They're both much-loved breeds - but which is the most popular?

Our two most popular breeds of spaniel

Cocker spaniel or springer spaniel. Which is better? Choosing between the two breeds has never been more difficult.

  • According to the Kennel Club’s (KC) figures, cockers are the most popular of the two, with 23,297 registered in 2018, compared with just 10,152  English springers.
  • However, the KC figures are misleading, as they fail to distinguish between working and show strains of the two breeds, while there are certainly far more pet cockers than springers.
  • There are a lot of pure-bred working English springers that are not registered either.

 

Back in the 1960s cocker numbers were low and the quality of working dogs was mostly poor. Over the next 30 years numbers slowly and steadily recovered and now the smallest of the sporting spaniels has won itself a name as a great sporting companion.

springer spaniel

A handsome springer

The ideal rough shooter’s dog?

In 1952, Peter Moxon described the springer as “the ideal rough shooter’s dog, while for anyone who requires an all-rounder the breed will appeal as being most versatile… English springers, if of working stock, love working in cover and water, and are easy to train, besides being very hardy.”

According to Moxon, the plus points of the cocker were the “lovely, fast, happy action and a grand nose” while they “are small enough to penetrate the densest cover of which they are very fond”. However, he pointed out that in his experience, cockers “are not so easy to train as the springers, being rather more selfish and inclined to think about themselves instead of about what the trainer requires of them”.

  • In the last 60 years both cockers and springers have changed considerably.
  • Professionals now rarely comment that cockers are more difficult to train, because modern dogs are bred to be more biddable and trainable.
  • The cocker’s natural exuberance 
may test the novice handler, but there are a lot of springers out there that are equally as challenging.

The last half of the 20th century saw changes in the conformation and appearance of the English springer. The division between working and show types started as long ago as the 1930s, when springer enthusiasts were already lamenting the small size of trialling dogs. The post-war years saw the return of bigger, heavier springers with plenty of colour. Modern trialling springers are once again rather small, very quick but have little resemblance to the breed standard.

Are cockers better looking?

  • Many people choose dogs by their looks rather than performance. Some springers are very handsome but plenty aren’t.
  • In contrast, the great majority of cockers please the eye. Cockers also have the advantage in that they come in 
a great variety of colours, from solid black, browns and gold to blue and lemon roans.
  • Finding a traditional, handsome working springer is increasingly difficult. The breed standard allows dogs to be 20in at the withers — most show dogs are taller than this, and the majority of working dogs rather smaller. Cockers also range widely in size, but overall a typical working cocker will weigh between 13kg and 14.5kg, a springer around 20kg.
English springer spaniel

An English springer spaniel busy in the field

Which is more expensive – cocker spaniel or springer spaniel?

  • When it comes to running costs, 
a cocker has a smaller appetite than a springer, so will consume less food. The cocker’s smaller size will also fit into a cottage or smaller car.

Springers remain the bargains of the working gundog world, as you can still buy a sound, working springer puppy for as little as £300. (Take a look at our Marketplace to find spaniels for sale.) Most cockers cost twice this. One point to watch is the dog’s COI (inbreeding coefficient). In recent years a small number of fashionable cocker sires have been used on a large number of bitches, with the result that many cockers have a relatively high COI, which is not good for the breed’s long-term health. You can check the COI of your puppy’s parents (assuming they are registered) on the Kennel Club’s website.

cocker spaniel versus springer spaniel

Cocker spaniels can struggle to pick-up heavier game, while the bigger springer copies easily

Though both cockers and springers are bred to do exactly the same job, it’s worth remembering that the bigger spaniel of the two, the springer, will find retrieving heavy game that much easier. I’ve seen remarkable little cockers retrieving cock pheasants that weigh almost 
a third of their own weight, but it’s a bit of a struggle.

If you want a picking-up dog, then a springer is the better bet, though a cocker is a wonderful complement to a team of retrievers.

Cockerpoo gundogs

A cockerpoo as gundog?

I must admit that I’ve never seriously considered the potential of the cockerpoo (cocker spaniel-poodle cross) as a gundog, but a recent encounter on a…

What it comes down to in the end is personal choice: always opt for the breed you like and a puppy that pleases you. If you really can’t decide, there’s always the sprocker to consider. Sprockers are pure spaniels, not designer hybrids, but because they cannot be KC registered they are barred from most competitions. But they are increasingly popular.