A Short History

Sally grew up with a love of dogs and cats but it was as a teenager that she first saw the Pal Superdog Team do an agility demonstration at the Perth Royal Show. It was obsession at first sight and she went straight home to teach the family's Australian Cattle Dog, Dolly, to jump over a broomstick. Sally joined a local club with Dolly and they went on to compete successfully in Obedience and Agility, starred in a few TV ads/shows and even won Pal's Top Trick Dog competition. Whilst they did quite well, particularly in obedience, Sally felt there was something missing, something lacking in their relationship. And then one day she watched Sue Hogben and her Golden Retriever, Dancingate Golden Tonka, perform the most beautiful, stylish heelwork with a wagging tail and joyful attitude that was rare in the obedience ring all those years ago. That memory of Sue and Tonka continued to inspire Sally as she developed her skills as a positive reinforcement based trainer. Dolly was retired from competition aged 9 years and lived to the ripe old age of 17, travelling with Sally to Sydney, back to Perth and then to Melbourne where she met Ian. Whilst he had also grown up with dogs and had particularly fond memories of the family's Collie (Rough), it soon became apparent that Ian was more likely to indulge their pets rather than train them!

After Dolly was put to sleep, it was just Sally, Ian and their beloved Burmese, Willow, who was also 17. Sally desperately wanted a puppy but felt it would be unfair on their elderly, somewhat blind cat. However, that didn't stop her considering different breeds and thinking about how she was going to train her next dog. Golden Retrievers and working-line Irish Setters were at the top of her short-list when a collegue started raving about her Dalmatians. Sally was convinced they weren't very intelligent, whereupon her colleague suggested she speak to her breeders. Dutifully Sally gave Neil and Jane Hurst of Yarrowfell Dalmatians a call back in 2004:

"I'm thinking about a Dalmatian for obedience and agility. I thought they were stupid but my friend told me that I needed to speak with you."

Fortunately Neil and Jane took the time to patiently re-educate her and, after many more conversations with the Hursts and several visits to their home in Canberra, 8 week old Ziggy made the big journey to Melbourne in January 2007. Ziggy has been a wonderful teacher and, together, he and Sally have had plenty of success. He is the first (and only) Dalmatian in Australia to attain an ANKC Agility Champion title and the first dog in Victoria to attain an Agility Champion 600 title. More importantly, Sally learned to find the JOY in training and competing, which is reflected in Zig's madly wagging tail and expression of sheer delight in the ring. Neil and Jane cheered and celebrated every success and their support inspires Sally, in turn, to be there for Thornfield puppy buyers.

And so why field-bred English Springer Spaniels I hear you ask? In April 2008, Sally jumped at the chance to handle a Labrador in a Retrieving Trial with zero knowledge, apart from a few training sessions with the dog's owner, but with plenty of enthusiasm. After 3 days of competing and finishing in both Novice and Restricted, Sally was well and truly hooked on the sport. There's something truly extraordinary in watching dogs do what they are bred for. But Labradors didn't seem quite the right fit for a household that now included a pair of lilac Burmese - Brontë and her Mama, Lilly - as well as Ziggy, the Dalmatian. Sally had always loved Spaniels but she was in for another round of education with regards to the differences between Springers vs Cockers and Field-bred vs Show-bred dogs. A field-bred dog was the perfect choice for Sally who loves training and wanted a high-drive dog that would throw herself into work. On the other hand both Sally and Ian wanted a dog with an easy to care for coat and a soft, sweet temperament.

The decision between a working Cocker vs a working Springer was made when Sally and Ian were introduced to Rachel Greaves of Wrangham field-bred English Springer Spaniels in October 2009 and they promptly fell in love with this beautiful breed. However, it wasn't until August 2010 that they felt ready to welcome a puppy. This is the wonderful thing about connecting with breeders that you admire and respect - it's not about buying the first puppy that's "ready in time for Christmas" - it's about making sure the breed, the lines, the breeder and the timing is right for you. Sally and Em have had and continue to have a wonderful journey of training and learning together, competing successfully in both retrieving and agilty trials along with the odd starring role in short films and retrieving demonstration days. Em has some incredible UK lines behind her - she is an intense, courageous little dog in the field, is never happier than when she is training, competing or working, has a sweet temperament, is structurally sound and has the most amazing "off-switch" for such a highly driven dog. And so it was that Sally and Ian decided that it was time for another Springer puppy, this time one of Thornfield's own breeding, from Em. Initially it was going to be a "one off" but the joy that Thornfield puppies have brought to their owners and a desire to continue these very special working lines has inspired them to continue breeding, albeit occasionally as to do it properly requires a serious commitment of time, energy and finances.


Please take a moment to meet our dogs, past and present. 

Fine competitors and very special companions. 

© Thornfield English Springer Spaniels 2024