Primarily bred as a gun dog, there are two strains of Cocker (the Working strain and the Show strain), so it is important to be able to tell the difference as each has different characteristics and abilities. However, both strains are active, inquisitive dogs with boundless energy, with the Working strain especially displaying an enormous amount of stamina! While very loyal dogs, they can have a tendency to be quite dominant if allowed to be. They are fun dogs to own as pets and are suited to both agility and obedience when their natural intelligence is focussed.
Spaniels have been seen in art and read about in literature for over 500 years. Initially, they were divided into 'land' and 'water' Spaniels and over the years, around the 19th Century, have become the distinct types of Spaniels seen today based on their weight classification. In the case of the Cocker at this time, they were defined as being between 5.5kg - 9kg in weight. In the late 1800's, the newly formed Kennel Club placed any Spaniel of 11kg or less into the 'Cocker' classification and the breed we know today started to become established. At the prestigious dog show Crufts the Cocker Spaniel has won the title 'Best of Show' more times than any other breed of dog.
Average height at withers: Males between 14-15 inches, females between 13-14 inches, although Working Cocker strain can be a little taller.
Average weight: Males between 11kg - 13 kg and females between 10kg - 12kg, with the Working strain averaging a little heavier.
As mentioned in the introduction, the two different strains display very different appearances to each other. Physically, breeders of Show Cockers strive to attain the breed standards as per the Kennel Club guidelines whereas Working Cocker breeders are less concerned about this and their primary concern is to breed a dog which can work and be trained successfully in the field.
Working Cockers tend to have finer coats and less feathering than the Show Cocker as this would add nothing to the benefit of the dog in the field, whereas the Show strain displays a flat, silky coat with lustrous feathering on all legs and trim. One of the most spectacular physical traits of this breed can be the amazing range of colours the coat can display. In the field, breeders show little concern for the colour except for in a practical sense where there may be an argument for a solid colour being able to camouflage. In the Show strain however, Black, Liver, Red and Golden are the most common solid colours seen, with variations on these colours showing as sables, black or liver and tan with a pattern called 'mask and trim' on the coat. Other pattern variations can include roan and on occasion, 'tiger stripes'. Roan colours can occur as per the solid colours but also with the addition of lemon, orange and blue. There are no rules, show wise, regarding the frequency and type of the roan markings, however, if a dog displays a solid colour, there should be no white on the body, however; some may be permitted on the chest.
The ears of both strains are a notable feature being long and lobular, lying close to the head but with some variation in size with dark brown, round and soulful eyes which always seem to be asking for something! In addition, the body of the Working Cocker is often described as being 'rangier' and 'less compact' than that of the Show Strain.
While the Working strain is generally more active than the Show type, both strains are charming and merry little dogs, with a predisposition for being stubborn and single minded on occasion. As a breed, a Cocker is never happier than when he has some mental stimulation and exercise to do whether it is a ball to retrieve, a Frisbee to chase, work to do or water to swim in.
The Working Cocker usually needs more mental stimulation than its counterpart due to the nature of what it was bred to do, so it is essential that prospective owners make sure they know which strain they are bringing home to enable them to cater to the physical and behavioural requirements of the dog. They are alert and intelligent making them receptive to training; however, their minds can 'wander' and can be led by their noses! With this in mind a varied, stimulating training schedule is required from an early age to achieve the best from your dog.
As a rule, Cockers make good, solid and sociable family pets when provided with the correct training, exercise and leadership and can form close relationships with family members. In a working capacity, there are few dogs which can cover all types of ground and terrain, including working in thorny and thick bush and hedgerows, with the grace and poise of a Spaniel. And everyone knows about the Spaniels love of water - recalling a Spaniel from the water can be a problem for some owners of these water babies. This is something to bear in mind while near any body of water, especially if on a walk the dog is familiar with in freezing weather where thin ice may be a problem.
There was a documented period (mainly through the 1970/80's in the sensationalist tabloid press) of occasions when, for no apparent reason, the Cocker would suddenly aggress with no warning, for example when sleeping. This became known as 'Rage Syndrome'. Rage Syndrome is a serious, but very rare, uncharacteristic behavioural problem that has been reported in several breeds. It is often incorrectly diagnosed as it can be confused with other forms of aggression and an assumption is too often made that any Cocker displaying signs of aggression must have Rage when this is not the case.
In good health, Cocker Spaniels can live up to the age of 15 years. They are hardy and healthy little dogs who are prone to very few genetic conditions.
Cockers, as with all other Spaniels and dogs with large ears, can be prone to problems with them. A Spaniels ears are designed to protect the inner ear from water when working or playing in it. It is imperative to ensure that the ears are in good condition. In summer keep the hair on and in the ear short and check for burrs and seed pods caught up in the hair.
Some Cockers may have a tendency to inherit kidney problems on occasion. Called Familial Nephropathy, it is a fatal type of kidney failure which affects younger dogs/bitches up to the age of around 18 months. Good breeders are keen to see this eradicated from the population and are trying to do so by a programme of selective breeding from screened animals.
Due to the longer coat of Cockers, they require frequent grooming, preferably each day, and may also benefit from the professional touch every 2-3 months by being clipped out or strapped for easier maintenance. In addition, due to the very nature of these nosey little dogs and their love of water and all things muddy, regular shampooing may be necessary. Longer than average dew claws can also occur in occasionally in the Working Strain which require keeping on top of with the aid of claw clips, being careful to not cut too much off and inadvertently cut the vein. If in doubt ask your vet or groomer to do this for you.
The Cocker is a breed which traditionally had it tail docked; however, from 2007 this was effectively banned in the UK, with permitted exceptions, (as defined by the Docking of Working Dogs Tails (England) Regulations 2007 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006). This ban also extends to the showing of some dogs with docked tails, with the exception of dogs who are demonstrating their working skills. This is something to bear in mind when buying a puppy as heavy fines can be imposed if someone is found to be in contravention to these Regulations.