History of the Cocker Spaniel

The delightful Cocker Spaniel is a popular little dog. If you’ve decided to get a Cocker, you’ll want to know all about his history and his ancestry. Here is some useful information.

Ancient dog history

Back in Roman times, a variety of dog types were bred to fulfill everyday tasks such as guarding property, hauling and hunting. From these dogs there emerged some distinct groups, including:

  • Guarding dogs
  • Shepherd dogs
  • Sporting dogs
  • War dogs
  • Scent dogs
  • Sight dogs

Many of these are the founding breeds of today’s modern dog types and most dogs can be traced back to one of the above categories. As you can guess, the Cocker Spaniel is probably descended from the scent dogs, or hounds as they were later known.

Hunting dogs

Hounds were developed to chase and hunt down prey until it was either cornered or exhausted, wherein it would be killed. However, hunters soon realized that these dogs could chase prey for miles, which wasn’t very productive for the purposes of catching food. Instead, some clever hunters began to breed dogs that would simply track down the scent of game and flush it out from the undergrowth, or wherever it happened to be hiding. This was before the days of guns, so sometimes these hunters trained hawks to catch wildfowl that had been flushed out by their dogs. These scent hounds were very obedient and were a little bit more composed, waiting patiently for their master’s commands. They had to have good temperaments and the ability to get on well with other dogs, because they were often brought out to hunt in groups.

Spaniels

By the Middle Ages, many of these dogs used for flushing out wildfowl originated from Spain. It’s thought that the word Spaniel came from the Latin word for Spain, which is Hispania, which later became “Spaniels”. From these early Spaniels came the English, Irish and Gordon Setters who were trained to drop close to the ground and remain there stock still until their masters came to trap their quarry with nets. As for the remaining Spaniels, they were trained to sniff out prey and they were bred to have a medium body size and powerful legs so that they could easily push their compact bodies through the undergrowth in search of game. Their long wavy coats protected their skin from brambles which fell from the fur easily rather than becoming lodged there. To stop their tails catching in the brush, their owners began the practice of docking their tails.

Cocker Spaniels

These Spaniels became known for their happy-go-lucky temperaments and their tendency to follow their masters everywhere. Some Spaniels became experts at tracking woodcock, and they were known as Cocking Spaniels. In the late 19th century, breeders set about separating the Spaniel breeds into different categories. The Cocking Spaniels became the Cocker Spaniels and they fell into this category if they weighed under 281b. Those that were more than 281b were the Field Spaniels, and separate again from these were the Water Spaniels.

The Cocker Spaniel was registered with the American Kennel Club in 1879. Much later, in 1946, breeders in America successfully established a further division within the Cocker Spaniel breed – there became a recognized English Cocker Spaniel as well as a separate, distinct American Cocker Spaniel. The American Cocker had longer legs and a shorter back than the English Cocker and there were far more of them in the U.S. Today, both breeds are extremely popular throughout the world.

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