Everything you need to know about Cocker Spaniels

The Cocker Spaniel is one of the most popular breeds of dog in the UK, especially since the photos appeared of Prince William and Kate’s gorgeous working cocker Lupo.

It was no impulse buy that resulted in Zebby joining our family, Cocker Spaniels are a breed that I have been training and working closely with for the past 2 years now and I feel like I’ve got to know them well.

The first thing to understand is that there is a huge variety in the breed. The biggest difference is that there are two types, the Show Cocker Spaniel and the Working Cocker Spaniel.

Show Cocker Spaniel

Although not officially recognised as two different breeds, there is a clear difference in both the appearance and temperament of show and working cockers.

A show cocker tends to be square in build, with long ears and slightly droopy eyes. They also have a longer coat which can require regular clipping depending on the individuals preference and how the coat grows.

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Rio owned by Laura Turner. Photograph rights Laura Turner.

Temperament wise the Show Cocker shares the same lovable, sweet and friendly characteristics as the Working Cocker, plus depending on the individual dog they can show the same interest in chasing and hunting for wildlife and small furies.

However show cockers can be quick to frustrate and vocalise and be a little less “intense” during training. Some would say they are slower and, well to put it bluntly, more stupid. However take a show cocker puppy and teach them problem solving and impulse control skills from the start and you’ll find you have a very clever dog in front of you, they just need a bit more patience and persuasion to release those brain cells.

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Rio owned by Laura Turner. Photograph rights Laura Turner.

Working Cocker Spaniel

As much as show cockers are great the working cockers are the ones that have my heart. They are typically longer in body and more athletic in build. They can come in a range of sizes, some being tiny pocket rockets and others being quite large, sturdy dogs. Their coat can be short to medium on the body with feathers on the legs.

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Working Cockers are named as such as they are normally bred from parents who “work”. Cocker Spaniels are most commonly used on game shoots to find game birds such as pheasants and flush them up in to the air. They can also be used to retrieve the game once it has been shot, but they’re in their element when flushing. Therefore working cockers are prone to having a strong instinct to search for wildlife and chase anything that moves. Cockers have a strong sense of smell and enjoy following their nose, as they would do to find the game birds, and will often become deaf to any recall attempts when they are on a scent.

The intensity of a working cockers hunt and chase tenancies can vary greatly between each dog and it partly depends on the breeding, the environment they are raised in and the training you put in to place.

Take Zebby for example, I know that both of his parents and his grandmother have very strong working instincts and are all used to work. So then we take this puppy with strong working genetics and at 12 weeks old he finds himself (by accident) surrounded by young pheasants all running around like crazy and yes…. we have a dog that is very distracted by scents and birds.

It’s fascinating watching him out and about… when he finds a scent his head goes down and he follows it like a man possessed and then if he does flush a pheasant he leaps after it for a few paces before turning around and going back to the spot he found the bird, looking for the next one to flush. No human has taught him this (in fact everything I’ve done is to try and stop him doing this), it’s all natural instincts!

While these instincts are great for someone planning on working their cocker and knowing how to deal with it, it can be very difficult and frustrating when you just want a nice walk in the park with your dog and instead your dog is chasing every squirrel or rabbit it sees and not coming back to your calls. It can also make working cockers difficult to live with other pets such as cats, rabbits and chickens.

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The Best Bits

While all cockers are different what you can be sure of from all of them is that they are sweet, sensitive, friendly and loving little dogs. Cockers are very cuddly dogs that don’t respond well to being ignored or left alone for long periods of time. They are active, busy dogs that need attention and training.

Their retrieving nature means they will often be picking up your items such as socks, shoes, pens and the remote control. If you’re lucky and kind with your cocker then they will bring the items to you unharmed but if they feel worried at all they can be prone to taking the item off somewhere else and chewing it up.

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Cockers tend to be quite robust around loud noises but can struggle with busy places and lots of people. They are generally polite dogs and their sensitive nature can result in them finding some situations difficult to deal with, therefore it is important to learn to recognise when your spaniel is feeling uncomfortable and give them an escape from whatever they are struggling with.

The essentials

Like any dog a cocker should be given companionship and compassion.

They need daily activities and training such as tricks, scentwork, gundog exercises, agility or rally, as a bored cocker often becomes a destructive cocker.

Retrieving and recall foundations should be encouraged in a cocker from a young age, plus impulse control around moving furry objects.

Some people describe cockers as not having an off switch, however with the right mental stimulation and also the right settle training they can be quite content to curl up on the sofa with you for a few hours. Dogs often need teaching to switch off.

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Overall cockers make lovely but very complex little pets. As I said there can be huge variety between cockers, I’ve seen some that can happily be curled up with the pet cat and others that are completely obsessed with staring at and chasing the cat.

If you do decide that a cocker is right for you then it is vital to consider the pros and cons of the show and working cockers first and then do a lot of research in to the breeding and genetics of any cocker pups that you are considering.

Find the right breeder, and then wait for the right puppy. It’s worth waiting 6+ months for 12+ years of happiness with the right dog.

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