SHOW STRAIN v WORKING STRAIN. What are the differences?
If you are buying a pet Cocker puppy, it is important to know that there are two distinct strains within the breed, the show strain (or show type) and the working strain (often referred to as Working Cockers), each bred for different purposes with different attributes.
Working Cockers, as the name implies, are bred as working gundogs, capable of staying out all day in the shooting field. However many are now being increasingly sold to pet homes where, in the right hands, they can make very good family dogs for the active home. They are also becoming popular in canine sports such as agility and flyball.
Show-strain dogs are the type seen in the show rings (such as at Crufts). Their appealing looks and compact size have made show-type Cockers popular as family pets for many years. If you see a photo of a Cocker on a calendar or in a book, it will be a show-type dog more often than not, although this may be slowly changing with the growing number of Working Cockers in pet homes.
Physically, Working Cockers can look quite different to the show-type Cocker. Whereas show breeders are trying to breed dogs which closely resemble the Cocker Spaniel Breed Standard as laid down by the Kennel Club, Working Cocker breeders consider working ability to be their top priority and are less interested in what their dogs look like. Working Cockers tend to have flatter skulls and higher set, shorter ears compared to the show type dog with his more domed skull and long, lower set ears. Another big physical difference is in the coat. Although some working type dogs do carry a heavier coat, as a general rule, they have finer coats and far less feathering than the show-type dog. Their general body shape tends to be rangier and less compact than that of show Cockers.
Moving on to personality and temperament, all Cockers (whatever the strain) are busy, active little dogs with minds of their own. However a Working Cocker may be considerably more active than some show Cockers and have enormous reserves of stamina. He can be on the go all day and still be ready for more. A show-type dog can also be energetic and will happily go for long country walks but will probably be easier to tire out. A Working Cocker that has been bred for an active life as a gundog needs an outlet for all that energy and something to “do” to keep that busy brain occupied and stimulated. Such a dog won’t usually thrive in a home which can only offer limited exercise opportunities and where owners don’t have the time or inclination to get involved in training/activities which provide mental stimulation. The same is true of show-type Cockers to some extent but as a generalisation, many working strain dogs will need more mental stimulation/exercise than many show-type dogs. Unfortunately this means that some owners buy a Working Cocker (not realising what they have bought) and find they cannot cope with their dog’s needs.
Anyone looking for a Cocker puppy should ensure that the breeders they contact can tell them which strain their puppies are so they can make the right choice for their home and lifestyle.