I got my first Clumber in 1987 when I finally, after years of college and graduate school, moved into a house where I was permitted to have a dog. Rockford (aka Ch Cypress Woods Jumping Cholla) was a remarkable ambassador for the breed with a superb temperament that allowed me to take him everywhere and, two years later, leave him unattended with my baby son (not something I would necessarily recommend to a young mother!). Needless to say, one Clumber proved to be not enough, and as time went on I became more involved with showing, breeding and training Clumbers for hunting tests. In 2000, I began a modest breeding programme under the kennel name �Cactus�, chosen for the obvious reason that I live in the Arizona desert surrounded by the majestic Sahuaro cactus, which is indigenous to the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona and northern Mexico.
My initial attraction to the breed was focused on its charming appearance � cuddly, expressive, soulful � but after a few years of living with Clumbers, I became additionally captivated with their intelligence, diligent pursuit of the task at hand and even their stubbornness. It also doesn�t hurt that they are attention-grabbers; any Clumber owner knows it is impossible to walk around the block without having to answer the �what kind of dog is that� question more than once, and the dogs themselves seem to revel in the attention.
Currently, I have only four Clumbers at home (living in the house � though I have canine accommodations, I do not have a kennel that is separate from the house) after having recently lost my two cherished Greencourt bitches that I imported from Andy Shaw in 1997. (I also recently lost two dogs in a divorce settlement, but that is another story.) I originally sought to import Clumbers from Andy in order to add to the gene pool in the USA, but also because I was aware that she took care to consider soundness and birdiness in selecting her own breeding stock. Though I was not able to breed Thatcher (Ch Greencourt Misterious) successfully, Ginny (Ch Greencourt Moonlight Mist) was the foundation of the Cactus line of Clumbers, and her progeny and grandchildren have now spread around the world to Canada, Sweden, Denmark and Australia in addition to all regions of the USA.
The Clumber Spaniel as a breed has progressed considerably during the 23 years that I have been involved with it. Much of this progress has been for the good � dogs are generally healthier and sounder than they were in the 1980s. They are also, on average, bigger (not necessarily better) and showier (definitely not better, but definitely more eye-catching). There has been a certain emphasis on making the Clumber a �show dog� rather than keeping it a gun dog, a natural response to the pressure to breed winning dogs.
In making breeding decisions today, it is my opinion that the single most important consideration is temperament. In days gone by, when dogs had real �jobs�, some faults of temperament could be overlooked. However, in this day and age when dogs are first and foremost our �best friends�, it is the responsibility of breeders to produce reliable family companions and good citizens. Though the Clumber has the reputation of being docile and good-natured, an honest look at the breed will reveal that there are aggression issues in some individuals, possibly related to some Clumbers� tendency towards a stubborn or reserved nature. In my estimation, dogs with poor temperaments are the only ones that should be summarily excluded from a breeding programme in a breed with a very limited gene pool.
That said, my vision of the ideal Clumber Spaniel centers on the idea of �balance.� While standing, the dog should appear to be in perfect equilibrium with weight distributed on all four legs. The trot should seem effortless and absolutely stable. The head, though large, should be in proportion to the body. The characteristic traits of the breed � the eye, the flew, the substance, the coat � should all be in proportion to the dog. And, above all, it should always be kept in mind that this is a hunting dog that must be agile and fit for a day in the field as well as alert and curious. The Clumber should never appear sloppy, overdone or lazy. It is unfortunate that the word �massive� appears in the breed standard (�substantial� will do) as it has tended to conjure up a mental picture more like that of a St. Bernard or Mastiff than that of a working gun dog. An ideal dog should weigh about 75 pounds/34 kg or a little less (with no fat, of course). A bitch should weigh around 60 pounds/27 kg. And a girl should look like a girl � there should be no question whether a given Clumber is a dog or a bitch.
Though some of my own favourite dogs are orange and ticked, I personally prefer lemon markings with very little body colour or ticking. I feel that the lighter colour is more typical of the breed and conveys a softer, kinder expression.
In addition to health and temperament concerns, probably the biggest issue facing the breed in the United States is the proliferation of puppy-mill Clumbers that have become available on the internet and in pet stores. Though the economic recession has mitigated the commercial pet trade somewhat, it is imperative that Clumber fanciers remain attentive to this issue and continue to push for legislation that disallows mass importation of puppies and severely penalizes puppy farmers found in violation of animal cruelty laws. In addition, we must continue to educate the public as widely as possible about good breeding practices, canine care and the correct Clumber Spaniel conformation and temperament.
stop press: McKenna (CH CACTUS ON THE HORIZON) had seven puppies (5 girls and 2 boys) on Thursday, August 12, 2010. Father is CH BRAVEHEARTS KEY TO MY HEART.
the article as published in the magazine includes many fabulous photos too!