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Breed Spotlight: The Boykin Spaniel

Updated: Apr 22

The first Boykin Spaniel was reportedly a small, stray spaniel type dog that befriended a banker walking from his home to the First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina sometime around the year 1900. He fell in love with the dog so he took it home and named him Dumpy. After the dog showed some aptitude for retrieving, he sent the dog to his longtime friend and hunting partner Lemuel Whitaker Boykin in Camden, South Carolina. In Boykin's hands the little stray developed into a superb turkey dog and waterfowl retriever. He decided to try to create a breed, and this dog became the foundation stock for the Boykin spaniel. The dogs he wanted had to be small enough to ride in the small boats used by hunters in the swamps. Mr. Boykin experimented with crossbreeding different breeds towards the goal of making his ideal retrieving dog, and the resulting dog is named after him. This breed is only one of two US-made breeds named for the family responsible for their creation.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Springer Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, American Water Spaniel, and various pointing breeds were used in the development of the breed, according to Mr. Boykin's grandson Dr. Baynard Boykin. The area in which the breed developed was a resort and hunting area, and the breed was noticed by visitors and so spread around the United States. In 1977 the Boykin Spaniel Society was formed by the Boykin family and began maintaining a studbook in 1979. The BSS studbook has been "closed" since 1980, meaning that only dogs from BSS registered parents may be registered with the BSS. The Boykin Spaniel was recognized by the United Kennel Club in 1985. UKC does not close its studbooks so dogs from the BSS or the AKC may be registered into the UKC studbook at any time. In the 1990s a group of fanciers formed the Boykin Spaniel Club And Breeders Association of America in order to achieve AKC recognition of the breed and to gain access to the AKC Spaniel Hunt Tests held throughout the nation.[12] In 2007 the Boykin Spaniel Club and Breeders Association of America (BSCBAA) was recognized by the AKC as the parent club for the breed.

In January 2006 the breed became eligible to compete in AKC Spaniel Hunt tests for official AKC titles. In July 2006 the Boykin Spaniel was eligible to earn AKC titles in AKC agility, tracking, rally obedience, and regular obedience. In December, 2021, Boykin Spaniel Outfitters became the official partner with BSS for Boykin Spaniel merchandise.

The Boykin Spaniel is a versatile hunter, working as a retriever and upland hunter, flushing birds into flight. Pointing is not in character with the Boykin's hunting style, but many confuse the inherent characteristic of a "hesitant flush" with pointing. Of the six or eight different breeds used to create the current breed, three are pointing breeds for this reason. The field Boykin spaniel wants to be 100% precise when it flushes a bird, and as a dutiful partner it knows to wait until the hunter is positioned for the shot. Their stamina in hot weather and eagerness make them good for dove hunts, but also for pheasant and other upland game. They can be used in driving deer or in tracking wounded game. Their small size makes them easy to carry in a canoe or other small boat, and they are described as "the dog that doesn't rock the boat." However, an unacceptably high percentage of Boykin spaniels are not able to internally produce the proteins necessary to keep their muscles working during sustained work in warm temperatures, and can be fatal. As of 2017, Exercise Induced Collapse syndrome appears in about 10% of all Boykin spaniels due to inattentive breeding practices. Screening for the presence of the gene which causes EIC is done by simple DNA sample collection and analysis.[6] Prospective buyers of Boykin spaniel puppies are advised to obtain verified proof of DNA testing from all breeders before buying.

The Boykin Spaniel is a friendly, social dog that is considered a good family pet.[7] It is easily trained and eager to work. It is good with, and extremely stable around children and other dogs. They can sometimes be described as energetic with great endurance. They are extremely adaptable to different environments as long as they are given ample opportunity for social interaction and plenty of time to burn off excess energy reserves. They are not easily angered and tend to be eager to please and friendly, but they love attention and are extremely friendly.

According to statistics maintained by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) since 1985, Boykin Spaniels have an alarmingly high incidence rate of hip dysplasia, although the rate is declining in the past 7 years due to the emphasis placed by the Boykin Spaniel Foundation on the importance of health testing and ethical breeding. Canine hip dysplasia is considered by scientists to be both hereditary and acquired due to diet, too strenuous exercise, excess weight, and spay/neuter status, so the Boykin Spaniel Foundation's efforts have been instrumental in improving the health of the breed in recent years.

The breed also has a susceptibility toward inherited heart disease, eye disease, and patellar luxation. Skin and coat problems do exist and may be linked to allergies, thyroid issues, and endocrine disorders. Elbow dysplasia, Cushing's disease, and hypothyroidism are also relatively common in the breed.

In early 2010, exercise-induced collapse was positively identified in the breed by the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory. In 2013, the Boykin Spaniel Foundation in conjunction with Cornell University's Optigen laboratory did a random sampling of 180+ adult Boykin spaniels for Collie Eye Anomaly, an inherited disease of the eye which causes malformation of eye components and impaired vision, including partial-to-full blindness. A year later, the Boykin Spaniel Foundation did another 180-dog random sample for degenerative myelopathy, another inheritable disease which causes adult dogs to develop gradual, fatal deterioration of the spinal cord and results in death when the afflicted dogs are middle aged. DNA testing of these three autosomal recessive diseases can absolutely identify genetic carriers (one copy of the gene) and at-risk (two copies of the gene) individuals.

Before being used for breeding, Boykins should ALWAYS AND WITHOUT EXCEPTION be tested for hip dysplasia, hereditary eye disease, heart/cardiac abnormalities (specifically pulmonary stenosis), hereditary patellar luxation, hereditary exercise-induced collapse, degenerative myelopathy, and Collie Eye Anomaly. Eye examinations should be done annually. Records for these tests should be kept with OFA for public access.

For dog enthusiasts living in the Carolinas it may come as a surprise to learn just how uncommon Boykins are in the rest of the United States. The breed is most common in South Carolina, and is the official state dog. It is also quite common in North Carolina and Georgia. It has been increasing it's numbers in Florida recently, but it is generally overlooked by hunters and owners in most other states.

Here in South Carolina it is extremely easy to find available Boykin puppies. The challenge is finding an ethical breeder of Boykin Puppies. As outlined above, Boykins have quite a few health issues and doing the required health testing can go a long way toward ensuring the produced puppies are as healthy as possible, which is something that should be top priority for anyone in the market for any purebred dog. Parent dogs can be looked up on the OFA website to double check that a breeder is being truthful when they claim to have health tested their breeding dogs. All you need is the registration number for each parent, and any good breeder would be happy to share that information with you to verify the expensive health tests they had done.

Don't get swindled. Remember; cute doesn't equate to long-term health.



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