Boykin Spaniel

The Boykin has been honored as the State Dog of South Carolina, where she is famous for doing what spaniels do -- hunting turkeys and ducks, a task she still pursues in the company of bird hunters. (If one honorific was not enough, September 1 has been declared Boykin Spaniel Day in South Carolina.)

Boykin Spaniel image

The Boykin is a retriever and upland hunter rather than a pointer. She drives her prey into flight, then retrieves it for her handler. She is a versatile hunter who can move beyond ducks and turkeys to participate in dove and pheasant hunting, and she can travel with her handler by canoe.


The Boykin was developed in the early 20th century to hunt turkeys, duck and other waterfowl, as well as upland game like pheasants and doves. He was nicknamed “the little brown dog” for his dark coat and “the dog that doesn’t rock the boat” because he can ride calmly and easily in a canoe.

The Boykin has a delightful origin story. In the early 1900s a pair of hunters adopted a stray dog they called Dumpy. When the dog began to show talent for retrieving, Whit Boykin took over his primary care and training, and he also crossbred Dumpy with other breeds until he had produced an impressive game and fowl retriever who would later be given his name. Dumpy may have been crossbred over the years with the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Springer Spaniel, American Water Spaniel, and Cocker Spaniel until Boykin had produced a dog his was satisfied with, and he became the foundation for the Boykin Spaniel. The AKC recognized the breed in 2009.


Size is one of the characteristics Mr. Boykin bred for; he wanted a dog small enough to ride through the Carolina swamps in a small boat without tipping it over. Today, the “dog that doesn’t rock the boat” stands 15.5 to 17 inches at the withers if male, 14 to 16.5 inches if female.  

The Boykin was also bred to tolerate the warm climes of South Carolina and is not at all fazed by swampy weather, despite a thick coat. Any coat surface from curly to straight is acceptable. The coat color will be liver or chocolate, both of which are variations of brown.


The Boykin is an energetic, enthusiastic dog who does well in an active family or with a hunter, walker or runner as a companion. Because he can tolerate warm weather well, he can endure more exercise than most breeds. Agility, flyball, rally and obedience competitions, and hunting trials are all activities at which he excels. He also loves to swim!

Boykins that are well-socialized from puppyhood will grow to love the family, including children, and even cats and other dogs, if they have been raised together. Though they display an appropriate wariness around strangers, they enjoy new experiences and will want to get to know new people as soon as they know it’s OK with their owner.


This is a breed with a higher-than-normal instance of hip dysplasia: 37%. There are two ways to test for this problem: by a PennHIP exam as young as 4 months, or by an Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) x-ray at 2 years. Dogs who do not clear one of these tests should not be bred; they should be spayed or neutered and given the opportunity to live life as a household pet.

Other conditions of potential concern for the Boykin include pulmonic stenosis, a heart condition; hemophilia A; and eye problems such as distichiasis, a condition in which the dog’s eyelashes turn inward and hurt his eye.


Begin socializing your dog at puppyhood, with puppy kindergarten classes, and continue as recommended by your trainer. This is a dog who loves to soak up new knowledge, so you can’t really over-train him.

The Boykin’s has a medium-length double coat that can be almost any texture. He has a light fringe of hair, called feathering, on the ears, chest, legs and belly. Weekly brushing and the occasional bath will keep your Boykin’s coat in good shape. A professional groomer can show you the basics of the Boykin trim and then you can try it yourself or continue with professional grooming. The coat sheds moderately, but weekly brushing (a great chore for children!) will help keep dead hair off your furniture, floors and clothing.

Dirt, redness or foul odor emanating from the dog’s long ears can indicate an infection. If your dog’s ears look red, have them checked for infection. Continue the care with a weekly gentle cleaning with a cotton ball soaked in a cleaner your vet recommends.   


The Boykin is a fairly rare breed, so finding one to rescue may be a challenge. Contact the Boykin Spaniel Club, a national organization, at


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