The Cocker Spaniel Club


About the Breed | Breed Standard | Colours & Markings | Health | FAQ


SHOW STRAIN v WORKING STRAIN. What are the differences?

If you are buying a pet Cocker puppy, it is important to know that there are two distinct strains within the breed, the show strain (or show type) and the working strain (often referred to as Working Cockers), each bred for different purposes with different attributes.

Working Cockers, as the name implies, are bred as working gundogs, capable of staying out all day in the shooting field. However many are now being increasingly sold to pet homes where, in the right hands, they can make very good family dogs for the active home. They are also becoming popular in canine sports such as agility and flyball.

Show-strain dogs are the type seen in the show rings (such as at Crufts). Their appealing looks and compact size have made show-type Cockers popular as family pets for many years. If you see a photo of a Cocker on a calendar or in a book, it will be a show-type dog more often than not, although this may be slowly changing with the growing number of Working Cockers in pet homes.

Physically, Working Cockers can look quite different to the show-type Cocker. Whereas show breeders are trying to breed dogs which closely resemble the Cocker Spaniel Breed Standard as laid down by the Kennel Club, Working Cocker breeders consider working ability to be their top priority and are less interested in what their dogs look like. Working Cockers tend to have flatter skulls and higher set, shorter ears compared to the show type dog with his more domed skull and long, lower set ears. Another big physical difference is in the coat. Although some working type dogs do carry a heavier coat, as a general rule, they have finer coats and far less feathering than the show-type dog. Their general body shape tends to be rangier and less compact than that of show Cockers.

Moving on to personality and temperament, all Cockers (whatever the strain) are busy, active little dogs with minds of their own. However a Working Cocker may be considerably more active than some show Cockers and have enormous reserves of stamina. He can be on the go all day and still be ready for more. A show-type dog can also be energetic and will happily go for long country walks but will probably be easier to tire out. A Working Cocker that has been bred for an active life as a gundog needs an outlet for all that energy and something to “do” to keep that busy brain occupied and stimulated. Such a dog won’t usually thrive in a home which can only offer limited exercise opportunities and where owners don’t have the time or inclination to get involved in training/activities which provide mental stimulation. The same is true of show-type Cockers to some extent but as a generalisation, many working strain dogs will need more mental stimulation/exercise than many show-type dogs. Unfortunately this means that some owners buy a Working Cocker (not realising what they have bought) and find they cannot cope with their dog’s needs.

Anyone looking for a Cocker puppy should ensure that the breeders they contact can tell them which strain their puppies are so they can make the right choice for their home and lifestyle.

TEMPERAMENT. Are Cocker Spaniels good natured?

Yes. Most Cocker Spaniels have friendly, affectionate, happy natures. They usually make wonderful family pets due to their sociable natures and eagerness to be involved in all family activities! They are usually intelligent but can be strong willed and so need patient, consistent training from the start (as is the case for any dog) They are amongst the most popular of all dogs world wide and being of medium size, they are very adaptable to many environments and are easy to transport with you. There has been some incidence over the years of a condition known popularly as Rage Syndrome, however it is important to stress that this condition is not at all common. Basic information on this rare condition can be found HERE

Good temperaments depend on good breeding practices (careful selection of breeding stock, correct rearing & socialisation of puppies etc.) so always buy a Cocker puppy from an experienced specialist breeder and never from a multi-breed commercial establishment (kennels where a variety of popular breeds are always on sale) or puppy farm.

WATCHDOGS. Are they good watch dogs?

Cockers will soon learn to bark when someone comes to the door. Once visitors come inside however, they are usually treated as friends.

EXERCISE. How much exercise should my Cocker have each day?

Puppies need only to play in the garden at first. Once their inoculations are complete they can have a little gentle exercise and meet the outside world. Once they are about 6 months old and their bone structure is more or less developed then they can go for longer walks. They should not be allowed to become exhausted but build up their exercise routine little by little.

Most adult Cocker Spaniels will be very happy having a brisk walk for about 30 mins morning and evening. He will also have to go out into the garden about every four hours during the day. NB: Dogs bred from working lines (working Cockers) may require considerably more exercise than stated above so make sure you have the time to offer this if you are considering owning a Working Cocker.

Many dogs enjoy playing with a ball or Frisbee. This is a good way of burning off energy and it is a fun activity. Cockers will walk with their owners over considerable distances if required. Many owners enjoy long country walks at weekends. You should find out about local bye-laws if you live in a town. Not all public parks welcome dogs and some have designated areas where dogs can be exercised. In the country dogs should be kept on a lead when walking along foot paths or bridle tracks. They should never be allowed off the lead near livestock of any kind. Responsible owners will always clean up any fouling made by their dogs, especially in public places

TRAINING. Are they easily trained?

Yes. House training should begin as soon as you get your puppy home. He will quickly learn if you keep to the following points:-

  • Learn to recognise when the puppy is looking for a place to "go" (they will often sniff along the ground & circle as they look for the "right" spot!)
  • Then take him straight outside and wait for him to "go", using a key phrase such as "Hurry Up!" or "Be Quick"
  • Praise him as soon as he has finished.
  • Make meal times and visits outside routine.
  • Always take him to the same part of the garden.
  • At first, he will need to go outside at least every two hours in daytime.
  • He will also need to go out after meals, sleeping or playing.
As he grows up , he will be able to last for longer periods between visits outside. Adult dogs should have the chance to go outside at least every four hours.

Basic obedience training: All dogs should learn some basic manners. To make him into a pleasure to own, teach him the following:-
  • To walk by your side on the lead without pulling.
  • To sit and stay.
  • To come when called.
  • To go into his bed when asked. He can have another bed of his own
    in the sitting room instead of sitting on your furniture.
  • To wait quietly while you prepare his meal.
  • To sit and stay by your side when you open the door to strangers.
  • To be quiet when asked.
  • To keep his feet on the ground and not jump up on other people.

You can join a local Training Club, Agility Club or Flyball Club for help and guidance and you could complete for The Kennel Club's Bronze, Silver and Gold Good Citizens Awards. You could also compete in Obedience Competitions, Working Trials, Agility competitions or Flyball Competitions. For showing, you will need to join a Ringcraft Club.

For more information on training clubs, visit The Kennel Club's website or telephone 0129 631 8540. You will also find details of local puppy classes and trainers at and

Gundog Training: Many Cockers have a natural ability to work on smaller game (rabbit, woodcock, mallard, partridge, pheasant etc.). They need to have special training but those with natural ability will learn quickly with the help or guidance of an experienced trainer. You could join a local Gundog Training Society and work your dog during the season. Once you and your dog have mastered the basics, you could compete at Gundog Working Tests. For fully trained dogs with expert handlers, Field Trials are held, some specifically for Cocker Spaniels. Cockers which have been specially bred for work make the most competitive dogs, if properly trained. They tend to be more energetic and lively than most Cockers bred as pets and for showing. The Cocker Spaniel Club runs two or three Field Trials a year.

For more information, again contact The Kennel Club

NB: "Growing Good Puppies", a basic guide to Puppy Training & Socialisation in booklet form can be ordered here

HEALTH. Do Cocker Spaniels have good health?

Yes. In general Cockers are healthy. As with all dogs they need to be properly fed, exercised and housed. Any abnormality in behaviour or appearance should be investigated immediately. If you are worried, take him to a Veterinary Surgeon for advice.

EARS. How should I look after his ears?

Spaniels' ears hang downwards. This helps to protect the inner ear from water entering inside. In warm weather, make sure that the hair on the inside of the ear is kept trimmed short. This will allow air to circulate and help to keep the ear healthy. During the summer, when your dog has been out for a run, always check that his ears have not got any grass awns (seeds with long sharp spiky cases) lodged in his ears or feet. These can work their way up inside the ear or foot by friction and can cause great pain. Some dogs, especially young dogs, may produce wax while the ear canal is developing. This can be kept clean by using ear cleaning drops obtained from pet shops, chemists or Vets. It is a good idea to check his ears, eyes, teeth and feet each time you groom him. This way you will quickly spot any problems and will be able to deal with it straight away. Consult a Vet if you are worried.

VACCINATION. When should he be vaccinated?

Opinions vary amongst the Veterinary profession. Consult your own Vet and be guided by him/her. Most puppies need to be vaccinated at about 8, 10 and/or 12 weeks of age and most Vets recommend boosters from time to time throughout the dog's life. Nosodes (a homeopathic inoculation) may be preferred. Remember that most boarding kennels require all visiting dogs to have an up to date vaccination certificate.

INHERITED CONDITIONS. Are there any inherited conditions of which I should be aware?

Yes. Although the best breeders make every effort to avoid breeding from stock genetically carrying conditions which are known sometimes to affect dogs, these are not always easy to detect. Progressive Retinal Atrophy (Night Blindness) - which may not be detected until the dog is 5 years old or more and Familial Nephropathy (a fatal type of
kidney failure which affects young dogs/bitches up to about 18 months of age) are the main conditions which have been identified and are being eradicated by careful selection of breeding stock. The Kennel Club and the British Veterinary Association run schemes under which committed breeders can have their breeding stock examined and tested for Progressive Retinal Atrophy and also Hip Dysplasia (a condition which may affect the hip joint of dogs). Good breeders only breed from stock over 18 months of age and screened under one or more of the schemes. These schemes are voluntary and are not compulsory. Much work has been done on identifying problems by DNA and gene tests for prcd_PRA and FN are now available via the American company, Optigen and the French company, Antagene. More information can be found here.

LONGEVITY. How long can I expect my Cocker to live?

Cockers, in common with most dogs, could be expected to live for about 10 or 12 years. This is only an average age, however, and some live well into their teens and some, regrettably do not reach 10 years. Causes of death, as for most other dogs, would most likely be failure of one of the major organs (heart, liver or kidneys). Cancers can affect dogs, just as they do other animals and humans.

FOOD and NUTRITION. What should I feed my dog and how much?

There are many different types of dog food to choose from in general stores, supermarkets, pet shops, animal food suppliers and also from Veterinary Surgeons. It is really all a matter of personal preference. You can make up your own dog food at home by buying meat, fish fillets and brown bread rusk or wheat meal (dog biscuit). You will have to add some vitamins and minerals (from food suppliers) to ensure that he has everything that he needs to grow properly. On average, an adult Cocker will need enough food to fit into a pint (500 ml) bowl every day. If using a complete dry food, half this measure topped up with water. Or you can feed tinned dog food and biscuit meal. If using a complete food, make sure that it is the correct one for your puppy's age and size, follow the manufacturers instructions and make sure that he has access to drinking water at all times as they make dogs very thirsty. Just as with humans, some dogs do very well on less food than others and some need a bit extra to keep their bodies well covered. It is a matter of trying things out until you find the food and amount that suits him.

Puppies need to have small meals several times a day but it will equal in total, the same amount as an adult Cocker would eat once a day.

  • At first it is best to be guided by the breeder of your puppy.
  • Changes to the diet should be made gradually over a period of about a week.
  • A good guide to correct weight is that you should be able to feel your dog's ribs but not see them. If you can see them, he is too thin. If you cannot feel the ribs, then he is too fat!
  • Always read the food manufacturer's instructions and follow them.
  • Special Diets. If for some reason, (e.g. due to old age) a special diet is needed, follow your Vet's advice. He/she can supply specifically formulated food for the dog or you can make up food yourself using the same ingredients and blend.
  • Working Cockers may need a higher protein diet to provide for the extra energy needed.
  • Water. Water should be available for your pet to drink during the day. Water must be provided at all times for dogs fed on "complete" foods.
  • Bones. A well trimmed beef knuckle bone from the butcher's shop or from a pet shop or animal food supplier is best. This will provide hours of enjoyment for your puppy or dog. It will help to keep his teeth clean and provide a natural source of calcium and rich marrow.

GROOMING. How often should I groom my Cocker and what should I use?

Try to give your Cocker a quick brush and comb every day. This is a good way of keeping him tidy and for you to check him over for thorns etc. It only takes a few minutes but makes all the difference. Once a week, give him a thorough comb through and brushing and check his teeth, eyes and ears. This is best done outside on a table or raised area in the garden. Dogs enjoy being groomed by their owners and it helps them to bond with you. Be careful to keep a firm hold of puppies in case they try to jump off the table. Always praise your dog at the end of grooming. Make it a pleasure for him and for you too! You will need a medium toothed metal comb, a finer toothed Spaniel comb (Spratt's No.6 or 76), a "slicker" brush, a bristle brush and a cloth (piece of old velvet or linen) to polish him to a shine.

BATHING. How often should I bath my dog?

You can bath your dog as often as you feel necessary but you must use a suitable shampoo (with the correct pH for dogs' hair) and make certain that he is thoroughly rinsed off and dried afterwards. There are many special shampoos for dogs available now including anti tangle, anti odour and insecticide agents. Keep an old chamois leather and
plenty of old towels to rub him down first of all when he comes out of the tub, bath or shower and then use a warm hair dryer. Make certain that his ears, chest and back are absolutely dry before letting him outside unless it is sunny and warm. Pet shops and animal food suppliers usually carry a range of shampoos.

TRIMMING. How often should my Cocker Spaniel be trimmed and what equipment will I need if I want to learn to trim him myself?

This varies according to how much hair he grows. Some dogs (particularly Working Cockers) have a fairly sparse coat and fine feathering, others have thicker, longer hair and will need to be trimmed more often. On average, an adult Cocker will require trimming every 8 weeks or so. A neutered Cocker may require more frequent grooming and trimming as hormonal changes in the body can cause the coat to become much thicker with a woollier texture, necessitating the use of electric clippers rather than the hand trimming methods detailed below.
Hand trimming. Traditionally, the method used by owners of show dogs is to groom daily and remove unwanted hair as it grows by gently plucking it out with finger and thumb. This gives a very natural appearance and clever trimmers will make the most of a dog's good points and minimise any minor faults that he might have. It is time consuming but many owners feel the 15 mins. a day well worth it.

  • Equipment. You will need a table at a comfortable height for you to work. A pair of rubber gloves or rubber thumblettes (available from stationer's shops for counting bank notes) to grip small tufts of hair. A little French chalk rubbed on to the hair will give extra grip for the finger and thumb. A pair of thinning scissors to reduce excess hair. A pair of plain shears to trim around the feet. A pair of nail clippers and a small file. Your usual grooming tools (comb, slicker brush etc.)
  • Always groom you Cocker thoroughly before beginning to trim him.
  • If you are taking your Cocker to someone else to trim, make sure that he is free of any knots and tangles before you leave home.

With patience and practice you will be able to trim your Cocker yourself and have the satisfaction of seeing him look smart.

Trimming Booklet. The Cocker Spaniel Club supplies a small booklet which illustrates how you can hand trim your own Cocker. If you would like a copy of this booklet, you can order one online here

Trimming by an expert. Ask your breeder or local breed club to suggest someone who can trim your Cocker for you if you do not feel confident enough to try trimming yourself. If the dog is not going to be shown, then a quicker trim with thinning scissors and plain shears may be the answer. Even so this may take two hours or more and the dog will have to go at a time to suit the trimmer.

Trimming by a groomer. Some grooming parlours are very good and try to send Cockers out looking like the breed they are supposed to be. Most, however, will clipper off the majority of his long hair and whilst this might be speedy and practical, it does leave the dog with a harsh look to his coat and it will grow back with a stubby appearance. Ask friends in the neighbourhood where you live for advice about which parlour does the best work.

IDENTIFICATION. What can I do to save my dog from getting lost?

It is compulsory for all dogs in the UK to be microchipped & recorded with a government compliant database. It is also now the law that ALL breeders must microchip and record their puppies before the age of 8 weeks old. More detailed information can be found on the Kennel Club website HERE. There are several microchip databases but the largest and most popular is Petlog

In addition to microchipping, all dogs away from their home must wear a collar with the owner's name and address inscribed on it or on an attached tag/plate. More information can be found HERE

INSURANCE. How can I find out about insurance for my pet?

In the event of making a claim (e.g. following an accident) it would be your Veterinary Surgeon who will have to supply the supporting paperwork. It is essential, therefore, that your insurance company is acceptable to your own Vet. Take his advice, before taking out insurance. Many breeders supply free insurance cover when puppies leave their care but this is likely to only be temporary. If you want to take out insurance it pays to shop around for the best deal and as with other insurance policies, make sure that you read the small print and fully understand what aspects will be covered in whole or part.

TRAVELLING ABROAD. Where can I find out about the Passport for Pets scheme?
To travel abroad and then re-enter Britain, your pet will have to be microchipped, vaccinated for rabies, blood tested and treated for parasites both internally and externally.

More information and up to date requirements can be found HERE

NEUTERING. Should my pet be neutered and when should it be done?

If you live in an area which has a lot of dogs nearby, or if you own another dog of the opposite sex, then perhaps it would be wise to consider having your pet/s neutered to avoid unwanted litters of puppies. There are alternatives. Bitches can have their seasons postponed by giving them either injections or a course of tablets from your Vet. Do not allow your pets to wander at will and keep your own garden well fenced and secured. This will reduce the chances of your own dog escaping or others entering uninvited, into your garden.

  • In the event of a misalliance taking place, take your bitch to your Vet within 48 hours and he can give her an injection which will stop her from conceiving.
  • If your male dog repeatedly runs away from home you can be sure that he is becoming a rake and a nuisance. Secure your garden fence and consider having him neutered.
  • There is no excuse for unplanned litters to be born. The majority of dogs in stray dog homes come from unplanned litters.
  • If it is decided that your pet should be neutered ask advice from your Vet. It should be borne in mind that neutering tends to make pets put on weight easily later in life and also affects the texture of the hair making it growth longer and thicker. Both of these factors can be controlled by paying strict attention to diet and having your pet trimmed more often.
BREEDING. Should I breed a litter from my pet dog or bitch?

Firstly, why do you want to breed a litter? Owners of male dogs often think that their dog would like to sire a litter. Ask yourself what can he give to the breed to improve it? Established breeders keep stud dogs which have been specially selected with a view to improving the breed. They are usually screened (at considerable cost) under health schemes for hereditary conditions and are used at limited stud. Unless your dog has some outstanding quality that he can give to the breed, it is unlikely that any serious breeder would be interested in using his services in their breeding plans. To allow him to sire a litter just because he may enjoy the experience is not a good enough reason. There are thousands of dogs living as pets and if all sired a litter there would be a population explosion! Act responsibly!

Having a litter from your pet bitch can be a most interesting and rewarding experience but ask yourself why you want to have a litter? It takes a great deal of time, effort and expense and should only be undertaken by those who have enough time, energy and finances as well as proper facilities. It may take several weeks and perhaps months to find enough good homes for your puppies. All breeders have a responsibility to ensure that any puppies produced by them are properly reared, healthy and that they will have a good chance of being well looked after by their new owners.
Another point to consider is that you should ensure that your bitch is free from hereditary conditions before breeding from her. This is another cost factor which should be taken into account when planning a litter. Although most Cocker bitches will whelp perfectly naturally, there can never be any guarantee that difficulties will not arise. The cost of a possible caesarean section, fluid therapy and antibiotic treatment following surgery must be available, in the event that it may be needed in an emergency.

As the breeder of the litter, you could well be asked for advice from the puppies' new owners and if things do not work out well, you may be asked to take one or more of the puppies back at some time. Unless you can undertake these responsibilities it is better to abandon any plans to breed from your pet bitch.

BUYING A PUPPY. We don't want to buy a puppy from a "puppy farmer" so where can we find out about recommended breeders?

The Cocker Spaniel Club or any of the regional breed clubs or breed clubs devoted to particular colours of the breed may be able to help. A list of breed clubs can be found here. More information can also be found on our Looking To Buy A Puppy page at

CHOOSING A PUPPY. What should we look for when we go to see the puppies that are available?

The puppies should look well fed and healthy. They should be confident, happy and wagging their tails. Their coats should be sleek and shiny. They should be in clean conditions. The puppies' mother should be available for you to meet. She should be friendly and in good condition. If the sire of the litter is owned by the breeder, ask to see him too. Ask if the puppies have been wormed or have had any primary vaccinations. Ask what the puppies are being fed on and if the breeder will provide a diet sheet with the puppy, if you decide to choose one of them. Check that the puppies have been microchipped and that they have been registered with The Kennel Club. Ask to see a copy of the pedigree. Check that the parents of the litter have been screened for hereditary conditions. Ask yourself, which of the available puppies appeals to you most? Which of the puppies has chosen you? Is it the same puppy? If it is then most likely you have found just the right puppy for you!

RECOMMENDED BOOKS ON COCKER SPANIELS. Are there any good books on Cocker Spaniels?

Cocker enthusiasts are fortunate in that there are many excellent books available on the breed to aid the new owner. Here are just a few :

  • Cocker Spaniel: An Owners Guide by Jane Simmonds (published 2010 by Pet Book Publishing Company Ltd)
  • Cocker Spaniel : Best of Breed Edited by Derek Shapland (published in 2008 by Pet Book Publishing Company Ltd)
  • Pet Owner's Guide To The Cocker Spaniel by Frank Kane (published 1999 by Ringpress Books)
  • Cocker Spaniels Today by Joyce Caddy (published 1995 by Ringpress Books)
  • Cocker Spaniels -An Owners Companion by Jennifer Lloyd-Carey (published 1992 by Crowood Press)

RECOMMENDED BOOKS ON TRAINING. I need a book on how to train my puppy, what do you recommend?

There are many books available on puppy training & behaviour - we would recommend any of the following:

"The Happy Puppy Handbook" by Pippa Mattinson
"Complete Idiot's Guide To Positive Dog Training" by Pamela Dennison (published by Alpha Books)
" Puppy Primer" by Patricia McConnell & Brenda Scidmore (published by McConnell Publishing Ltd)
"The Perfect Puppy" by Gwen Bailey (published by Hamlyn).

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