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How The American Cocker Spaniel Became Recognised As A Breed In Its Own Right

Here in the UK, we tend to call our native cocker spaniels simply “cocker spaniels”, but outside of the UK, they are generally referred to as the English cocker spaniel, to make the distinction between them and the American cocker spaniel, which is recognised as a separate breed in its own right.

While these two cocker spaniel types are very closely related and very similar to each other, there are some distinct differences between the breeds, and both our own Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club classify the two breeds as separate for registration and showing purposes.

In this article, we will look at some of the key differences between the English cocker spaniel and the American cocker spaniel, and how the American variant gained recognition as a separate breed. Read on to learn more.

More about the American cocker spaniel and their history

Spaniels have been resident in America since the country was colonised, and in fact the first spaniels to arrive in America arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. They are classed in America as sporting dogs, being the smallest breed within the sporting group, and are working dogs with an average intelligence rating.

While they fall within the wider working dog grouping for classification purposes, in the main part, American cocker spaniels are bred to a show standard rather than a working appearance, and generally the modern American cocker spaniel is not classed as one of the best working dogs.

Despite their long history within America, the cocker spaniel breed was only first recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1878, and a national breed club for the American cocker was established three years later. The first dog that is considered to be the father of the modern breed line was born in or around 1881, and was named Obo II. At this time, the breed was still considered to be of the English type, or simply the cocker spaniel, with no distinction between these dogs and their English ancestors.

However, between the time when the American Kennel Club recognised the breed and the 1920’s, the dogs that we now know as the American cocker spaniel began to diverge in appearance from the English cocker, due to selective breeding and the natural differences that became established due to breed line development occurring on two separate continents simultaneously.

The breed was in fact classed as the most popular dog breed in America between the 1940’s and 1950’s, and by 1970, the UK Kennel Club recognised the American cocker as a breed in its own right, distinct from the English cocker. Their popularity went through a resurgence in America in the 1980’s, and again, the breed was classed as the most popular in America for a further 18 years. They were one of the most commonly seen dog breeds within the show ring in America for most of the last century, and were notably owned by several famous people including several American presidents.

The key differences between the English and American cocker spaniels

The main differences between the American and English cocker spaniel breeds relate to their size and build.

The ideal height for the English cocker spaniel is 15-16” for dogs, and 15-15.5” for bitches, with an ideal weight of between 12-14.5kg. The American cocker is slightly smaller, with an ideal height being around 14” for bitches and 15” for dogs, and a weight of between 11-13kg, making the American cocker both smaller and lighter over all.

The muzzle of the American cocker should be slightly shorter than that of the English cocker, and have slightly wider-set eyes in a rounder head. The coat too can be rather different, with the ideal coat for the American cocker being long, smooth and silky, due to their show-level breeding, while the English cockers retain a more suitable working dog coat, being rather thicker and shorter.

Are there American cocker spaniels in the UK?

The American cocker spaniel is recognised within the UK as a breed in its own right, and they can be seen kept as pets and as show dogs all across the country. While the English cocker spaniel is of course a much more common sight on the streets of the UK, the American cocker is also popular within Britain, having first been brought to the UK in reasonable numbers in the 1950’s and 1960’s when American military personnel brought them to the UK while serving on British bases.

They were initially classed as a rare breed within the UK and were grouped in “any other variety” spaniel for showing purposes, meaning that they were not formally classed as a cocker spaniel variant. However, full recognition for the breed was later achieved, which in its turn went some way towards increasing the popularity  of the American cocker spaniel here in the UK.


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