What to Know About Welsh Springer Spaniels

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on May 30, 2022
6 min read

Noted for their attractive red-and-white coats and their happy dispositions, Welsh springer spaniels have a fan club that is not huge but is devoted. An ancient breed that once flushed out birds for falconers, Welsh springers are still prized by hunters but also make lovable house pets. Welshies, as they're sometimes called, are eager to please and perform well in the show ring too.

Welsh springer spaniels get their name from their ability to spring or flush game from hiding. You may also hear them referred to as gun dogs. Welsh springers, like many other gun dogs, will also retrieve game. They're well-suited for both jobs, with an excellent sense of smell, a muscular all-terrain body, and feet that are slightly webbed.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), male Welsh springer spaniels should measure 18 to 19 inches at the withers. Females should be 17 to 18 inches. The length of Welsh springers should be slightly greater than their height, creating a rectangular silhouette. Welshies are compact, not long-legged, and should be sturdy rather than lean. Males usually weigh from 50 to 55 pounds, with females weighing around 5 pounds less.

Welshies have heads that differ from other spaniels, tapered and graceful in shape, with the muzzle and the skull about the same length. Their ears are shorter than those of most other spaniel breeds. The eyes are dark.  

The coat is a Welshie's glory. A combination of white and deep red, it is silky, flat, and soft to the touch. There may be small spots, called ticking, as well as large patches of red. Feathering is present on the chest, legs, belly, ears, and tail, but the feathering should not be heavy enough to slow the dog's pace when hunting. The Welshie coat is a great asset in the field, as it is resistant to water and brambles.

Breeders have traditionally docked the tail of Welsh springers, but breed standards no longer require docking. If undocked, the dog should carry the tail on a level with its body. The tail should have a lively action. If you've seen Welshies in person or in a video, you'll understand what this means! 

Welsh springer spaniels are even-tempered, loyal, and affectionate. They love being with their human families but can be aloof with others. They're intelligent and easy to train but occasionally show a stubborn streak.

The life span of the Welsh springer spaniel is 12 to 15 years, making them one of the longer-lived breeds

Welsh springer spaniels don't require a lot of grooming. A good brushing at least once a week should do. A soft brush will do most of the work. You can use a slicker brush or metal comb to get out any tangles. Your Welshie will also need a monthly bath and nail trimming. 

Spaniels can have ear problems, so check your pet's ears regularly. The ears should be clean and pink. If they look dirty, use an ear cleaning solution to loosen the dirt, then wipe the ears with a cotton ball or gauze. If the ears smell bad or look inflamed, talk to your vet.

Brush your dog's teeth daily and have your vet check them as well. Dogs can get gum disease just like humans can.

Welshies are very active dogs. Dogs that are not used in the field need regular exercise. They benefit from having a large yard, but they prefer that you be outside playing with them. Welshies excel at canine sports like tracking, agility, and rally. 

Give your Welshie high-quality dog food and go light on treats. Although the breed isn't especially prone to being overweight, it can happen to almost any breed. Ask your veterinarian if you aren't sure about the proper weight for your dog.

Your pet should visit a veterinarian at least once a year. Puppies and older dogs need more frequent visits. Your dog will need the core vaccines, usually rabies, parvovirus, and distemper. Your vet may also recommend other vaccines, called noncore vaccines, depending upon your location and other variables. Your vet can help you with tick and flea control, heartworm prevention, and other routine care. 

Welsh springer spaniels are healthy but are at risk for a few conditions. Owners and breeders should be aware of these Welsh springer spaniel health issues: 

  • Hip dysplasia. Like many breeds, Welsh springers sometimes have hip dysplasia, a looseness of the joint that leads to hip disease. In a 1997 survey of over 100 breeds, Welsh springers had the 14th worst hip score. Today, responsible breeders are X-raying their dogs for signs of hip dysplasia before breeding them. In the future, genetic testing could determine which dogs might be affected.
  • Epilepsy. Epilepsy is not a single disease but includes several conditions that cause seizures. Welsh springers are among the breeds at risk for epilepsy. Medication will usually control the seizures. At present, there is no genetic test for epilepsy. 
  • Glaucoma. Welsh springers are prone to a certain type of glaucoma. This increase of fluid inside the eyeball is very painful and can lead to blindness. Your vet can check your dog for signs of the disease, or you can consult an ophthalmologist. Researchers are still learning the best ways to test for and treat glaucoma in dogs. The current treatment is medical management with eye drops. Some cases may require surgery.

The Welsh springer spaniel temperament makes these dogs excellent pets. Still, they have some positive qualities and some that aren't so positive. Consider these pluses:

  • Welsh springers are affectionate family members and good with children. 
  • They usually get along well with other dogs.
  • The medium size of the Welsh springer spaniel works for many households.
  • They are intelligent and do well with obedience training.
  • Their coat adapts to both hot and cold weather. 
  • They are usually easy to house train.

But don't forget about these drawbacks:

  • They shed. 
  • They like to dig.
  • They need lots of exercise and mental stimulation. 
  • They may be unfriendly to people outside their circle.
  • They aren't the worst breed for barking, but they aren't the best either. 

Welsh springer spaniels are probably the oldest of Britain's spaniels. Historians of the breed claim that they arrived in Wales from the Iberian Peninsula of Spain. If you want to upset a Welshie fan, suggest that Welsh springer spaniels descended from English springer spaniels. In truth, the two are probably not closely related. The shape of the heads is quite different. They're both called springers because of their style of hunting, not because of a common heritage.

One pivotal figure in the history of Welshies is A.T. Williams, who lived in the Neath Valley of South Wales. According to Williams, his family had been hunting with their red-and-white spaniels since the middle 1700s. Other families in the area had the same type of spaniels, sometimes called Welsh starters.  

Williams was devoted to his Welshies, but the outside world didn't pay them much attention. That changed in the early 1900s when his dogs began to win the Sporting Spaniel Club Trials. The Kennel Club of Great Britain recognized the breed in 1902. 

World War I was disastrous for Welshies. Some breeders shut down their kennels. When the war was over, there were no dogs left with pedigreed parents. Breeders had to start from scratch with unpedigreed dogs, which they developed into the breed we know today. 

The Welsh Springer Spaniel Club was formed in the United Kingdom in 1923. Interest in the breed grew steadily until World War II dealt it a second setback. All of the club's records were destroyed in an air raid. Fans of the breed persisted. The number of Welshies continued to grow, but the breed never became very popular.

The Welsh springer spaniel was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1914. In 2021, the breed ranked 126th in popularity out of 197 breeds in the United States.