The Little Brown Swamp Dog
September 2023 Issue
By Lesley Kyle
Photography by Lindsay Gifford
A Boykin Spaniel named Hatch stole Gina Altman’s heart in 2006.
Gina and her husband, Keith, first had two golden retrievers and later took a break without a family dog for several years. In 2006, they attended the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in Charleston and were immediately attracted to the Boykin Spaniel. The couple wanted a puppy in time for Christmas for their young children, Garrett and Miley. After searching for a breeder, they tracked down an upstate pup that would be available just in time for Christmas. “My sister lived near the breeder, and she went to check out the puppies for us. We ended up with the best dog,” said Gina. “Hatch was both an awesome family pet and a fantastic hunter.” Garrett trained Hatch in the family’s yard, and Hatch was happiest spending time in the field with Keith and Garrett.
Boykin Spaniels are named after Lemuel Whitaker “Whit” Boykin, the founding resident of a tiny town in central South Carolina by the same name. As the legend goes, Boykin’s hunting partner found a small brown spaniel outside the church where he worshipped. The dog showed great promise as a bird dog, and was sent to Boykin for additional training. Boykin devised and built an entire breeding program around this little dog who later became known as a Boykin Spaniel. In 1984, South Carolina Governor Richard Riley proclaimed September 1 as Boykin Spaniel Day. The South Carolina General Assembly declared the Boykin Spaniel as the Official State Dog in 1985. September 1 is still celebrated as Boykin Spaniel Day, and the breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2009.
Boykin Spaniels—also nicknamed Swamp Poodles—are part of the AKC’s Sporting Group, noted for their prowess as hunting companions. Lemuel Boykin soon realized these adaptable spaniels were loyal companions in addition to being skilled and versatile in the field. The breed’s popularity was initially limited to swampy areas of the Carolinas. Throughout the 1900s, the breed’s popularity extended across the U.S., as bird hunters recognized the dogs’ abilities in the field. “We live in a rural area with some acreage, and the dogs love daily golf cart rides around the property,” said Gina. “They love to sniff out rabbits, bob white quail, and sometimes even an occasional white tail deer. They swim every chance they get, love boat rides, and especially love the sandbar.”
Four Boykin Spaniels currently bear the Altman surname: Gema is 7 years old; Waylon is 4, and Whiskey and Fleetwood are 1-year-old brothers and the offspring of Gema and Waylon. A family affair, Waylon is now Garrett’s dog, and Fleetwood resides with Miley. Garrett purchased Waylon when he graduated from Clemson and got his own place. “We love the breed for their size and looks, but mostly for their loyal nature,” said Gina. They are so smart and pick up easily on key words. You can almost have a conversation with them!”
Gema, the Altman Boykin Spaniel matriarch and diva, loves naps, and her favorite hobby is sleeping. Early in life, Gina spoiled Gema, as her beloved pooch filled an empty nest when Miley left for college. Full of personality, Waylon is a high-energy, smart dog with a deep, gruff bark. Miley chose Fleetwood because he is so much like his dad, Waylon: both have alpha male personalities. Whiskey, on the other hand, is more timid than the other two males. “Boykins are very attached to their owners and demand a lot of attention,” said Gina, “and all of ours have separation anxiety to some degree. You can almost tell exactly what they are thinking by looking into those piercing gold eyes.”
The Altmans knew they wanted to breed Gema and Waylon only once; however, as challenging and expensive as that process was, they met all of the Boykin Spaniel Society’s strict requirements. These regulations ensure that breeders produce disease-free, fully registered litters of healthy pups. Gema gave birth to nine puppies, but sadly, only eight survived. “Although the whole process was hard from beginning to end, I am honestly so glad we did it,” said Gina. “I was surprised people were attracted to our home-bred litter. Most of the puppies went to people we knew.” The family loved and socialized each puppy until it was time for them to depart for their new homes. Gina remains in touch with the pups’ new owners and follows their progress as they thrive in their forever homes.
Boykin Spaniel Fast Facts
Height: 15.5-18 inches for males (14”-16.5” for females)
Weight: 30-40 pounds for males (25-35 pounds for females)
Life Expectancy: 10-15 years
Source: American Kennel Club Website.
To learn more about the Boykin Spaniel, visit the American Kennel Club website www.akc.org or the Boykin Spaniel Society’s webpage www.boykinspaniel.org.