oooops, I had this for issue 125 but didn’t actually ‘publish’ it; so everyone will see it, I will move it to issue 126!
So what’s it like living with Clumbers? Naturally I can speak only from personal experience, but I have lived with two to seven Clumbers in the house for the past 42 years, for a total of 26 Clumbers. First of all, like many others, though raised in a Cocker kennel, I had seen Clumbers only in dog books, but never in the flesh. Then one day in the late 1960s at Westminster, I suddenly saw Eunice Gies taking two out to the ex pen. As if being hit by a bolt of lightning, I thought this was the most beautiful and at the same time most comical breed I had ever seen. And this was before I had experienced their loving, laid-back, affectionate temperament. My life has never been the same since.
In those days Clumbers were really, really rare, with at the time only one active breeder in our country. After a two-year wait, Eunice finally called inviting me up to their estate in New York state to be a house guest for a week working in the kennel learning Clumbering, and go home with my first Clumber. But Clumbers are like Oreos : one is never enough. So to get my second Clumber, I had to go up to Canada and bring home the pup in a little cat carrier at my feet on the plane. For my third, a foundation bitch, I went to England and the legendary lady of the Clumber, Rae Furness, in order to be owned by Sh. Ch. Raycroft Snoozie.
Question: if Clumbers are so wonderful, why even today do they still rank about 125th in AKC registrations? Answer: two main reasons :: hard to mate and hard to whelp. A good, built-in safeguard to discourage puppy millers! Also, dating back even to the late 1700s and the Duke of Newcastle, Clumber breeders on the whole have been exceedingly careful about who gets to be owned by a Clumber. (Though of course unfortunately there have been exceptions.)
To begin with, a Clumber pup is a pup, inquisitive, rambunctious, running with great gusto around the house and fenced grounds. He/She is a long way from the supposedly laid-back, slow-moving gentleman’s hunting companion often described in books. And beginning with puppyhood, Clumbers are voracious eaters. A Clumber who does not wolf down his rations is a sick Clumber. The so-called free-feed plan where a dog can eat to his/her heart’s content, would have disastrous effects for a Clumber. As for drinking, one is simply amazed. Some of the old books on hunting with Clumbers recommend bringing along a supply of water when in the field. I have even timed some of my Clumbers drinking without stopping for up to five minutes. Some claim that it is because they are inefficient drinkers. But as for all dogs and especially Clumbers, a good supply of clean water must be available at all times.
Are Clumbers essentially one-man dogs? Yes and no. It depends very much on the individual Clumber. At present I have one who wants to be at my side at all times, and is only friendly with my wife, and somewhat suspicious of everyone else, even persons who are regular visitors to our home. Yet another one, while quite affectionate with me, greets every person he encounters as a long lost friend. Are Clumbers good guard dogs? Yes! We have no doorbell, but as any stranger comes up our driveway there is a loud chorus of barking : but never with my car or my wife’s. Several years ago, we had an attempted burglary while my wife and I were out of town. One gate and a back door were forced open, but absolutely nothing was stolen or even touched. Obviously our Clumbers, who have the whole house at their disposal, rushed to see the intruder, barking furiously. The would-be burglar was evidently frightened off by three 70-80 lb. creatures lunging at him in the dark. Had he passed the threshold, he would in almost certainty have been jumped on and even rather ignored by one and covered in kisses by the other two. Had the gate and back door not served as evidence, we would never have been aware of the attempted burglary. Vicious? I have gotten to know about 500 Clumbers in my lifetime; I have encountered only three downright dangerous. Some are reserved, but never vicious.
Sleep? Definitely, but often in the most amazing positions, with head hanging off a surface or on a cement block. In fact, occasionally at our National Specialty there are photo contests of Clumbers asleep in weird, seemingly uncomfortable postures. Snoring? Definitely. We have had some who barely ever snored at all. Others could be heard more than a room away. You might claim it is only an acquired taste, but sometimes we put the TV on mute just to listen to the calming, sonorous Clumber snore indicating all is well in the world. Storms, thunder? No reaction. One of my favorite Clumber stories is that a few years ago in San Francisco there was an earthquake. Lamps were falling over, dishes hitting the floor. My friend’s three Clumbers woke up, looked around, and then promptly went back to sleep.
Agility? None of mine would ever be subjected to this because of the jumping. Clumbers were bred to charge fearlessly into dense undergrowth to flush out birds, but jumping is hard on their low, heavy structure. Yes, of course there are Clumbers run in agility today, but the most successful are light bitches. The standard calls for 70-85 lbs. for a dog, 55-70 for a bitch. Maybe a bitch at the low end or below the normal weight, but the impact on the shoulders I would not permit. If agility is really your thing, get a Border Collie.
Grooming? No great problem. The eyes, ears, nails require regular attention and naturally brushing, and an occasional bath as with any dog. Personally, compared to an American Cocker, ten to one. Shedding? Yes, all year long moderate shedding. If beautiful, silky white hair on the floor offends, please do not take on a Clumber. Slobbering? Yes, especially when hungry, like me, but definitely less than some breeds such as the Bloodhound. Dysplasia? Yes, but those afflicted seem to cope with it well. Clumbers do not easily exhibit pain. When at the veterinarian’s they seem not even to notice when receiving their shots. Remember, they were bred to charge like a small tank into thickets with briars and thorns. Life expectancy? Almost all of mine have died between twelve and thirteen.
In conclusion, I would like to state firmly that a Clumber deserves better than to be simply a kennel dog. If confined to a kennel he/she is being cheated as are you being deprived of a wonderful, sensitive, loving companion. The Clumber is highly sensitive, not physically but emotionally. Mine sense my slightest mood even before I do. Harsh treatment does in no way work with them. Each one requires at least once a day to be made to feel that he/she is truly loved and admired. Clumbers are very much people dogs, companions not pets, who want to be around their human family at all times. =
Dr Bryant Freeman is current Breed Historian for Clumber Spaniel Club of America
This article first appeared in “Show Sight” magazine in the USA, which focuses on two or three breeds for each issue and this last one was on Clumbers. Is article came out this past July (2011) and were also picked up for republication by the Canadian Clumber Club’s “Clumber Crier”.