It's hardly surprising that the charming, adventurous English Cocker Spaniel with its roguish self-will is one of the most popular dog breeds. Find out the essentials about these long-eared Brits in the following article.
Silky Beauty - How do English Cocker Spaniels look like?
Reaching around 40cm in height and up to 14.5kg in weight, English Cocker Spaniels are medium-sized and robust. Their fur is flat and in particular incredibly silky. The colour of the fur varies, but monocolour dogs should at most only have white fur on the chest. The long and low-set lop-ears are a striking characteristic of the breed.
Descendants of the motley Spaniel family
The precise origin of English Cocker Spaniels is unknown. A theory, if not a legend, assumes that they arrived in Britain from Spain with Julian Caesar's Roman soldiers well over 2,000 years ago and that their name is derived from the Latin term for “Spanish dog”. What is certain is that the ancestors of today's Spaniel breed were already highly popular hundreds of years ago. For instance, the British writer Geoffrey Chaucer mentioned “Spaniel dogs” as early as the 14th century, and around 200 years later, William Shakespeare also immortalised the Spaniel in his works. In 1570, the scientist John Caius classified the British dog breeds of the era, including Spaniels, which he divided into land and water Spaniels. He considered the Springer Spaniel, which during hunts mainly took on the role of flushing out rabbits or birds and retrieving them once they had been shot, to be a land Spaniel. Several more breeds have developed from Springer Spaniels, including the English Cocker Spaniel, which was recognised as an independent breed in 1892 by the English Kennel Club. Special Spaniel clubs dedicated to pure breeding quickly shot up in Europe. As with some other original working dog breeds, breeding based chiefly on aesthetic criteria could generally lead to exaggerated features, such as overly long floppy ears.
Deployment as working dogs
Cockers were specially bred for hunting woodcocks, which can camouflage themselves easily in the forest soil to the extent where they are barely recognisable. However, sensitive canine noses can sniff them out. English Cocker Spaniels are classed as gun-dogs and mainly hunt by “bustling” away: for the huntsman, this means that the Spaniel runs in front of him in wavy lines or circles and thereby tries to make out the scent of potential prey. Nor do Cockers stop at impermeable undergrowth or reeds, allowing them to flush out birds that the hunter can then shoot. Even nowadays, the breed is still deployed for hunting predominantly in England and Scotland, but the majority of English Cocker Spaniels are now family dogs. Furthermore, their excellent sense of smell makes them ideally suited for working with the police and customs.
Nature of the English Cocker Spaniel
- Jolly and outgoing
- Friendly to humans and animals
- Affectionate, loyal and cuddly
- Too trustworthy to be guard dogs
- Strong hunting instinct
- Strong fondness for food
Appearances don't deceive: English Cocker Spaniels are jolly and outgoing dogs that need family contact. They are friendly to humans and animals, as long as the latter don't catch their eye out in the open as potential prey. They are always keen on fun and games and are affectionate, loyal and cuddly. Their barking never fails to let you know that strangers are present. However, they are just as quick to make friends with said strangers, for which reason they generally make poor guard dogs. Despite their friendliness, they remain hunters at heart and once they follow a scent, obedience rarely wins out over their hunting instinct. English Cocker Spaniels in most cases have a further passion along with hunting and their family: all forms of food. This cheerful soul loves tasty treats, which unfortunately can more often that not culminate in obesity.
The breed has a hereditary disposition for congenital vestibular disease, which affects the inner ear with balance disorders and in some instances deafness on one or both sides. Furthermore, a cumulative occurrence of ocular problems (cataracts) in relation to other breeds is observed. It's also worth mentioning the supposedly hereditary “Spaniel rage”, which causes affected dogs to suffer from regular outbursts of aggression comparable with epileptic fits and followed by exhaustion. These phases are in no way comparable with the “five minutes of madness” experienced by a playful puppy or dogs that are simply untrained, therefore they require urgent veterinary attention. Theories claiming that monocolour dogs are more regularly affected than those with a white patch have now been proved to be outdated. Responsible breeding can significantly limit “Spaniel rage”. Familial kidney diseases can also occur somewhat more frequently amongst these long-eared canines.
Despite these tendencies, most English Cockers Spaniels are robust dogs, since hereditary dispositions still only affect a small proportion of the breed. Nevertheless, prevention is better than cure! Before purchasing an English Cocker Spaniel puppy, you should definitely find out about the healthcare provision received by the parent animals and their ancestors. Nowadays, many diseases can be ruled out via a genetic test, thereby minimising the risks of hereditary diseases. There's one factor that is of course under your control: tasty treat loving English Cocker Spaniels have a tendency to become overweight if they also don't do enough exercise. A healthy Cocker Spaniel can live to be around 15 years old.
How to groom an English Cocker Spaniel?
First impressions might be deceptive, since grooming an English Cocker Spaniel is a relatively cumbersome process. The silky fur should be thoroughly brushed at least every other day, ideally daily. For instance, the fur under the axial area and ears is prone to felting. It's best to get your puppy used to the general grooming ritual with a soft brush and to practice brushing “finicky” areas like the stomach. In this way, they learn to enjoy the mandatory grooming routine. Check after walks whether your dog has potentially picked up small bits of leaf, burrs or even insects in its mop of hair. The flews should be cleaned once a day with a damp cloth. You should get your puppy used to this from an early age in order to prevent the flews becoming inflamed. The Cocker's love of water can make grooming even more difficult, since many are magically drawn to mud puddles, meaning that you have to rinse them off after their walk.
English Cocker Spaniels need to have a trim every two months, focusing on the hair on the back, flews and under the ears and stomach. With a bit of patience and the correct tool (thinning scissors, clippers, brush, comb, trimming blade) you can trim your English Cocker Spaniel yourself, providing that you receive careful instruction beforehand. You should also regularly cut the protruding hairs on the paw pads to prevent dirt and infections. The warm and humid lop-ears encourage skin fungi and rashes and consequently inflammation. Hence, you should check under your dog's ears on a daily basis. Special dog snacks or toys are suitable for dental care.
Training – consistency is key
This passionate hunter needs consistent training without any harshness. Establish clear training rules before your new family member enters the home and stick to them. Otherwise, the English Cocker Spaniel will interpret every little “exception” as a new rule to assert its stubbornness. If this is taken into account, training is manageable even for beginners. The English Cocker Spaniel's characteristic appetite makes it easy to give treats during training. However, you should take care not to let your dog take advantage of you in terms of food. The English Cocker Spaniel is more than willing to use the puppy dog eyes in order to achieve its objective. Don't give in and stick to fixed meal times with rationed treats. Little games of fetch are also suitable as rewards. Make sure to keep their love of trails controllable so that you can let adult English Cocker Spaniels out without a lead.
Best activity for this dog breed?
As small and full of joy as the English Cocker Spaniel may appear, its heart is definitely that of a hunt dog that demands sufficient exercise and activity – at least one to two hours per day. Along with normal walks, these attractive dogs need to be kept occupied, for instance, with search and fetch games or dummy work. Many Cocker Spaniels just love jumping into cool water. These little bundles of energy are ideal companions for joggers, as long as they can keep up with an adult dog step-by-step. English Cocker Spaniels just love taking on search tasks and are therefore well suited for man trailing or track work. As well as exercise and activity, however, they love cuddling up to their caregivers. A fit and well-engaged English Cocker Spaniel will be a loyal companion at all times and its cheerful mood is infectious.
Questions before the big move
English Cocker Spaniels are friendly, affectionate, loyal and playful, which are ideal characteristics of a family dog. They are well suited for sporty families who like to keep active with their dog in the great outdoors. Open Cockers are generally quick to make friends with other pets, but outdoors their hunting instinct can gain the upper hand. Before an English Cocker Spaniel enters your home, ask if you are going to have enough time every day for the next 15 years to attend to its grooming and activity requirements. Consider beforehand care options in case of illness or travel and find out which holiday destinations could be possible with your future dog. Play it safe and check that no family members are allergic to dogs. English Cocker Spaniels generally love children, so as long as you agree on clear rules with your children for treating the Cocker with respect, there should be nothing getting in the way of a solid friendship. Last but not least, you should bear in mind regular costs for balanced nutrition as well as veterinary check-ups, possible dog taxes and liability insurance, along with basic provision (lead, bowls, blanket, toys, car insurance, basket) and the high purchase price itself for an English Cocker Spaniel. Acute illnesses can bring about unforeseen costs. Before your new arrival moves in, you should ideally look for a nice dog school for socialisation and tips on training and activity for your cheerful little soul. If it's your first dog, you should read up on the topic of species-appropriate canine nutrition, because English Cocker Spaniels have a tendency to quickly become overweight if their calorie intake is too high. Hence, it is recommended to regularly weigh dry food to estimate and accordingly control the calorie intake.
Looking for an English Cocker Spaniel?
There are a large number of English Cocker Spaniel breeders since the breed is so popular. Choosing an English Cocker Spaniel puppy should always be a head and heart decision. Search calmly for a responsible breeder who breeds healthy animals with a focus on quality over quantity. Stay well clear of all those who don't breed in an association and who can't produce any breed analyses. A good breeder is concerned with the health of the representative parent animals and their ancestors, seeks extensive socialisation, gives the bitch sufficient recovery time in between giving birth and is interested in the new home its puppies will go to. You will usually have a point of contact for after the purchase in case you have questions about your new family member. The dog should be vaccinated and wormed when purchased and should be equipped with its pedigree certificate, vaccination record and a microchip when it makes the move.
If you're happy to go with an adult dog, you will probably quickly find dogs in the far reaches of the Internet who would love a new home due to their original owners having to leave them. There are “Spaniel in need” organisations in many countries, which re-home Cocker Spaniels and part-Cocker mixes. In this vein, you should also check out your local animal shelter. Since English Cocker Spaniels are very popular, unfortunately a few always end up in sanctuaries. Novice dog owners can have the advantage here of picking up an already well-trained English Cocker Spaniel. However, other dogs end up in animal homes because their previous owners were overwhelmed by training requirements. In such cases, a bit of canine knowledge and lots of patience are required. Carers and animal welfarists are generally good at determining if you and the dog in question could make a dream team. Giving an older dog a second chance can certainly be a very rewarding experience.