Feisty flushers and natural retrievers, the field bred English Cocker Spaniel is a great choice for upland hunters.
This series of Project Upland hunting dog breed profiles focuses on the hunting characteristics that set one breed apart from another, understanding that within a breed individual dogs may vary in temperament, conformation, instincts and abilities. This particular article focuses on the English Cocker Spaniel.
Original purpose of the English Cocker Spaniel
Unique among other breeds, the English Cocker Spaniel is actually named for the bird it was developed to hunt—the woodcock. Early 19th century British hunters, only differentiating between land spaniels and water spaniels, referred to all spaniels less than 25 pounds as “cocker spaniels.” When the first spaniel breed club was formed in 1885, it established breed standards for the different types of spaniels, thus distinguishing cockers from other spaniels. When cockers were introduced in the United States, breeders started developing lines with heavier coats, shorter muzzles, and smaller size. Then followed the split between the English cockers, the ones typically used as field dogs, and the American cockers—longer haired, show ring dogs.
The English Cocker Spaniel Club of America was founded in 1936. In 1946, the AKC recognized them as a breed separate from American cocker spaniels.
Hunting style and temperament of the English Cocker Spaniel
English cockers are compact, solid, and well built for efficiently navigating low thick cover. They are energetic and willing to work. Trained to heel, they work in tandem with pointers who remain steady on a bird while the cockers flush and retrieve. In addition to this, they excel at working in gun range on their own to locate and flush game.
As retrievers, English cockers are tenacious. They push through any kind of thick cover be it grouse woods, woodcock river edges, or dense quail fields. They are less likely to quarter than some of the other flushing breeds—more likely to penetrate seeking objectives.
The breed is generally referred to as having a medium energy level, but most field cockers show an enthusiasm that pushes the energy meter a little higher. Above all, cockers work with what can be described as no less than pure happiness. Tails and legs a blur, perpetually exuberant. Oh, and wonderful family dogs.
Traits of the English Cocker Spaniel important to hunters
14-17 inches tall at the shoulder, weigh 28 to 34 pounds; females, 26 to 32 pounds
English cockers’ coats come in various solid colors – black, liver, red, as well as a partly-colored roan. It should be medium length, flat or wavy, silky. Hunters may find that trimming the longer feathering on the coat and ears will cut down on some of the field debris it picks up, reducing the amount of après-hunt combing.
Our research didn’t turn up any consensus on whether English cockers are early, medium, or late bloomers. Yet in training, most cocker owners find them to be biddable but soft. Harsh correction with or without an e-collar should be avoided. Low force, positive training methods are recommended.
English cockers are prone to eye problems such as retinal atrophy, glaucoma, and cataracts. Hip dysplasia is another issue that prospective buyers should question breeders about.
FINDING A GOOD BREEDER
Field bred English cockers are bred specifically for hunting. As a result, it’s best to seek breeders with purposefully developed field lines. Field bred cockers are usually a bit taller and heavier boned, more readily showing muscle tone. Their tails are docked and should have less hair than the long locks common to show lines.
Last modified: February 9, 2018