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Get to Know the English Cocker Spaniel: The True Brit

Watch what you're calling a Cocker Spaniel -- there's both an English and an American version. Let's take a look at them.

Caroline Coile  |  Jul 7th 2015


Watch what you call a Cocker Spaniel if you’re in Europe — or, for that matter, anywhere but America. Throughout the rest of the world, a “Cocker Spaniel” refers to an English Cocker Spaniel, and what Americans call the Cocker Spaniel is the American Cocker Spaniel. Only in America is the name English Cocker Spaniel used.

To further complicate matters, the English and American versions of the Cocker Spaniel may be confused with one another, but the English has a less domed, longer, narrower head; less profuse coat; and often comes in roan. The American is shorter and has a shorter muzzle, more rounded head, and heavier coat. The confusion is honest because at one time they were the same breed.

More interesting things about the English Cocker Spaniel

  • Spaniels, in general, were developed by the 1300s to flush birds into nets or to waiting falcons. Later in their development, they also found and pointed their feathered quarry.
  • The various spaniels became specialized by their size, the terrain they hunted over, and the type of birds they hunted.
  • The smaller land spaniels, who specialized in hunting woodcock, were eventually called Cocker Spaniels. The AKC recognized them in 1878.
  • In the 1930s and ’40s, the Cocker Spaniel was the most popular breed in America.
  • But by the 1930s, the more successful Cockers in the American show ring no longer looked like their English relatives. In 1936, the AKC split the breed into two interbreeding varieties: the traditional English Cocker Spaniel and the new, showier American Cocker Spaniel. In 1946, they split them into two non-interbreeding breeds.
  • The English Cocker Spaniel remains the breed more true to the hunting type of the original Cockers, but in America they are not nearly as popular as American Cockers.
  • The English Cocker is the 61st most popular AKC breed, up from 75th a decade ago.
  • In America, the tail is customarily docked short, but it’s left long in many parts of the world where docking is illegal.
  • English Cocker Spaniels have won more Best in Show awards (seven) at Crufts (the world’s largest dog show, in England) than any other breed. However, no English Cocker has yet won Best in Show at the Westminster dog show, or even won the Sporting group there.

John Barrowman of “Torchwood” and “Doctor Who” with his dogs, including two English Cockers.

  • In Cuba, English Cockers are used as contraband detection dogs at airports.
  • Prince William (Duke of Cambridge) and Catherine (Duchess of Cambridge) own an English Cocker Spaniel named Lupo.
  • Other owners include John F. Kennedy, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and John Barrowman.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.