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Breed Background: English Cocker Spaniel

What you should know about Britain's favourite Spaniel

A black cocker spaniel

Part of the Gundog group of dogs, English Cocker Spaniels are one of the most popular breeds of dog in the UK, in fact, they're the fifth most popular breed of dog in the UK this year! They're a smaller, more compact breed of Spaniel that were originally bred to flush and retrieve small game such as woodcock in dense cover and were first recognised by the Kennel Club in 1873, although there are records of them that go back for centuries. It is widely believed that the first Spaniel was developed as a Spanish hunting dog as far back as the 14th Century. Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels were not distinguished as different breeds at first but rather distinguished by size - with the Cocker being the smaller of the two which made them the ideal dog for flushing underneath brush. Now, they are separate gundog breeds and recognised as such by both showing organisations and working organisations worldwide. Since their first recognition, Cockers have been bred to be much more versatile and some are even now used as deer stalkers.


Working Cocker Spaniel or Show Cocker Spaniel?

There are two subcategories of English Cocker Spaniel that are widely recognised: Show Cockers and Working Cockers. Whilst these two subcategories are still technically the same breed, they are very different in many ways and breeders rarely mix the two!

Working cockers are the type that are bred to carry out gundog work, such as flushing (making birds fly out of bushes and brush and into the air) and retrieving. They often vary in height and physical build to reflect the job they're being bred for, so it's a good idea to research their family tree if you're looking for a specific size! Working cockers usually have shorter, higher set ears, less fur which tends to be flatter and flatter-shaped heads. They're usually more lean than their show style counterparts and tend to have much higher energy levels. Working Cockers require a good amount of exercise and training to keep their active minds working to avoid any boredom.

Working Cocker Spaniel in the Woods

Over years of breeding, working cockers have been bred to be strong and intelligent, with their work ethic being the main focus of their breeding, ready for use as a gundog. Due to this great work ethic, they also excel at sports like agility, obedience and scent work. You will often see them being used by police and security forces as detection dogs for various substances, making use of their amazing natural instincts.

Show cockers are the type that are bred for showing, being judged on their looks and temperament at dog shows such as Crufts. They have lower set and much longer ears, much more fur, a dome-shaped head and longer face in comparison to working cockers, making them much closer to the breed standard that is put out by showing organisations such as the Kennel Club. They're stockier dogs that are bred with focus put mostly on their looks.

Show Cocker Spaniel

As they are bred to be shown which requires little physical output from them, their energy levels and intelligence levels are generally lower than working cockers, making them often easier to have as a pet because they don't require as much stimulation. However, many owners and trainers can find them slightly more difficult to train, thanks to lower working drive. Show cockers are renowned for being great family pets, thanks to their often calm temperament.


Training The Cocker Spaniel

Of course, the Working Cocker is still widely used in the UK to flush and retrieve game. However, as they are becoming more and more popular in the world of pet dogs, here are some other fun ways to make the most of your Cocker's natural instincts...

Agility training is incredibly popular amongst Working Cockers and their owners. Thanks to their breeding and style of work ethic they're very agile and quick. Add this to the brain tests they get while doing agility training and you have the perfect sport for a Cocker!

Cocker Spaniel doing agility

In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find an agility competition without any Cockers entered!

Whether you want to get to competition level or just some agility drills in the garden for fun, it is a great activity to consider, keeping your dog active in both mind and body! Contact us for help in finding an agility club or lesson that suits you!

Another training activity that Cockers excel at is Scent Detection. You don't have to be a police officer at an airport to get your dog into scent detection, you can do fun or competitively and your dog will get the same benefits! Cockers love this because it gives them a chance to use their natural sniffing and searching instincts in a fun and challenging way. Often, we train pet dogs to find scents such as gun oil or truffle oil, but we still teach them to search and indicate like a police dog! Cocker Spaniels have been known to have 250-300 million scent receptors in their nose, more than some other breeds of dog, in comparison to humans, who have up to 5 million. Add to this their long ears, which function to direct scent particles towards their nose, aiding their scent searching efforts, it's not hard to see why Cockers are so good at detecting scent.

Get in touch to find out how to get your dog into this!

In his book Gundogs: Training and Field Trial (1952), Peter Moxon outlines how Cocker Spaniels aren't as easy to train as Springer Spaniels because they're "rather more selfish" and tend to think of themselves rather than what their trainer is asking of them. We often see this in training sessions with them, but it makes up part of their character and with the correct training can be easily worked through.

Cocker Spaniels

All in all, the Cocker Spaniel, if trained correctly, can be so much fun to work with and we would recommend them for anyone who wants a dog to train regularly.



Both Working Cockers and Show cockers can be found in a range of colours and patterns, with the two types showing their own variations. There are show standard variations of colour, some more 'desirable' than others, such as blue roan and lemon roan, whereas working dogs aren't bred for their looks so aren't held to as high a standard in terms of their colourations.

Cocker Spaniel

Cockers come in variations of black, red, golden, liver and white. Some having tan coloured areas and some having 'ticking', also known as roan.

Many gundog trainers will note temperament and working drive differences between the colour variations. This seems to be more of a trainer's personal preference.


Common Health Concerns

As with many breeds, there are health issues that Cocker Spaniels see higher rates of. This doesn't mean that they're guaranteed, of course, but they are something to be aware of. Hip dysplasia and luxating patella (a condition in which the kneecaps dislocate) are common in Cocker Spaniels so it is important to check out any changes in movement with your vet. Cockers are also prone to eye problems, so it is a good idea to have them health checked regularly and ensure that, if buying a puppy, the parents have the relevant health checks.


Overall, it's not hard to see why the Cocker Spaniel is one of Britain's best loved and most popular dog breeds. From family pets to champion workers, they really can do it all and make a great addition to any family or pack. If you'd like advice for your #Cocker or are thinking of buying or rescuing one, get in touch!

Would you consider having a Cocker Spaniel as a pet?

  • Absolutely!

  • Not for me!

  • Already got one!

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