Though followers of fashion love the working cocker, there’s a lot to be said for this increasingly popular breed right across the shooting field. By Roderick Emery.

Time was when everyone had a black Labrador and was happy. Then there were chocolate Labradors for a bit; that was just a phase really. There seem to be a lot of fox red Labradors out and about at the moment, which is a relatively recent development but I dare say it will pass in due course, as these things do. And there have always been the oddballs and eccentrics out on the flank with pointers and setters and all sorts and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all.

But the dog that seems to be springing up – and when I say springing up, I mean, as often as not, springing up – all over the place is the working cocker spaniel. Perhaps it is just me, or perhaps it is just in my neck of the woods, but it seems that everywhere you look these days there is a working cocker. Always working and nearly always springing up.

It may, of course, be that I am beating as often as I am shooting of late, and the beating line, as opposed to the shooting side of the hedge, is the natural habitat of the spaniel. But even here the traditional choice was the springer: English, Welsh or Irish depending on geography, and black and white or brown and white for the most part. You takes your choice. But now it is cockers right, left and centre. So what is going on?

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Lupo

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge helped to raise the profile of working cockers when they obtained Lupo from the Duchess’s mother around five years ago

Working cocker – the dog on everyone’s list

I think there are a number of reasons driving the current popularity of these busy little dogs. Let us not overlook fashion. I know that fashion is a foreign country. Certainly to me and, I suspect, to many of you; but it is out there and it does influence some folks’ decision-making processes.

Guy Ritchie has a working cocker. The Beckhams have a working cocker. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a working cocker. And that makes them fashionable. Ever so. Believe me. So everybody wants one.

On the other hand, the clue is in the name. Working cocker. Working. They go and go and go. They make a Duracell Bunny look positively lethargic. And then they go some more. They are almost pure energy. This makes them an asset in the beating line, although not perhaps in the early part of the season when we are trying to manoeuvre swarms of partridges out of the covers in sporting dribs and drabs. A spaniel of any description, indeed any dog, is scarcely an asset at this juncture; but when we are winkling the pheasants out of the woods in November and beyond, then the spaniels come into their own and a working cocker with its nose down is a pearl beyond price.

Working cocker spaniel

Boundless energy levels are one of the key attractions of the cocker spaniel

And they can retrieve too. Partridges for choice and hen pheasants for your pleasure and a cock as and when. They are not big dogs though, so if your thing is wild geese out on the mudflats then you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. I have no doubt that a working cocker will give its all but lifting your own bodyweight in goose would give any breed pause for thought.

And they have a lot of charm. There is dignity in honest toil, of course, and a cocker will labour for as long as it takes and still be smiling at the end of it. And the smile is enchanting. It is hard not to like a working cocker. Which is why it will be on your lap in a nanosecond. People like to cuddle them. And they like to be cuddled. Who doesn’t? Though having just dragged a teal or, as it might be, a gadwall from a greenish pond by the light of a rising moon might not be the ideal moment for such niceties. Especially if it’s not your dog. Or your teal, for that matter.

Small and portable

The same might be said of the back seat of your Range Rover – large or small – or your sofa. And size is important. Size is, in my view, probably central to the popularity of the working cocker. People live in small houses these days. Labradors are big dogs. A labrador with a bed, a bowl and a basket takes up a deal of room. Yes, it looks good in a country house kitchen with a six-oven AGA and all the trimmings but it takes over most of the flat in town and needs its own car to transport it to the country betimes. Your working cocker, however, can curl itself into a washing-up bowl and be happy in the footwell of a two-seater when driving out of town. And it doesn’t eat much either, which saves a few bob.

So then; small, pretty, charming, flexible, hard-working and cheap. And fantastically fashionable. Did I mention that the Cambridges have one? What’s not to like? Quod Erat Demonstrandum, as they say.

cocker spaniels

The cocker spaniel

The spaniel is one of the oldest “type” of hunting dog and today the cocker and springer spaniel are among the most popular gundog…