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.