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What is a working Cocker spaniel?

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If you are new to the world of spaniels then it can be confusing to learn that there is more than one ‘flavour’ of the Cocker spaniel ( as well as other breeds of spaniel ).

A common term that you might hear is that of a ‘working spaniel’ and there can be some significant differences between working spaniels and others – in terms of size and, more importantly, intelligence and ability.

So, what is meant by a working spaniel and specifically a working Cocker spaniel?

Put simply a working cocker spaniel is a cocker that has been bred for work as opposed to looks. Working Cocker spaniels are used widely within the shooting industry with highest use being in the UK where they are used to find and flush game for the gun.

Types of Cocker spaniel

There are obvious differences when a working Cocker is compared to a show bred Cocker.

The working cocker spaniel is generally smaller than the show dog, with shorter limbs, a broader head and, most obvious of all, shorter ears and hair.

The two types of Cockers originate from the same historical stock with the breed having been developed in England as hunting or shooting dogs to find and flush woodcock.

Hence the name Cocker spaniel .

The breed migrated to the United States where it underwent different breeding standards and became known as the American Cocker Spaniel, a different dog to it’s English descendants.

working cocker spaniel

Choose from working stock

If you are looking to work a Cocker Spaniel then there is one golden rule that you must apply.

No matter how well bred or good looking a dog is, unless it is bred from working stock, then, the chances are that it will be a difficult dog to train and an indifferent worker when or if you are successful with it’s training.

Many Cockers have been bred for the show ring and, as such have been bred for looks, colour, type and other points of beauty rather than for working ability.

Over the course of generations of show breeding, the show Cocker has become a very different dog to the working Cocker which can be seen from the two pictures here.

The two types of dogs have taken different routes with their breeding.

The true working dogs will have pedigrees that demonstrate parents and ancestors from working stock with field trial and other working awards which will be regardless of looks or other beauty features.

It is a fact that a puppy with only two or three generations of show breeding in it’s blood will frequently display a lack of working ability or natural instinct.

This is true of all working dogs but particularly accurate with spaniel breeds.

The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels: Locating, Selecting, Feeding, Grooming, and Loving your new Cocker Spaniel Puppy
  • Hansen, Sara B. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 169 Pages – 06/18/2019 (Publication Date) – Independently published (Publisher)

When we consider Cocker Spaniels we see a show bred dog with long ears which impede it’s ability to work.

Deep eyelids which collect dirt and dust and cause infections and heavy, long coats which collect thorns and other rubbish when out in cover.

The working bred dogs, are smaller, more compact and powerful.

It is vitally important that, if you are looking for a Cocker spaniel as a working companion, that you seek out and find a dog that has been bred from working stock.

If you are looking for a pet then a show cocker would suit the brief ( but working dogs make good pets too).

Check pedigrees of dogs that you look at and look for working dogs, ask the breeder.

I’m not knocking show Cockers or show spaniels, but, honestly, if you want a working dog then get one from working ancestors.

You’ll have an easier time with training, the dog will almost train itself, it will have the drive and instinct that a working dog needs.

Why make it hard?

How big is a working cocker spaniel?

Working Cocker spaniels tend to be short in stature.

Many working cockers have broad heads and powerful shoulders, developed to help them to push through thick and dense cover in the pursuit and search of game.

My two Cockers are both working dogs, bred from long lines of working cocker spaniels.

Boris is quite large for a Cocker, more the size of a small Springer spaniel. He has a broad head, powerful shoulders and is, for his size, a very powerful dog. 

Nimrod, on the other hand, is a lot finer, much smaller than Boris.

He is a working bred spaniel and some of his breeding mirrors that of Boris, however he is shorter in height and not as broad.

Generally working cockers weigh around 15Kgs.

Do working cocker spaniels make good pets?

I would say so.

Both of my working cockers are also pets/members of the family/ good friends/great on roadtrips etc.

If you are looking at a working cocker as a pet then you’ll be making a good choice as long as you acknowledge a few things.

Firstly – a working spaniel is a high energy dog. He needs to be exercised and exercised with purpose.

Most dogs like to ‘do something’ when they go for a walk, whether this is fetching a ball, going for a swim – their minds need exercising as well as their bodies.

A working cocker needs input and the best way to acheive this would be through some form of training.

You may not be interested in working a spaniel, but, for sure, your spaniel will be interested in working. So, when you go out be prepared.

The Cocker Spaniel: Care and Training for Home and Sport
  • Janet Menzies (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 228 Pages – 04/16/2020 (Publication Date) – Quiller Publishing Ltd (Publisher)

You’ll need to wear him out and do something that he enjoys.

Also be prepared for a muddy car, mud in the house, along with dog hair and possibly other mess.

He’ll have moments of daftness which some people call the ‘zoomies’, he’ll pick things up and walk around with them, most likely shoes and slippers.

We never know where our shoes are with Boris and Nimrod.

working cocker spaniel
Working Cockers make good pets

So. Before you commit to a working cocker as a pet just think as to whether you can invest the time needed.

Oh, and they are great with children, in fact, having a working cocker spaniel is like having an extra child.

They are good family dogs.

Do working cockers calm down?

No. Next question please.

Seriously. If you want a calm dog then get something like a chihuahua. Working cockers have lots of energy and can keep up with the best.

Naturally, if you exercise your dog, keep him occupied and busy then he’ll get tired and goto sleep.

Also, as a Cocker, indeed any dog, gets older he’ll naturally slow down – just like people do.

But, as a youngster he’ll be active, full of energy and lively – just as he should be.

Think child/adult – kids are generally more active than their parents, with higher levels of energy and ‘staying power’ – it’s the same with most breeds of dogs.

Working dogs, and definitely working spaniels, are high energy.

Are male or female cocker spaniels better?

It really comes down to preference and your own personal view.

I’ve owned male and female spaniels and the differences in personality are very few.

Many people think that male spaniels are more headstrong and maybe more difficult to train and own, but, from my own personal experiences I would disagree with that view.

Most modern spaniels are so soft that even the most novice of owner would have little difficulty in getting a dog to a good standard of training.

Key differences are probably more physical than personality based.

A female spaniel will come into season annually and you’ll need to be prepared to manage this process, keeping her away from male dogs until this passes.

Vets will advise you to have her ‘spayed’ but I’m strongly against this type of practice unless there are medical grounds for this procedure.

Female spaniels can experience ‘false pregnancies’ whereby they build nests and sometimes express milk, but this is rare.

Male Cockers can fight – Boris and Nimrod do have their disagreements at times which can get physical.

There is a risk that the dogs could injure each other and there’s a need to be careful if things do come to blows. 

If you only have one dog then you won’t need to worry too much about this.

Be careful with vets, they’ll try to talk you into castrating a male dog, there’s no need for this, unless there are medical grounds.

Males can be territorial but with careful training there’ll be no need to whip his testicles off.

Males mark a lot – they cock their legs wherever you take them,  but, unless you’re fussy about this sort of thing it shouldn’t be a problem – the dog isn’t bothered about this.

Energy wise both sexes are probably equally as capable and I’ve had bitches that could run the legs off male spaniels easily – there’s no real difference.

Trainability – both are equally capable of reaching high standards of training.

As pets – great. The female is probably a bit more adaptable around children but, like all dogs, don’t leave kids alone with a dog.

It really is down to your own preference. Both can be true characters.

working cocker spaniel
Male and female Cockers will vary in temperament

Are cocker spaniels easy to train?

The working bred cocker spaniels are intelligent, biddable and keen to learn. Spaniels, in general, are bright dogs that love to get involved with new activities and learn.

I mentioned above the importance of getting a working bred cocker spaniel if you are looking for a good, keen working dog as it will be from proven stock that has been subject to training and doggy education.

If you opt for a cocker from show bred stock then, chances are that the dogs parents have not experienced a great deal of training input. Genetics in the dog world can make all the difference.

I’m not saying that a show bred cocker is untrainable but, if you want to increase your chances of success then you should go for the working bred dog.

Cockers love to hunt and chase their noses so if you can give your dog access to large areas where he can run free and expend some energy you’ll have a happier spaniel.

Retrieving games can be good fun and most spaniels will enjoy this. Use tennis balls or soft canvas dummies (like these that I found on Amazon) that won’t hurt the dog’s mouth.

If you throw these into long grass then the dog will have to hunt for them, using his nose to seek them out and find them – this is the sort of thing that spaniels love to do.

Cocker spaniels love to swim. If your spaniel is new to water then wait for a warm day. Take him out and let him run around warming up.

You’ll get more success introducing him to water on a hot day when he needs a refreshing dip. Don’t ever throw him in – you’ll frighten him and may even put him off water for good.

How do you groom a working cocker spaniel?

It’s not difficult to groom a working cocker spaniel and all you’ll really need is a good brush and a towel for most occasions.

You don’t need anything expensive, this is the type of brush that I use and it’s available for a really good price on Amazon.

You should always check your spaniel over after you’ve been out for a walk or out working with him. If he’s wet give him a wipe down with a towel.

Cockers seem to get cold when they stop running around so be aware of this.

Check his eyes, his ears, paws, face , tail and generally give him the once over.

Cockers and most other spaniels are hard going dogs that like to enter all kinds of cover from rushes through to thick brambles, all of which can cause damage and injury to your dog.

So, after every outing give him a check to make sure he has no injuries.

Cockers like being brushed and fussed over so I doubt that you’ll have any difficulties brushing him. Gently brush his ears through, his back and chest and brush through the feathering on his legs.

This ‘grooming’ shows your dog that you care for him and it should be enjoyable for both of you.

It also gives you the opportunity to check over your dog, checking for cuts, lumps, ticks, indeed anything out of the ordinary.

Bath time can be fun with Cockers. Good luck with the wrestling that will inevitably take place.

Make sure you have plenty of old towels available.

Can working cocker spaniels be left alone?

Most dogs, including working cocker spaniels, can be left alone for some part of the day.

Dogs, like people, vary in temperament, so, what may work for one dog may not be suitable for another.

My working cockers, Boris and Nimrod, are left alone, at random times, some days.

Currently, at home there is normally someone in so it’s rare that they are alone.

Plus, there are two of them so they don’t have to be on their own.

The key is to understand your dog. A dog that is well exercised, fed and looked after will be more amenable to being left than one that does not get out.

If your dog is tired after a walk and has been fed, then, he’ll go to sleep while you are away.

working cocker spaniel
Most dogs will just sleep when they are alone

If you are planning to get a working cocker and you’ll need to leave him alone then work on a routine that you can do daily. 

Take him out for a decent walk, give him a small meal when you get home, make sure that he has a comfortable, draught free place where he can go to bed and encourage him to use this for sleep.

Before you leave him, check around and make sure that there is nothing within reach that he shouldn’t have.

This could include things such as food, medicines, shoes, clothes, documents and other valuables.

Make sure that the environment is safe for him and always ensure that he has plenty of fresh clean water to drink.

Try not to leave him for too long. Dogs are pack creatures and enjoy being with their human pack, when you leave he can become concerned. 

Always make a fuss of him when you return, and, if he has made a mess or damaged something, then, that is your fault – not his – he’s just a dog and doesn’t understand.

Which dog food is best for cocker spaniels?

There is a great number of dog foods available to choose from when deciding what to feed a cocker spaniel.

My recommendation is to always use a food that contains a majority of meat based protein.

Many foods are predominantly cereal based and, despite what the manufacturers say, they are not the best type of food for any dog, least of all active, high energy creatures such as Cockers.

I feed my dogs a mix of raw tripe that I buy frozen from a local pet store, tinned dog food from the supermarket and Eukanuba which is a dried dog biscuit type food comprised of chicken and rice.

working cocker spaniel
Spaniels need proper, meat based foods

The Eukanuba version that I feed is for medium sized dogs and it suits my Cocker spaniels, they really enjoy it and are healthy on it.  

You can get Eukanuba medium from Amazon and can check the latest prices via this link.

I normally use one to two handfuls of the dry food mixed in with the meat – the dogs enjoy it and the meat provides a nich tasty treat.

Boris and Nimrod also get treats, in the form of Dentastix and other doggy delights – they’re all meaty based and make useful rewards in training as well.

When you get a puppy or new dog then you should always feed the same food as the breeder, for several weeks at least, and, if you want to change to a new food then you should introduce this gradually so that you don’t upset the dog’s tummy.

Do cocker spaniels like to cuddle?

Yes. As much as they are rough and tumble, tough dogs, yes they like to cuddle.

Boris likes to sit on my knee when he is tired or lies on top of me when I am in bed.

Nimrod is a right old sleepy head, he doesn’t like to get up in the morning, normally he is curled up in bed. He also likes sitting curled up on the sofa and frequently watches television.

Right now they’re curled up fast asleep after having had a great day’s training.

Final Words

There are always things to learn and understand about all dogs, including Cocker spaniels.

The important thing is to spend time with your Cocker, walking, training and resting.

Read as much as you are able and most of all, enjoy spending time with your dog.

Read Next

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Are chocolate Cocker spaniels rare?

Can English Cocker spaniels live in apartments?

Last update on 2022-12-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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