Boykin Spaniel

Hunters in South Carolina first identified the Boykin Spaniel in the 1900s. They loved these dogs so much that it remains the state dog of South Carolina! Boykin Spaniels are active, independent, and typically a beautiful chocolate-brown color. They typically weigh 25-40 pounds and are 14” to 18” tall.

Most people are familiar with Cocker and Springer Spaniels. Few people outside of hunting circles know much about Boykin Spaniels. If you have come across these charming dogs, you may decide that you would like to own one. Learning about the Boykin Spaniel breed is vital to assess if this is the right dog for you and your family.

Boykin Spaniels are working dogs from the gun dog group developed in the southern USA. They are excellent flushing and retrieving dogs. Boykin Spaniels have a friendly, gentle temperament which makes them good pets. They are small to medium canines with a liver or chocolate wavy or curly coat.  

It is always best to know as much about a dog breed as possible before choosing and purchasing the dog. Boykin Spaniels are not well known outside the southern states of the USA. It is essential to investigate the breed properly, especially if you are a first-time dog owner.

History Of The Boykin Spaniel Breed

Hunters in South Carolina in the 1900s faced a quandary. They wanted a hunting dog that could work on both land and water. The dog needed to be compact to fit into their boats and retrieve from the water.

Cocker Spaniels were too small; Springer Spaniels were too big and not great water retrievers. The other retrievers were too big to fit into the collapsible ‘section’ boats used on the Wateree River.

Between 1905 and 1910, a banker by the name of Alexander L. White found a stray spaniel-type dog while walking to church. He was charmed by the friendly little dog and took him home. He was so impressed with the dog’s retrieving abilities that he asked his good friend and hunting partner, Whit Boykin, to include the dog in a breeding program.

Whit Boykin, who lived outside Camden in South Carolina, had already been experimenting with dog breeding to try and create the perfect hunting dog for their needs. Whit Boykin

used the friendly little spaniel, now named Dumpy, as the cornerstone for the development of the Boykin Spaniel.

What Dog Breeds Were Used To Develop Boykin Spaniels?

Dog breeds that were used in the development of the breed besides Dumpy were

  1. Springer Spaniels
  2. Cocker Spaniels
  3. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  4. American Water Spaniels

They developed a small compact dog that suited their needs and was well equipped for the environment and climatic conditions in South Carolina.

Boykin Spaniels Were Carolina’s Secret

These little brown dogs remained located in Carolina, unnoticed by the rest of the world until the 1990s. At that time, a Dalmation breeder and dog trainer, Christine Prince, moved to North Carolina.

She found these dogs everywhere. They were generally called Boykin Spaniels, but some referred to them as Brown Swamp Spaniels. Christine Prince was fascinated as she regarded herself as a knowledgeable dog professional but had never seen this dog breed before.

A Texan hunter named Greg Copeland went on a hunting trip to Carolina and discovered the Boykin Spaniel. He was so impressed with the dog’s flushing and retrieving abilities that he tried to buy one. It took him some time to convince a breeder to sell him a dog as breeders were reluctant to sell dogs to anyone outside Carolina.

Greg Copeland and Christine Prince brought Boykin Spaniels to the attention of the rest of the world. Carolina’s best-kept secret was out. Boykin Spaniels are the official state dog of Southern Carolina.

Are Boykin Spaniels Retrievers Or Flushers?

Boykin Spaniels were heavily influenced by Cocker and Springer Spaniels and have retained those flushing skills.

They inherited a natural ability to retrieve from Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. The American Water Spaniel gave them a love of water, making them expert water retrievers for duck hunting.  

Boykin Spaniels are true dual-purpose hunting dogs performing both flushing and water and land retrieving. Their small compact size makes them wildly popular with hunters that use small boats. The dog takes up very little room and is an invaluable part of the hunting team. 

How Big Are Boykin Spaniels?

Males Boykin Spaniels are 17 inches (43.18 cm) at the wither and 32 to 38 pounds (14 to 17 kg). Female Boykins are usually a maximum of 16 inches (40.7 cm)  at the shoulder and 25 to 36 pounds (11 to 16 kg).

Boykins are not large dogs. They may be described as medium size, compact dogs.

What Color Are Boykin Spaniels?

Boykin Spaniels only come in one color – solid liver. Some Boykin Spaniels may be a slightly lighter liver and some darker chocolate with white chest markings. Occasionally the dog’s feathers or fringes may have a reddish tinge.

The color was bred to allow the Boykin Spaniel to be camouflaged when hunting in the muddy swamps.

A remarkable feature of Boykin Spaniels is their golden or amber-colored eyes.

How Much Grooming Do Boykin Spaniels Need?

Boykin Spaniels have a wavy to curly coat that is fairly easy to keep. Some dogs have a coat with waves, but it curls more tightly when exposed to water. A Boykin Spaniel’s coat needs to be brushed two to three times a week.

If you have been walking or hunting in the fields, you will need to comb your Boykin Spaniel’s coat to remove the burrs and grass seeds. Groomers advise using a rotating tooth comb to remove burrs.

Can Boykin Spaniels Live And Sleep Outside?

Boykin Spaniels are not dogs that should be left outside. Like most spaniels, they are dogs that thrive on human companionship. They will follow you around, ensuring that you are within easy reach. Some people describe them as Velcro dogs – never leaving your side.

The consequence is that these dogs do not like to be locked away from their family. They are unhappy to be left outside and may express this frustration and anxiety with unacceptable digging or chewing. Boykin Spaniels may dig out of yards in an attempt to get access to their human companions.  

Boykins do not have a thick coat that can withstand icy temperatures. Although they enjoy the water when hunting or playing, sleeping in freezing or wet weather will be detrimental to the dog’s health.

Sleeping outside also puts dogs at risk from venomous snakes and spiders that tend to be nocturnal. With a Boykin Spaniel’s natural hunting instinct, they will be drawn to hunting snakes and could easily get bitten.

Malicious dog poisoning often occurs at night, and it is safer to have your dog sleep inside. A dog sleeping inside is much better protection from intruders than a dog sleeping outside.

Are Boykin Spaniels Easy To Train?

Boykin Spaniels are intelligent dogs with a desire to please their owners. These characteristics make them easy to train as they want to cooperate and work with their people. People who own Boykins describe them as having very quick minds.

An aspect of Boykin Spaniels to consider when training them is that they were bred to be hunting dogs. The urge to hunt is still very strong in this breed. This characteristic can cause problems for owners that do not spend enough time and effort training their dog or allow an outlet for this instinct.

Any dog with a high hunt drive will have the urge to chase birds or be triggered by other stimuli. Dogs that teach themselves to hunt become independent thinkers and will ignore their owners’ commands when they are distracted by more interesting stimuli.

The most common complaint of owners that have not taught their hunting dog to hunt or provided some natural outlet is that their dogs are difficult to recall. When owning a Boykin Spaniel, the recall must be a rock-solid command even in the face of tempting distractions.

The dog’s hunt drive should be channeled into other activities that allow them to use their physical and mental energy. Examples include:

  1. Scent training
  2. Treasure hunting
  3. Flyball
  4. Agility
  5. Retrieving games
  6. Mental stimulation toys

While Boykin Spaniels are easy to train, the owner must accommodate the dog’s natural urge to hunt and factor that into training. This factor makes them dogs that are not good for first-time dog owners.

Do Boykin Spaniels Make Good Pets?

Boykin Spaniels are well known for their amenable personable temperaments. They are gentle, friendly dogs that fit well into homes with children and other pets.

Boykins have the human-oriented personalities of spaniels and retrievers. They want and need to be around people. This need was bred into the dogs as it made them good hunting companions, willing to work with their owners when they went hunting.

Boykin Spaniels are cheerful little dogs that uplift the mood in the house and bring comfort to stressed owners.

Boykin Spaniels have a soft mouth  – this is a hunting term to describe a dog that does not bite into the prey when retrieving. The underlying characteristic is that these dogs have strong bite inhibition. They also have low aggression levels.

The implication for a Boykin Spaniel as a pet is that they are not prone to snapping and will be unlikely to bite. It is critical to teach children to respect the Boykin Spaniel, as with all dog breeds. It is good manners and ensures the dog is not pushed beyond its limit.

Young children should not be left alone with any dog. Each Boykin Spaniel is an individual. The best approach to finding out if a Boykin Spaniel will be suitable for small children is to speak to breeders in your area. They will know the disposition of their dogs and can make the appropriate recommendations.

Owners must remember that Boykin Spaniels are dogs with lots of energy. The energy must be channeled into games, activities, or sports. A Boykin left to entertain himself will do so in true dog style – generally in ways that are unacceptable to the owners.

Boykin Spaniels have stamina and endurance, making them good dogs to accompany owners who like to run or cycle.  

Are Boykin Spaniels Noisy Dogs?

Boykin Spaniels are prone to barking, especially when they are left alone. This makes them unsuitable for small properties where noise levels are a consideration. They are not ideal dogs for small homes due to their energy and stimulation needs.

What Health Problems Are In The Boykin Spaniel Breed?

Boykin Spaniels are healthy dogs with few genetic conditions plaguing the breed. As they are still a relatively ‘new’ breed and as yet unknown in many parts of the world, they are still genetically healthy.

Do Boykin Spaniels Have Heart Conditions?

Some Boykin Spaniel lines throw an inheritable heart condition known as pulmonic stenosis. It is a condition where narrowing the blood vessel partially obstructs the blood flow from the heart to the lungs. The heart is placed under severe strain while trying to send blood to the lungs.

Symptoms include exercise-related fatigue or fainting due to inadequate oxygen supply. The dog may appear lethargic and lack energy. It may have difficulty breathing, and there may be a dry cough.

Many Boykin Spaniels with this disease do not grow as they should and are considerably smaller than their littermates.

Surgery can be performed to address life-threatening cases of pulmonic stenosis. It is specialized surgery, and the risks must be discussed with the veterinarian.    

Do Boykin Spaniels Have Eye Problems?

Spaniels as a group as predisposed to Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), and unfortunately, Boykin Spaniels did not miss this gene. It is an inherited condition where the retina slowly shrinks and dies, leaving the dog blind at about four to five years.

There are genetic screening tests to assess parent dogs. Any dogs that test positive for PRA should not be used for breeding. Prospective Boykin Spaniel owners should ask breeders if their dogs are tested and clear for PRA before purchasing a puppy.

Boykin Spaniels may develop cataracts in old age, but this is a normal part of aging, and they are not more prone to cataracts than other dog breeds.

Do Boykin Spaniels Get Ear Infections?

Boykins have soft floppy hairy ears, which result in limited air circulation in the ears. This dark, moist environment is ideal for the growth of fungus and bacteria, resulting in nasty ear infections.

Yeast infections usually occur first, followed by secondary bacterial infections. The outcome is an infected ear that oozes black exudate and must be treated by a veterinarian. Antifungal and antibiotic medications are needed to address the ear infection.

Boykin Spaniels love swimming which leaves the ears wet. Wet ears are susceptible to ear infections as yeast (candida) grows in moist environments.

Boykin Spaniel owners should dry their dog’s ears out using swimmers’ ear drops. The ear drops will help the water evaporate from the ears keeping them dry and healthy. Ensuring the hair around the ears is short will help airflow and keep the ears free from infection.

Do Boykin Spaniels Get Hip And Elbow Dysplasia?

Hip and elbow dysplasia are not common in spaniels. Boykin Spaniels, however, have Chesapeake Bay Retriever ancestry making certain lines prone to hip and elbow dysplasia. Any Boykin Spaniel that has hip or elbow dysplasia should not be bred.

Hip and elbow dysplasia occur when there is an abnormal growth of bones around joints. The bones caused the joints to be weak, unstable, and loose. Movement causes the joints to grind down bone cartilage and delicate tissue. The joints become compromised, and arthritis occurs early.

Fortunately, not many Boykin spaniel lines have elbow and hip dysplasia. Careful selection of puppies from breeding dogs that do not have dysplasia allows one to purchase a healthy puppy.  

Exercise-Induced Collapse (EIC) In Boykin Spaniels

Exercise-induced collapse is a frightening disease that may be seen in Boykin Spaniels. A seemingly healthy Boykin Spaniel suddenly collapses while running or playing. Exercise-induced collapse is an inherited neuromuscular disease.

It may occur as a full collapse, or the dog may continue running while the hind legs collapse. In other dogs, the paralysis moves from the hind legs through the body until the entire dog cannot move and falls over.

Episodes last five to twenty-five minutes, and the dog usually recovers fully afterward. Recovery time is generally about thirty to forty minutes. Although most dogs usually recover, some dogs die from these collapses.

The disease typically first presents itself when the dog is about five months old. This age coincides with when the puppy begins to be very active.

Vastly elevated body temperature usually accompanies episodes of exercise-induced collapse.

There is no cure for exercise-induced collapse. The disease must be managed to allow the dog to live a quality life. Fortunately, there is genetic testing available that detects carriers of the disorder.

Dogs that test positive for exercise-induced collapse should never be bred. Breeders need to remain responsible and work towards eliminating diseases such as EIC from the gene pool.

Do Boykin Spaniels Have Problems With Their Anal Glands?

Boykin Spaniels are prone to developing impacted anal glands. Impacted anal glands are uncomfortable and irritate the dog. The dog scoots on the ground to try and relieve the irritation.

Dirt and bacteria from the ground may enter the anus as the dog scoots. Pressure from scratching also damages the delicate skin around the anus. The result is that unpleasant and painful anal gland abscesses can form.

These need veterinary consultation as antibiotics and pain medications are prescribed. If the abscesses recur or persist, the anal glands may need to be surgically removed or drained.  

How Do I Find A Healthy Boykin Spaniel?

Although the above list of conditions is daunting, finding a healthy Boykin Spaniel is possible. Most Boykin Spaniels are healthy. The new owner must do his homework and investigate breeders to find ones that produce healthy Boykin Spaniels.

The potential owner should ask breeders about the health of their dogs and request to see the results of any genetic testing. A good means of finding an ethical breeder is to ask for referrals to people who have purchased puppies previously.

Boykin Spaniel associations or clubs and kennel unions can also provide a list of approved breeders.

How Long Do Boykin Spaniels Live?

Boykin Spaniels are well known for their longevity. It is common for them to live until fifteen to seventeen years of age. This is good news for Boykin spaniel owners.

Are Boykin Spaniels Bred Outside The USA?

Boykin Spaniels are considered to be a rare breed of dog. They are primarily bred in the United States of America, predominantly in the southern states. There are not many breeders in any country in the rest of the world.

Are Boykin Spaniels Good Service Or Therapy Dogs?

Some lines of Boykin Spaniels are exceptionally calm, and they have been used successfully as therapy dogs. Each dog should be assessed for its individual character to determine if it is suitable as a therapy dog.

Owners who have suffered from accidents or ill health have found that their Boykin Spaniels trained themselves to become good service dogs.

Boykin Spaniels form strong attachments to their owners. It is believed that this bond causes the dogs to develop into dogs that assist their owners. There are stories of Boykin Spaniels that alert their owners to diabetic episodes and oncoming seizures.

The strong bond between the owner and Boykin Spaniel allows the dog to complete tasks or feats for which they may not have been trained.

Boykin Spaniels can make good search and rescue dogs. They excel as bird dogs that chase flocks away from landing strips.  


Boykin Spaniels are not well known in much of the world. They occur predominantly in the USA. They are cheerful medium-sized dogs that excel at flushing game and retrieving downed birds. Boykin Spaniels have a curly or wavy coat and were bred to enjoy the water. They are generally healthy dogs but have some genetic conditions. They are bright, inquisitive dogs that are not difficult to train. Their need for activity and high hunting drive make them unsuitable for first-time dog owners.


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