13 December 2021

Lorraine Emerton's love for cocker spaniels trumps show ribbons

| John Thistleton
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A cocker spaniel dog

One of Lorraine Emerton’s baby cocker spaniels. Photo: Supplied.

In the hotly contested national show dog circuit, friends of top Goulburn breeder Lorraine Emerton say she lacks the killer instinct needed to win. But Lorraine won’t change.

One of her dogs was burned with a cigarette at a show once. Another time a rival breeder snuck into her kennel while she was away, hoping to mate his bitch with her champion dog. You could say these people had that killer instinct.

“I’m not playing for a sheep station,” says Lorraine, referring to the royal shows she attends.

“I’m playing for the joy of it. I love to go to dog shows and meet other people and chat. The social side of it is more important, for the dogs to mix and play.”

But interestingly, her dogs often win. At the Sydney Royal Easter Show in 2007, Lorraine entered five English cocker spaniels and won five ribbons: best of breed; challenge bitch; reserve challenge bitch; challenge dog, and puppy of the day.

“I was beside myself,” she says.

Lorraine has imported spaniels from Sweden, England and the Netherlands to introduce new bloodlines into her breeding, and she diligently researches their genetic lines.

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In 2006, she attended Crufts, in the UK, the biggest dog show in the world.

Spaniels have changed significantly since Lorraine’s first cocker spaniels arrived in 1998 from the late Jock Forsyth, a legend in Goulburn’s dog community.

“If you look at photos of cocker spaniels in those days, they are nothing [compared] to the glamorous ones that are out there now,” says Lorraine.

“They had hardly any coat, but now they have to be dripping in coat.”

Originally bred to flush out game for shooters, spaniels’ extraordinary gift of smell is working at unprecedented levels in everyday society. Of all the truffle-hunting, drug-detecting, invasive weed-detecting skills of the spaniel, one stands out for Lorraine.

“They have been bred to sniff out cancers,” she says.

“Being nose dogs, they can be taught anything, which is pretty spectacular, isn’t it?

“I find it amazing that somebody can have a dog that can pick up early cancer in someone and it can be treated. You see them on TV and they work [detecting cancer] for a tug toy. That’s brilliant.”

Geoff Emerton with 'Kenny' the cocker spaniel

Lorraine Emerton’s husband, Geoff, with ‘Kenny’, one of the couple’s cocker spaniels. Photo: Supplied.

Growing up on a sheep farm near Narrandera with mustering dogs, Lorraine began amassing her knowledge of canine breeding and behaviour.

As an adult, with husband Geoff Emerton, the couple became regulars at obedience classes with their kelpie-cross, ‘Pepper’.

“She was a brilliant little dog for obedience and we loved her dearly,” says Lorraine.

“But somebody baited her with ground-up glass and she died a horrible death at the vets.”

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Lorraine and Geoff established Watersmeet Kennels in 1998, a name Lorraine found in her grandfather’s book brought back from World War II about England. Turning its pages, she came across a little town in England, Watersmeet.

Showing spaniels at a top level involves the dogs being carefully prepared to look their glamorous best in every aspect.

“I would pay a handler to show my dogs because I knew they had a better ability to show my dogs in such high competition than I would,” says Lorraine.

“I feel it’s very Americanised.”

At the 2007 Sydney Royal Easter Show, handler Debbie Meagher showed Lorraine’s five spaniels.

A cocker spaniel dog

One of Lorraine’s cocker spaniels standing to impress the judges. Photo: Supplied.

Lorraine’s breeding brought her into contact with one man who would take his spaniel on airborne adventures.

“He straps the dog on to himself and they go paragliding,” she says. “If he doesn’t take the dog, it screams because he loves doing it.”

Spaniels’ intelligence was evident about six years ago when an injury left Lorraine dependent on a wheelchair.

“The dogs adjusted and the big ones don’t come near the wheels,” she says. “The puppies I train early as I don’t want to run over and squash them.”

Lorraine says raising champion spaniels is straightforward enough.

“You have to make sure their face is cleaned, their bum is wiped, their nails are cut and they’re fed proper food,” she says.

“If you are going to throw your dog in the backyard and forget it, don’t buy a cocker spaniel, or don’t buy any dog. It should be part of your family.”

Lorraine’s family is all the happier for her having champion pets.

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