English Cocker Spaniels are most often described as merry, and it is generally an apt description. Bred for flushing game out of the bushes for hunting, the English Cocker Spaniel is an enthusiastic and active dog with a high level of commitment to their owners. Their coats are soft and silky but prone to mats and tangles and require a high level of grooming as they tend to shed heavily. English Cocker Spaniels are the direct ancestor to the American Cocker Spaniel, but the American Cocker Spaniel has been bred to be slightly smaller with a more domed skull and a lower prey drive. The English Cocker Spaniel does require more exercise than their American counterparts, but they also tend to be hardier and somewhat less prone to anxiety and nervousness.
Spaniels, in general, are classified as a type of gun dog, but they have existed since long before the gun, initially bred to flush game out of the deep brush for the hunter and in some cases, to retrieve birds from the water. Initially, they were divided into just two groups; water Spaniels and land Spaniels. It wasn’t until the 17th century that any distinction was made between types of land Spaniels. During this time Spaniels began to be classified as either Springer or Cocker Spaniel, based entirely on the size of the dog. The larger Spaniels, those that were over were used to “spring” game animals for the hunt and were therefore called Springers, where the smaller dogs were particularly adept at flushing out birds like the woodcock for their owners, earning them the name of Cocker Spaniel. At this point in the history of the Spaniel, Springer Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels were frequently born into the same litter. In 1902 The Cocker Spaniel Club was founded in England. When the Cocker Spaniels began developing in America they changed considerably, their backs lengthened, their heads became more domed, and their prey drive was greatly reduced. The change was so great that in 1935 a group was formed for those who preferred the traditional look of the English Cocker Spaniel and were intent on discouraging interbreeding between the original English Cocker Spaniel and the newer Americanized version of the Cocker Spaniel. In 1946 the Cocker spaniels that had developed in America were recognized as a separate breed, the American Cocker Spaniel.
The English Cocker Spaniel is a small to medium-sized dog with long ears that lie close to the head, a long, broad snout, and a soft, soulful gaze. They are a muscular yet graceful breed, bred to be compact and powerful for flushing and retrieving game. One of the most notable features of this breed is their medium length silky coat with distinctive feathering on the belly, legs, ears, and tail. This attractive coat comes in a number of colors and is classified into four general categories for patterning. Solid coats are typically all one color, but they may occasionally include small white markings, and those classified as open marked have large sections of white between patches of solid color. Roan is defined as having a base color that is muted or lightened by the presence of a mixture of white hairs whereas a ticking pattern is the presence of spots of color in an area that would otherwise be white. These patterns are present in black, liver, tan, blue, sable, red, orange, golden, and lemon colors, and occasionally even combinations of those colors. Dogs with multiple colors, but with little to no white showing, such as a black and tan cocker spaniel, are considered to have a solid pattern. They have firm rounded paws that have been described as cat-like with thick pads, and a long, straight tail which is frequently docked at a young age either to meet breed standards or to prevent injury when the dog ran through the heavy brush.
The English Cocker Spaniel is an active and energetic animal that requires a great deal of maintenance, much of it in the form of exercise. The English Cocker Spaniel is a people-oriented dog that is full of energy, and require larger than average amounts of both attention and exercise to be at their happiest and healthiest. Their beautiful, silky coats are prone to tangling, and the feathering on the ears and legs tend to collect leaves, sticks, and dirt that need to be picked or brushed out. They can also shed rather heavily and have a light but distinct doggy odor. Brushing to remove tangles and prevent excessive shedding should be completed several times a week and bathing should occur every four to six weeks to prevent the odor from becoming too strong. It is also important to regularly check and clean this dog’s ears to prevent bacterial or fungal ear infections from developing.