boykin spaniel
Photo credit: Zadranka, Shutterstock

Hunting Dog Profile: The Exuberant Boykin Spaniel

Born of the American South, this packable, cocoa-colored pup is a waterfowler’s dream and an uplander’s best friend, all in one. Meet the Boykin spaniel.

One of the All-American breeds, the Boykin spaniel is a lesser-known versatile hunting dog. But, it’s not to be overlooked for folks seeking a spirited and fun companion. The Boykin can cover lakes and rivers for waterfowl in the morning, then head to the field for an upland hunt in the afternoon, and then curl up fireside at home in the evening.

Developed in the early 20th century in South Carolina, the Boykin spaniel has an interesting origin story. A small, brown stray dog accompanied a fella to church, and it turned out to be a lights-out bird dog for quail, wild turkeys, and waterfowl.

A hunting trainer named Whit Boykin took the dog on and created a foundational hunting line through cross-breeding Chesapeake Bay retrievers, English cocker spaniels, and Irish water spaniels.

From that mix arose a tough, funny, happy little creature they called the Boykin spaniel. Let’s dig into the specifics.

Meet the Boykin Spaniel

The Boykin Spaniel is a medium-sized breed, standing anywhere from 14 to 20 inches at the shoulder. Their weight varies from 25 to 40 pounds, with males being on the bigger side.

Their coat is always a shade of chocolate brown, ranging from a brighter liver to a very dark brown. But, the coat can vary in texture from full and curly to a sleek, shorter coat with feathered ears and legs.

One of the more striking features of Boykins is their often lighter-colored eyes that heavily contrast with their brown coats. Their look rivals that of a working cocker spaniel, but they tend to be bigger, rangier, and more robust through their body.

When it comes to temperament, Boykins are typical bird dogs in energy and enthusiasm for life. They’re also highly trainable, intelligent, and fun to work with.

Like many spaniels, Boykins tend to be on the more sensitive side and they might need a more experienced hand than some of the denser retrievers. On the other hand, if an owner is willing to put in the time to develop a dog, you can’t ask for a more engaged student.

Hunting the Boykin Spaniel

hunting boykin spaniel
Photo credit: Cade Landers, Shutterstock

If you like to hunt everything avian, don’t count the Boykin spaniel out. It truly is a versatile hunter from the field to the water.

As a hunting dog, they are a flusher but lean toward what hunters might call a “hesitant flush,” which can almost resemble a point on a finely tuned dog. The hesitant flush allows the shooter to place themselves for the shot before the flush.

The Boykin is not going to cover a field at long distances like a pointer. Instead, it “quarters” its way through a field quite naturally, looking for scents or birds.

Quartering, for flushing breeds, is genetic to a point. You’ll see young pups naturally quarter their way through the world, from left to right, searching for scents. It’s up to us to refine that innate behavior.

In addition to their quartering and flushing capabilities on land, the Boykin is an exceptional swimmer. Webbed paws and a powerful, compact build combine with an excellent retrieving instinct that is easily honed with training.

Although smaller in size than your average retriever, Boykins are tough and tenacious. With the right training, they can retrieve any bird, from doves to larger geese.

When choosing a Boykin breeder, it’s imperative to ask for DNA tests that certify health. A smaller breeding pool has caused some genetic health issues that must be screened. These include hip and elbow dysplasia, knee subluxation, eye issues, and exercise-induced collapse.

Thankfully, the Boykin Spaniel Society has done a lot of work to genetically protect the breed. And it’s important to pay attention to these issues before purchase, as there are great breeders with sound pups available.

Final Thoughts, From a Boykin Spaniel Owner

boykin spaniel
My pup Bob on a fishing trip; photo credit: Nicole Qualtieri

Adding a Boykin spaniel to my family of critters has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Personally, a Boykin’s size, temperament, and hunting prowess fit nicely into my lifestyle.

I’m not yet hunting my Boykin. At the time of writing, he’s about 4 months old. But he already shows the instincts for quartering a field, swimming, picking up bird scents, and retrieving.

Even more excitingly, he’s wildly fun and easy to train, though willful at times. He has a hilarious way of moving through the world and prefers to be in my lap when he’s not on the go.

Is a Boykin Spaniel for everyone? I don’t think so. The intensity of the breed lends itself to hunting more than couch potato life. But, if you’re looking for a goofy, active pal to escort you on hunting adventures of all kinds, this is certainly a breed to consider.

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Nicole Qualtieri
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Based in Montana, Nicole Qualtieri is GearJunkie's Hunt + Fish Editor. She also serves as a Board Director for Orion the Hunters Insititute, a non-profit promoting fair chase and hunting ethics nationwide. A DIY hunter, she comes from a non-traditional hunting background and began hunting and fishing in her 30s. She's been a voice for hunting, fishing, and conservation since 2014, when she got started working on the television show MeatEater. She's an avid horsewoman, bird dog aficionado, snowboarder, hiker/backpacker, food nerd, and all-around outdoorswoman. Find her online at @nkqualtieri.