It may not be a recognised breed, but the sprocker's following is growing apace
A car enthusiast friend of mine spent months pondering whether he should buy a Ford Focus ST (250PS and very fast) or its smaller cousin, the Fiesta ST (182PS and extremely nippy). He fancied the performance of the bigger car, but liked the idea of something almost as quick but smaller.
Curiously, he faced a similar challenge when he came to choose his next gundog. Should he go for an English springer, or an equally speedy but rather smaller cocker? In the end he compromised. He bought a sprocker, combining, he anticipated, the best of both breeds. (And he bought the Focus ST estate to transport the dog.)
Sprockers are becoming increasingly popular – with good reason
In recent years, sprockers — intended crosses between English springers and cockers — have become increasingly popular and it’s easy to understand why. Trialling springers have evolved into very quick but often unattractive dogs that lack the substance that was once the hallmark of the breed. Cockers have improved out of all recognition compared with the dogs of 30 years ago, but many modern working cockers come from similar lines due to dominant sires, causing concerns about lack ofgenetic diversity.
Cockers and springers share the same ancestry, for both are descended from the land spaniel. It was once possible to breed both cockers and springers from the same litter, as the bigger animals were called springers, the smaller ones cockers. The dividing line was a height of 21in at the shoulder. Selective breeding, and mating similar dogs with each other, resulted in the two breeds we know today.
So while purists may disapprove of the crossing of two breeds, it’s really no more than turning the clock back. Lynda Elliott, sprocker enthusiast and owner, believes people need to understand that the sprocker is not a mongrel, a cross-breed or a designer dog. It is 100 per cent spaniel. “I believe the sprocker is taking us back to what the springers and cockers were like back in the 1970s and early 1980s. They were strong hunting dogs with a biddable nature,” Lynda told me.
“I’m convinced that the sprocker is the ideal first spaniel for a novice. They tend not to be as highly strung as the springer nor as stubborn as the cocker, but they have retained that important drive that enables them to hunt all day and still have energy for duck at night. In my experience, they are easy to train, loyal and eager to work. They are also handsome dogs and come in the same variety of colours as the cocker.”
Martin Ball picks-up on a commercial shoot in Northumberland. He has owned and worked sprockers for several years.
“I got my first sprocker because I was looking for an old-fashioned English springer spaniel, but found it almost impossible to find one without lots of red ink in the pedigree, which I didn’t want,” he explained. “So I gambled on a sprocker and haven’t been disappointed. I now have five and find them healthier and hardier compared with their pedigree counterparts.”
There is a downside to owning and working a sprocker. The Kennel Club doesn’t recognise it as an official breed, so it’s barred from entering any tests or trials held under KC rules. This infuriates many owners, convinced that their dogs could hold their own against springers or cockers in competition.
Lynda is an advocate for sprocker recognition. “Awareness of sprockers is rising daily and the desire for recognition is gathering momentum at a considerable rate,” she said. “We don’t want to see the sprocker recognised as a breed, we simply want it to be acknowledged as a spaniel so it falls under the umbrella of AV (any variety) spaniel so it can compete against other spaniels.”
Alas, this is about as likely as the KC allowing Labradoodles to have a class of their own at Crufts. Because sprockers are not an official breed, the KC receives no revenue from registrations, so there’s no incentive for what would be a major rule change. There’s also the argument that owners of English springers or cockers might not be too happy about their dogs being beaten by non- pedigree spaniels.
Q: “I am torn between buying another cocker or getting a springer, just for a change. What advice would you…
But Lynda remains undaunted and has created a Facebook page called Recognise the Sprocker Spaniel (RTSS) to see how much support she can gather. This page has now become a group with almost 5,000 members, all of whom are aware of the ethos of the group and support it. Last year Sprocker Assist and Rescue (SAR) was created, the only rescue agency dedicated solely to sprockers. Lynda and her team have, to date, rehomed over 40 dogs. RTSS now produces a sprocker calendar and, for the past two years, has set an RTSS Challenge — all to raise money for various charities. There’s even an annual gathering of sprockers and their owners, known as “Sprockerfest”, where sprockers compete in a variety of events and activities.
Sprockers now almost certainly outnumber all our minority breeds of spaniels combined. The sprocker has attracted an enthusiastic following — and, whether the Kennel Club likes it or not, it’s a spaniel that’s here to stay.