What is an English Cocker Spaniel?

By Beth McKinney

The Cocker Spaniel has remained one of the most popular breeds of dogs around the world for many decades. Few American are aware, however, that from the worldwide perspective, the well known Cocker Spaniel is the English variety. Outside the United States, there are Cocker Spaniels and American Cocker Spaniels, the reverse of what is true here.

The English Cocker Spaniel retains his popularity for a variety of reasons. First his compact size, averaging about 16 inches at the shoulder and about 30 pounds, is small enough be a practical house dog for a family of moderate means, but still large enough to be hardy. For comparison, English Cockers should be slightly larger than American Cockers, Beagles, Shetland Sheepdogs, Miniature Schnauzers, and Miniature Poodles, yet smaller than Springer Spaniels, Norwegian Elkhounds or Keeshonden. There are several breeds, particularly among the Terriers, that are in the same height ranger, but generally English Cockers are more sturdily built.

The ideal coat which the English Cocker has retained for decades is flat and silky on the body with moderately long feathering on the ears, chest, belly and on the backs of the front and rear legs. This type of coat is attractive and easy to care for, requiring clipping around the head and ears only, and scissor trimming around the feet and tail for neatness, plus regular brushing and combing. Some may not have the ideal coat, being bushy or woolly. Even the ideal coat, if not properly cared for, may create problems with shedding, matting and an overall unkempt appearance. Regular grooming should decrease these problems.

Temperament varies from family to family and depends a great deal upon environment, but to generalize, an English Cocker is typically affectionate, loyal, and reserved with strangers. He is usually a homebody and moderately protective. Most are eager to please, but some require persuasion. Some enjoy barking, digging, are difficult to housetrain, too persistently affectionate or overly protective. Most are energetic, merry, intelligent, and adaptable to most environments. An English Cocker should never be aggressively unfriendly or excessively shy.

The English Cocker has retained to a large extent a remarkable amount of hunting instinct and ability. Most have superb “noses” and usually require very little training except perhaps some basic obedience. The English Cocker is designed for going into and under thick brush. The is too small to be expected to go all day in deep grass or cattails. Most are natural retrievers and enjoy water.

Other characteristics set the English Cocker apart. His head is longer, narrower and more Setter-like than either the American Cocker or the English Springer Spaniel. His eyes should be almond shaped in appearance, not large, round or protruding, and he should have tight lower rims.

The most common coat color seen is blue roan, which makes up nearly 60% of the English Cocker population. Blue roan coloring can best be described as black spots on a white background that is laced with black hairs. The result is a color that ranges from pale silver to a nearly solid black appearance. Twenty percent are solid colors, black or various shades or red or golden. English Cocker reds are deeper and richer in color than those seen in American Cockers, but not so red as Irish Setters. The remaining 20% includes black and white, liver and white, black/white and tan, liver/white and tan, blue roan and tan, liver roan, liver roan and tan, orange and white, orange roan, black and tan, solid liver and liver and tan.

The English Cocker is a versatile breed and an ambitious owner may find enjoyment is a variety of activities. He is, of coarse, primarily a household pet, his goal in life to be and integral member of the family. It can be expected that he will prefer your bed to his own and cannot understand why he is not permitted to be with you 100% of the time. On the whole, the breed enjoys good health, and with proper care, can generally be expected to live to the age of 12-14 years.

English Cockers are quite trainable and respond well to the attention. Obedience training classes are available in most areas of the country. Once trained, they are not only easier and more fun to live with, but also eligible to compete for prizes and titles at American Kennel Club Obedience Trials.

A surprising percentage of English Cockers have retained a strong hunting instinct. The instincts to retrieve and to go to water may be variable, but gunshyness or a hard mouth is a rarity. English Cockers make fine companion hunters requiring little training. For those who are ambitious, the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America offers Working Certificates to dogs who can demonstrate reasonable ability in the field. Championship Field Trials for Cockers were discontinued in 1965, but have resurfaced in recent years. A Field Trial Championship is attainable by participating in Cocker/English Cocker Spaniel Field Trials. The American Kennel Club also offers Spaniel Hunt Tests, which leads to the Junior Hunter, Senior Hunter and Master Hunters titles.

Many English Cockers owners in recent years have discovered the sport of “Tracking,” a skill usually attributed to Bloodhounds and Search Dogs. The breed as a whole has exceptional scenting powers and learns tracking quickly. The American Kennel Club offers a Tracking Dog title to dogs capable of passing the test. More advanced tracking tests are available for an ambitious owner.

Many English Cockers have done well, while having fun, in Agility trials. The American Kennel Club offers several agility titles. This sport is quickly gaining popularity.

For the most part the English Cocker Spaniel breed has been created and preserved by dedicated breeders striving for perfection with the ultimate goal being show ring competition. Here again, those who are fortunate to own a show quality specimen may find great enjoyment in the sport of show competition. Most large communities have kennel clubs which sponsor dog shows. Often these clubs offer classes in show handling, training matches, and educational programs. Persistence in the show ring may result in a Champion certificate from the American Kennel Club.

The sponsoring organization for English Cocker Spaniels in the United States is the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America. That organization has published the English Cocker Spaniel Handbook which is available from the secretary. The Club also publishes a quarterly magazine, The ECSCA Review, which is available from the same source. To order these publications, go to the Media section of the website.

For more information about the breed, contact the secretary of the local specialty club in your area. You can find a list of clubs in the Organization section of this website HERE. Information on requirements for titles can be obtained from the American Kennel Club.