber Spaniel or Springer spaniels, looking more like an elongated Cocker Spaniel with a rectangular body.

This is a compact family dog whose temperament is warm towards their family and friends. While they may be warm with familiar company, they are suspicious towards strangers. This suspicion is famous with this breed, and part of what makes them known for being quite vocal. However, these dogs make great, relaxing companions with the people they regard as their family. 

A Sussex Spaniel close up, standing on a logSussex Spaniel

The Sussex Spaniel
- Temperament

Children

These dogs are ideal for owners with children. Their gentle and relaxed temperament pairs well with their size, creating playful and harmless pets. This is a super family dog.

These dogs are more reluctant when meeting strangers, although, a socialized Sussex will be open to making new friends.

This being said, both visitors and children should always be shown the proper way to handle the dog before playing with or petting it. 

A Sussex Spaniel standing sideways to the camera, on grassSussex Spaniel

Barking Tendency

The Sussex Spaniel is known for being a relatively noisy breed. This is natural, of course, and should be taken into consideration when considering getting one of these dogs. They developed this barking tendency to mark their position in dense underbrush when hunting game, so that the hunter could tell where the dog was.

They will often bark at passersby as well as any unknown creatures on the property. As well as living things, these dogs are known to howl once they have picked up a scent - and they have a good nose for interesting scents!

Altogether, they end up making a fair amount of noise, so they aren’t the best dogs for apartments or people with neighbors sensitive to high volumes.

Life with Other Dogs

This breed is known to get along well with other canines. Of course, this is dependent on how much an individual dog is exposed to other dogs early on, but they generally coexist just fine.

They are comfortable living with other dogs, though they may not being in a big group of dogs.

Due to their slow pace, relaxed lifestyle and small size, a very large and energetic dog may not be the best to share the house with. Unknown dogs are often treated with the same suspicious temperament felt by strangers.

Sensitive Nature

The Sussex Spaniel is a sensitive breed when it comes to how it is treated. This is important to consider while training, but altogether, the way their owners act with them will often be reflected in their behavior.

To have a relaxed and enjoyable companion, they must have a relaxed and kind owner. While they are sensitive to treatment, they are hardy dogs regarding the elements.

While they should obviously not be left in prolonged exposure to any weather or temperature, they typically handle heat and cold just fine.

Moderate Exercise Needs

These dogs love to be with their families. When they are alone, they can suffer from separation anxiety, and become moody and restless. This can sometimes be expressed by bad behavior while alone, especially if they have an excess of energy.

They need daily exercise, and the best way to burn off energy is a decent walk. They have a lower energy level than other spaniel breeds, and so 30 minute long walks will be enough.

History

The history of the Sussex Spaniel begins in Sussex county, England. While this member of the spaniel family is from Great Britain, spaniels themselves originated from elsewhere.

The spaniel itself originated from Spain, likely the reason for the breed’s name. These dogs made their way out of Spain and around Europe probably through their travel alongside conquering Roman armies.

The English Spaniel from which the Sussex Spaniel was bred became fairly well known as early as 300 AD.

The ones we see today were more like those seen in the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s not known what these dogs may have been used for around this time, although, they may have assisted with hunting or guarding one’s property.

In the later 18th century, dog breeds that could act as a gun dog were becoming more accessible and standardized. It was around this time that the Sussex Spaniel was bred to a standard by English breeder Moses Woolland in 1882, with Campbell Newington breeding nearly identical Sussex's of his own in 1887.

These two men created the base for the breed, although, after Woolland’s death, the breed faced the danger of extinction. They were bred to have short legs, to keep them close to the ground and able to get under bushes and thick cover.

In the early 1900s, Newington was assisted by a J.E. Kerr to help the breed survive. Unfortunately, due to their home being in England, this breeding was promptly interrupted by the arrival of WW1.

This war put breeding on the backburner, leaving this mainly unknown breed primarily forgotten. Things didn’t improve after the war either, although a couple Sussex’s were exported to the United States. The breed's numbers were very low.

World War 2 was the same story for the breed, as their populations declined massively with few breeding attempts to compensate. With low popularity for the breed, they genuinely faced a serious threat of extinction.

Luckily they held on, just barely. Joy Freer, in particular, is amongst those that kept this breed alive.

In the US, the breed did not manage to draw much attention to itself. It took a while before they gained much notice in the country, and to this day, they remain a somewhat rare breed.

A couple of dogs were imported into the US in the early 1970s, with more following. Altogether, fans of this breed remained few and far between.

Sussex Spaniel
- Ease of Training

The Sussex Spaniel is known for being a moderately difficult dog to breed. Due to their high sensitivity, the dog is typically very responsive. However, this can also be a negative as they will react poorly to harsh reprimands.

Altogether, the recommended training method for this breed is to work with their personality, providing them with rewards and praise for good behavior instead of punishment for bad behavior. Positive reinforcement is always the best technique, with any breed of dog.

Housebreaking comes fairly quickly for dogs with the high intelligence and sensitivity such as the Sussex. However, their size makes early housebreaking a consistent process that the owner must be adamant about.

Instead of reprimanding them for going to the bathroom inside the house, it’s best to praise them when they go to the bathroom where they are supposed to. Aside from that, the dog fairly well behaves, and will happily coexist with its family and friends.

A part of the training that is of particular importance with this breed is socialization. The Sussex Spaniel is notorious for its protective personality, barking or howling at passersby and greeting strangers with suspicion. Early socialization as a puppy is the best way to reduce suspicion as an adult dog.

Vital Statistics for adult Sussex Spaniels;

Average Weight: 35-45 lbs. (16-20 kg)

Average Height: 13-15 in. (33-38 cm)

Average Lifespan: 13-15 Years

Colors;

The Sussex Spaniel is only known for having one coat color, golden liver.

There are no markings for this breed.

Grooming

The Sussex Spaniel is well known for its luscious abundant coat. This is a distinctive feature of the breed. This same hair is also known for getting matted quite quickly, so they need daily brushing.

While it needs regular brushing, this spaniel does not tend to get too dirty. Owners will typically just bathe them as they feel necessary, as well as after any swimming.

It is also important to prevent cavities as well as mats. Brushing a dog’s teeth is a part of grooming that is often neglected, despite its importance. It is recommended that these dogs have their teeth brushed at least 2-3 times a week.

Regular brushing will help keep their breath smelling fresher as well as prevent infections. This breed is especially prone to dental issues, so teeth brushing can not be overlooked.

As with all dogs, the Sussex Spaniel will need its nails clipped too. Clipping a dog’s nails regularly is important, as otherwise they will grow too long, and may dig into the dog’s skin.

To prevent this discomfort, owners will often clip their dog’s nails at least every 3 weeks. Most go by ear, however, as a good way to tell if a dog’s nails are too long is if they can be heard clicking against the ground as they move.

With large floppy ears such as those found on the Sussex, it is especially important to check and clean this dog’s ears regularly.

Due to the shape of the ear, there is often not enough airflow to prevent the buildup of bacteria. To prevent ear infections, owners will often check and clean their dog’s ears at least once a week. This regular cleaning will remove built up wax and bacteria that is stuck inside their ear.

Protection

As you can probably imagine, a dog as small as the Sussex Spaniel is not going to be doing too much protecting, based on size alone.

Their small build and athletic temperaments were used to keep up with their owners while they hunted, not hunt themselves.

The loyalty of the breed may lead it to make a valiant effort towards protecting their owner should push come to shove, although these dogs are definitely not ideal guard dogs.

While their size and build prevent the Sussex Spaniel from protecting their owners physically, their noisy personality tends to do the trick. Alongside hunting, these dogs continue to be great at being capable of alerting their owners to a threat.

They will bark and howl whenever there is something unusual around the property, so there’s a good chance they won’t have to put their poor guard dog skills to the test. Most owners will be made aware of an intruder’s presence early on.

Being an alert watchdog seems to be the only protective ability up this breed’s alley.


Health Considerations

All dogs are likely to get sick periodically just like humans. They need good health care that includes protection from parasites, periodical vaccinations, an excellent diet and a spay or neuter if they aren't going to be used for breeding purposes.

Beyond that, different dog breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems that have been identified. Many of these inherited conditions can be now be identified through various tests that breeders do on their breeding dogs.

Sussex Spaniel Health Concerns

The Sussex Spaniel is an overall fairly healthy breed considering the breed was developed from a tiny gene pool. 


The Sussex, as with all dog breeds, has some genetic health conditions that they are more prone to than others. The most serious and potentially life threatening is PDH canine pyruvate dehydrogenase and cardiac problems. Heart problems include pulmonic stenosis, patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), and tetralogy of Fallot.

It is Important to take these possible health issues into consideration before getting this breed and choose a breeder who tests their breeding dogs and does not breed dogs with known problems.


Canine Pyruvate Dehydrogenase deficiency

Canine Pyruvate Dehydrogenase is characterized by intolerance to exercise and possible collapse after exercising. Limiting exercise to strolls on a leash and some dietary restrictions may help. 

Most affected dogs have a shortened life expectancy due to heart and lung complications. There is now a genetic test available for breeders to use, and the Sussex Spaniel Parent Club is working hard to eliminate this disease in their dogs.


Heart Disease

Tetralogy of Fallot –a group of four heart defects that are present at birth and includes pulmonic stenosis, right ventricular outflow stenosis, ventricular septal defect, and an overriding of the aorta which means that the aorta overlaps the wall between the 2 ventricles of the heart.

This is a very complicated but extremely rare problem that is evident in young dogs under 6 months.

Some of the symptoms include exercise intolerance, shortness of breath, and blue mucous membranes. 

Veterinarians can detect a heart murmur. Most Sussex puppies do not live long with this problem.

This is a very common problem in large dogs and in many smaller dogs as well. While there is an estimated 42% frequency in the Sussex Spaniel, serious complications tend to be rare.
Pulmonary Stenosis

Pulmonary Stenosis or right ventricular outflow tract obstruction is a common heart problem in some breeds of dogs and is present at birth. 

The Pulmonary valve in the heart is unusually narrow and results in congestive heart failure from a very young age and then sudden death. 

Very mild cases do not show symptoms for years. In severe cases, symptoms include weakness, exercise intolerance, fainting, pale mucus membranes and a cough.


Patent Ductus Arteriosis

Patent Ductus Arteriosis an inherited disorder of the heart where the ductus arteriosis fails to close. The ductus arteriosus is a fetal blood vessel that connects the aorta to the pulmonary artery. 

After the puppy is born, this blood vessel closes but if it remains open or patent, fetal blood flow puts extra volumes of blood into the lungs causing problems for the heart. 

It is first detected as a heart murmur and without surgery, to correct the problem, death occurs due to congestive heart failure. 


Hip Dysplasia (42%)

Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that causes mild to severe changes to the hip joint.

The ball portion of the femur does not properly align with the socket part of the hip so the normal smooth movement of the hip joint is impaired causing pain, inflammation and arthritis.


Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a common disease that occurs in many different breeds and is the result of a low production of thyroid hormones. 

When not enough thyroid hormones are produced, dogs tend to gain weight, suffer from hair loss and skin problems.

A simple blood test can confirm the problem and daily medication can be given to eliminating much of the problem.

While this is considered a Sussex Spaniel Health Concern, it could easily be listed as a problem in virtually every dog breed.


Other Sussex Spaniel Health Problems Worth Noting
  • Prostate disease
  • Dental Issues
  • Whelping Problems leading to C-sections

It's always important to find a reputable breeder when purchasing any purebred dog. It is less of an effort with this breed, however, as they are relatively rare.

A good breeder will know the breed in and out, as well as being capable of answering most questions that you may have.

Today's Sussex Spaniels are wonderful family dogs, and deserve to be better known.

Famous Sussex Spaniels

Stump- Best in Show at the 2009 Westminster Dog Show

Further Reading


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