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What Kind of Dog is That?


History of the breed of English Cocker Spaniels
Review of English Cocker Spaniels as pets

Almost every time Murphy and I go out I am asked "What kind of dog is that?". Most people guess that he is an American Cocker Spaniel or a Springer Spaniel but others have thought he was a Basset Hound, an English Setter (puppy, obviously), a mixed breed (Cocker/Bloodhound) and more. Murphy is an English Cocker Spaniel. What we in North America are used to as "Cocker Spaniels" are technically called "American Cocker Spaniels". Confused yet?

        English Cocker Spaniel                                   American Cocker Spaniel                           English Springer Spaniel           

English Springer Spaniel 

American Cocker Spaniel 

English Springer Spaniel 

Here's the explanation, courtesy of the Canadian Kennel Club.

The subgroup of dogs known as the spaniels takes its name from hispania, the old name for Spain, said to be these dogs' country of origin. Such dogs have been known throughout Europe and in Britain since the 14th century and were used in the sport of falconry. Their job was to flush birds for the hawk. Later they performed the same function flushing birds for the sportsman's net. While their name has been spelled in a variety of ways, among them "spaynel," "spanner," and "spanyett," a description of them written in 1677 has not changed. It was written that the spaniels were dogs "with active feet, wanton tail, and busy nostrils."

Liver Field SpanielBy 1800 the spaniels had been divided into those that worked on land-the land spaniels-and those that worked over water- the water spaniels. In 1870 the land spaniels were subdivided into "springing" and "field" spaniels. And it is from the field that the cocker evolved, so named because the small spaniel was an expert at working in thick hedgerows and gorse and flushing the woodcock. (Field spaniel in photo).

When first exhibited the field spaniels were classified "under and over twenty-five pounds," and it is said that a dog might be exhibited in the morning as an "under" but after a good meal the same dog would compete as an "over." This state of confusion prevailed until after the founding of The Kennel Club (England) in 1873. Varieties were separated and in 1892 the Cocker Spaniel was granted separate breed classification.

Cocker spaniels were first registered in Canada in 1889, but it was not until 1940 that the English Cocker was granted separate breed status. Between these dates two distinct varieties of cocker developed-the American and the English-and although the two differed greatly in appearance they were judged by the same breed standard and frequently inter-bred. (My aside: the two different Cockers developed when Americans brought over Cockers and started breeding them for rounder heads and eyes, a fluffier coat and smaller size). After extensive researching of pedigrees the pure English lines were separated from the American and the confusion was resolved with the granting of separate breed classifications.

Did that help explain things? Basically American Cockers and English Cockers were the same thing until about 100 years ago when the Americans started fiddling with them. Now there's a significant difference, in both appearance and temperament. Plus, when American Cockers got so popular here in the middle of the 20th century English Cockers weren't affected by all the over breeding. That's why there can be so many more health and temperament problems with the American Cocker (and part of the reason why I didn't consider getting an American).

Here's a review of what English Cockers are like as pets, courtesy of the Northeast English Cocker Spaniel Club:

Cocker on a boatThe English Cocker Spaniel is, by breed standard, a "merry" dog. They are energetic, boisterous, and absolutely joyful companions when in the right environment. They are big enough to not be fragile, but small enough to be manageable. While energetic and playful at times, they also enjoy a good cuddle on the couch.

However, English Cockers are not a dog for everyone. They need human companionship and would not be the right dog for someone who spends little time with a pet. If you are a heavy-handed strict disciplinarian, maybe you should choose another breed - the English Cocker has a soft personality that responds poorly to harsh treatment and severe correction. They are long coated dogs that require grooming at least every few days.

Puppies and younger dogs need plenty of exercise and stimulation to stay physically healthy and keep out of mischief. Adults also need walks, playtime and special attention to be happy.

Cockers like kidsEnglish Cockers are a little stubborn and think for themselves, but with gentleness they can be trained in any area and generally are eager to please. A doggie treat goes a long way with English Cockers! They compete in breed, obedience, pet therapy, agility, flyball, tracking, working trials, and other field work.

Most are good with other pets and children. They can sometimes be a bit possessive and "growly", but get over it quickly and are generally very loving. English Cockers live 12-15 years with proper health care.

A final note: English Cocker Spaniels are only rare in North America. In Europe, Australia and Japan it's the American Cocker who is rarely seen. And English Cockers are one of the most common breeds in the UK. I've had more than one person tell me that when they were in England they saw lost of dogs like Murphy.

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