The Cocker Spaniel has been a beloved hunting companion in Europe for centuries, and there are mentions of Spaniels as far back as the 14th century. The general theory is that they were developed in Spain, and the many Spaniel breeds we know today are the result of breeding in different regions for different types of birds.
The Cocker Spaniel is no exception. Their smaller size was quickly recognized as an advantage when hunting English Woodcock and is partially responsible for the breeds name. Until the 19th century, the cocker classification of Spaniel could refer to what we now consider to be several separate breeds. Before that, the one litter could have both Cocker and Springer Spaniels since the only qualification to be a Cocker was to be under 25 pounds.
It may seem like a broad generalization, but before the weight classification, most Spaniels were only separated by was if they were a land or water canine. Then came the distinction of being a Cocker or Springer based on size. The founding of The Kennel Club in 1873 is a massive reason that there are more specific breed standards today. At one point, the breeds we know today as the Norfold, Sussex, and Clumber Spaniels, were all considered to simply be Cocker Spaniels. Other breeds like the Welsh and Devonshire Spaniels were considered Cockers until 1903, and we consider them Springers today. You can see how muddled the history of the entire branch of Spaniels is, and it doesn't stop there.
Today, we have two versions of the Cocker Spaniel; the English Cocker and the American Cocker. Both are adept at hunting birds in their respective countries and adored by their families for their sweet natures. They are different enough in size and appearance to be considered distinct from each other, but their fantastic personality remains the same. That's actually one thing that has stayed the same. The Spaniel temperament was not diluted or altered in the centuries they've been hunting and family companions.
The Cocker Spaniel is a favorite with so many people because of its smaller size, making it easier to care for when it comes to costs and traveling. They have always been prized hunting companions for their ability to seek out and startle game birds for hunters and then retire for a quiet evening with the family. They have the energy and stamina to run across fields all day but are surprisingly not a high energy breed that needs a lot of exercise. These easy-going and loving canines have been the perfect balance between sporting and family companions throughout their long history. A few moments ago, I mentioned an English and an American version of the Cocker Spaniel today, but they come from the same stock.
It's widely accepted that a Cocker Spaniel named Obo was the founding sire for the English version, which has changed little throughout the years. Here's where it gets a bit tangled up again. The American line's founding sire is his son, Obo II, who was born and raised in the US. Obo II was born in 1879 when the only qualification to be a Cocker was to be under 25 pounds. Because of this, the American Cocker Spaniel we have today is a bit smaller and has a shorter back and muzzle than its English counterpart. The English Cocker Spaniel is longer and more narrow in every direction, while also being slightly larger. It wasn't until 1946 that The Kennel Club recognized the American and English versions as being distinct from one another.
The Cocker Spaniel, in both it's American and English versions, has been near the top of 'most popular breed' lists in both countries for years. Exact numbers are hard to come by in the US since, for the first ten years of its incredible popularity, there wasn't a distinction between the American and English Cocker. The English Cocker has a much larger fan base thanks to its many centuries as a preferred sporting dog in the UK long before the breed was exported to the US.
Hopefully, this video has helped to clarify the tangled thread of the Cocker within the Spaniel category for you. I'll be diving into the history of several other Spaniels soon to give you a more complete picture of how the once all-encompassing category was broken down into all the separate Spaniels we know and love still today.