What Were Cocker Spaniels Bred for? History of the Cocker Spaniel

cocker spaniel on green grass

As surprising as it may seem, your adorable Cocker Spaniel was originally bred as a hunting dog, although it’s hard to believe that something so sweet can hunt anything!

These dogs were excellent at catching birds due to their small size and agility. Believe it or not, Cocker Spaniels are sometimes still used for hunting today, but in most cases they are simply kept as pets and companions. However, if you are looking to adopt a Cocker Spaniel, it is important to note that they are still an active breed so should be outdoors.

Have you ever wondered about the history of your adorable Cocker Spaniel? Read our article below on the history of this adorable breed and more.

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The emergence of cocker spaniels

The exact chronology of Cocker Spaniels is unknown. It is important to understand that there are two different breeds. There is the English Cocker Spaniel, which was bred to hunt birds, especially woodcock. This is also where the “Cocker” comes from in Cocker Spaniel.

The American Cocker Spaniel is most often used as a pet rather than for hunting, but it has been known to happen. The English Cocker Spaniel is said to be one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. However, in one version of the Cocker Spaniels origin story, it says they were first bred in Spain. In a better known version, they came to Europe from Rome. However, archaeological digs have uncovered coins showing images of spaniel-like dogs hunting.

The two modern Cocker Spaniel breeds are the American Cocker Spaniel and the English Cocker Spaniel. The two breeds look alike. However, the American Cocker Spaniel is slightly smaller and has a domed head and a slightly shorter muzzle.

During the 17and century, a variety of spaniel breeds began to appear in Western Europe. This meant that although most of what they did was similar, these spaniels hunted different animals depending on the area they were in.

It also meant that something had to be done to distinguish spaniel breeds and their characteristics. All spaniels were born from the same litter, then separated by weight and height, then given their job titles. Here is what resulted:


Cocker Spaniels were the smallest runts in the litter and had the task of squeezing through shrubs to snatch the prey they hunted.


Springers were the largest of the litter and were used to spout birds and game, hence their name.

Yet there was still no formal classification for the Cocker Spaniel. Believe it or not, at one time the Cocker Spaniel had no formal classification among the Spaniel varieties. They have all been grouped into one category and called Spaniels.

cocker spaniel
Image credit: otsphoto, Shutterstock

A formal classification emerges

The need for a formal classification of spaniels was obvious, so certain dogs were used to give birth to the best puppies, puppies better adapted to their environment.

Unfortunately, the characteristics of these new breeds of puppies were mostly inconsistent, so in 1885 the Spaniel Club established the formal classification needed to help identify the differences between spaniel breeds.

Cocker Spaniels in the United States

Cocker Spaniels have been in the United States since around the early 1880s. In fact, in 1883 classes were scheduled for the breed at English Bench shows. However, the breed was not given purebred status until 1892 by the Kennel Club of England herd book.

Although English and American Cockers look a lot alike, they are different enough now that the American Cocker Spaniel was recognized separately by the Kennel Club in the 1930s. However, it took until 1946 for the American Kennel Club to give to the English Cocker Spaniel a separate breed approval.

Yet, as early as 1892, the Kennel Club officially recognized the Cocker Spaniel breed and offered the following weight classifications.

Dogs that weighed less than 25 pounds were known as Cockers because they were ideal for flushing.

Dogs over 25 pounds were called Springer Spaniels or Field Spaniels because they were good at springing big game.

There are also many Cocker Spaniel crosses to choose from, including:

These are just a few of the crosses you can look for when you find a pet mixed with a Cocker Spaniel.

Now that we know a bit about the history of the Cocker Spaniel and that it was bred for hunting purposes, let’s take a look at the breed itself.

black and white cocker spaniel running
Image Credit: rebeccaashworth, Shutterstock

Temperament of the Cocker Spaniel breed

Cocker Spaniels have a gentle temperament and make great companions whether you are a single senior or an active family. Since the breed is so caring and intelligent, they are easy to train, making them the ideal dog for a novice pet owner.

While the Cocker Spaniel enjoys being with a large, active family, they can also thrive on the attentions of a small, loving family.

Caring for a Cocker Spaniel

Caring for a Cocker Spaniel is quite easy, especially compared to other dog breeds. Since this breed is a sporting dog, they need to be kept active, which means they need several walks a day to stay healthy and happy.

It is also important to note that this breed does not experience any serious genetic health issues, however, as with any pet, it depends on the dog and how it is cared for by its parents.

The biggest problem seems to be with their ears, so be sure to clean them regularly. If you are unsure how to care for your Cocker Spaniels ears, it is best to contact your veterinarian for advice. You can also take your Cocker Spaniel to the groomer, as he is trained to clean his ears.

The cocker spaniel today

Today, most Cocker Spaniels are bought or adopted as pets, especially in America, but the English Cocker Spaniel is still used for hunting in some cases.

The American Cocker Spaniel is also the second most registered dog with the AKC. Although the English Cocker Spaniel is not that popular in the United States, it is one of the number one companion dogs in the UK.

cocker spaniel puppies
Image credit: Alkhaine, Pixabay


Final Thoughts

This concludes our guide to the Cocker Spaniel, why it was bred and part of the story of this loving pup.

If you are considering adopting a Cocker Spaniel, do your research. Adopting a pet is a huge responsibility, and you need to make sure you and your family are up to the challenge.

Featured Image Credit: andriano.cz, Shutterstock

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