CHARACTERISTICS & TEMPERAMENT
Working cockers, compared to show cockers tend to have broader, flatter heads, as opposed to the high-domed heads of the show variety. Their coats are usually shorter and their frame is more athletic and sleeker. Also, a more marked difference is their shorter ears, which are set higher, and not so exaggerated in length that they trail into the dogs’ food bowls. Working cockers also tend to suffer far fewer physical problems than the show dogs, for example ‘rage syndrome’ known to occur particularly in golden and black (solid) colored show cockers does not seem to afflict workers.
All the cockers that we have encountered during trials etc, have all had excellent temperaments. Cocker spaniels tend to have different temperaments to English Springer spaniels, though they have had some connection over the past 140 years. Cockers tend to be bolder, more mischievous and fun loving than Springer’s. They are all extremely affectionate with our children, something that we were never able to say about our previous dogs. Generally, temperaments are on the whole happy, affectionate, faithful, confident and very pleasant with a complete absence of nervousness, and make excellent house dogs.
Being much smaller and lighter than most Springer’s, it requires supreme confidence and verve to swing a hare or cock pheasant clear of the ground and gallop back with the retrieve. A touch of the miseries would inhibit its determination and render the dog less effective. The same applies to its hunting drive, they should be short coupled to engender the true cocker action, with brisk steps rather than the raking gallop of the English setter and many Springer spaniels.
It is preferable that both dogs and bitches should scale 25 lbs. or under. Colors vary enormously and can be black, liver, black and white, liver and white, red and white, lemon and white, orange roan, blue roan, lemon Roan; liver mixed with red roan and occasionally tan markings can manifest themselves alongside all these colours. Occasionally, a solid buff-colored cocker or sable will be born that is neither lemon nor red. Unlike Springer spaniels, cockers do not breed true regarding colour, and virtually two parents of any color combinations can produce any colour schemes within the same litter.
Cockers at their top level take the cover very well and soundness of mouths equal the best Springer’s and retrievers. A welcome spin-off from the breed’s field-trial performance has been a vast increase in the numbers of cockers in ordinary shooting hands. Whereas a top-grade cocker needs good handling, many of the trial throw-outs are ideal dogs for novice shooter/dog handlers and pet dogs. Most are excellent retrievers and with practice will develop into excellent working dogs.
Frequently, the working variety of the cocker spaniel is a much misunderstood animal, even among a cross-section of shooting people. In fact, it would be fair to state that many do not even know the animal exists. Many people still do not know the difference between a working cocker and a bench or show cocker, and one of the worst things a passing pedestrian can say to a working cocker owner is (and this still occurs frequently) what a lovely dog, is it a Springer? I can see the steam coming out of the owner’s ears as I write this.
To gain the most enjoyment from your working cocker, it is well worth training them beyond just basic manners. We have found that the best time to start training is around about 10 to 12 months of age, and depending on the particular cocker, if you are gundog training, you must really stand back and access this yourself to see if the cocker is ready. If you start before then, you could be doing more harm than good.
Working cocker puppies are very intelligent and too many people make the mistake of gundog training too early. Take it slow, let them be a puppy! By training too early many mistakes are made, and usually about 85% impossible to correct.
Over the years I have met and spoken with many people who just won’t listen to the advice given. They just cant wait, including trying to train them on the whistle, the moment they get them home at eight weeks. When they realize, months down the line, what they have done, and have completely ruined the dog, they are back out looking for another, then another, then another, and so on, until they end up with a kennel full of untrained dogs they cannot do a thing with. They blame the dogs, not themselves, then its off loading time to rescues, re-homing, etc., and then start all over again. It’s a very sad scenario and I have seen it so many times its unbelievable.
Although cockers are highly intelligent, they also get bored easily if you do too much too quickly. Working cockers need to be interested in what they are doing, or they will not perform at their best. Like a child, it is worth noting that each dog has a different personality and should be handled as such. This is particularly noticeable to anyone who has previously trained a Springer spaniel. Springer’s mature quicker than cockers; therefore they can tolerate an earlier start.
Also, another difference in their characteristic is that the cocker seems far more sensitive. This point is particularly important when it comes to discipline. The cocker is acutely aware when his handler is annoyed, thus affecting his behavior. He will either become withdrawn or will start to misbehave as a result. Therefore, great care should be taken not to be over zealous when disciplining. Just a raising in the tone of one’s voice can be sufficient to create a change in behavior without resorting to physical punishment (although some trainers would disagree). A quick stamp of the foot in front of the dog, along with a verbal ‘telling off’ is usually enough to correct our spaniels’ bad behavior.