To begin a history of any of the spaniel breeds, it is important to note that the word "spaniel", means a "dog of Spain". It is generally accepted that Spaniels are traced back to Spain for their development as a hunting and retrieving breed of dog. From Spain the dogs were transported, traded, given away as gifts, or simply traveled with their masters to England. Spaniels were used in England for hunting on the estates of the wealthy and were further developed and bred for specific purposes there. Spaniels are found in art work, in mosaics, and in the writings of such authors as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
The spaniel was a generic term used to describe a type of dog. When a litter was born the owner/breeder would decide what use a particular dog or pup was to be put to. Much depended on the size and how muscular the dog turned out to be, the stamina he/she displayed, and the intelligence of the dog. What type of game the dog was to hunt was also a factor. The spaniel could possibly be used for hunting the forests, pointing in high brush, flushing birds out of thickets, or used in marshes for retrieving ducks, geese, etc. So to begin with there were no distinct breeds of spaniel, only the generic description of the type of dog.
The English Cocker Spaniel is a flushing spaniel, and was developed to flush woodcocks, thus he became known as a "cocker". They were also useful in tracking rabbit. The English Cocker Spaniel is one of the smallest of the sporting dogs (the smallest is the "American" Cocker Spaniel, which has an identical history). The English Cocker was brought to America and Canada in the 1870's, where breeding for a purpose continued, but changes in the breed type began.
In 1881, the American Cocker Spaniel Club was founded. In the year 1892 the Cocker Spaniel was recognized by The Kennel Club of Great Britain as a distinct breed of dog from the Springer Spaniel with whom it had been classed. The Cocker Spaniel Club of England was formed in 1902.
The Cocker Spaniel became quite popular in America and Canada due to its willingness to retrieve just about anything the hunter could bring down, and its temperament when around people. The cocker is friendly, energetic, fun-loving and not timid. This dog became quite popular as a family and companion dog. During the 1920's and 1930's a change came about to the English Cocker Spaniel breed. It was as if the English Cocker became "Americanized". The bloodlines that were being developed by breeders were following a different type of conformation. The head became smaller, the height of the dog was shrunk by 1 to 2 inches, and the dog became lighter in weight. The coat became longer, silkier and softer. The "Americanized" Cocker Spaniel became used as a family pet, instead of a hunter's helper. The differences became so striking that breeders who preferred the "English" type formed the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America in 1935, and agreed not to interbreed their dogs with the "Americanized" variety. For the next ten years, until 1946, the Club and its members sought to have the American Kennel Club recognize their dog as a separate breed. Until 1946, the English Cocker (also called the Engie), and the American Cocker competed in show conformation as one breed. In 1946, the A.K.C. recognized the English Cocker Spaniel as a separate breed from the "American" Cocker Spaniel.
The English Cocker Spaniel is still used today as a hunter, companion, and family pet. It does very well in obedience, is excellent as a therepy dog due to its outgoing nature, and is also used as a search and rescue dog. Breeders, owners, and exhibitors all agree that it is a lot of dog in a small body.