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Sprocker or cocker spaniel? How can you tell them apart?

Even though sprockers aren't recognised by the Kennel Club, they are still pure spaniel says David Tomlinson

sprocker or cocker

It can be difficult to identify a sprocker on appearance alone (this is a sprocker)

Should you get a sprocker or cocker spaniel? I admit to being a fan of sprockers as I like their hybrid vigour. They are not a designer cross-breed like a Labradoodle but simply spaniel x spaniel, and it should not be forgotten that both breeds share the same ancestry. However, since a cocker crossed with a springer is a cross-breed, it cannot be registered with the Kennel Club, and this rules sprockers out of any competition run under Kennel Club rules. However, the Kennel Club recently agreed that cross-breeds can participate in its Working Gundog Certificate (WGC)  events, which of course means they are now open to sprockers.

I’ve no doubt that running a sprocker against pure cockers does give an unfair advantage — it’s a bit like racing a car with a six-cylinder engine in a class where only four-cylinder engines are allowed. What is more, it does seem likely that in recent years several successful dogs in cocker trials and even the cocker championship have been sprockers.

Cocker spaniels

Cocker spaniels

Sprocker or cocker – how can you tell the difference?

It is apparently becoming increasingly difficult to know what is sprocker and what is pure cocker, a situation compounded by the fact that one FTCh, “well known to be a full sprocker”, has been used repeatedly at stud, covering numerous bitches. Another disturbing allegation is the substitution of dogs running in trials. According to a letter I received a while ago, “there have been numerous occasions where the dog running was categorically not the same animal as the one entered and named on the programme”.

Without microchip checking of competing dogs at trials this is an easy way to cheat. There’s even the suggestion that one particular FTCh may in fact be two or three different dogs that have all competed under the same registered name.

I was also informed in the same letter that “many honest and unsuspecting people” have unwittingly used stud dogs or bought puppies believing that they were acquiring top cocker lines, when they were getting no such thing. This, of course, is fraud. The letter containing all these allegations wasn’t only sent to me: a copy was also apparently sent to the Kennel Club.

sprocker spaniel

It can be difficult to tell a sprocker from a pure cocker because the two have a shared ancestry and can look alike

Fatal flaw

The letter contains one fatal  flaw: it wasn’t signed. But to ensure fair play the Kennel Club should check microchips of competing dogs and introduce random DNA testing.

sprocker puppy

David’s sprocker puppy, Emma, aged four weeks

DNA testing for sprocker spaniels

The Kennel Club offers DNA testing kits starting at £50. So if you want to check your sprocker’s ancestry, that’s a straightforward way to clear the matter up.

This piece was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.