The Cocker Spaniel: History and Appearance
Considered to be trainable and possessing a unique ability to connect with humans, the Cocker Spaniel is the smallest sporting breed.
The breed dates back to the 1800’s, when it was presented as a “Field Spaniel” and later shown as the “Cocker Spaniel.” In 1833, a show in England included a class for Cocker Spaniels. The show took place in Ashton, England, and it is where the founders of the breed were exhibited. It was not long after that the English Kennel Club recognized the breed, and placed them in the studbooks. They were different than other spaniels, and it was their weight that distinguished them.
It was during this time that the breed came to the United States and Canada. They were shown in Massachusetts in 1875. After that, the breed began to evolve into its own Americanized version, leaving behind the longer back and shorter legs of the English breed. The American Cocker Spaniel had a shorter back and longer legs, and was developed to be more flexible as a sporting dog in the field.
As small as it is, the Cocker Spaniel is still considered to be a sporting breed. Because of its connection with humans, the breed works closely with the hunter. The primary job of the Cocker Spaniel is “flushing.” Flushing is the act of finding and flushing game birds into the air to be shot. When the bird falls, it is also the dog’s job to retrieve it. The Cocker Spaniel is able to do this and gently return the bird to the hunter. The breed uses its nose to locate game and its small, nimble body to look through brush that larger sporting dogs would not have access to. The breed is diverse, and works well along the edges of woods and on savannas. The breed is able to use both wind and ground scents to locate the game. They are also excellent swimmers and willing to take to the water to retrieve a fallen bird.
The Cocker Spaniel is known to be a versatile sporting and competitive dog. They are able to compete as gundogs, conformation dogs, and in field trials. They are also increasingly shown in companion events. Because of their intelligence, gentleness, and affectionate nature, they are also being put to work as therapy dogs.
Though the smallest member of the Sporting Group, and possibly known more as a family pet than a hunting dog, the Cocker Spaniel’s appearance holds true to its vocation. With a sturdy, compact body and an inclination to work, it is a dog that is considered to be well balanced, smart, and swift.
The Cocker Spaniel’s head should be well proportioned. The skull is round, but not exaggerated, with a chiseled, bony structure between the eyes. The eyes are round and full, though the eye rims are somewhat almond shaped. Eyes are usually dark brown. The cheeks are not prominent, and the broad, deep muzzle features squared jaws. The nose features the wide nostrils of a sporting breed, and is colored according to the dog’s coat. Nose pigment is solid, and ranges from black to brown to liver colored. The ears are long and leather and placed in a line to the lower part of the eye. Ears are well covered and feathered. The Cocker Spaniel has a full upper lip, and the jaw should meet in a scissors bite.
The Cocker Spaniel has a longer neck to allow it to put its nose to the ground. The neck is muscular, and slightly arched. The body possesses a deep chest. The back slopes evenly, slightly downward from the shoulders to the tail. The tail is docked. It is set on and carried with the top line of the back. It is never straight up, and it is never kept low. The forelegs and hind legs are strong boned, straight, and muscular. The feet are large, compact, and round.
The coat of a Cocker Spaniel is medium length. There is an undercoat, but only enough to give the dog protection. There is feathering on the ears, chest, abdomen, and legs. The feathering is not too heavy and does not hide the shape of the dog. The hair on the head and muzzle is short and fine.
There is a great deal of importance placed on the texture of the coat. The coat should be silky. The texture may be flat or mildly wavy. The coat should not receive trimming or shaving. Only minor trimming that enhances the dog’s natural lines is acceptable.
The Cocker Spaniel comes in a variety of colors. The dog can be black, including black with tan points. There can be a small amount of white on the throat or the chest. Solid colors other than black are in a range that stretches from light cream to deep red. Coloring can also be brown and brown with tan points. Coloring must be solid, though lighter shading on the feathering is permitted. Again, a small amount of white on the chest or throat is permissible.
Cocker Spaniels are also available in the Parti-Color variety, which features two or more well broken colors. Colors can be white, black and white, red and white, brown and white, and roans. Tan points may be featured.
Dogs with Tan Pointed coloring should be of any shade of tan, and must be restricted less than 10 percent of the coloring. Tan markings may appear over each eye, on the cheeks and muzzle, on the underside of the ears, on the feet and legs, and under the tail.
Showing a Cocker Spaniel
In show, the Cocker Spaniel is held to the above standards, though males over 15 ½ inches and females over 14 ½ inches are disqualified. Dogs with curly or cottony coats are disqualified, as are any dogs that are excessively trimmed. Special attention is paid to color. The dog should have a sporting gait, and demonstrate confidence when covering ground.