What Exactly Happens at a Springer National Specialty?

A couple of weeks ago, the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association held their National Specialty event at Purina Farms just west of St. Louis, Missouri.  If you’re like I was a few years ago, you might be asking yourself, what’s this all about?  What goes on at these events?  Does this have anything at all to do with rescued English Springer Spaniels?  

I had to see for myself.  So, back in 2007 when I first heard about something called a National Specialty for Springer Spaniels, I decided to travel from Texas to Lexington, Kentucky to check it out.  I was absolutely astounded by what I found.  There were all kinds of events and  I met some amazing people who ultimately led me to volunteering for ESRA. 

The next National Specialty was to be held in Dallas the following year.  At that time, I lived in Dallas so I attended again and met local ESRA volunteers who were so fun and welcoming.  I’ve been volunteering with ESRA ever since and have attended two more National Specialty events where I accompanied my rescued Springers Linus and Lila in the Parade of Rescues.

What can you expect if you decide to attend a National Specialty for Springers?  There are a number of competition events during the week, including Conformation (like you see on tv), Scent, Obedience, Agility and Rally trials.


In addition to the competition events, there is the Parade of Rescues where rescued Springer Spaniels take a lap around the show ring with their owners while the audience listens to the story of their rescue.  There is never a dry eye in the house during this event and it is a personal favorite of mine.  It is truly a feeling of joy to walk your best buddy around that ring while everyone applauds and cheers.


These rescued Springers are each so special and have amazing stories.  It’s just a very emotional and beautiful experience to participate in or observe.

The National Specialty is a great place to learn more about Springer Spaniels and what kinds of activities they can participate in.  We had an adopter drive up from Arkansas this year for that very reason.  In addition, two ESRA Springers passed all ten of the requirements to earn their Canine Good Citizen Certificates.  The Canine Good Citizen Program is an AKC (American Kennel Club) two-part program that stresses responsible pet ownership for owners and basic good manners for dogs.

You can’t have a party without some good food, so naturally ESRA volunteers find time to gather for dinner and camaraderie.  There is also a silent auction full of beautiful specialty items for all budgets.  Perhaps the best part of attending one of these Specialties is the special friendships that are formed and enhanced during this week of Springer togetherness.  ESRA also has a fabulous booth manned by many volunteers and their ESRA representatives.

So, if this article has intrigued you at all, the next English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association National Specialty will be Saturday, October 5, 2019 through Saturday, October 12, 2019 in San Diego, California.  I know it’s on my list to attend for some of the events.  It’s not necessary to be there the whole week unless you’re participating in some of the competition events.  Most of the rescue events take place over the weekend.  There is also a website that will keep you up to date on all of the latest information.  We hope to see you there for more Springer fun!



What’s the Secret to a Great Picture of your English Springer Spaniel?

I’ll admit it. The majority of the pictures on my cell phone and camera are of my dogs. I even find that I can take virtually the same picture over and over because Linus looks so darn cute curled up sleeping and I don’t remember that I already have about 10 other pictures of him curled up and sleeping. Heck, even my Facebook profile picture is of my dog. Does this sound familiar??

We all like to show off pictures of our loved ones, and of course our Springers are no exception! Our dogs are in many ways like our children; for some of us they are the only children that we have. Whether the dog is a permanent or just a temporary member of our family, of course we know how good-looking s/he is, and we want others to see that beauty, too, just as if the dog were a child. We want to show off how proud we are as parents and/or foster parents.

So… what’s the secret to a great picture of your dog?

Here’s the “Top 10” List of Dog Picture Tips courtesy of one of our ESRA Coordinators who took the pictures of my Linus on this blog.

  1. You don’t need an expensive camera but equipment is important.

    Make sure you have your camera batteries charged fully, turn off all date stamp features, and set your camera on the highest resolution possible. Photographs that exceed 3000 x 2000 pixels in size are superb for clarity and alteration. The absolute minimum should be 1600 x 1200. Date stamps detract from the photo for a variety of reasons, too. Phones take an ok pictures but could not be enlarged or printed with much success. Nothing replaces a real camera. Even a simple pocket point-and-shoot digital camera will often deliver photos superior to those of a smartphone.

  2. Location Location Location.

    Springers look beautiful in the great outdoors. Pick a beautiful background. Springers look wonderful just sitting in front of a beautiful pot of pansies or lots of fallen leaves behind them. Even just beautiful green grass is wonderful! The prettiest backgrounds are often those that are soft and lush.

Linus 63.  It’s time to get down on your dog’s level.

Sit down on the ground while you’re taking photos to get the best angle of your dog.

4.  The squeaky toy gets the dog’s attention… and great Springer expressions.

Make noises or have a toy that squeaks that will get the dog’s attention. My favorites are when their head is cocked, or ears perked up when they’ll hear an interesting sound and are curious. In a pinch you could even have something to toss in the air.

Linus 4

5.  Lighting is always much better outdoors and solves the “red eye” problem.

Late afternoon light is best, as it’s very soft. Noon lighting is way too strong and can wash out the dog. Sunny days are always the best vs. cloudy gray days for better lighting. Always make sure the sun is BEHIND you and avoid taking pics in the shade. Shade is nice, especially on a hot day, but not ideal for picture taking

6.  A good time for a retractable leash.

Use a retractable leash (preferably black so it doesn’t show up in the pics). Tie them to a tree or some other fixed object, unless of course you want to get some good “action” shots, then no leash is necessary!

7. Vertical shots maximize the dog to background ratio.

Who knew there was such a ratio?? If you try to take vertical pictures rather than horizontal, however, you will get much more of your dog in your picture and less background aka “dog space”. That is terribly important.

Linus 5  Always accentuate the positive!

Try to focus on your dog’s best feature(s). For example, let’s say you have a dog that is quite a fan of extra snacks and may carry a bit of extra weight, then a full body shot from the side is probably not his best angle. Instead, have them sitting or lying down

9.  Patience is a virtue.

You have to be patient. This is not a 2-minute project. Really spend some time out there with them. To get 2 really good shots, often times you will need to take about 50 pictures. This is the beauty of a digital camera – just delete the bad shots!

10.  Practice, practice, practice, and before you know it, you’ll be shooting just like the pros!

Look at your finished photos, as well as dog photos taken by others, with a critical eye. What looks good, and what could be improved the next time you shoot? What draws your attention, and what distracts from the main subject matter? As you analyze the photos you’ve taken, you will automatically get better at composing the next images you shoot. The very best way to get better at photographing dogs (or children, or sports events, or scenery, or anything else) is to persevere.

Linus 1