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What is a working cocker spaniel? Everything you need to know

Working cocker spaniels, also known as field cocker spaniels are a breed of dog that have been bred specifically for working in the fields to retrieve game such as pheasants, ducks and hares. They have a natural instinct to do so as this is what they have been bred to do for hundreds of years. They can carry a lot of weight for their size compared to other similar-sized dogs.

Cocker spaniels are a popular breed among dog lovers and a cocker spaniel dog breed is especially popular with families. If you are thinking of getting a cocker spaniel, you must have heard or come across the term working cocker spaniel. If you are wondering what that is all about then we are here to shed some light on it. But before we do, let’s look at the brief history of the cocker spaniel.

A brief cocker spaniel history

Cocker spaniels have their first recorded origin in Spain, hence the ‘spaniel’ that is in their breed name. The breed is mentioned in written literature as early as the 14th century. The dog breed was originally used by hunters to retrieve birds and other game. Over the years, cocker spaniels have been bred as field hunting dogs with an emphasis on stamina and trainability.

working cocker spaniel trained to retrieve animals on shooting

Unlike other working dogs such as the golden retriever or the Labrador, cocker spaniels are a medium-sized dog breed. This means that they could easily get underneath much denser bushes to retrieve game and birds where larger dogs couldn’t fit and this in turn has made them a more desirable working dog. The spaniel breed split into two main strains over time; the English cocker spaniel and the American cocker spaniel.

What is the difference between an English cocker spaniel and an American cocker spaniel?

American Cocker Spaniel
American Cocker Spaniel

Whilst English and American cocker spaniels are basically the same dog breed, they are categorised as two different dog breeds. They are not wildly different but there are some subtle differences between the two. Here are the differences.

In terms of size, American cocker spaniels are smaller than their English counterparts. The American cocker spaniels also have a shorter muzzle in comparison to the English spaniel.

English cocker spaniel
English Cocker Spaniel

As far as their coats are concerned, the English cocker spaniel has a shorter but silkier coat whereas the American cocker spaniel’s coat is often much denser and longer. The English cocker spaniel is also a little more active and energetic.

Now that we have met the two cocker spaniel breeds, let’s answer the big question.

What is a working cocker spaniel?

A working cocker spaniel is a dog that has been specifically trained to carry out particular tasks. As we have already mentioned, cocker spaniels were originally bred for hunting. Cocker spaniels are an intelligent, easily trainable dog breed which makes them an ideal working dog.

Unlike other working dog breeds, cocker spaniels are a smaller dog breed and this makes them easily portable and good retrievers as well.

Cocker spaniels can also be trained as rescue dogs, detection, sniffing dogs, amongst other specialised tasks, and not just restricted to being a hunting dog.

Working cocker spaniel retrieving hare

You might not intend to use your cocker spaniel as a working dog, but that does not mean you shouldn’t get one. You should, however, keep in mind that spaniels are energy-intensive dogs and will need a lot of physical exercise. This is what makes them great to live alongside children as they are both always up for some play time.

What is the difference between a working cocker spaniel and a show cocker spaniel?

Show cocker spaniel with medals

Working and show cocker spaniels are the same dog breed. The only difference between working and show cocker spaniels is that breeders emphasize physical appearance and features that conform to the breed like long ears whilst working spaniel breeders focus on stamina and endurance. Both working and show cocker spaniels are the same size.


In conclusion,

Cocker spaniels are intelligent, energy-intensive dogs. Due to their intelligence, the breed is easily trainable and in turn, this makes them an ideal working dog. Their small body frame also gives them an edge compared to their larger counterparts.

They can easily get into smaller spaces where other dogs simply couldn’t fit. You might not plan on using your cocker spaniel as a working dog, but you should keep in mind their high energy intensity and make sure they get enough exercise to expel the extra energy to avoid behavioural issues.

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