Cocker Spaniel and Cocker Spaniel (American)

Cocker Spaniel (Orange Roan)Cocker Spaniel (Orange Roan)

Cocker Spaniels are the two smallest Sporting Spaniel descended from the Spaniels described in the History of Spaniels. Progress to develop Cockers as a show dog was made in the late 1800's when the weight limit of 25 pounds was abolished. British Cockers were then sent to America where they founded the separate breed, the Cocker Spaniel (American). But the Cocker's handy size, charm, sporty but merry temperament made it the ideal family pet topping popularity charts in Britain, USA and Australia during 1930's.

History of the Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Spaniels c 1874Cocker Spaniels c 1874

Cocker Spaniels originated before the 1800's in Wales, Devon and other places where woodlands were frequented by a small bird called the woodcock, a delicacy enjoyed by Englishmen who were also sportsmen. Cockers were originally used to cause woodcock spring into the air so the shooter could capture it. Cockers began to make real progress in the mid-1800's when guns became more practical for field use. As described in the Spaniel Separation Saga, at first the size of the Field Spaniels varied and the Cocker was the smallest Spaniel used for field and sporting purposes.

Cocker 'Ch Sandy Obo' c 1880Cocker 'Ch Sandy Obo' c 1880

When the black Field Spaniel was going though a long, low bodied stage, Mr James Farrow and his famous dogs from 'Obo' (born 1879) and his descendants, founded the modern Cocker Spaniel. With the help of the Spaniel Club, Mr Farrow lobbied the Kennel Club through its 'Kennel Gazette' and 'the Field' magazine for at least a decade to recognise the Cocker an independent breed to Field Spaniel. In 1892, the Kennel Club finally agreed to have a separate classification for Cockers and again include them in the Kennel Club Stud Book.

The Cocker Spaniel becomes a Pure Breed

Mr James Farrow's famous dog 'Obo' was legendary. The following was written in 'The Field' magazine:

Early Cocker 'Ted Obo'Early Cocker 'Ted Obo'

'As a sire he excelled any Cocker seen since the history of dog shows. As a prize winner, when exhibited in Cocker classes, he never had his flag lowered, although exhibited for nearly eight years under different judges. It is a pillar of the stud book of the breed that Mr Farrow thought so much of his old favourite, (that) to name the numerous prize winners by the dog would take up too much space..... We are often told of the grand Cockers seen at American exhibitions, and we wish to take nothing from our friends across the water, but the fact remains that Obo is the sire or grandsire of half of their prominent winners, indeed, if one goes through carefully the list of American prize-winning Cockers (writing in 1890) during the last seven years, certainly 75% of them belong to the Obo strain.

Cocker Spaniels c 1907Cocker Spaniels c 1907

Referring to this dog as a sire, I care only to add the above remarks from the 'Stock Keeper' that his position as a sire in the American breed of Cockers refers equally as strongly to the Australian Cockers through his son 'Jack Obo'.[1] (Note 'Jack Obo' is listed as being imported into Australia in 1887[4] )

From this humble beginning, many astute breeders became involved. They created a Cocker which was longer in leg, shorter in body, and came in colours other than black. Many famous kennels became famous during this period, each contributing to the breed's popular public image whilst maintaining his usefulness as a working gundog. So within forty years of its recognition as a pure breed, the Cocker Spaniel became the most popular breed in Britain.

The Cocker Spaniel (American) becomes a Pure Breed

Cocker (American) c 1939Cocker (American) c 1939

From this same 'Obo' taproot the Cocker Spaniel (American) started development as a separate breed and within fifty years it had also became one of America's most popular breeds. Then because of the prolonged lobbying by breeders and speciality clubs, in 1949 the American Kennel Club gave the Cocker Spaniel (American) separate status from the Cocker Spaniel of England. By 1967 this recognition was reciprocated by the English Kennel Club. So today in Australia we have the two separate breeds, the first three imports of Americans coming here from England in 1969 and 1972, followed by several from America[6].

American CockerAmerican Cocker

In reality, the heads of the predominantly English type had become re-shaped, and the necks, together with shortness of back were becoming emphasised by the handling pose. Also the thighs were becoming lengthened giving a spectacular gait with, together with the length of coat told gave the Cocker Spaniel (American) a unique striking appearance.

Cocker (American) Stamp Cocker (American) Stamp

This also sorted the good judges out because they had to feel the strong ribs, wonderful thighs and muscling combined with the short hocks that provided the spectacular drive of the dog's gait[2]. The American Kennel Club's attempts to demand that excessive coat be penalised remains to this day a matter of the judges' discretion. The question is also often asked whether or not the Cocker Spaniel (American) is a true Sporting dog that is capable of working in the field. But the fact is that correctly presented, he remains one of the most glamorous dogs in the Gundog Group.

History of Cocker Spaniels in Australia

Cocker imported 1896Cocker imported 1896

At the first dog show held in Melbourne in 1864, there were 23 'Springers and Cockers'.[3] But as this was before the Cocker was recognised in England, how many of these were Cockers is questionable. In 1887 Wittaker Bros brought a brace of Cocker Spaniels from England into Victoria including 'Jack Obo' and 'Hobart Lady'[8]. Then another 17 Cockers were listed as being imported from England in Tyzack's Annual between 1887 and 1908[4] including Ch Bruton Ben (pictured). It is significant that this dog is one of the eight imported into Victoria by Mr E Warriner who, breeding under the Gainsborough prefix, did so much to found Cockers across Australia and New Zealand [5] including being Secretary of the first Spaniel Club formed in 1894.[4a] 

Australian Field and show Champion Cocker c 1947Australian Field and show Champion Cocker c 1947

From this sound beginning, growth in Cocker Spaniel's popularity grew in leaps and bounds with the people involved reading like the 'who's who' of the Australian dog world. By 1910, Cockers made up 12% of entries at all-breeds shows[8] as the Cocker became legendary as a merry but placid household pet which could also accompany the casual shooter in the field.

Cocker (Liver or Chocolate)Cocker (Liver or Chocolate)

Top quality imports from England continued to arrive including 3 'of Ware' dogs. By 1937 there were classes of 30 or 40 with a Cocker winning Best Exhibit in Show at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, another in 1939 and a third in 1949[6]. Entries remained huge despite World War Two with a massive 187 entered in the 1948 Royal Melbourne Show[7]. Success was also huge with 'Falconette of Thaxted' winning Best Exhibit in Show at the 1946 Royal Melbourne Show, 'Ch Skymaster of Ware (imp UK)' winning Best Opposite Sex in Show in 1947 and 'Ch Monowai Messenger' in 1951[8].

With such a solid foundation, it is no wonder that at least a score of people who later became legends within Australia's developing dog world began their involvement by being charmed by a Cocker Spaniel. It is also heartening to see our newcomers are interested in keeping the various colours of the Cocker Spaniels 'alive'.

Comparison Between Cocker, Cocker (American) and Field Spaniel

Cocker Spaniel Cocker Spaniel (American) Field Spaniel
General Appearance Merry sporting dog with equal body measurements from withers to ground as from withers to root its ever-wagging tail. The smallest Gundog with body measurement measurement from the breast bone to back of thigh slightly longer than withers to ground. Noble, upstanding active dog built for working all day in thick undergrowth, or as a docile but independent companion.
Size Dogs around 39-41 cms (15.5-16 ins), Bitches around 38-39 cms (15-15.5 ins), Weight around 13-14.5 kgs (28-32 lbs) Ideal height dogs 38.1 cms (15 ins); Bitches 35.6 cms (14 ins) with an allowable variance of 1.25 cms (&1/2; inch) above or below. Height around 46 cms (18 ins) Weight around 18-25 kg (40-55 lbs).
Cocker Spaniel (Red)Cocker Spaniel (Red) Cocker Spaniel (American)Cocker Spaniel (American) Field Spaniel (Liver)Field Spaniel (Liver)
Colour Solid black, red, golden, liver (chocolate), black and tan or, liver and tan without white except a small spot on chest. Parti-colours black and white, orange and white, liver and white or lemon and white but without ticking. Tri-colours may be black, white and tan or liver, white and tan. Roans may be blue roan, orange roan, or lemon roan or liver roan with tan or blue roan and tan. Solid black or any solid colour other than black with or without with tan points. When parti-coloured or roan one colour must be white with or without tan points with the primary colour not exceeding 90%. If tan points are present, they must be in all the usual tan patterning as enunciated upon in other black and tan coloured breeds. The nose is black, liver or brown according to the coat colour. Black, black and tan, blue roan, blue roan and tan, liver, liver and tan, liver roan, liver roan and tan. Not parti-coloured, that is black and white or liver and white, nor should be ever be orange, red or golden.
Coat Flat, silky in texture but never curly, wiry or wavy, and not profuse. But the forelegs, body and hind legs above hocks should be well feathered. Flat, silky in texture but never curly or cottony, of medium length on the body with undercoat. The ears, chest, abdomen and legs are well feathered not so excessive that this sporting dog's natural outline are impeded. Long, flat, dense, weatherproof and silky but never curly or wavy. There is abundant feathering on the chest, under body and behind the legs.
Skull Skull well developed and cleanly chiselled but cheek bones should not be prominent. The skull is rounded with the eyebrows clearly defined. The distance from the stop to the tip of the nose is one half the distance from the stop up over the crown to the base of the skull. He has a lean head with slightly raised eyebrows and a prominent occiput.
Stop Distinct Pronounced Moderate
Muzzle Square Broad and deep with a full upper lip deep enough to cover the lower jaw Long, lean well chiselled beneath the eyes and in profile is neither snipey nor squarely cut. Instead it should curve gradually from nose to throat.
Cocker Spaniel (Orange Roan)Cocker Spaniel (Orange Roan) Cocker Spaniel (American) Black and TanCocker Spaniel (American) Black and Tan Field Spaniel (Liver)Field Spaniel (Liver)
Eyes Full, but not prominent. Dark brown or brown harmonising with the coat colour, bright and merry with tight rims. Eyes round and full, looking directly forward but the eye rims are  slightly almond shaped. The eyes are dark brown, the darker the better. The dark hazel eyes should be almond shaped with tight lids showing no haw.
Ears Lobular shape and set low level with eyes. The fine leathers should extend to nose tip and be well clothed with long straight silky hair. Lobular, long, fine, and well feathered. They should be set on no higher than a line to the lower part of the eye. Moderately long and wide, set low on the head and well feathered.
Mouth a normal scissors bite a normal scissors bite a normal scissors bite
Neck Moderately long and set neatly into fine sloping shoulders. The throat should be clean, without excessive dewlap. Moderately long with a crest as it tapers to join the head. The throat should be clean without excessive dewlap. Long, strong and muscular
Forequarters The shoulders should be sloping and fine. Although the legs should be straight and well boned they should have sufficient length for the exertions expected from this grand, sporting dog. The shoulders should be at a right angle with the upper arm, be sloping without protrusion at the withers with the elbow directly below. The forelegs are straight, strongly boned and set close to the body with short, strong pasterns. The shoulders long, sloping and well laid back, and the forelegs are of moderate length with straight, flat bone.
Feet Firm, thickly padded and cat-like. Feet large and round with firm, horny pads Round and tight, but not too small
Body Body strong and compact with a well developed chest, deep brisket, well sprung ribs and a short but wide and deep loin. The topline should be level until it reaches the end of the loin. Then it slopes gently to the tail set. The chest is deep and the ribs well sprung for adequate heart room, but not too wide. From the withers, the strong back slopes evenly but slightly downward to the set-on of the tail. The chest is deep and well developed. The ribs are moderately well sprung, the length of the rib cage being two thirds of the total body length. The back and loin level, strong and muscular.
Hindquarters The hind legs should be well boned with a good turn of stifle and short hocks, The hindquarters should look well rounded, wide and very muscular, enabling the dog to move with plenty of drive. The hind legs should have strong bone, moderate turn of stifle and short, strong hocks which must be parallel. The wide hindquarters are well rounded with clearly defined thigh muscles. The joints must be perfectly sound. The hindquarters must be strong and  muscular with moderately bent stifles and short hocks.
Cocker Spaniel (Blue Roan)Cocker Spaniel (Blue Roan) Cocker (American) Black & TanCocker (American) Black & Tan Field SpanielField Spaniel
Tail The tail should be strong at the root, tapering to a fine tip and be well feathered. It is set on and carried slightly lower than line of back and never cocked up. When undocked it should not reach below the hock. But above all, the tail must be merry and in action. The tail should be thicker at the root and taper towards the tip. It is set on in line with the topline but carried slightly higher. It should always have a merry action and be of moderate length when undocked and have feathering consistent with the coat. The tail should be set low and never carried above level of back. It should be nicely feathered and always have a with lively, merry action.
Gait The movement should be straight and true so the dog covers the ground well. A typical sporting dog movement with drive from the powerful hindquarters and forelegs that reach forward in a co-ordinated, smooth and effortless ground covering gait. Long, unhurried stride with great drive from the rear.

References and Further Reading

Hot off the Press! Jane has just published a book 'Gundogs Unveiled'. Information on our sister website:

Also published as Jane Harvey "The Spaniel Separation Saga" in Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral NSW) Issue 1, 2016 Page 10

[1] H.S. Lloyd M.B.E ('of Ware') - 'The Cocker Spaniel' Published by 'Our Dogs' publishing Company Limited, Oxford Road Station Approach, Manchester UK, Fifth Edition (First Edition Published 1924) Chapter 11 Later History - the Obos Pages 18 - 19

[2] C.Bede Maxwell, - 'The Truth about Sporting Dogs' Published 1972 by Howell Book House Inc 845 Third Avenue New York, NY 10022 The American Cocker Spaniel Page 77-83

[3] Catalogue of the First Exhibition of Sporting & Other Dogs, Thursday & Friday April 7 & 8, 1864 promoted by the Council of the Acclimatisation Society, printed in Melbourne by Mason & Firth, Printers, Flinders Lane West Page 6.

[4] 'Tyzack's Annual' Compiled by T. W.Tyzack and C.S.Turner  Published by the Victorian Poultry and Kennel Club 1912 by Bellamine Bros. Printers, 66-70 Flinders Lane Melbourne Page 90 (Importations) and 43 - 46 (Stud Book).

[4a] ibid Page 132

[5] W. Beilby 'The Dog in Australasia' published George Robertson & Company in 1897 Chapter the Cocker Spaniel' Page 227

[6] C.Formston - 'The Cocker Spaniel, 'The History of Purebred Dogs in Australia' published by OzDog Newspaper 1997 Page 98

[6a] Ibid., Valerie Griffin - 'The Cocker Spaniel (American)' Page 101

[7] Catalogue Royal Melbourne Show, 17th - 26th September 1948 Published by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria Page 479 - 485

[8] Ken Rowles 'Early History of the Cocker Spaniel in Australia' Published by National Dog Newspaper' Windsor NSW March 1976 Page 12