The English Cocker Spaniel is a breed of gun dog. The English Cocker Spaniel is an active, good-natured, sporting dog, standing well up at the withers and compactly built. There are "field" or "working" cockers and "show" cockers. It is one of several varieties of spaniel and somewhat resembles its American cousin, the American Cocker Spaniel, although it is closer to the working-dog form of the Field Spaniel and the English Springer Spaniel.
Outside the US, the breed is usually known simply as the Cocker Spaniel, as is the American Cocker Spaniel within the US. Due to the breed's happy disposition and continuously wagging tail, it has been given the cute nickname "merry cocker". They can be also dominant and loyal to their companion. Their health issues are typical for a purebred dog breed; however they are closely associated with rage syndrome even though cases are really quite rare. The word cocker is commonly held to stem from their use to hunt woodcock.
A Black Coloured English Cocker Spaniel
Spaniel type dogs have been found in art and literature for almost 500 years. Initially, spaniels in England were divided among land spaniels and water spaniels. The differentiation among the spaniels that led to the breeds that we see today did not begin until the mid-19th century. During this time, the land spaniels became a bit more specialised and divisions among the types were made based upon weight. According to the 1840 Encyclopedia of Rural Sports, Cockers were 12–20 lb (5.5–9 kg). At this time it was not uncommon for Cockers and Springers to come from the same litter. Even a puppy from a “Toy” sized lineage could grow to be a springer.
There is no indication from these early sources that spaniels were used to retrieve game. Rather they were used to drive the game toward the guns.
During the 1850s and 1860s, other types of Cockers were recorded. There were Welsh Cockers and Devonshire Cockers. Additionally, small dogs from Sussex Spaniel litters were called Cockers. In 1874 the first stud books were published by the newly formed kennel club. Any spaniel under 25 lb (11 kg) was placed in the Cocker breeding pool, however the Welsh Cocker was reclassified as a Springer in 1903 due to its larger size and shorter ear. "...in those days only those dogs up to a hard day’s work and sensible specimens were allowed to live, as absolute sporting purposes were about their only enjoyment and dog shows were hardly heard of...".
Cocker Spaniel circa 1915
The sport of conformation showing began in earnest among spaniels after the Spaniel Club was formed in 1885. When showing, the new Springer and Cocker, both were in the same class until The Spaniel Club created breed standards for each of the types. The Kennel Club separated the two types eight years later. Since then, the Springer and Cocker enthusiasts have bred in the separate traits that they desired. Today, the breed differs in more ways than weight alone.
At Crufts, the English Cocker Spaniel has been the most successful breed in winning Best in Show, winning on a total of seven occasions between 1928 and 2009, with wins in 1930, 1931, 1938, 1939, 1948, 1950 and 1996. In addition, the breed make up three of the four winners who have won the title on more than one occasion with all three coming from H.S. Lloyd's Ware kennel. Due to World War II, the English Cocker Spaniel managed to be the only breed to have won the title between 1938 and 1950, although the competition was only held on four occasions during that period. The most recent best in show was Sh. Ch. Canigou Cambrai in 1996.
In the late 19th century with the increase in popularity of dog shows and the creation of standards for various breeds, the Spaniel family began to split into various different breeds. A group of enthusiasts decided to create a large black spaniel breed. Four dogs would act as progenitors for this new breed, of which two were Cocker Spaniels, one was a Cocker Spaniel/English Water Spaniel cross and one was a Norfolk Spaniel. This new breed was named the Field Spaniel, and was recognised by the Kennel Club in 1892.
American Cocker Spaniel
American Cocker Spaniel was developed from the English Cocker Spaniel in the 19th century to retrieve
woodcock. They were originally divided from the English Cocker solely on a size basis, but were bred over the years for different specific traits. The two Cocker Spaniels were shown together in America until 1936, when the English Cocker received status as a separate breed. The American Kennel Club granted a separate breed designation for the English Cocker Spaniel in 1946. The American breed has a shorter snout,
Blue Roan coloured Working Type English Cocker Spaniel
This breed, like many others with origins as
working dogs, has some genetic lines that focus on
working-dog skills and other lines that focus on ensuring that the dog's appearance conforms to a
breed standard; these are referred to as the "working" (or "
field-bred") and "conformation" strains, respectively. After World War II, Cocker Spaniels bred for
pets and for the
conformation showing increased enormously in popular appeal, and, for a while, was the most numerous Kennel Club registered breed. This popularity increased the view that all Cockers were useless as
working dogs. However, for most dogs this is untrue, as even some show-bred Cockers have retained their working instinct.
Today, this breed is experiencing a resurgence in usage as a working and hunting dog. Dogs from working lines are noticeably distinct in appearance. As is the case with the English Springer Spaniel, the working type has been bred exclusively to perform in the field as a hunting companion. Their coat is shorter and ears less pendulous than the show-bred type. Although registered as the same breed, the two strains have diverged significantly enough that they are rarely crossed.
The dogs that have dominated the hunt test, field trial and hunting scene in the United States are field-bred dogs from recently imported British lines. Working-dog lines often have physical characteristics that would prevent them from winning in the show ring. This is a result of selecting for different traits than those selected by show breeders. The longer coat and ears, selected for the show ring, are an impediment in the field. Cuban authorities train and use English Cocker Spaniels as sniffer dogs to check for drugs or food products in passengers' baggage at Cuban airports.
A field-bred cocker spaniel is first and foremost an upland flushing dog. In performing this task there are some skills the dog must be trained to perform.
- Hup This is the traditional command to sit and stay. To be an effective hunter the dog must comply with this command absolutely. When hupped the dog can be given direction called to the handler. The ability to hup a dog actively working a running bird allows the handler and any gunners to keep up without having to run.
- Retrieve to Hand The majority of hunters and all hunt test or field trial judges require that a dog deliver a bird to hand, meaning that a dog will hold the bird until told to give it to the hunter directly.
- Quarter Dogs must work in a pattern in front of the hunter seeking upland game birds. The dog must be taught to stay within gun range to avoid flushing a bird outside of shooting distance.
- Follow Hand Signals Upland hunting involves pursuing wild game in its native habitat. Gun dogs must investigate likely covers for upland game birds. The dog must be responsive to hand signals in order for the hunter to be able to direct the dog into areas of particular interest.
- Steady When hunting upland birds, a flushing dog should be steady to wing and shot, meaning that he sits when a bird rises or a gun is fired. He does this in order to mark the fall and to avoid flushing other birds when pursuing a missed bird.
A field-bred English Cocker Spaniel
The English Cocker Spaniel is a sturdy, compact, well-balanced dog. It has a characteristic expression showing intelligence and alertness. Its eyes should be dark and its lobular ears should reach "a bit past" the tip of the nose when pulled forward. Today, a significant difference in appearance exists between field-bred and conformation show-bred dogs. The Cocker's tail is customarily docked in North America. In countries where docking is legal, the tail is generally docked at about 4–5 inches (10–13 cm) in field-bred dogs while show dogs generally are docked closer to the body. Docking is now illegal in Australia, South Africa and Scotland. In England and Wales, docking can only be carried out on dogs where the owners have proved that the dogs will be used as working or shooting dogs.
The breed standard indicates that the males of the breed are on average between 15.5–16 inches (39–41 cm) at the withers with the females a little smaller, growing to between 15–15.5 inches (38–39 cm). Both males and females of the breed weigh approximately 13–14.5 kilograms (29–32 lb). American Cocker Spaniels are smaller, with the males being on average between 14.25–15.5 inches (36.2–39 cm), and females again being smaller on average at between 13.5–14.5 inches (34–37 cm), both weighing approximately 11–13 kilograms (24–29 lb). The closely related English Springer Spaniels are larger than either types of cockers, growing to between 19–19.75 inches (48–50.2 cm) for the females, and 19.25–20 inches (48.9–51 cm) for the males, and weighing between 23–25 kilograms (51–55 lb).
The English Cocker Spaniel is similar to the English Springer Spaniel and at first glance the only major difference is the larger size of the Springer. However English Cockers also tend to have longer and lower-set ears than English Springers. In addition Springers also tend to have a longer muzzle, their eyes are not as prominent and the coat is less abundant.
Young English Cocker Spaniel with Black and Tan markings
Breed standards restrict dogs to certain colours for the purposes of conformation showing (dependent on country), whereas working Cockers can be any of a wide variety of colours. For instance, the breed standard of the United Kingdom's Kennel Club states that in solid colours, no white is allowed except for on the chest.
They come in solid (or "self"), particoloured, and roan types of markings. Roan is similar to merle, but consists of solid patches and white patches speckled or "ticked" with the same colour as the solid patches. The colours themselves in the breed consist of black, liver with brown pigmentation, red with black or brown pigmentation, golden with black or brown pigmentation, sable, silver, ash, black and tan, liver and tan, blue roan, liver roan, orange roan with black or brown pigmentation, lemon roan with black or brown pigmentation, black and white ticked, liver and white ticked, orange and white ticked with black or brown pigmentation, lemon and white ticked with black or brown pigmentation, black and white, liver and white with brown pigmentation, orange and white with black or brown pigmentation, lemon and white with black or brown pigmentation. Of the solid colours, sable is considered rare, and is classified by some countries as being a type of particolour on account of its mixed hair shafts. White is black/brown pigmentation is also considered rare, and is also usually classified as a particolour too. In addition a silver/ash colour, usually associated with the Weimaraner breed of dog, is considered genetically possible but is yet to be recorded by the United Kingdom's Kennel Club.
Of the roan varieties, lemon roan with a light brown pigmentation is the most recessive of all the roans. Plain white Cockers are rarely born, and are thought to be more prone to deafness than those with more pigmentation. As such they are generally not encouraged in the breed.
Cockers are compassionate, determined, kind, intelligent, athletic, alert and resilient and make great family pets. The breed does not like being alone, and will bond strongly to an individual person in a family, usually the one who feeds it. Known for optimism, intelligence and adaptability, the breed is extremely loyal and affectionate. They rank 18th in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, being of excellent working/obedience intelligence. Cocker Spaniels love the outdoors and are only genuinely happy when hurtling through the fields, chasing after a ball! When they want to be, however, they can be slobs and enjoy hogging the couch in the evening, or being cuddled. Cockers are attention seekers, and will vie for your attention frequently. They thrive on company, but can cope with being left alone for short periods. Cockers are also greedy-if they see a chunk of meat upon the floor, they'll take it! They're not generally vocal creatures, although they use their voices when wanting attention, or when they sense something.
A link between coat colour and temperament has been proposed. This link could be the colour pigment melanin, which is biochemically similar to chemicals that act as transmitters in the brain. A study made by the University of Cambridge involving over 1,000 Cocker Spaniel households throughout Britain concluded that solid colour Cockers were more likely to be aggressive in 12 out of 13 situations. Red/golden Cockers were shown to be the most aggressive of all, in situations involving strangers, family members, while being disciplined, and sometimes for no apparent reason. A study by Spanish researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona revealed a similar link between golden Cockers and aggression. Males were also more likely to be aggressive. The study found the English Cocker Spaniel to have the highest level of owner- and stranger- directed aggression compared to other breeds.
3 month old English Cocker puppy
English Cocker Spaniels in UK and USA/Canada have an average lifespan of 11 to 12 years, which is a typical longevity for purebred dogs, but a little less than most other breeds of their size. The English Cocker Spaniel typically lives about a year longer than the smaller American Cocker Spaniel.
In a 2004 UK Kennel Club survey, the most common causes of death were cancer (30%), old age (17%), cardiac (9%), and "combinations" (7%).
In 1998 and 2002 USA/Canada Health Surveys, the leading causes of death were old age (40%) and cancer (22%).
Common health issues with English Cockers are bite problems, skin allergies, shyness, cataracts, deafness (affecting 6.3% of the dogs of this breed), aggression towards other dogs, and benign tumors.
Some uncommon health issues that can also have an effect on English Cocker Spaniels include canine hip dysplasia, patellar lunation, canine dilated cardiomyopathy, and heart murmurs. Hip dysplasia is an abnormal formation of the hip joint which is the most common cause of canine arthritis in the hips. Patellar Lunation, also known as luxating patella, refers to the dislocation of the kneecap. Canine dilated cardiomyopathy is an adult onset condition which occurs when the heart muscle is weak and does not contract properly. It can lead to congestive heart failure, which is where fluid accumulates in the lungs, chest, abdominal cavities, or under the skin. Dilated cardiomyopathy is often accompanied by abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias which can complicate treatment.
Rage Syndrome is described as when a dog attacks suddenly and savagely, without any warning and during the attack the dog often has a glazed look and appears to be unaware of its surroundings. Rage Syndrome can affect any and all breeds. Though not a common ailment, studies have found it is more common in solid coloured Cockers than in particolours and also more common in darker coloured Cockers than lighter coloured Cockers, being most common in solid gold and black coloured spaniels. Rage syndrome is most often associated with the Show Cocker Spaniel breed, although cases have been found in other breeds and cases are relatively rare even within the Cocker Spaniel breed. Rage syndrome cannot be accurately predicted and can only be diagnosed by EEG or genetic testing and these tests are not conclusive.