Cooper, my red sable English cocker spaniel (C) Natalia Ashton, Perfect cocker spaniel

Q&A | What is a sable colour in English cocker spaniels?

To be honest, I’ve never chosen a puppy based on his colour. It has always been more about the face, personality & little features that made my heart beat faster.

I really don’t care if the sable dogs are “rare” or not allowed in a show ring. Personally I find them beautiful just like I find any cocker spaniel beautiful.

Sables vary in colour a lot. They can be black, chocolate, golden or silver-looking. Often the sable pups are very similar to “approved” colours and the coat changes happen gradually and after the pup is handstripped.

So if you are looking for a sable puppy specifically and not quite sure whether or not your future baby is sable, look at both his fur and eyes. The sables will always have dark hairs (black, chocolate or red depending on their coat) running through their coat. Many may also have a mask around their eyes and running down their nose.

And all sables will have what I call “the Cleopatra eyes” – a solid liner around their eyes.

One thing to bear in mind. Sable cockers can become rather fluffy by the time they are ready to be hand-strip, so their coat will need more time, efforts and attention, both on a daily basis and when groomed. Always have a look at your puppy’s parents – if one of them is not too fluffy, your baby may just grow into the smooth and beautiful cocker, too. If both parents have rich coats, you’ve just signed yourself for plenty of grooming fun.

Photo source: Cooper, photo taken by me

Cooper, my sable English cocker spaniel puppy (C) Natalia Ashton, Perfect cocker spaniel

Q&A | What is the difference between working and show cocker spaniel?

I’m often asked about the difference between show and working type cocker pups, so here’s how I explain it to the first time puppy parents.

The show type cockers have a richer coat, more feathering (long layers of fur) on their legs and body. Their faces are more Teddy bear like and both pups and grown ups are chunkier somewhat.

The working type is slender, with much less feathering, shorter and higher set ears. Their face reminds me of a fox – it’s slimmer than the show type and the muzzle is more “pointy”.

Energy-wise, workers tend to be more energetic, but it will depend on your pups personality. I have known very mellow workers and pretty unstoppable show dogs.

Photo source: Cooper, photo by me

Ted Obo, black English cocker spaniel, the father of modern English cocker spaniels, bred by James Farrow | Photo from Illustrations du Journal L'Acclimatation (C) Mary Evans Picture Library

Q&A | Who was the father of all modern English cocker spaniels?

Do you know the cocker who started it all? His name was Obo. He was bred by James Farrow in 1879 and won the highest possible honours at shows. Obo is considered to be the father of all the best black and parti-coloured lines of cocker spaniels.

Photo source: (C) Mary Evans Picture Library 

Perfect cocker spaniel, according to the Kennel Club breed standard

I thought it’s a good idea to share an official description of the English Cocker Spaniel not so much to help you find “the perfect cocker puppy” (because when you see the one you will know), but give you some useful information regarding the breed and make that puppy search as successful and stress-free as possible.

According to The Kennel Club “the Cocker is an active, happy, small dog who quickly adapts himself to surroundings. He is highly intelligent and affectionate, and in his element foraging around fields and hedges. He also employs retrieving instincts around the house, and can often be found with a toy or slipper in his mouth. They are easy to train and thrive on human companionship.” All true.

Cocker spaniels belong to a group of gun dogs, and are divided into two categories – show cockers and working cockers. Both are lovely, but the show type is chunkier, sturdy, more “teddy bear” like and really is what you picture when talking about an English cocker spaniel.

Working cockers have a “drier” constitution, slimmer, with a narrower-looking face. I don’t know if it’s a rule or typical of a working cocker, but I’ve never seen them with long hair.

From time to time breeders of the working cockers are legally allowed to dock pups’ tails, so unlike the show type that always have a long tail unless they were born before 2006 , the year when the tail-docking was banned, a working cocker may have a short one.

Height approximately: dogs: 39-41 cms (15.5-16 ins); bitches: 38-39 cms (15-15.5 ins). Weight approximately: 13-14.5 kgs (28-32 lbs).

Cockers are like a bag of M&Ms. They come in a variety of colours, which are often referred to as “solid” (gold, red, black chocolate) and “parti-coloured” (black & tan, black & white, black & white ticked, black, white & tan, blue roan, blue roan & tan, chocolate & tan, chocolate & white, chocolate roan, chocolate roan & tan, chocolate white & tan, lemon & white, lemon roan, liver & white, liver & white ticked, liver roan, liver roan & tan, liver white & tan, orange & white, orange & white ticked, orange roan and sable)

It is very important to bear in mind that any solid colour must be solid, “no white is allowed except for on the chest” and sable colour is not Kennel Club recognised.

Spaniel’s hair is glistening, silky, flat – never too wavy or curly. Requires daily grooming, plus regular trimming and hand-stripping.

Cocker spaniels are considered to be one of the strong and healthy breeds and live beyond 10 years, but when choosing a puppy ensure that BOTH his parents have been health screened and the breeder has official results for BVA/KC/ISDS Eye test, DNA test – prcd-PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy & Central Progressive Retinal Atrophy) & FN (Familial Nephropathy), plus BVA/KC Hip Dysplasia test and, ideally as it doesn’t need to be done annually, BVA/KC/ISDS Gonioscopy (Primary Glaucoma). If in double, you can always check the recommended tests by speaking to a vet and contacting The Kennel Club. While it may sound like hard work or too much information, these tests ensure that a) the breeder cares for his dogs and reputation b) you get a puppy who will not develop eye and bone problems typical of the breed.

Other health issues that are not tested for but known to affect English cockers are haemolytic anaemia, chronic pancreatitis, adult onset neuropathy, acral mutilaion syndrome (working lines), cataracts, pertistent pupillary membrane, extra eye lashes (distichiasis), entropion (ingrowing eyelids) and ectropion (sagging, loose eye lids).

To stay healthy, cockers need minimum an hour of exercise daily and good diet ideally chosen according to the breed needs.

So as long as you look after yours, they really are a breeze and, yes, you guessed it, most perfect little guys to hang with.