Both the show type cocker and the field cocker share the same Kennel Club breed standard and puppies born to either "type" are registered as Spaniels (Cocker). All spaniels including the show & working strains of cockers descend from the same original foundation stock.
Powerscourt cocker spaniels are breeders/exhibitors of show cockers and are certainly not experts in field bred cockers, however from personal experience of knowing many field bred (working) cockers here is a brief summary of the differences between the two strains. For a more in-depth perspective of working bred cockers please contact Whaupley Gundogs as they are well known and respected working cocker breeders/field trial competitors.
Field-bred Cockers are meant to be companions in the field and at home, but they can easily become bored and destructive indoors (as can many dogs!) if they aren't physically and mentally stimulated on a regular (preferably daily) basis. Field-bred Cockers MUST have a job to do; they have active & quick minds and need many opportunities to put their busy minds & bodies to work. Generally, they do not need masses of exercise but like to be busy and to explore their environment.
Most family households are relatively sedentary and any dog they own is a pet, very few owners “work” their dogs or are willing/able to provide sufficient activity to replace a dogs traditional "work" (shooting, field trials, agility, Flyball etc.).
Most dogs can become bored, noisy & destructive unless their specific needs are met. This is especially true of breeds that were originally developed to perform a working role. Field bred cockers have been developed for their ability to work, which requires an endless reserve of energy, stamina and lots of intelligence.
Show bred cockers have calmer dispositions (by comparison), though they are still an intelligent breed and need daily exercise and the chance to use their noses and their minds. Very few show bred cockers are worked, although given appropriate training, they can make good working dogs as most still retain their basic instinct to flush and retrieve game.
Taking a very simplistic view, I personally tend to think that with show strain cockers if the weather is horrid and the fire is warm they will happily forego an outing in favour of a snooze on the sofa. By comparison, field bred cockers are 'champing at the bit' to get out and about, given the choice they would choose the field (regardless of weather) over a day on the sofa or their owners lap!
Show bred cockers are bred primarily as companions and show dogs and many are capable of working (if trained). Their breeders adhere to the 'Breed Standard' (or they should do!). Emphasis is placed on conformation (appearance), temperament & coat colour (in no particular order).
Working bred cockers are bred primarily as working dogs that are companionable. Working cocker breeders appreciate good conformation, as conformation is the framework for a dog’s muscles and ligaments. A correctly constructed dog should be capable of working all day in the field without succumbing to injury or extreme tiredness. However, I'm not sure how much emphasis is placed on the Breed Standard - the make and "type" of working cocker bears little resemblance to the show cocker. The Breed Standard is the "blueprint" that governs how the dog looks. Breeders of working cockers place high emphasis on working ability & intelligence, looks are not given as high a priority as they are in well-bred show strain cockers.
As young pups i.e. under 10 – 12 weeks of age, the two strains are comparatively similar in appearance. Many a novice buyer has purchased a field bred cocker in the mistaken belief they were buying a puppy from a show strain & presumably, there have been show strain cockers sold as working bred too!
Field bred cockers will generally be more “leggy”, they generally have longer bodies, less angulation (forequarters and hindquarters) and longer/narrower muzzles (although sometimes they can have more "stubby muzzles). Their ears are shorter and set higher on the skull (higher than the level of the eye socket) and the top of the skull is flatter than a show strain cocker. They have fine coats with short feathering. Coat colours are varied; many will be a solid base colour with often extensive areas of white coat on the chest and muzzle etc.
Show bred cockers will generally be compact and balanced (height at withers equalling approximately the length from withers to root of tail). They will have short bodies, big ribs and short loins. They are generally more angulated, although angulation should be balanced (forequarters matching hind quarters). Their muzzles are square with a distinct stop (the junction where the bridge of the nose meets the gap between the eyes). The skull will be slightly rounded and the ears will be longer and set low on a level with the eyes. They often have a profuse coat and coat colours are varied, however in solid colours no white is allowed save for on the chest. Both parti-coloured and solid colours are popular in show strain cockers.
Buying a puppy
If you are purchasing a cocker puppy, and you are unsure whether the puppy is a show or working strain, the pedigree (family tree) should give an indication. Any Champions (normally shown in red ink) will be depicted as “Sh. Ch.” or “Show Champion” when a puppy is from show lines. With a working cocker pedigree, champions are listed as “FTCH” or “Field Trial Champion”.
Due to the difference in physical appearance & aptitude for work (potential working ability), reputable breeders do NOT mix working and show lines despite the fact that both are technically 'Cocker Spaniels'.
When planning to buy a puppy (working or show strain) you should purchase your puppy from a reputable, caring and conscientious breeder.
The following photos show the physical difference between the show & working strains, both are orange roan cocker spaniels.
Photo of Gold of Wetlands courtesy Whaupley Gundogs and Nick Ridley Photography
Photo of Gold of Wetlands courtesy Whaupley Gundogs and Nick Ridley Photography
Both the show and working strain of cocker should have good temperaments & make devoted companions/workers (depending on what your expectations of the dog are!). Both are delightful to own and live with. The choice between the two strains is an entirely personal one & regardless of which type you hope to own you should do your homework. Once you own a puppy/dog, you should aim to meet its emotional and physical needs to ensure you have a well balanced, well trained & happy dog.
Both field bred & show strain cockers share the same 'Breed Standard', however despite having the 'Breed Standard' in common, working strain cockers bear little physical resemblance to show strain cockers.
In the show ring, conformation, movement and breed ‘type’ i.e. appearance form the basis of a judge’s assessment of a dog. There is nothing to prevent an owner of a KC registered working strain cocker entering their dog for exhibition; however, it is prudent to be aware that success in the show ring is based on the judge determining how closely an individual dog fits the ‘Breed Standard’. Given the disparity between the two strains, success in the show ring with a working strain cocker is unlikely.
There are various health issues affecting both the show and working strain of cocker. Health issues/problems are not overly common but both types share the same conditions/diseases as they originate from the same stock. Health testing in the show strain appears more common amongst reputable breeders than it appears to be with the working strain breeders although it is catching on now.Please visit this site for more information about health testing in working lines: http://workingcockerhealthscreendirectory.com/
Anyone buying a puppy should ideally aim to purchase a puppy that has fully health tested parents.
Here is a photo of one of our own dogs showing that show bred (and exhibited!) cockers do remember that they are gundogs as well as show dogs and family friends!