Three dog breeds that are incorrectly referred to as spaniels
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Three dog breeds that are incorrectly referred to as spaniels

Dogs
Breed Facts

The spaniel dog type is one of the most enduringly popular in the UK, and most dog lovers could name at least a couple of common spaniel breeds – like the English springer spaniel and the cocker spaniel. There are a total of 23 spaniel breeds altogether that are recognised by most worldwide breed registries – but there are also three dog breeds that have the word “spaniel” in their name, or as part of the name that they are often known by, which aren’t actually spaniels at all.

In this article, we will introduce the three dog breeds that aren’t actually spaniels but that are misnamed as spaniels or commonly referred to or known as spaniel types. Read on to learn more.

The Pekingese

The Pekingese dog is also sometimes known as the Chinese spaniel, and yet this dog breed isn’t a spaniel at all. They’re actually recognised in the UK within the toy dog group, and as you might have guessed, they originated in China.

These toy dogs are small in size and have an almost leonine look, thanks to their incredibly long hair that often reaches the ground, and which has a very silky texture. They can be found in colours ranging from black to white and more or less everything in between, including brindle, bicolour, and lots of other variants too.

The breed also has a delicate and petite face that is classed as being brachycephalic due to the shortness of the muzzle, and they usually have large, round and prominent eyes too. They are a popular lapdog breed both in the UK and all over the world, and have been for many years.

The Pekingese also holds the distinction of being one of the oldest extant dog breeds in the world, and despite their appearance, they are one of the breeds that remains the most similar to their wolf ancestors on a genetic level.

Why is the Pekingese sometimes misnamed or referred to as a spaniel breed? Well, ultimately it comes down to their appearance. Whilst on the surface there isn’t a lot of resemblance between the Pekingese and what most of us think of as an average spaniel, their body shape, ears and conformation do have some similarities with other spaniel breeds on a basic level, particularly small and toy spaniel breeds like the similarly brachycephalic King Charles spaniel.

The Japanese chin

The Japanese chin is the second dog on our list that is sometimes, and incorrectly, referred to as a spaniel and that is also known by the alternative name of the Japanese spaniel in reflection of this.

The Japanese chin is again a member of the toy dog group in the UK for registration purposes, and whilst they are of course widely associated with Japan, the breed’s very earliest origins are generally thought to have been in China. This is another very ancient breed, and whilst their history cannot be traced back as far as the Pekingese dog, their earliest recorded history goes back as far as the 8th century, where they were popular with members of the nobility.

The Japanese chin is a small dog breed with a single-layered coat that usually involves a lot of feathering, and that can grow quite long. They also have delicate and petite faces and are renowned for being rather cat-like in both temperament and appearance.

It is again their appearance that leads them to be wrongly considered as or thought of as spaniels, and known as such when referred to as the Japanese spaniel. While they are petite and leggy in terms of build, they have feathered ears like many spaniel breeds, and can often be seen in typical spaniel colour combinations, like black and white.

The Tibetan spaniel

Anyone could be forgiven for thinking that the Tibetan spaniel is a spaniel breed, as the word “spaniel” is part of their name! However, the Tibetan spaniel is not actually a spaniel at all, and is instead classed within the utility dog grouping, which reflects dog breeds that historically held working roles that did not fall within another distinct category such as gundogs.

Tibetan spaniels are often kept as lapdogs, although their original purpose was to serve as watchdogs in Buddhist monasteries in their home country of Tibet.

Their history goes back for many centuries into the distant past, and the breed first became popular in the UK when they were first bred in reasonable numbers here back in the 1890’s. They are also related back in their earlier history to both the Japanese chin and the Pekingese breeds mentioned above.

The Tibetan spaniel’s appearance is not one that most of us bring to mind when we think of a spaniel type – but they do share some physical resemblance to spaniel breeds that were deliberately selectively bred to be lapdogs, like the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, hence their being known as the Tibetan spaniel.

What makes a spaniel?

So, what actually dictates whether or not a dog is a spaniel? Well, all spaniel breeds that we know today have a working history as gundogs, for flushing out game and retrieving downed prey. Whilst few spaniels today are still used for this role and many of the lapdog spaniel breeds were never used for this purpose themselves, a working gundog origin is what makes a spaniel – something that none of the three breeds we’ve mentioned above share.

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