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Get to Know the Boykin Spaniel: South Carolina’s State Dog

Don't be fooled by the plain brown wrapper! This unassuming "swamp Poodle" is fast becoming one of the most popular spaniels in America.

Caroline Coile  |  Dec 29th 2014


If you’re from the city, especially some non-Southern city, you probably don’t come across many Boykin Spaniels. But if you’re from the rural South and have any contact with bird hunters, chances are you’ve seen this unassuming little brown “swamp Poodle.” And if you haven’t seen one yet, you will, because the Boykin is rapidly becoming one of the most popular spaniels in America.

Dogster member Remington the Boykin.

Dogster member Remington the Boykin.

More interesting things about the Boykin Spaniel

  • The Boykin Spaniel may be confused with the American Water Spaniel, but the Boykin’s coat is not as curly and his tail is usually docked. He may be confused with a Cocker Spaniel, but his coat is always a solid shade of brown (but some Cockers are, too), and he has much less coat. He may be confused with a Field Spaniel, but he has a shorter head, thicker body coat, and is significantly smaller. He has much longer legs than a Sussex Spaniel.
Boykin Spaniel at sunrise by Shutterstock.

Boykin Spaniel at sunrise by Shutterstock.

  • In the early 1900s, hunters on South Carolina’s Wateree River needed a small retrieving dog that could fit in their tiny “section” boats, which had to be transported, and often used, in pieces. Each piece could fit one man and one small dog. It was difficult to find a small dog who could perform as needed, though.
Dogster member Whit-Kin the Boykin.

Dogster member Whit-Kin the Boykin.

  • L.W. “Whit” Boykin and his relatives tried several crosses to produce such a dog, finally hitting upon success with a small brown stray spaniel found by a friend in Spartanburg, SC, around 1905. The dog, named Dumpy because he was kind of dumpy looking, developed into an adept turkey dog and waterfowl retriever.
  • Dumpy was bred to another stray brown spaniel, and eventually crosses were made with the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Springer Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, and American Water Spaniel. Boykin’s spaniels became known for their versatility, retaining the flushing abilities of a spaniel but adding water retrieving and even deer driving and tracking. They are equally effective on upland game and waterfowl (where they have been called “the dog who doesn’t rock the boat”).
Dogster member Tripper.

Dogster member Tripper.

  • The breed’s nexus was around Camden, SC, where many hunters and wealthy families wintered. These families often left in the spring with little brown spaniels, distributing the Boykin around the country, but especially along the Eastern Seaboard.
  • The Boykin Spaniel Society was formed in 1977 and now has worldwide membership.
  • In 1985, the Boykin Spaniel became the state dog of South Carolina.
  • Also in 1985, it was recognized by the United Kennel Club.
  • Because the Boykin Spaniel Society would not pursue AKC recognition, a separate group formed the Boykin Spaniel Club and Breeders Association of America in the 1990s to pursue that goal and gain access to AKC field events. The AKC recognized them as the AKC parent club in 2007.
  • The Boykin Spaniel joined the AKC Sporting group in 2010.
"Who are you calling a swamp poodle?" Boykin Spaniel by Shutterstock.

“Who are you calling a swamp poodle?” Boykin Spaniel by Shutterstock.

  • The Boykin is currently the 121st most popular AKC breed. However, this ranking almost certainly underestimates the breed’s popularity, as most Boykin Spaniels are not AKC registered. Many more are registered with the Boykin Spaniel Society, for example, which registers more than 1,000 each year — eclipsing the number of Boykins registered with the AKC.
  • The Boykin has only competed at the Westminster dog show for a few years, and has not yet won any placements in the Sporting group.
  • A slang name for the Boykin is the swamp Poodle. Now, that’s not very nice! But it is kind of funny.

Do you own a Boykin Spaniel? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier