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The American Kennel Club (AKC) spaniel world changed forever in 1988 when the first spaniel hunt test was held. However, what is downright amazing is how small the actual community of spaniel hunt test title holders really is. Earlier this year, through the kindness of the American Kennel Club library research staff, I managed to obtain the AKCís complete records of hunt test title holders through 2003, and conducted an analysis of the results by breed.

From 1988 to 2003 a total of 52,832 dogs of all breeds received AKC hunt test titles. This is an impressive number given that very few dogs pass all of the legs for each title they seek without a failure here and there. My own personal experience with Dixie, my English springer spaniel, is that she passed roughly 50 percent of her Junior Hunter legs, 100 percent of her Senior Hunter legs, and again 50 percent of her Master Hunter legs. It was a Herculean effort to get her through all titles, not to mention a significant drain on the pocketbook. This may reflect more on my inadequacies as a dog trainer than her potential as a gun dog; nevertheless, having witnessed my fare share of spaniel hunt tests, I feel that many of you have shared this pain.
Hunt Test Titles Junior Hunter Senior Hunter Master Hunter Yearly Totals

Alright, we all know it gets tougher as one goes up the hunt test title progression from Junior Hunter to Senior Hunter and ultimately to Master Hunter. Given the AKC universe of hunt test title holders, how do the spaniels stack up? At the end of 2003, spaniels accounted for only 1,855 of the 52,832 title holders Ė roughly 3.5 percent of the total. When I saw these numbers, they were indeed surprising. Originally my assumption was that spaniels certainly would have accounted for a greater percentage of the total notwithstanding the extremely large numbers of retrievers participating in the program.

Table 1. Annual AKC Spaniel Hunt Test Titles Granted by Category 1988-2003

As of 2003, the AKC has granted only 961 Junior Hunter, 649 Senior Hunter, and 245 Master Hunter titles to spaniels. The number of titles granted annually to spaniels has remained fairly stable since 1996 except for 1998, with between 140 and 160 titles conferred at all levels.

The breed composition of title holders is equally illustrative. (see Table 2.)

Table 2. Composition of Spaniel AKC Title Holders 1988-2003
† †
Spaniel BreedTitles
American Water Spaniels0
Clumber Spaniels54
Cocker Spaniels116
English Cocker Spaniels249
English Springer Spaniels1353
Field Spaniels23
Sussex Spaniels13
Welsh Springer Spaniels47

Not surprisingly, the English springer spaniels dominate the AKC hunt test title holders comprising just less than three quarters of all title holders. The next largest group, the English cocker spaniels, have around thirteen percent of the total title holders, followed by the cocker spaniels with roughly six percent of the overall total. The American water spaniels, despite long being recognized by the AKC, have only recently joined the ranks of those breeds eligible to run in AKC spaniel hunt tests, and therefore had no title holders through 2003.

Letís take a look at how the titles break out by category.

Since the inception of the program in 1988 through 2003, the AKC granted a total of 961 Junior Hunter titles to spaniels (see Table 3). Again the bulk of the titles, almost 70 percent, were granted to English springer spaniels.

This is a somewhat curious trend in that if one examines the annual AKC registration figures for cocker and English cocker spaniels versus English springer spaniels, the cocker registrations are more than twice those of registrations for English springer spaniels. The data is, however, consistent with respect to annual registrations by other spaniel breeds. For example, one would expect to see fewer Welsh springer spaniel or Sussex spaniel title holders than English springer spaniels during the period of the analysis given their lower annual dog registration numbers and the smaller total populations of those two breeds versus the English springers.

Table 3. Junior Hunter (JH) Titles by Breed 1988-2003
† †
Spaniel BreedJH%
American Water Spaniels0
Clumber Spaniels343.5
Cocker Spaniels707.3
English Cocker Spaniels14615.2
English Springer Spaniels66369.0
Field Spaniels121.2
Sussex Spaniels70.7
Welsh Springer Spaniels293.0

Table 4. Senior Hunter (SH) Titles by Breed 1988-2003
† †
Spaniel BreedSH%
American Water Spaniels0
Clumber Spaniels162.5
Cocker Spaniels396.0
English Cocker Spaniels8112.5
English Springer Spaniels48374.4
Field Spaniels101.5
Sussex Spaniels50.8
Welsh Springer Spaniels152.3

Turning to Senior Hunter titles granted during the period of the analysis, the trends in the data are interesting. As of 2003, 649 spaniels have received Senior Hunter titles with English springers comprising roughly 74 percent of the total - relatively consistent with the data spreads in the Junior Hunter category, except that English springers comprise a greater percentage of the total Senior Hunter titles awarded than they did of the Junior Hunter titles granted. The next most numerous titles were awarded again to English cockers who captured 12.5 percent of the titles awarded.

For Master Hunter titles granted during the period of the analysis, the trends in the data are interesting. English springers captured 84.5 percent of the 245 Master Hunter titles awarded to spaniels. In fact, if you take a hard look at the percentages of titles awarded by breed, the dominant trend is that English springers capture an increasing percentage of the titles awarded from Junior Hunter to Master Hunter.

Table 5. Master Hunter (MH) Titles by Breed 1988-2003
† †
Spaniel BreedMH%
American Water Spaniels0
Clumber Spaniels41.6
Cocker Spaniels72.9
English Cocker Spaniels229.0
English Springer Spaniels20784.5
Field Spaniels10.4
Sussex Spaniels10.4
Welsh Springer Spaniels31.2

Table 6. AKC Hunt Test Titles by Breed and Percent 1988-2003
† †
Spaniel Breeds PercentJHSHMH
American Water Spaniels0.00.00.0
Clumber Spaniels3.52.51.6
Cocker Spaniels7.36.02.9
English Cocker Spaniels15.212.59.0
English Springer Spaniels69.074.484.5
Field Spaniels1.21.50.4
Sussex Spaniels0.70.80.4
Welsh Springer Spaniels32.31.2

But before you English springer owners break your arms patting yourselves on the back or go broke buying successive rounds for the house at your local tavern, the upward trend of English springer title holders as we move up the food chain to Master Hunter probably is due as much to the fact that there are a larger number of English springers participating in AKC hunt tests and field trials than all the other breeds combined. I do not attribute their success at the Master Hunter level to innately better abilities than the other spaniel breeds (I own an English springer as well as English cockers). Having said that, however, I do not believe that other spaniel breeds can catch the English springers in terms of total numbers as we move into the future unless there is a major shift in dog breeding, buying, and hunt testing practices. What the statistics do not show is the pass rates by breed. These data likely will not be available anytime soon (if ever).

What do all of these numbers really tell us in terms of spaniels and AKC hunt tests? The bottom line is that what the statistics really show us is that there is a solid demand for AKC hunt tests in the spaniel ranks, and that there is a consistently high number of handlers and dogs willing to take on the hunt test standards and judges in these events. They also indicate that these trends probably will continue on into the future Ė a good message for those addicted to AKC spaniel hunt tests. Irrespective of numbers, for my part, I will continue to enjoy the spaniel hunt tests, and look forward to participating with Arwen, Jazz, and Wendy (my English cockers) now that Dixie has received her Master Hunter title. I hope you all continue to play as well.

* All of the statistics used in this article are from the American Kennel Club research library.

Chip Schleider

Chip Schleider is an avid amateur spaniel trainer and upland game hunter. He owns four dogs - one English springer spaniel and three English cocker spaniels. His English springer, Dixie, just received her Master Hunter title and is a Started Retriever in NAHRA. He also is marketing executive for a large aerospace company, and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel with a doctorate in international studies from the University of South Carolina. He lives with his wife Door, youngest son Alexander, and two of his gun dogs, Dixie and Arwen, in Great Falls, Virginia. His oldest son, Christian, is an Army First Lieutenant stationed in Iraq.

Chip is the co-author with Tony Roettger of Urban Gun Dogs: Training Flushing Dogs for Home and Field - copies of which can be purchased through the Spaniel Journal Bookstore. He also writes frequently for journals catering to gun dog training.

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