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How to choose a cocker spaniel

A reader who has previously owned English springers needs some advice ... Paul Rawlings replies

breeding cocker spaniels puppies

Cocker spaniel puppies

Deciding on what breed your four-legged companion should be isn’t an easy task. Labradors are always popular but then so are cocker spaniels. (Read would a working cocker spaniel be right for you?)

Recently a letter was received from a reader who was wondering how to choose a cocker spaniel. Here’s the question and how I replied to it.

Q: I have owned English springers for many years but after seeing a cocker trial I am tempted to change breeds to cocker spaniels. I would like some advice or information on the differences in training. Eventually 
I would like to take part in competitions.

A diverse breed

A: There is a wide diversity of type 
in both of these popular spaniel breeds, not only in the physical size but also in intelligence, trainability and biddability. (Read was getting a cocker spaniel a mistake?)

Cocker spaniels come in different sizes, different colours

Working-bred cockers vary in size, just as working springers do, and they come in a wide range of different colours. The majority are fairly small but their physical size does not make any difference to their training regime which is in line with the training for 
a springer. Cockers do have big hearts and usually are keen retrievers right from young puppies, though the odd one may bury the dummy. (Read our guide to the best slip leads.)

working cocker spaniel

Cocker spaniels are more popular today than they were in the 1960s

Choose the colour you prefer

I prefer the more compact type 
of cocker, with a dark eye and plenty 
of tail action and drive. The larger types do not have more power as a rule and can look very “springery” when adult, especially the parti-colours. However, colour has no bearing on whether the puppy will be a good one, but it is always better to choose a colour you prefer. 
Be aware that solid liver is difficult to see in thick cover and for visibility I always preferred black and white — though unless conformation was right they could look more like little springers.

If your eventual aim is to compete colour is not the most important factor. Research the top breeders and get 
one from a good working strain that 
is successful in trials. Starting with the right material will give you the best chance of training your new cocker for trials and, of course, as an excellent shooting companion.

This article was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.