Cocker Spaniel as a Hunting Companion
History of Cocker’s In the Field American Spaniel Club
Cocker Spaniel as a Hunting Companion
Cocker spaniels are the smallest of the sporting dogs. They are well used for upland game hunting because of their small size, which allows them to get into the dense cover and thicket.
Their natural instinct is to quarter close, staying in gun range. This allows them to cover the field most efficiently.
Their instinct to use the wind when hunting is very obvious as the cocker innately turns into the wind to scent game. Someone who truly understands their natural ability allows them to hunt with very little whistle or interruption as there is no better day’s hunt then with your cocker spaniel afield.
The wagging tail of the cocker spaniel gives signal that he is on the scent of game just before he boldly flushes the game out to wing of flight.
The Cocker Spaniel has the ability to mark the fall of the game a long distance. He will run with enthusiasm to the fall and smartly return to his master with pride to deliver his find.
The Cocker Spaniel Hunting Style
Cocker Spaniels are the smallest of the Sporting Spaniels today, possessing an instinctive ability to quest game. They are alert, merry, and willing to please, making them good hunting companions.
Cockers hunt at a moderate pace, covering ground in an effective manner, making use of both foot and air scent. Cockers may glance to their handlers for direction and work as a team while out hunting game.
Cockers will clearly indicate they are making game by their animated body movements and vigorous tail wagging, which may be proceeded or followed by a brief hesitation, where they appear to use their nose, eyes, and ears to help them locate the exact area they have detected bird scent. A bold flush will follow.
Cockers are particularly excellent hunting dogs for Grouse and Woodcock often found in areas of thick hedgerow and dense berry bushes, where they will exhibit their true boldness to cover.
Cockers are excellent markers, and willing retrievers. Although bred as upland bird dogs, Cockers are willing swimmers, and will retrieve game from water in an efficient manner.
Summary: A Cocker Spaniel has an action all his own, and will hunt game methodically and at a moderate pace. His smaller size permits the Cocker to hunt efficiently in hedges, brambles, and around downed trees. His merry action will clearly indicate when he is making game. A close working spaniel, the Cocker stays within gun range, and has the natural instinct to find, flush, mark and retrieve small and large game birds to his hunting companion.
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Form follows function video, many thanks to conformation Judge Nancy Gallant for putting together this video in 2015.
Any Spaniel Club can offer an instinct test given by folks with knowledge and understanding about each spaniel breeds hunting style. The purpose of the Instinct Test is to help the owner see the natural instinct of the dog’s hunting ability.
We know that given the opportunity the cocker spaniel has an innate ability to find and flush game. For many cocker owners the instinct test is the first time they have the opportunity to see such instincts surface.
The American Spaniel Club usually offers an instinct test at the yearly national cocker spaniel show. A knowledgeable field trainer with the passion for hunting and helping other’s will take small steps to encourage your dog’s natural ability for game as your dog gets exposed to retrieving a canvas dummy, a wing, and eventually a bird.
It is important to understand this is not really a test. It is more an opportunity to introduce your cocker to the field and a bird. We know most cockers have not been exposed to hunting and might take a few times before getting comfortable enough to share their amazing and sometimes hidden talent. However once exposed and with little training, their talent usually does surface. It is the most amazing gift to watch a cocker in the field when they get to do what they were bred to do!
For some cockers it is instant success with boldness and for others it takes a few opportunities. It just depends on the dog and the opportunity in it’s past to be able to show you he is a sporting dog.
Working Dog Test
This program was developed in 1977 for the purpose of testing the field abilities of the Cocker Spaniel. The AKC Hunt Test program for spaniels had not been developed yet and field trials were basically non-existent. This program is a great opportunity for dogs to demonstrate the basic abilities of finding, flushing and retrieving a bird on land as well as performing a water retrieve. This is an American Spaniel Club title that goes after the dogs registered name and can be earned at the basic level as a WD and, if the performance is of a higher caliber, a Working Dog Excellent (WDX) title is awarded. You only need to pass one time to earn this title, however if you earn the WD, you can still earn the WDX at another Working Dog Test.
AKC Spaniel Hunt Test
The objective of the non-competitive hunt test program is to help the hunter develop a useful hunting companion by providing a means to gauge a dog’s abilities against three standards of accomplishment—Junior Hunter, Senior Hunter and Master Hunter as provided by the American Kennel Club hunt test rules. Any spaniel can run in a Spaniel Hunt Test. They are scored based on the standards outlined for each class and for each breeds style. For the Cocker Spaniel’s hunting style see the section entitled “The Cocker Spaniel Hunting Style”.
Regulations for AKC Hunting Tests for Spaniels
AKC Cocker Field Trials
Cocker Field Trials are for both English and American Cocker Spaniels. The trials are held in accordance with AKC Field Trial rules and regulations. They are competitive events with each Cocker, whether American or English, competing against each other. Spaniels competing in trials will be judged on game-finding ability, steadiness and retrieving. A spaniel’s work in the field is a compilation of many elements that must be demonstrated and observed by judges throughout a trial such as control at all times, scenting ability-use of the wind, manner of covering ground, perseverance and courage in facing cover. Other aspects such as marking the fall of game, ability and willingness to take commands, prompt style of retrieve and delivery to hand are all reviewed. Placements are usually given to first, second, third, and sometimes fourth place as determined by the two AKC approved judges. Cockers who place receive points towards earning a Field Champion Title. Trish Jackson’s FC Madison Pride & Passion, MH, NA, NAJ has the distinct honor of being the first and only Cocker Field Champion since the resurgent of the Cocker Field Trials.
Cocker Field trials are mostly composed of Field Bred English Cocker Spaniels, however because of the work and breeding program of just a few breeders in the last few decades the Cocker spaniel has been able to showcase our breed in this very competitive sport. The breeding Kennels that have had Cockers in field trials that have earned a placement are:
Madison Cocker’s (Trish Jackson)
Dungarvan (Noel Cacchio)
Pudg’gee Ann ( Bob & Marsha Linehan)
Kapewood’s ( Carol Lee Douglas)
Betts (Bev Bettridge)
Field Trial Rules and Standard Procedure for Spaniels
History of Cockers in the Field
Dusting off History to Look at Cocker Hunting Tradition by Bobbie Kolehouse
ASC Field Hall of Fame
Cockers awarded the ASC Field Hall of Fame as complied by Jeanne Grimm. Many thanks to Jeanne who keeps a compilation of cocker spaniels awarded titles.
Click below for the link to the Cockers Spaniels who have earned the Master Hunter Title and/or Field Champion and are in the ASC Field Hall of Fame.
As you can see by the link provided by Jeanne Grimm, there are a couple special cockers that have made history in the field for our smallest of the sporting dogs. The first cocker to earn the title MH has Champion on the front of her name. This is CH Pett’s Southwest Breeze CD MH WDX (Ruby) owned and trained by Trish Jackson of Madison Cockers. Trish would go on to earn the first, and to date, only Field Trial Champion with FC Madison’s Pride and Passion MH NA NAJ (Pride). Pride is a daughter to Trish’s special and talented Ruby, who earned both a Champion and Master Hunter title.