For many centuries, small spaniels have been used by man to aid in hunting for food to supplement the diet, as well as making a friendly companion. The Cocker Spaniel, as we know him today, descends from these dilgent and faithful working dogs, chosen for their characteristics and abilities by countless generations of practical people.
As working Dogs
Spaniels were used, sometimes in conjunction with hawks, to trap game birds in nets. The skills of the handlers were crucial to a successful outcome. Knowledge of ground cover, likely hiding places for each species of game and an understanding of scent and the dogs' abilities to correctly "read" it, were crucial if men and dogs were not to go hungary.
The advent of firearms change the strategy from a ground search to one of "shooting flying" where game birds were concerned. The "Guns" took up fresh tactics and the spaniels had to learn three basic roles to help their owners.
To hunt methodically and close enough to his master for any game put up to be withing the firing rangs of the gun (quartering the ground and questing for game). His tail wags faster and faster, quite instincively, the closer his nose leads him to the hiding place of the game.
Once a rabbit or game bird is put up (flushed), the spaniel must either sit or lie down immediately (stopping to shot). The shot is fired and the dog will mark the place where the game comes to rest.
On commant, the spaniel will go forward to retrieve the game, using his nose to find the game if it has falled out of sight. Sometimes this means swimming over water or jumping fences. The game must be retrieced undamages to his master's hand. (A "soft" mouth is threfore essential).
Owners chose spaniels that were suited to their locality where they lived and the particular type of game that they themselves preferred. Much of Britain was densely forested until comparatively recent times. Our friend the Cocker was known formerly as the Woodcock or Cocking Spaniel. He was the spaniel of choick for woodcock, and elusive small game bird which inhabits dense thickets in boggy woodland and forests. With plenty of suitable coved, this was once an abundant game bird throughout Britain but today, although not endangered, is less frequently seen.
Nowadays, Cockers are used for small game e.g. rabbit, woodcock, peasant, snipe or wild duck. They will happily accomany their owners on a day's "rough shooting" (a well planned outing which is informal but law abiding in its progress). Well trained Cockers are always welcomed by keepers if invited to work with other dogs at more formally structured "shooting parties".
For owners with a sense of compition, there are Working Tests where dogs can show what progress their training has reached. (These events use canvas dummies for the dogs ti retrieve and starting pistols to test the gogs' ability to be "steady to shot"). For the truly dedicated, there are organised nad licensed Field Trilas wehre the competition is very keen (live game and shotguns are used). Participating handlers need to have achieved a fair level of skill in the control and direction of their dogs and the dogs have to give of their best to their handlers. Everyone attending Field Trials must be fully familiar with the rules and customary conduct of such events. The "Steward of the Beat" (often the gamekeeper) is in overall charge of both the shoot and eeryone attending it.
There is no grater partnership than owner and dog working in unison to give a full game bag for the table at the end of the day. This can only be achieved by developing a good working relationship with your Cocker and be carefully and diligenly training with firmness and kindness. Breeders of working Cockers are always striving to improve performance. Speed, accuracy, keeneness and a natural ability are qualities which are encourages. This leags to a very lively dog which needs to be kept both mentally and physiscally occupied. He is best suited to those who enjoy country activities in which he can take part.
There are a few breeds who try to keep the working instincts in their "show" bred Cockers to the fore. Too often it is the owners of show dogs who lack thenecessary knowledge to successfully train their dogs in the discipline of the "working" Cocker., although basic questing and retrieving instincts are sometimes present in their puppies from an early age.
In modern society, most of us have so many calls on our resoources and it seems, only limited time availabale to spend on our interests. However, the few dedicated owners who do try, should be commended for their efforts in bridging what has become an increasingly widening gap. The Kennel Club award of the Show Gundog Working Certificate is on offer to hose winning dog shos which have been carefully training in the elementary arts for working - usually by their owners - and can demonstrate their ability under test.
There are hardly and owners of purely "working" Cockers who take much, if any, interests in teh show world in Britain. It is a great pity that, a hundred years or so after the outset of the breed as a separate entity, we seem to have two divided camps in the main. In some European countries this is not the case. Show dogs must prove that they still have their working ability in the field before they can be called a champion and working dogs must compete in shows where they must achieve an acceptable level of award from judges for them to be called Field Trial Champions.
As Show Dogs
Cocker Spaniels are popular show dogs. They have an amenable nature and their happy temperament makes them a pleasure to take into the show ring. They seem to really enjoy all the extra attnetion that preparing brings them. Their silky coats and soft feathering, when carefully presented and groomed gives them a very attractive appearance with gently, flowing lines. He is a sturdy, four-square dog, possessing power and balance. In fact he is a big dog in a small space.
Although Old English Cocking Spaniels had been recognised by working men for many decades, The Kennel Club, soon after its own inauguration, se out to record as much as was available about the breeding of spaniels. These early records were taken from owners' kennel diaries in existence and from the memories of reliable kennelmen, some of whom could no doubt recite many generations of breeding. Kennels often kept a variety of working spaniels and early records show that Field, Sussex, English Water, Springer and Cocker Spaniels all shared some common ancestry in their lineage.
The breed was first officially recognised by The Kennel Club in 1898, seperate stud books were begun and pedigrees recorded. Experts at the time. who were nearly all gentlemen regularly working their dogs, soon drew up the first breed standard as a guide. In 1902, The Cocker Spaniel Club was formed to promote and protect the best interetst of the breed. The Parent Breed Club, which now reaches its centenary, remains the prinicipal Club, enjoying a large home and overseas membership. Today, there are 22 other Breed Clubs based either regionally or devoted to particular colours of the breed here in Britain. There are numerous Breed Clubs in many other countries throughout the world, demonstrating the great interest that this charming breed of spaniel has brought to its owners.
Over the years, the standard has been altered where it was felt that clarity or improvement was needed. Breeders and judges still use it as the basis on which they make their decisions in choosing stock. The conformation of the Cocker Spaniel as set out in teh breed standard requires him to be built for his original function, that of a working dog. This means that he must have good legs and feet as well as plenty of heart and lung room if he is to be constitutionally sound. He must have strong bones and muscles as well as a willing nature to give him the endurance needed to carry out his work.
Breeders of show does are costantly seeking for excellence against the breed standard. Show dogs have a happy and extrovert nature, they must behave in a well mannered was as they have to share the benching area at shows (where dogs can relax during the day) and also the show ring with others. In general he is a merry, good natured fellow with a gentle outlook and an attractive appearance. He seems to enjoy shiwing himself off in the ring and brings extra delight to his owner should he be lucky enough to be awarded a prize by the judge. Great camaraderie and sometimes rivalry, springs up between exhibitors. Usually, the judges decisions are sportingly accepted for they all know that next time it will be another judge and a different opinion.
The objective of showing is to find the best dog with reference to the breed's standart. in the judge's opinion on the day. Judges interpret the breed standard as they understand it and bring into play all of the knowledge and expertise that they have gained during their life with dogs in making their decisions. They need to have good "eye" for a dog, as well integrity. They look for honest, well made dogs which do not have extreme exaggerations. Dogs look better on one day than another and can behave well or badly, all of which can affet the final placing. At championship shows, Challenge Certificates may be awarded to the best dog and the best bitch in the beeed in addition to class prizes.
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As Domestic Pets
A family favourite for many decades, the Cocker Spaniel is adaptable, fitting into lots of life styles. With regular and adequeate exercise, a clean dry, draught free bed, at least one square meal a day (for adults), regular grooming to keep his hair free of tangles and an occasionale trim two or three times a year, he will be quite happy and will enjoy as much of your company as you can give him. He will curl up adoringly at your feet, sit on your knee or lie by your side, if you invite him to do so. Cockers have a great affinity with people's moods and seem to know by instinct when they are unwell or distressed. They are gentle by nature and make good PAT dogs (used to visit the sick and elderly in hospital or care homes) and Hearing Dogs for the Deaf (used to perform a similar role to guide Dogs except that they act as "ears" instead of "eyes"). His endearing nature has won the hearts of countless men, women and children everywhere.
Cockers are a convenient size to take anywhere on public transport or in the car. Providing they are fairly treated, they usually enjoy the company of children. No dog should be left for prolonged periods of more than four hours, without someone visiting him to let him out to relieve himself. If you must be out for a while on a regular basis, then it might be best to consider either delaying owning a dog until you have the time tha the deserves to spend on him, or consider having a second dog so that they can be company for each other, in your absence. However proper arrangements need to be made, if you are unable to return home within the four hour period. As an owner, you are responsible for the well being of your dogs.
Puppies, young dogs and elderly dogs need a "little and often" policy in their care, feeding and exercise regimes. It is essential that there is someone at home, willing and prepared to be dedicated to their care and early training if happy, sociable dogs with some basic manners are to be expected. The Kennel Club awards Good Citizen Gold, Silver and Bronze Award Certificates to dogs whowhose owners train their dogs in basic obdience and can demonstrate the they can behave in an acceptable way in modern society.
Cocker Spaniels come in a variety of colours and patterns. It may well be that temperament is your first priority, with colour playing a less significant role. In this case choose your puppy or dog on his temperament and compatibility. If however, you want a particular colour, then patience and a possible place ona waiting list, may well be your only way of achieveing it. It is the duty of Cocker Spaniel breeders to ensure that prospective owners can provide a suitable home and conditions of care. Be prepared to answer any questions which the breeded may have.
Giving pleasure to hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, as a pet, a show dog or a working partner, the Cocker aims to please his owner. In choosing a Cocker you would be joining a very large band of devotees who hold this cheerful, compact dog in the highest regard for his sporting prowess, his debonair good looks and his most faithful nd loving nature.
Introductory Paragraph A Breed Standard is the guideline which describes the ideal characteristics, temperament and appearance of a breed and ensures that the breed is fit for function. Absolute soundness is essential. Breeders and judges should at all times be careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed. From time to time certain conditions or exaggerations may be considered to have the potential to affect dogs in some breeds adversely and judges and breeders are requested to refer to the Kennel Club website for details of any such current issues. If a feature or quality is desirable it should only be present in the right measure.
General Appearance Merry, sturdy, sporting; well balanced; compact; measuring approximately same from withers to ground as from withers to root of tail.
Characteristics Merry nature with ever-wagging tail shows a typical bustling movement, particularly when following scent, fearless of heavy cover.
Temperament Gentle and affectionate, yet full of life and exuberance.
Head and Skull Square muzzle, with distinct stop set midway between tip of nose and occiput. Skull well developed, cleanly chiselled, neither too fine nor too coarse. Cheek bones not prominent. Nose sufficiently wide for acute scenting power.
Eyes Full, but not prominent. Dark brown or brown, never light, but in the case of liver, liver roan and liver and white, dark hazel to harmonise with coat; with expression of intelligence and gentleness but wide awake, bright and merry; rims tight.
Ears Lobular, set low on a level with eyes. Fine leathers extending to nose tip. Well clothed with long, straight silky hair.
Mouth Jaws strong with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite, i.e. upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws.
Neck Moderate in length, muscular. Set neatly into fine sloping shoulders. Clean throat.
Forequarters Shoulders sloping and fine. Legs well boned, straight, sufficiently short for concentrated power. Not too short to interfere with tremendous exertions expected from this grand, sporting dog.
Body Strong, compact. Chest well developed and brisket deep; neither too wide nor too narrow in front. Ribs well sprung. Loin short, wide with firm, level topline gently sloping downwards to tail from end of loin to set on of tail.
Hindquarters Wide, well rounded, very muscular. Legs well boned, good bend of stifle, short below hock allowing for plenty of drive.
Feet Firm, thickly padded, cat-like.
Tail Set on slightly lower than line of back. Must be merry in action and carried level, never cocked up. Previously customarily docked.
Docked: Never too short to hide, nor too long to interfere with, the incessant merry action when working.
Undocked: Slightly curved, of moderate length, proportionate to size of body giving an overall balanced appearance; ideally not reaching below the hock. Strong at the root and tapering to a fine tip; well feathered in keeping with the coat. Lively in action, carried on a plane not higher than level of back and never so low as to indicate timidity.
Gait/Movement True through action with great drive covering ground well.
Coat Flat, silky in texture, never wiry or wavy, not too profuse and never curly. Well feathered forelegs, body and hindlegs above hocks.
Colour Various. In self colours no white allowed except on chest.
Faults Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog and on the dog's ability to perform its traditional work.
Note Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.