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Cocker Spaniel

Cocker SpanielFor the last few years the popularity of this smaller sized branch of the Spaniel tribe has been steadily increasing, and the Cocker classes at most of the best shows are now remarkable both for the number of entries and the very high standard of excellence to which they attain.

A short time ago black Cockers were decidedly more fashionable than their parti-coloured relatives, but now the reverse is the case, and the various roans and tricolours have overtaken and passed the others, both in general quality and in the public esteem. The reason for this popularity of the breed as a whole is not far to seek. The affectionate and merry disposition of the Cocker and his small size compared with that of the other breeds pre-eminently fit him for a companion in the house as well as in the field, and he ranks among his admirers quite as many of the fairer sex as he does men a fact which is not without a certain element of danger, since it should never be lost sight of that the breed is a sporting one, which should on no account be allowed to degenerate into a race of mere house companions or toys.

Small-sized Spaniels, usually called Cockers, from their being more especially used in woodcock shooting, have been indigenous to Wales and Devonshire for many years, and it is most likely from one or both of these sources that the modern type has been evolved. It is probable too that the type in favour to day, of a short coupled, rather “cobby” dog, fairly high on the leg, is more like that of these old fashioned Cockers than that which obtained a decade or two ago, when they were scarcely recognised as a separate breed, and the Spaniel classes were usually divided into “Field Spaniels over 25 lb.” and “Field Spaniels under 25 lb.” In those days a large proportion of the prizes fell to miniature Field Spaniels. The breed was not given official recognition on the Kennel Club’s register till 1893, nor a section to itself in the Stud Book; and up to that date the only real qualification a dog required to be enabled to compete as a Cocker was that he should be under the weight of 25 lb., a limit arbitrarily and somewhat irrationally fixed, since in the case of an animal just on the border line he might very well have been a Cocker before and a Field Spaniel after breakfast.

It is not easy to find authentic pedigrees going back further than a quarter of a century, but Mr. C. A. Phillips can trace his own strain back to 1860, and Mr. James Farrow was exhibiting successfully thirty five years ago. The former gentleman published the pedigree of his bitch Rivington Dora for eighteen generations in extenso in The Sporting Spaniel; while the famous Obo strain of the latter may be said to have exercised more influence than any other on the black variety both in this country and in the United States.

It was in 1880 that the most famous of all the “pillars” of the Cocker stud, Mr. James Farrow’s Obo, made his first bow to the public, he and his litter sister Sally having been born the year before. He won the highest honours that the show bench can give, and the importance of his service to the breed both in his owner’s kennel and outside it, can scarcely be over-estimated. Nearly all of the best blacks, and many of the best coloured Cockers, are descended from him.

At this period the type mostly favoured was that of a dog rather longer in the body and lower on the leg than it is at present, but the Obo family marked a progressive step, and very rightly kept on winning under all the best judges for many years, their owner being far too good a judge himself ever to exhibit anything but first-class specimens.

Meanwhile, although the blacks were far the most fashionable and it was said that it was hopeless to try to get the same quality in coloured specimens several enthusiastic breeders for colour were quietly at work, quite undismayed by the predilection shown by most exhibitors and judges for the former colour. Among them was Mr. C.  A. Phillips, whose two bitches from Mr. James Freme, of Wepre Hall, Flintshire, succeeded in breeding from one of them, whom he named Rivington Sloe, the celebrated dog Rivington Signal, who, mated with Rivington Blossom, produced Rivington Bloom, who was in turn the dam of Rivington Redcoat. These dogs proved almost, if not quite, as valuable to the coloured variety as Obo did to the blacks, and formed the foundation of Mr. J. M. Porter’s celebrated Braeside strain which afterwards became so famous.

During the last few years Mr. R. de Courcy Peele’s kennel has easily held the pride of place in this variety. Most readers are no doubt familiar with the many beautiful Cockers which have appeared in the show ring and carried off so many prizes under the distinguishing affix Bowdler. His kennel was built up on a Braeside foundation, and has contained at one time or other such flyers as Ben Bowdler, Bob Bowdler, Rufus Bowdler, Dixon Bowdler, Eva Bowdler, Mary Bowdler, Blue-coat Bowdler, Susan Bowdler, and others, and Ben and Bob have also been, as sires, responsible for the success of a good many dogs hailing from other kennels.

He has also been fairly successful with blacks, which, however, have usually been purchased and not bred by him, the two best being Master Reuben, bred by Miss Joan Godfrey, and Jetsam Bowdler, a bitch who has distinguished herself both in the ring and in the field.

Coloured Cockers are certainly “booming” just now, and as a consequence the blacks, who are equally worthy of support, are being rather neglected. Certainly it is the case that whereas one sees at most shows big classes of the former filled with a good level lot with hardly a bad specimen amongst them, the classes devoted to the latter, besides not being so well filled, are much more uneven, and always contain a large proportion of weeds and toys. A few years ago the black classes were immeasurably superior to the coloured, and it is to be hoped that in the near future they will regain at least a position of equality with them.

At the last few Field Trial meetings the Spaniel Club has provided classes confined to Cockers, which have filled fairly well, and enabled the small breed to demonstrate that it can in its way be quite as useful as its larger cousins.

A Cocker can very often go and work as well where a larger Spaniel cannot even creep, and for working really thick hedgerows or gorse has no superior. There seems to be every prospect of a brilliant future, and increased popularity for this charming breed.

Its interests are looked after both by the Spaniel Club and the comparatively newly formed Cocker Spaniel Club, and it is also quite as much in favour on the other side of the Atlantic as it is in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the classes in America and Canada compare very favourably with our own.

The descriptive particulars of the breed are:

HEAD — Not so heavy in proportion and not so high in occiput as in the modern Field Spaniel, with a nicely developed muzzle or jaw; lean, but not snipy, and yet not so square as in the Clumber or Sussex varieties, but always exhibiting a sufficiently wide and well-developed nose. Forehead perfectly smooth, rising without a too decided stop from muzzle into a comparatively wide and rounded, well-developed skull, with plenty of room for brain power.

EYES — Full, but not prominent, hazel or brown coloured, with a general expression of intelligence and gentleness, though decidedly wideawake, bright and merry, never goggled nor weak as in the King Charles and Blenheim kinds.

EARS — Lobular, set on low, leather fine and not exceeding beyond the nose, well clothed with long silky hair, which must be straight or wavy—no positive curls or ringlets.

NECK — Strong and muscular, and neatly set on to fine sloping shoulders.

BODY (INCLUDING SIZE AND SYMMETRY) - Not quite so long and low as in the other breeds of Spaniels, more compact and firmly knit together, giving the impression of a concentration of power and untiring activity. 

WEIGHT — The weight of a Cocker Spaniel of either sex should not exceed 25 lb., or be less than 20 lb. Any variation either way should be penalised.

NOSE — Sufficiently wide and well developed to ensure the exquisite scenting powers of this breed.

SHOULDERS AND CHEST — The former sloping and fine, chest deep and well developed, but not too wide and round to interfere with the free action of the fore-legs. 

BACK AND LOIN — Immensely strong and compact in proportion to the size and weight of the dog; slightly sloping towards the tail.

HIND-QUARTERS — Wide, well rounded, and very muscular, so as to ensure untiring action and propelling power under the most trying circumstances of a long day, bad weather, rough ground, and dense covert.

STERN — That most characteristic of blue blood in all the Spaniel family may, in the lighter and more active Cocker, although set low down, be allowed a slightly higher carriage than in the other breeds, but never cocked up over, but rather in a line with the back, though the lower its carriage and action the better, and when at work its action should be incessant in this, the brightest and merriest of the whole Spaniel family.

FEET AND LEGS — The legs should be well boned, feathered and straight, for the tremendous exertions expected from this grand little sporting dog, and should be sufficiently short for concentrated power, but not too short as to interfere with its full activity. Feet firm, round, and cat-like, not too large, spreading, and loose jointed. This distinct breed of Spaniel does not follow exactly on the lines of the larger Field Spaniel, either in lengthiness, lowness, or otherwise, but is shorter in the back, and rather higher on the legs.
COAT — Flat or waved, and silky in texture, never wiry, woolly, or curly, with sufficient feather of the right sort, viz., waved or Setter-like, but not too profuse and never curly.

GENERAL APPEARANCE — Confirmatory of all indicated above, viz., a concentration of pure blood and type, sagacity, docility, good temper, affection, and activity.

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