The American Cocker Spaniel is a breed of dog that originated in the United Kingdom and was brought to Canada and then Spain and the United States in the late 1800s. American Cocker Spaniels were given their own AKC Stud Book in the early 1900s. By 1946, the English Cocker Spaniel was distinct enough in type from the "American" variety, that the American Kennel Club established it as a breed separate from the English Cocker Spaniel. It was given its own Stud Book and that left the "American" type to be known as the Cocker Spaniel in the United States. They are in the sporting breed group of dogs and are the smallest of their group. American Cocker Spaniels were used to flush out birds and prey from the brush so their masters could shoot them.
Happy and popular, the signature trait of the American Cocker Spaniel is its dark, expressive eyes that reflect a happy, loving, and active nature. Cockers are a dropped eared breed (pendulous ears) and the mature Cocker is shown in a full feathered, silky coat. After its show career ends, the fur is often trimmed into a "puppy cut", shortened on the legs, sides and belly, that is easier to keep whether as a pet, performance dog, or hunting companion. It is important to keep the hair clipped from both sides of the ear about one third down the ear flap. This helps to keep air flowing through the ear canal and reduce risk of ear infections from bacteria, injury or parasites.
For North Americans conformation shows Cockers are divided by the breed standard into three varieties: black, ASCOB (Any Solid Color Other than Black),and parti-colors. Black Variety includes: solid blacks and black & tan. ASCOB includes solid colors ranging from silver, to light cream (buff) to dark red and brown and brown with tan points. Parti-colors have large areas of white with another color(s) and must be have at least 10% coloration (not more than 90% white). Parti-colors include: black & white; black & white with tan points (referred to as tri-colors or "tris"), brown & white, brown & white with tan points (referred to as a "brown tri"), and red & white. Roans are shown in the Parti-color variety and can be black (referred to as "blue roans"), red ("orange roan"), or brown ("liver or chocolate roan"); with or without tan points. In a roan coat, individual colored hairs are mingled in with the white. Sable coloring is seen in solids or Parti-colors, but no longer can be shown in conformation by the American Spaniel Club, although it can be shown in Canada and in Europe. Merle is a highly controversial pattern, as it is debated whether it is a result of breeding to another breed. Cockers cannot be registered as merles with the AKC. It is not recognized by the American Spaniel Club and cannot be shown in conformation.
In a 2004 UK Kennel Club survey, the most common causes of death were cancer (23%), old age (20%), cardiac (8%), and immune-mediated (8%). In a 2003 USA/Canada Health Survey with a smaller sample size, the leading causes of death were cancer, hepatic disease, and immune-mediated
American Cocker Spaniels are the smallest of the sporting spaniels. Their name cocker is commonly held to stem from their use to hunt woodcock in England, but today this breed is used to hunt a variety of upland gamebirds and water fowl.
In the United States the breed is known officially by the American Kennel Club, as the "Cocker Spaniel". Outside the US, it is often referred to as the American Cocker Spaniel, but it was the creation of the English Cocker Spaniel that triggered the breed split in the 1930s. It is said that the spaniel came to America on the Mayflower in the 1620's. It became a separate breed from all the spaniels in 1947.
On June 20, 1936 a group of English Cocker fanciers met at the home of Mr. And Mrs. E. Shippen near Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. They formed a specialty club for English Cocker Spaniels known as the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America. After this meeting, AKC recognized the "English" variety and people began to import Cockers bred in England, to the United States more frequently.
By 1938, 24 Cockers had completed their championships from the "English" classes, but six of them were American-bred Cockers and only one of those had an English import in the first five generations of their pedigrees. There was an advantage in the point system then to show in the English-variety classes. For instance, in California, a male ECS had to defeat five other dogs to earn a five point major; a solid Cocker male (American type) had to win over 19 dogs to win the same major, and some people used the advantage, after all, the types were bred together and a litter could have both varieties and all were registered as "Cocker Spaniels."
Then in 1938, the ECSCA Board of Directors met at Giralda Farms, Madison, New Jersey, and Geraldine Dodge made the motion that the owners of ECS studs would not allow them to be bred to American type bitches as a policy and requirement of membership in the ECSCA.
They also resolved to object to showing American type Cockers in English Cocker classes and went on to define an English Cocker Spaniel as "a dog or bitch of the Cocker Spaniel breed whose pedigree can be traced in all lines to dogs or bitches which were registered with the English Kennel Club (or eligible for export pedigree) on or before January 1, 1930." (Jubilee, 1986).
American type Cocker popularity surged during the 1940s and ECS fanciers knew they needed their own AKC Stud Book recognizing the English Cocker Spaniel as a separate breed. Mrs. Dodge began the work of sorting out the pedigrees not only in the United States, but in England and Canada. The project was done by Josephine Z. Rine, Mrs. Dodge's curator of art and former editor of "Popular Dogs."
That accomplished, Mrs. Dodge then began the process with AKC and in June 1946, the English Cocker Spaniel was officially recognized by AKC as a breed different from the American Cocker Spaniel. (ECSCA Jubilee, 1986)
American Cocker Spaniels and English Cocker Spaniels are the only spaniel breeds allowed to compete together in Cocker Field Trials in the United States. There are a small number of field-bred American cockers bred in the US, but the distinction between field and show-bred dogs is less than exist in English cockers.
Today's American Cocker Spaniel is as always, a versatile small dog. It remains popular as a pet, but is also known for its workmanlike attributes that make it a stunning show dog, lively companion hunter, competitive gaming dog, or gentle therapy dog.