JUDGING THE COCKER SPANIEL
by DIANE KEPLEY
Photo courtesy Jeanne Grim
“T he Cocker Spaniel is the smallest member of the Sporting Group. He has a sturdy, com- pact body and a cleanly chiseled and refined head, with the overall dog in com- plete balance and of ideal size. He stands well up at the shoulder on straight fore- legs with a topline sloping slightly toward strong, moderately bent, muscular quar- ters. He is a dog capable of considerable speed, combined with great endurance. Above all, he must be free and merry, sound, well balanced throughout and in action show a keen inclination to work. A dog well balanced in all parts is more desirable than a dog with strongly con- trasting good points and faults.” Anyone who has ever read the open- ing paragraph of the AKC Standard for the Cocker Spaniel should recognize this state- ment—but what does it mean when it comes time to judge this breed? And what are the challenges judges are encountering when try- ing to find “the good ones”? Indeed the Cocker Spaniel is the small- est member of the Sporting Group, but judges should be aware that does not mean he is slight of build or without the mus- cling that is necessary for him to do the job he was originally bred for. Many of the Cockers in the ring in recent years (both dogs and bitches) have been small in stat- ure, bone and muscling. And because of that, they do not have the “sturdy, compact body” called for in the standard. Th at stature and muscling is neces- sary for the function this breed is meant to perform—pushing its way through dense underbrush and bramble and flushing birds from their hiding places. Th is hunting style is the reason for the height disqualifica- tion in the breed. Dogs that are more than
15 ½ inches at the withers and bitches that are taller than 14 ½ are considered to be too large to e ff ective work in the kind of condi- tions in which they are asked to hunt. While there is not a disqualification for a Cocker Spaniel that is too small, the stan- dard calls for a dog which is undersized to be penalized—something judges are asked to keep in mind when considering exhibits in their rings. Because judges cannot measure to determine whether dogs are below the preferred height (smaller than 14 ½ inches for dogs and 13 ½ inches for bitches), this penalty is di ffi cult to assess. But a Cocker Spaniel that is too small in size as well as bone and muscling is unable to correctly do the job for which it was bred. As is true in considering other factors in judging, the dog or bitch which seems larger than the others in a class may actually be of cor- rect height. Th is does not mean a coarse or overly heavy-boned dog should be reward- ed. Th e Cocker Spaniel should retain its refined beauty no matter its size.
Judges are urged to measure larger dogs and bitches to disqualify those that are over-sized. Th ey are also urged to take the opportunity to train their eyes and hands to understand correct height and bone by going over a number of specimens through a variety of learning experiences. Now let’s consider the Cocker Span- iel’s headpiece. It is both endearing and breed-defining (see Figure 1). Th e cor- rect proportions of the head are critical to maintaining type. Th e “skull is rounded but not exaggerated with no tendency toward flatness”. And the area under the eye is well-chiseled. “ Th e muzzle is broad and deep, with square even jaws. To be in correct balance, the distance from the stop to the tip of the nose is one half the distance from the stop up over the crown to the base of the skull.” In order for the Cocker Spaniel to hold and carry a bird, it must have correct length of muzzle. However, too often in modern show rings we are seeing muzzles that are too short and lips which are not full
Fig. 2: Teeth strong and sound, not too small and meet in a scissors bite. Courtesy the American Spaniel Club Illustrated Standard.
Fig. 1. Courtesy the American Spaniel Club Illustrated Standard.
296 • S HOW S IGHT M AGAZINE , S EPTEMBER 2014
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