Although not as common as the American Cocker Spaniel in the United States, the English Cocker Spaniel is still one of the more popular of the spaniel types found within the sporting group. The English Cocker Spaniel is actually the foundation of the American Cocker Spaniel and like all spaniels was originally bred for hunting and tracking abilities rather than for actual conformation to a specific breed standard. As such there is a fair amount of variation within the breed including the specific type of coat that the dog may have and the amount of grooming and upkeep required.
Typically most of the English Cocker Spaniels fall into one of two categories, show or field dogs. Show dogs are bred specifically for conformation to the breed standard and are therefore selected on their physical appearance and temperament rather than their ability to hunt. Field lines, on the other hand, are bred specifically to be hunting dogs and typically have heavier, denser and shorter coats. Typically the field lines also are more energetic dogs by nature and have a greater need for both routine exercise and outdoor time in a fenced, secured yard.
The English Cocker Spaniel was first developed in England as a game bird dog, specifically for hunting the elusive woodcocks. It is from this specialized type of hunting that the breed gets its name. Both breeds of Cockers, the American and the English, were grouped together in the American Kennel Club registries until 1940 when they were separated into two distinct breeds. With this division came a slightly heavier emphasis on the American Cocker over the English with pet owners, however many hunters and show breeders continue to view the English Cocker Spaniel as an ideal competition dog.
Typically the English Cocker Spaniel will appear very similar to the American Cocker although there are some differences. The English Cocker tends to be more uniform in size with males measuring up to 17 inches at the withers and weighing about 34 pounds at maturity. Females are about an inch smaller at 16 inches and about 32 pounds at the upper end of the weight range. Like the American Cocker they have a very profuse, slightly wavy and well feathered moderately short coat over the entire body. Colors can range from solid colors in various shades of liver, black, browns and lighter sand colors through to parti colors and merles. Red or liver colors often come with red ticking and there is a relatively uncommon blue or red merle coloration also possible in the breed.
The head of the English Cocker Spaniel is very round in shape and the ears are positioned lower down the head. They are very long and pendant and if pulled forward they should extend past the tip of the nose. The ears are very well fringed with longer wavy hair and they are carried close to the skull. The eyes are dark, round and very noticeable in the face. They should have a soft yet intelligent expression and, although the lower lids may be slightly loose, they should not be significantly droopy or open in appearance. The stop is moderately defined and the muzzle is at least as long as the skull, giving a balanced appearance to the head. The nose itself is broad on the squared off muzzle, and typically is very dark brown to black but should blend in with the coat color.
The neck is moderately long and blends into a well developed but not bulky chest and body. The legs are moderately short and muscular, well developed and very free moving. The body is longer than the dog is tall and the topline slopes gently from the withers to the sloping croup. The tail, at least in the United States, is typically docked for show and field work, but is not docked in many other areas where the practice is illegal.
Like most of the spaniel types the English Cocker is a very happy type of dog that gets along wonderfully with children. Unlike some of the other spaniels, the English Cocker tends to be a dominant type of dog and does need to have an owner that is familiar with establishing him or herself as the leader. This means consistent, firm and positive training but also setting boundaries and being very balanced with regards to training and routine work with the dog. They are an intelligent breed that is easy to train, however they will become bored with the same old routines. As a high energy breed they need to have exercise times to help with focus in training.
Ideally the English Cocker should have access to a secure, fenced yard for several hours of outside time per day. They can adjust to smaller spaces or even apartments provided they have several longer walks per day and time spent off leash in a secure area. As a hunting and tracking dog they will get on a scent and often donâ€™t come back on command as they are so focused on the tracking process. When outside of the fence these dogs really do need to be kept on a leash for their own safety.
The English Cocker Spaniel is a remarkably healthy breed in most cases as breeders have been very careful in weeding out any genetic issues. They are also small enough to avoid the major issues with larger breeds such as canine hip dysplasia. The most common health concern with this breed is ear infections, due to the very closed ears of the breed. The ears should be cleaned, plucked and dried on a weekly basis or more frequently if the dog is in the water. The coat will need grooming every one to three days, depending on the length of the coat and the amount of outside time the dog has. The more cottony or wooly the coat is the more frequent the grooming will need to be to prevent mats from forming. Some people do clip the English Cocker Spaniel but avoid bathing too often as it can strip the natural oils from the hair and lead to more tangling and matting problems.