National Geographic c.1947
The cocker spaniel was originally bred to be the smallest of the working spaniels. They were bred small enough to be able to go through and under hedges and undergrowth, particularly gorse, to flush out the game for the hunter. The word “cock” means to flush out, hence the name “cocker” spaniel. They were also bred to be good swimmers and were frequently used to retrieve the game when shot over water. Because the cockers had to work in the field all day alongside the hunter and often in a team with larger breeds, they were required to be tireless and willing workers. The merry effervescent character of the breed arose as a result. The required characteristics of the breed continue to reflect its origins as a working gundog.
These days cockers are used less frequently in their original role, (although we currently have a Yunbeai cocker working in retrieving) and are more commonly bred as a loyal companion.
“Let’s go together”
The cocker spaniel is a small to medium dog, weighing approximately 13 – 14 kgs (28 lbs) and reaching a height at the shoulder of 38-40 cm (15”-16”). In other words on most normal people, the average cocker stands at approximately knee height. They are bred to be a “lot of dog in a small package” and should be robust and sturdy (without being fat). The aspects of the cocker which are most often cited as being characteristic of the breed are the long silky ears, soft intelligent alert expression and merry temperament.
What makes a good cocker?
Modern breeders of cocker spaniels for show and exhibition breed the dogs to conform to a “breed standard” which is primarily laid down by the breed club of origin ie in this case The Cocker Spaniel Club (UK). The standard specifies: the size, general appearance “Merry, sturdy, sporting; well balanced; compact; measuring approximately same from withers to ground as from withers to root of tail.”, characteristics “Merry nature with ever-wagging tail shows a typical bustling movement, particularly when following scent, fearless of heavy cover.”, temperament “Gentle and affectionate, yet full of life and exuberance” and the details of desired structure, movement and coat.
Cockers and children are made for each other
For us the temperament is the most important part of a cocker. They must be gentle, affectionate companion dogs, willing and indeed eager to please. Cockers thrive on human companionship and are excellent with children. If you want an outside dog DO NOT BUY A COCKER SPANIEL. Some people say that there is a distinct difference in temperament between the colours and that golden cockers are either “scatty” or “aggressive” (usually these are the breeders of other colours!). We believe that there is a difference in temperament in that the blues which we breed are particularly biddable and demand little from you except affection. They demonstrate great loyalty and their aim in life is simply to be wherever you are. The goldens are more demanding and have a more definite personal view of the world. However they should never be either scatty or aggressive. We will not keep or breed from any dog which displays signs of unwarranted aggression.
The standard states that colours can be “various” with the only specification being that white on a solid coloured dog is undesirable. There are many excellent websites around the world which display the various cocker colours in all their glory. See the recommended sites at the end of this page. At Yunbeai we regularly breed blue roans, black and whites, and goldens; and occasionally orange or golden roans and blacks. This is not because we have any colour prejudices, in fact just the opposite. We believe that the most important thing is to breed the best possible cocker regardless of colour, therefore we do not select for or breed for particular colours for the colour alone.
The cocker is a sturdy little dog which is not particularly prone to diseases. There are a few conditions which sometimes cause a problem in the breed which reputable breeders monitor and attempt to eliminate. The principal ones are:
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
This is an eye disease which can cause a dog to progressively go from night blindness to complete loss of sight from a relatively young age (anything from 18 months to 7 years). It has a simple autosomal recessive mode of inheritance ie dogs are either clear, a carrier and unaffected, or affected themselves. All progeny of affected dogs are carriers. There are two available tests for PRA, the standard and still definitive eye examination, and a gene test. The gene test is a recent development which is very expensive and with which there are some problems. Specifically some cockers identified as “Affected” by the test have not gone on to develop the disease. When linked with previous research which indicated that cocker spaniels have a different course of the disease to the other breeds in which the test was developed, and which showed that cockers potentially have an alternative or second mutation, we believe that there is strong doubt about the predictive value of this test. Nevertheless we have started the process of testing all our breeding stock and this will enable us to ensure that all puppies will be as guaranteed not to develop PRA as is currently possible. We will also continue to have our dogs eye tested with the traditional methods.
Familial Nephropathy (FN)
FN is a horrible disease in which young dogs die a painful and slow death of kidney failure. At Yunbeai we had two cases in the 1980s sired by the same dog (an English import) and from English bred mothers. We sterilised and placed in homes all our breeding stock which contained any of this breeding and we are particularly careful never to reintroduce it. This was a time of great sadness for us, not only did we see two beautiful youngsters slowly fade away, but by the time it had been diagnosed and recognised as a condition, we had intertwined the carrier breeding into most of our bloodstock. As a result we have had to rebuild Yunbeai parti-colous almost from scratch in the late 1980s. Thankfully we had some of our very old breeding available and we went back to that to start again.
It is believed that this condition is caused by a simple recessive autosomal gene. There is now a gene test for FN (also known as autosomal recessive hereditary nephropathy ARHN) and all breeding stock are certified clear prior to breeding.
Hip Dysplaysia (HD)
HD is a complex condition of instability in the hip joint which can cause painful lameness. This is not common in cocker spaniels, being mostly seen in the large breeds. It is a multifactorial condition ie many factors influence the development of the disease including genetic predisposition, environment, diet and exercise. Recent work has also indicated that Vitamin C deficiency, and over exercise early may contribute to destabilisation of the hip joint. Although we rarely if ever see or hear about HD in cockers in Western Australia we nevertheless recommend that formal exercising of young dogs ie long walks on a lead, particularly on pavements, does not commence until after 12 months of age. We do not commence formal fitness training of our show dogs until this age. X-rays are performed where appropriate.
Ch Yunbeai Shines for Me and ears to die for
The long silky ears of the cocker are a breed characteristic which we love. However the standard says that they can be too long and that the ear leather should be fine and not extend beyond the tip of the nose. Cockers many years ago had heavily folded, low set ears which were prone to ear infection. Modern cockers have light open ears which should not require any special maintenance. In Australia grass seeds are the biggest danger to a cocker’s ears and if you live on a farm or other rural area where the dog will be in constant contact with grass seeds you should maybe re-think whether to have a cocker. For those who only occasionally venture in to bush or scrubland, apart from making sure that the inside of the ear is well clipped down to discourage the entry of seeds, the best idea is to pop the dogs ears into a snood (a long tube of material with elastic at both ends which keeps the eras covered) prior to going on that long ramble. As with all dogs do not put any liquid into the ear canal.
The cocker’s coat is supposed to be flat, smooth and silken. Short on the back and feathered underneath. Most cockers have this coat naturally and should not need to be clipped down the back. Indeed clipping of the back coat can make it become progressively more woolly and curly. As young adolescents cockers often go through a “puppy fluff” stage. Be patient, at around 12 months this fluff will come out and leave a lovely smooth back coat underneath. To assist with removal of the fluff and for long term coat maintenance for pet cockers we recommend use of a 20 blade Coat King. If you keep the back coat smooth, all that the dog should need is a quick trim over the top of the ears and a tidy up of feet and tail.
There are several excellent web sites devoted to cocker spaniels which contain information on the history and development of the breed. We recommend:
The Cocker Club (UK)
The English Cocker Spaniel Club of America
(note the English cocker in North America is bred to a different standard to most of the rest of the world and therefore looks slightly different. However there is still substantial useful info at this site)
The English Cocker World Web Site
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