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English Cocker Spaniel

Golden English Cocker Spaniel
Other names Cocker Spaniel
Nicknames Cocker
Merry Cocker Woker
Country of origin England

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.[1] 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 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".[2] 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.[3]



"A black and white dog sits in a field of yellow corn or maize, next to a brightly coloured dead pheasant"
A field-bred English Cocker Spaniel

The English Cocker Spaniel is a sturdy, compact, well-balanced dog. It has a characteristic expression showing intelligence and alertness. Its eyes should be dark and its lobular ears should reach "a bit past" the tip of the nose when pulled forward.[1] Today, a significant difference in appearance exists between field-bred and conformation show-bred dogs. The Cocker's tail is customarily docked in North America.[1] In countries where docking is legal, the tail is generally docked at about 4–5 inches (10–13 cm) in field-bred dogs while show dogs generally are docked closer to the body. Docking is now illegal in Australia, South Africa and Scotland. In England and Wales, docking can only be carried out on dogs where the owners have proved that the dogs will be used as working or shooting dogs.[4]

The breed standard indicates that the males of the breed are on average between 15.5 and 16 inches (39–41 cm) at the withers with the females a little smaller, growing to between 15 and 15.5 inches (38–39 cm). Both males and females of the breed weigh approximately 13–14.5 kg (28–32 lb).[5] American Cocker Spaniels are smaller, with the males being on average between 14¼ and 15½ inches (36–39 cm), and females again being smaller on average at between 13½ and 14½ inches (34–37 cm), both weighing approximately 11–13 kg (24–29 lb).[3] The closely related English Springer Spaniels are larger than either types of cockers, growing to between 19 and 19¾ inches (48–50 cm) for the females, and 19¼ and 20 inches (49–51 cm) for the males, and weighing between 23 and 25 kg (51–55 lb).[6]

The English Cocker Spaniel is similar to the English Springer Spaniel and at first glance the only major difference is the larger size of the Springer. However English Cockers also tend to have longer, and lower-set ears than English Springers. In addition Springers also tend to have a longer muzzle, their eyes are not as prominent and the coat is less abundant.[7]


A Blue Roan colored English Cocker Spaniel

Breed standards restrict dogs to certain colors for the purposes of conformation showing (dependent on country), whereas working Cockers can be any of a wide variety of colors. For instance, the breed standard of the United Kingdom's Kennel Club states that in solid colors, no white is allowed except for on the chest.[5]

They come in solid (or "self"), particular color, and roan types of markings. The colors themselves in the breed consist of black, liver with brown pigmentation, red with black or brown pigmentation, golden with black or brown pigmentation,[8] sable, silver, ash, black and tan, liver and tan,[9] blue roan, liver roan, orange roan with black or brown pigmentation, lemon roan with black or brown pigmentation, black and white ticked, liver and white ticked, orange and white ticked with black or brown pigmentation, lemon and white ticked with black or brown pigmentation,[10] black and white, liver and white with brown pigmentation, orange and white with black or brown pigmentation, lemon and white with black or brown pigmentation.[11] Of the solid colours, sable is considered rare, and is classified by some countries as being a type of particolour on account of its mixed hair shafts. White is black/brown pigmentation is also considered rare, and is also usually classified as a particolour too. In addition a silver/ash colour, usually associated with the Weimaraner breed of dog, is considered genetically possible but is yet to be recorded by the United Kingdom's Kennel Club.[9] Of the roan varieties, lemon roan with a light brown pigmentation is the most recessive of all the roans.[10] Plain white Cockers are rarely born, and are thought to be more prone to deafness than those with more pigmentation. As such they are generally not encouraged in the breed.[11]


A golden colored Cocker Spaniel

The English Cocker Spaniel can be stubborn, but can be easily trained and make a good medium-sized family pet.[12] The breed does not like being alone,[13] and will bond strongly to an individual person in a family. Known for optimism, intelligence and adaptability,[14] the breed is extremely loyal and affectionate. They rank 18th in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, being of excellent working/obedience intelligence.[15]

A link between coat color and temperament has been proposed.[16] This link could be the colour pigment melanin, which is biochemically similar to chemicals that act as transmitters in the brain. A study made by the University of Cambridge involving over 1,000 Cocker Spaniel households throughout Britain concluded that solid colour Cockers were more likely to be aggressive in 12 out of 13 situations. Red/golden Cockers were shown to be the most aggressive of all, in situations involving strangers, family members, while being disciplined, and sometimes for no apparent reason.[17][18] A study by Spanish researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona revealed a similar link between golden Cockers and aggression. Males were also more likely to be aggressive. The study found the English Cocker Spaniel to have the highest level of owner- and stranger- directed aggression compared to other breeds.[18][19]

Rage Syndrome

Rage Syndrome is described as when a dog attacks suddenly and savagely, without any warning and during the attack the dog often has a glazed look and appears to be unaware of its surroundings. Studies have found it is more common in solid colored Cockers than in particolors and also more common in darker colored Cockers than lighter coloured Cockers, being most common in solid orange and black colored spaniels. Male orange spaniels are not recommended as a family pet and should never be left alone with children. Rage syndrome is most often associated with the Show Cocker Spaniel breed, although cases have been found in other breeds and cases are relatively rare even within the Cocker Spaniel breed. Rage syndrome cannot be accurately predicted and can only be diagnosed by EEG or genetic testing and these tests are not conclusive.[20][21]


3 month old gold English Cocker puppy

English Cocker Spaniels in UK and USA/Canada have an average lifespan of 11 to 12 years,[22] which is a typical longevity for purebred dogs, but a little less than most other breeds of their size.[23] The English Cocker Spaniel typically lives about a year longer than the smaller American Cocker Spaniel.[22]

In a 2004 UK Kennel Club survey, the most common causes of death were cancer (30%), old age (17%), cardiac (9%), and "combinations" (7%).[24]

In 1998 and 2002 USA/Canada Health Surveys, the leading causes of death were old age (40%) and cancer (22%).[25][26]

Common health issues with English Cockers are bite problems, skin allergies, shyness, cataracts, deafness (affecting 6.3% of the dogs of this breed[27]), aggression towards other dogs, and benign tumours.[26]

Some uncommon health issues that can also have an effect on English Cocker Spaniels include canine hip dysplasia, patellar lunation, canine dilated cardiomyopathy, and heart murmurs. Hip dysplasia is an abnormal formation of the hip joint which is the most common cause of canine arthritis in the hips.[28] Patellar Lunation, also known as luxating patella, refers to the dislocation of the kneecap. Canine dilated cardiomyopathy is an adult onset condition which occurs when the heart muscle is weak and does not contract properly. It can lead to congestive heart failure, which is where fluid accumulates in the lungs, chest, abdominal cavities, or under the skin.[29][30] Dilated cardiomyopathy is often accompanied by abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias which can complicate treatment.[29]


Field-bred Cocker, with an undocked tail

A field-bred cocker spaniel is first and foremost an upland flushing dog. In performing this task there are some skills the dog must be trained to perform.[31]

  • Hup This is the traditional command to sit and stay. To be an effective hunter the dog must comply with this command absolutely. When hupped the dog can be given direction called to the handler. The ability to hup a dog actively working a running bird allow the handler and any gunners to keep up without having to run.
  • Retrieve to Hand The majority of hunters and all hunt test or field trial judges require that a dog deliver a bird to hand, meaning that a dog will hold the bird until told to give it to the hunter directly.
  • Quarter Dogs must work in a pattern in front of the hunter seeking upland game birds. The dog must be taught to stay within gun range to avoid flushing a bird outside of shooting distance.
  • Follow Hand Signals Upland hunting involves pursuing wild game in its native habitat. Gun dogs must investigate likely covers for upland game birds. The dog must be responsive to hand signals in order for the hunter to be able to direct the dog into areas of particular interest.
  • Steady When hunting upland birds, a flushing dog should be steady to wing and shot, meaning that he sits when a bird rises or a gun is fired. He does this in order to mark the fall and to avoid flushing other birds when pursuing a missed bird.


Modern black Show-type English Cocker

Spaniel type dogs have been found in art and literature for almost 500 years.[32] 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 1800s. During this time, the land spaniels became a bit more specialized 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).[32] 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.[32]

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.[32]

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.[32] 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.[32] "...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...".[32]

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 differ in more ways than weight alone.

At Crufts, the English Cocker Spaniel has been the most successful breed in winning Best in Show, winning on a total of seven occasions between 1928 and 2009, with wins in 1930, 1931, 1938, 1939, 1948, 1950 and 1996. In addition, the breed make up three of the four winners who have won the title on more than one occasion with all three coming from H.S. Lloyd's Ware kennel. Due to World War II, the English Cocker Spaniel managed to be the only breed to have won the title between 1938 and 1950, although the competition was only held on four occasions during that period. The most recent best in show was Sh. Ch. Canigou Cambrai in 1996.[33][34]

Field Spaniel

In the late 19th century with the increase in popularity of dog shows and the creation of standards for various breeds, the Spaniel family began to split into various different breeds. A group of enthusiasts decided to create a large black spaniel breed. Four dogs would act as progenitors for this new breed, of which two were Cocker Spaniels, one was a Cocker Spaniel/English Water Spaniel cross and one was a Norfolk Spaniel. This new breed was named the Field Spaniel, and was recognised by the Kennel Club in 1892.[35]

American Cocker Spaniel

The American Cocker Spaniel was developed from the English Cocker Spaniel in the 19th century to retrieve quail and woodcock. They were originally divided from the English Cocker solely on a size basis, but were bred over the years for different specific traits.[3] The two Cocker Spaniels were shown together in America until 1936, when the English Cocker received status as a separate breed. The American Kennel Club granted a separate breed designation for the English Cocker Spaniel in 1946.[1]

Famous owners

Famous people who owned English Cocker spaniels include Robert Kennedy, former U.S. President Richard Nixon, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning,[36] Oprah Winfrey,[37] and Charlize Theron.[38]

Working Cockers

Blue Roan coloured Working Type English Cocker Spaniel

This breed, like many others with origins as working dogs, has some genetic lines that focus on working-dog skills and other lines that focus on ensuring that the dog's appearance conforms to a breed standard; these are referred to as the "working" (or "field-bred") and "conformation" strains, respectively. After World War II, Cocker Spaniels bred for pets and for the sport of conformation showing increased enormously in popular appeal, and, for a while, was the most numerous Kennel Club registered breed. This popularity increased the view that all Cockers were useless as working dogs.[39] However, for many dogs this is untrue, as even some show-bred Cockers have retained their working instinct.[40]

Today, this breed is experiencing a resurgence in usage as a working and hunting dog. Dogs from working lines are noticeably distinct in appearance. As is the case with the English Springer Spaniel, the working type has been bred exclusively to perform in the field as a hunting companion. Their coat is shorter and ears less pendulous than the show-bred type. Although registered as the same breed, the two strains have diverged significantly enough that they are rarely crossed.[39] The dogs that have dominated the hunt test, field trial and hunting scene in the United States are field-bred dogs from recently imported British lines.[41] Working-dog lines often have physical characteristics that would prevent them from winning in the show ring. This is a result of selecting for different traits than those selected by show breeders. The longer coat and ears, selected for the show ring, are an impediment in the field.[1] Cuban authorities train and use English Cocker Spaniels as sniffer dogs to check for drugs or food products in passengers' baggage at Cuban airports.[42]


  1. ^ a b c d e "American Kennel Club: English Cocker Spaniel". http://www.akc.org/breeds/english_cocker_spaniel/. Retrieved 2009-09-05. 
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  10. ^ a b Davis, Jinty Gill (9 September 2000). "Understanding Cocker Colours, Patterns and Markings Page 3". The Cocker Spaniel Club. http://www.thecockerspanielclub.co.uk/colours3.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-07. 
  11. ^ a b Davis, Jinty Gill (9 September 2000). "Understanding Cocker Colours, Patterns and Markings Page 4". The Cocker Spaniel Club. http://www.thecockerspanielclub.co.uk/colours4.htm. Retrieved 2010-01-07. 
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  15. ^ Stanley Coren. "The Intelligence of Dogs: Ranks 11 to 26". http://petrix.com/dogint/11-26.html. 
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  19. ^ Amat, Marta; Xavier Manteca, Valentina M. Mariotti, José Luís Ruiz de la Torre, Jaume Fatjó (May 2009). "Aggressive behavior in the English cocker spaniel". Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra: School of Veterinary Medicine) 4 (3): Pages 111–17. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2008.08.010. http://www.journalvetbehavior.com/article/S1558-7878(08)00140-8/abstract. Retrieved 13 September 2009. 
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  38. ^ "Charlize Theron, Denver and Delilah Films". Wordlab. 23 May 2006. http://www.wordlab.com/2006/05/charlize-theron-denver-and-delilah.cfm. Retrieved 2009-09-05. 
  39. ^ a b "Show Bred vs Working Cockers". Petwave.com. http://www.petwave.com/Dogs/Dog-Breed-Center/Sporting-Group/English-Cocker-Spaniel/Overview-and-History/History-and-Origin/Show-Bred-vs-Working-Cockers.aspx. Retrieved 2009-09-05. 
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  41. ^ Thoms, Jerry (December 2002). "Pocket Rockets". Gun Dog Magazine. http://www.roettgerridge.com/8873_eprint.pdf. 
  42. ^ "Travel research, planning and reports: Cuba". Darshama.net. http://www.darshama.net/frostieblog/travel/cuba. Retrieved 2009-09-05. 

Further reading

  • Thoms, Jerry. "Emma is a Gun Dog (Cocker Size)". Gun Dog Magazine. http://www.gundogmag.com/gundog_breeds/emma_gun_dog/index.html. 
  • Roettger, Anthony. Urban Gun Dogs: Training Flushing Dogs for Home and Field, The Writer's Collective, 2004. ISBN 1-59411-050-6
  • Sucher, Jamie (1999). Cocker Spaniels (Complete Pet Owner's Manuals). Hauppauge, NY: Barron's. ISBN 978-0764110344. 
  • Grainger, Alexandra. Training your Cocker...Whilst Playing with Children. Complete Owner's Guide.
  • Fergus, Charles. Gun Dog Breeds, A Guide to Spaniels, Retrievers, and Pointing Dogs, The Lyons Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58574-618-5
  • Fogle, Dr. Bruce. Cocker Spaniel English and American, Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1996.

External links

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