Sometime in the 1700s, sportsmen in the English county of Sussex developed a spaniel whose short legs and burly torso were perfectly suited to hunting feathered game while plowing through the region’s heavy clay soil, dense underbrush, and thick hedgerows.
Because the dog was built so low and the cover was so high, Sussex developed a language of barks and babbling to mark their location to human huntsmen. And to this day, Sussex tend to be more vocal than other spaniels. They are placid, affectionate, even-tempered, loyal and congenial house dog. His frowning expression is delightfully at odds with a typically cheerful nature.
Sussex Spaniel Appearance
The Sussex Spaniel is 13 to 15 inches tall and weighs 35 to 45 pounds. Looking a bit like a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and a torpedo, Sussex are long, low-built bird dogs of great strength and endurance. Their trademark is an abundant, feathery coat of rich golden-liver. The classic spaniel head, with its wavy-coated ears and big hazel eyes, projects a somber, glowering expression opposite of the Sussex’s innate cheerfulness.
General grooming for the breed is simply bathing, brushing, and combing. The hair on the bottoms of the feet should be trimmed to keep the dog from slipping. If the dog is neutered, the coat becomes fuzzy and cotton-candy like, and is much harder to deal with. The Sussex should not be shaved down unless absolutely necessary, as it takes a long time for the coat to recover. As with all breeds, the nails should be trimmed regularly.
Sussex Spaniels life expectancy is 13 to 15 years. Affectionate and companionable, the Sussex thrives in a home where he’s not left on his own for hours each day. He likes to follow his people around and enjoys the company of other dogs as well. A Sussex bonds strongly to family members and can become anxious and destructive when ignored.
This gentle, even-tempered dog does well with children when he’s raised with them, but he’s best suited to a home with older children who understand how to interact with a dog. Sussex puppies can be injured if they’re dropped, hit or stepped on by young children, so supervision is a must.
In general, Sussex Spaniels love people, but they can be possessive of their own family members, unwilling for other people to approach them. Early and frequent socialization is important to prevent this. Because of their sporting dog heritage, they usually get along well with other dogs, but if they’re not socialized to other dogs at an early age, they can be aggressive toward dogs they don’t know. The Sussex generally gets along well with other pets, including cats, although he’s said to be a bit bossy.
The Sussex is vocal about letting the hunter know how he’s doing, and he carries that talkative tendency over to home life. The Sussex is likely to bark or howl at noises or visitors, so he makes a good watchdog. It’s important, however, to teach him when to stop barking so he doesn’t disturb the neighbors.
Caring for a Sussex Spaniel
Next, we’ll go into how you should care for a Sussex Spaniel.
Sussex Spaniels are a very slow-growing breed. The Sussex Spaniel should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age. Intact Sussex are almost never overweight, as they tend to only eat as much as they need. Fresh fruits and vegetables may also be included in their diet; learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.
The Sussex Spaniel should not have strenuous exercise before he is at least a year old. Sussex are slow growing, and exercise too early can damage the growth plates. Puppies should be allowed to self-exercise by playing. Jumping and agility-type work should not start until the dog is at least 18 months old.
Adult Sussex needs 20 to 30 minutes of daily exercise to keep him in best condition. He’ll enjoy long walks or hikes. He’s best suited to living indoors but should have access to a safely fenced yard where he can keep a watchful eye on birds, squirrels, and other wildlife.
Sussex can be stubborn; they have long memories and will never forget nor forgive rough handling. Sussex owners should strive to convey to the dog clearly what they want, and give the dog lots of praise when he gets it right.
One area that needs to be addressed at a young age is barking. If you don’t train your Sussex to bark in moderation, you will find yourself with a dog that barks at everything in excess. The Sussex is especially likely to bark and howl when left alone for long periods, so before acquiring one, consider whether you’ll be home frequently enough to keep him happy. A dog silencer may be a good idea.
Sussex are difficult to breed, and females often skip seasons, reabsorb puppies, and need C-sections. Puppies are fragile until about two weeks of age.
The following conditions are among those that may affect Sussex Spaniels:
- Pulmonic Stenosis: This is a congenital heart disease in which blood does not flow properly through the heart due to a narrowing of the region between the right ventricle and pulmonary artery.
- Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA): It occurs when a blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus, which connects the aorta and the pulmonary artery in a fetus, doesn’t close after birth.
- Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD): Occurs when a disc in the spine ruptures or herniates and pushes upward into the spinal cord.
- Hip Dysplasia: This degenerative disease occurs when the hip joint is weakened due to abnormal growth and development and is found in many breeds of dogs. It affects approximately 42 percent of Sussex Spaniels but is rarely debilitating.
- Gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV): Commonly known as bloat or twisted stomach, is an extremely serious condition that could develop into a life-threatening emergency killing a dog within a matter of hours. An owner who sees symptoms of the condition must take his pet to a veterinarian immediately.
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