The Boykin Spaniel is among the handful of AKC breeds wholly developed in the 20th century. Boykin is a small South Carolina community, population approximately 100 souls, named for a founding resident, Lemuel Whitaker “Whit” Boykin. As the Boykin Spaniel origin story goes, around 1900 a man named Alexander White found a little brown spaniel outside the church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he attended services. White gave the young male spaniel the uninspiring name Dumpy. An avid sportsman, White took Dumpy out hunting with his retrievers, and to White’s delight Dumpy showed great enthusiasm and instincts for water retrieves and more than held his own with the pedigreed bird dogs.
White sent Dumpy for training to his hunting partner, community patriarch Whit Boykin, who was the area’s leading dog man. Boykin was fascinated with the brown spaniel, who turned out to be as skillful on flushing and retrieving wild turkeys as he was at duck hunting. Boykin built a new breeding program around Dumpy, utilizing crosses to such breeds as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Cocker, English Springer, and American Water spaniels. The result was the upbeat gundog we know today as the Boykin Spaniel.
From the breed’s beginning, sportsmen working Carolina’s swampy terrain were enamored of the breed’s intensity, versatility, and effortless balanced gait. The Boykin’s popularity was for years restricted to the immediate area of its birth. Eventually, though, the Boykin caught on with bird hunters around the country, especially on the East Coast. The keys to the breed’s success were its unbridled energy in the field, the ability to work on land or lake, and a sweet, gentle manner at home.
South Carolinians have made the Boykin Spaniel their official state dog and celebrate September 1 as Boykin Spaniel Day.