108 THE COCKING SPANIEL
THE COCKING SPANIEL
"The spaniel, in my opinion, is the most difficult of all dogs to break in a scientific manner, and this for one reason only, simply because his work takes him very frequently out of your sight in thick cover...his duty being for the most part to 'roust out' his quarry..."
But their advance in the early trials world was praiseworthy. In 1920, only four Cockers competed at trials. Five years on and the figure had progressed to 41. In 1930, 63 participated, with the peak number of 73 being reached five years later. In 1924, that great spaniel man CA Phillips of the Rivington kennel was writing: “There is no doubt the Cocker has changed more quickly in appearance and requirements than any other of the Spaniel family, but this is chiefly by reason of the changed methods of shooting. For this reason, he has developed from the smaller unit of a team to the larger-sized ‘dog of all work’, thereby adding to his popularity – but we cannot have it both ways. If he is to fulfill the requirements of today as a working dog, he must be of such a build, and such a size, to meet these altered conditions.” He went on to observe that it is much easier to breed quality in the smaller dog than the larger one and that for the show bench size does not have the same importance. Size is always more significant than mere breed identity; this breed evolved for a working purpose.
General Hutchinson, in his valuable Dog Breaking of 1909, wrote that 'even good spaniels, however well bred, if they have not had great experience, generally road too fast. Undeniably they are difficult animals to educate...' The late Keith Erlandson once wrote that 'a good Springer should have the qualities of the Spanish fighting bull and the Zulu warrior', some combination! But he did describe Cockers as 'inveterate belly crawlers and the sight of one pulling himself forward by his elbows, hind legs stretched straight out behind him causes me such amusement, with a resulting breakdown in concentration...' Sounds like a dog literally pushing its luck to me! Erlandson also wrote: “A good Cocker reminds me of a combination between a Corsican bandit and a seven-year old dog fox. Basically, the Cocker needs more game to get it going than the Springer requires. Their attitudes are so different. Order the Zulu to charge a line of machine guns and he would charge without question. The Corsican would decline and take the guns by night attack.”
The American spaniel expert, Carl P Wood, in his Sporting Dogs of 1985, (Gun Digest), wrote: 'Cocker Spaniels are excitable and emotional and should be handled with sensitivity and gentleness during training. They seem to know immediately when play stops and the boss gets serious. An act or motion that would not matter at all in play or roughhousing with a Cocker, if done at a 'serious' time, will cause emotional difficulty with many Cockers.' This is a subtle point, a perceptive one, but innate hot-headedness, allied to great sensitivity, in any breed, really tests the trainer, despite being rooted in an eagerness to perform. CA Phillips wrote on this aspect: “A really good working Cocker is quite the merriest and most delightful companion a sportsman can have, and if taken in hand early is almost as easily trained as any other breed of Spaniel…I find that if stopped early in life from chasing rabbits and hares, a Cocker is never so wilful and headstrong when he is taken in hand later on…”
A couple of decades ago, the breeding base of the working Cocker was worrying narrow; FT champions such as Templebar Blackie, Monnow Mayfly, Ardnamurchan Mac, Speckle of Ardoon and Carswell Zero each had a deep developmental influence on today’s dogs, as indeed did the Jordieland Cockers of Jack Windle. In the show world the overuse of certificate-winning sires can narrow the gene pool too. The large numbers of Cockers registered each year diverts attention from the fact that nearly every Cocker goes back to Bebb, a famous winner from 1867 to 1873 and an even more famous stud dog. The lack of interplay between show stock and working dogs as far as breeding is concerned is an enormous pity. Cynics may say that show people are seeking beauty queens whilst sporting owners are only interested in performance – well ahead of physical perfection. But when virility and vigour are desired ahead of beauty of form, then the health of the whole breed should come first. Gundog men sometimes describe the show dogs as over-furnished and gormless; show exhibitors say that the working specimens lack breed type and can be too headstrong. Perhaps the Kennel Club’s recent mandatory requirement for show judges of gundogs to attend a Field Trial at Open Stake level or an Open Gundog Working Test for the relevant gundog sub-group, before being considered to award Challenge Certificates will bring the two gundog worlds closer together.