Cocker Spaniels are a much-loved breed. They have won people over with their large, soulful eyes and an excellent ability to be the perfect canine companion. It’s no wonder that they are the most popular spaniel breed to be owned in the UK. If you are set on owning one of these dogs, then there is another choice that you’ll have to make, too; do you want a show Cocker Spaniel or a working Cocker Spaniel?
Many people might wonder what differentiates the show Cocker from the working Cocker, but there are a few areas that split these two strains apart. Although they are both the same breed, just different varieties, their appearance, traits, and dietary requirements can set them apart. As their names would suggest, show Cockers were bred for dog shows, while the working strain was primarily bred for farmers, hunters, and other workers.
So, if you’re set on buying or adopting a Cocker Spaniel but don’t know which type to go for, this article will provide the information to make the right decision for you and your lifestyle.
Table of Contents
Origins of Cocker Spaniels
Although this dog breed originated in the UK, up until 1893, all Spaniels were known as Land Spaniels before they began to be specified by size and colour. This was when the Cocker Spaniel breed was created, with it later split into two strains; show and working. The Cocker Spaniel was first bred for hunting and flushing out popular game birds, specifically woodcock, hence the name.
Professional breeders sell the two different types of Cocker Spaniel, even though the Kennel Club website shows that the Cocker Spaniel is the recognised breed. Mixing the two Cocker strains is avoided by breeders, even though there are no official regulations against this.
The Kennel Club describes the Cocker Spaniel as “the merry cocker” for its constantly wagging tail, showing how happy the dog always is. The breed is classed as a “gundog.”
Even though this strain is still classified as part of the working dog group, the show Cocker was bred to have distinct features. Show Cocker breeders began to focus on the dogs’ general temperament as well as posture, muscle tone, and lineage to obtain an ideal overall look to get the grade at dog championships, like Crufts. Generally, these dogs aren’t used for working; they are mainly for show quality.
Show Cocker Spaniels can be further split into two types – English and American.
As these dogs were firstly working animals, known simply as Cocker Spaniels, the working strain is often viewed as the original. This type of Cocker Spaniel is still used for raising and retrieving in the UK; they are widely known to be reliable gun dogs. In recent years, working cocker spaniels have also been used as sniffer dogs due to their impressive sense of smell and great trainability.
There are physical differences between the show and working Cocker Spaniel strains; many of these differences have been specifically bred into the dogs to obtain the show Cocker image. The differences in appearance can be seen as early as puppyhood in some cases, with the working Cocker Spaniel having a longer body from the get-go.
However, there are several colours that both show and working Cocker Spaniels can come in, including:
- Black and tan
- Blue roan
- Lemon roan
- Liver and white
Show Cocker Spaniel Appearance
Due to rising demands, breeders focused on the aesthetic qualities of Cocker Spaniels. They looked to emphasise the characteristics that would win awards at shows and create the desired look.
Show Cocker Spaniels have long ears, rounded heads, and shorter snouts. They are seen to be the more glamorous breed with their long ear fringe, big, rounded eyes, and feathery tail, all of which are considered stereotypical traits of the show dog breed. Despite this, a show Cocker will still have a compact and balanced body, in line with the Kennel Club breed standard for the working dog category.
Just as there are two types of show Cockers: English Cocker Spaniel and American Cocker Spaniel. The English variety is stated to have a heavier, rounder head than the American, with a broader muzzle that stops slightly short of the nose.
Working Cocker Spaniel Appearance
Where the show Cocker Spaniels were refined to create a specific physical appearance, the working type Cocker still retains the robust and lithe build of their original counterparts, similar to the Springer Spaniel, another working Spaniel breed. They have a lot of physical strength, allowing them to carry larger prey easily. They are seen to have a sleeker body frame than the show Cocker, with a slightly lighter head. Less focus is put on their appearance; instead, the working type’s practicality is the priority.
These dogs are usually seen to have a bit more feathering, although the length is much shorter than a show Cocker. Working Cocker Spaniels also have a slightly longer muzzle than their counterpart, which provides them with more agility. Their flatter heads, narrower muzzles, and smaller ears allow them to move easily through thick bushes and avoid injury.
Due to their working status, many working Cockers had their tails docked; this is mainly due to safety issues when retrieving. It is less common for pet working dogs to have their tail docked; this comes after it was made illegal in many parts of the UK.
Despite being part of the same breed, the show and working Cocker Spaniels do vary slightly in terms of character and attitude.
Intelligence and Trainability
Cocker Spaniels, no matter the type, are intelligent dogs. However, they can be headstrong dogs. This is why it is essential to take them to puppy obedience classes as soon as they are able to attend and continue systematic training throughout their lives.
It is essential to keep their minds active regularly; a bored Spaniel can be destructive, like chewing and scratching, and this is best avoided. Show Cocker Spaniels might not be as practical for activities like agility, flyball, or anything that requires them to be active and off-leash. They are still eager to please and will learn if incentivised correctly.
Working Cocker Spaniels usually respond better to training, particularly when combined with an activity, such as retrieving. Although this strain is still headstrong, they usually understand the importance of obedience and their basic commands. Working Cockers often put more effort into training, too.
Training and mental stimulation can help to combat boredom. Spaniels want to please their owners; they like approval and affection, so you can use this trait to train your dog effectively. As always, being firm with your commands and using positive reinforcement are the best ways to get the training to stick.
Both show Cockers and working Cockers are high-energy dogs. Although their exercise will be limited as puppies to allow for steady growth and limit complications, Cocker Spaniels will require at least one hour of activity a day. Working Cocker Spaniels have even higher energy levels than the show type, as they were bred to run and take part in more intensive activities. This energy level can stem from/to their instinctual prey drive at times.
Due to having a working background, working Cocker Spaniels have a high prey drive. Historically, this is a critical component of successful bird hunting. To use their dogs’ energy levels, many owners of working dogs put their dogs into agility classes or focus on scent-work training. They will also require a daily off-lead walk, ideally in an enclosed environment, until their recall is consistent.
Depending on the breeding history of a specific dog in the show strain, it might not have such a high prey drive as its working counterpart.
Cockers tend to be healthy dogs, but there are some health conditions that they are at risk of, including:
- Hip dysplasia
- Atopic dermatitis
- Ear problems (e.g., ear infections known as otitis)
- Eye problems (e.g., acute closed-angle glaucoma and progressive retinal atrophy)
- Auto-immune conditions (e.g., haemolytic anaemia)
- Inherited conditions (e.g., familial nephropathy)
Cocker Spaniels can also suffer from breed-specific health problems, such as heart disease, pancreatitis, and slipped discs. These health issues are the same for both show Cockers and working Cockers.
If you plan on buying a Cocker Spaniel puppy, it is encouraged to do so through the Kennel Club Assured Breeders scheme, which “certifies and promotes responsible dog breeders who make animal health and welfare their priority.” Breeders in this scheme are monitored to ensure their puppies get the best beginning by meeting breed standards, such as health testing of breeding stock.
The dietary requirements of the show Cocker and working Cocker are practically the same. This breed does need a balanced diet; this should include a range of proteins (such as fish, chicken, turkey, and beef), carbohydrates, as well as mineral-rich vegetables.
For show Cockers, it is best to look for a diet specifically formulated for dogs of their breed size and age. With their heavier frames, these dogs will require more calories than their working strain.
Due to being more active and leading a more physically demanding lifestyle, the working Cocker Spaniel would do best on a higher protein diet. It is also crucial that they still get the right mixture of vitamins and minerals in their food. If exercise is more strenuous than usual, it might be wise to provide your dog with a high-energy treat during the walking session. This will ensure the dog has enough energy to avoid tiring too quickly.
As previously mentioned, Cocker Spaniels can suffer from pancreatitis, so it might be worthwhile finding different diets that will help to soothe an inflamed gut.
Show Cocker v Working Cocker – FAQs
Now that the basic information on the similarities and differences between the show and working types has been provided, you might have some questions regarding these Cocker Spaniels.
Which is the better pet dog – show Cockers or working Cockers?
Both strains of Cocker Spaniel are suitable pet dogs, although this will depend on the lifestyle you have. Cocker Spaniels can be very energetic dogs, meaning they will benefit from an owner who has an active lifestyle. They require at least one hour of exercise per day when they are fully grown, although working Cocker Spaniels might need more than the show dog type.
There might also be a difference in how affectionate the show and working strains are with their owners. As show Cockers are usually calmer, they might be more cuddly with their human family than the working type. This will largely depend on each individual dog, but most dogs of this breed are loyal and loving.
Are Cocker Spaniels good with children and other dogs?
Yes, Cocker Spaniels, like most Spaniels, are good with children. Cockers are sociable dogs with an abundance of patience, which is great for families with kids.
They should be socialised with different people, children, and other dogs from a young age so they learn to interact with them safely and correctly. Cockers can get along great with other pets they are raised with, such as cats and small animals.
How often do cocker spaniels need to be groomed?
Cocker spaniels require regular grooming due to their coat type; typically, they should be brushed at least twice a week with a wire brush or slicker, but more frequent grooming may be needed for some individuals. The activities your dog gets up to will cause the frequency of grooming to vary; if a dog is more active and runs through fields, for example, it will need to be brushed often to remove dirt and debris.
It’s also important to check the ears for debris and wax buildup and to trim their nails as needed. Bathing should be done only when necessary to avoid stripping the skin of its natural oils.
Can a Cocker Spaniel’s tail be docked?
Tail docking is illegal in England, Wales, and Scotland, although there are some exemptions. There are two main reasons for dogs to have their tails docked – medical reasons or certain breeds of working dogs. Generally, working dogs, like Cocker Spaniels, can have their tails docked if the dogs are used for work or if there is a medical reason.
However, each part of the UK has individual guidelines on tail docking.
To Sum Up
Although the show and working types of Cocker Spaniel come from a single breed, the two strains can be rather different. The appearance and traits of the show and working Cockers can differ; a show Cocker Spaniel is much more glamorous than the working Cocker, which is bred to be practical and athletic. This athletism can also be shown in the dog’s personality and ability; they are active and have lots of energy.
These key differences between show and working Spaniels do not cause one to be a better pet than the other, though; working Cockers might require a little more exercise than the show type, but they can both be affectionate and loyal. So, no matter which one you choose, you will likely have a dedicated companion for years to come.