Plenty of heart in a tiny frame: Springer spaniel second in National event
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
Alexandria’s Joe Stallman could see plenty of potential in his springer spaniel, Holly, from the time he started working with her as a puppy.
“The things that she was doing at a young age, her speed, her style, her bird drive,” he said. “These just kind of made me think this dog is a little bit different.”
Holly hasn’t disappointed with those expectations. In fact, she surpassed what Stallman had in mind when she took second place out of almost 120 dogs at the National Spaniel Field Trials in Illinois in late November.
Holly, now 3 years old, competed in the open division with handler Jason Givens of Lighthouse Kennels in Illinois. She made it through all five series by showing off her hunting skills on live pheasants in front of the judges.
That’s what the course is set up to imitate, a perfect day of hunting, but a lot can go wrong with so many distractions. Judges are looking for a dog’s ability to hunt and find game, work within gun range, their control, steadiness to flight and shot, responsiveness and the ability to retrieve birds promptly to hand.
Two handler and dog teams are judged concurrently during the first two series. Each spaniel is responsible for finding all the released birds in her section of the course. They must also honor the flushes on the opposite course and sit and stay while the other dog retrieves the downed bird.
“The dogs are flowing, everything is happening the way you want it,” Stallman said. “Then a lot can go wrong. The birds don’t always cooperate.”
Not much went wrong for Holly, especially through the first three series. Givens called her the flashiest and most exciting dog to watch work of the six dogs he ran. She went out and showed that on her way to cruising through the first three series with what Givens called perfect control.
“Every dog at the event is capable of winning it,” he said. “But a dog that gets people’s attention is definitely an asset. As someone who has both won and judged the event, I understand what it takes to do well and thought Holly was certainly capable of achieving it.”
Givens said she ran into a little bit of trouble in the fourth and fifth series with some difficult scenting conditions. Holly struggled to find a couple birds right away, but the judges rewarded her for persevering and eventually putting the birds in the air.
“I felt that the only thing that kept her from winning was a little bit of bad luck at the wrong times,” Givens said. “She tried her little heart out to win and what she accomplished was fantastic, especially for a young dog.”
Stallman wasn’t there to watch her as she worked her way through the field. Instead, he found himself sequestered during jury duty. He knew Holly had completed her final run but had to wait a long time before receiving word on how she did. Once the information got to him, it proved to be worth the wait.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “We got a lot of congratulations from people all across the country. It’s kind of a neat thing if you’re in this dog world, which I seem to be.”
Stallman has owned springer spaniels for the last 17 years. At 33 pounds, Holly is on the smaller end of the scale for a breed that tends to weigh between 30-50 pounds. There is a lot of energy packed into that tiny frame. Holly was busting through chest-high snow as she came upon the scent of a few wild birds in early December.
Stallman said that energy is curbed once she comes inside. All of his dogs stay in the house with him and his family. Holly has her spot reserved on his daughter’s bed every night.
There is a special place within the family for all the spaniels they have owned over almost two decades. Stallman wouldn’t trade any of them, but there is no doubt that Holly has earned her spot at the foot of the bed.
“With my dogs, do I like one more than the other? No,” Stallman said. “They all have different qualities. She’s a little thing and she’s super fast and flashy. She covers ground for a little dog. I don’t know if I would pick one over the other, but when you go out and get second in nationals, she kind of earns a special place.”