(Original post on October 12, 2017)
So you’re interested in a working English Cocker Spaniel (a.k.a. wocker), are you? I can’t say that I blame you. I first was introduced to the breed at a Greg Derrett camp in UK on September 2012. My jaw dropped, and I said, “What IS that?!?! I love those dogs!!!” You see, I had been handling Welsh Springer Spaniels in agility (AKC registered, from working lines) since 2003, and while I LOVE my Welsh Springer Spaniels, I didn’t like that they measured into 22” Regular. It was a height that didn’t work well for them. They also simply didn’t have the ground speed to be competitive against other 22” Regular dogs. (Don’t get me wrong, Kelsey was never slow as she got up to 6yps at her peak of her career, but her average was 4-4.5yps.)
The wockers I saw at the camp were fast, smaller than my springers and worked really nicely! That started my wocker obsession. Over the following three years, I made several trips over to UK to see what it was like to handle and train the dogs, and what it was like to live with them. I did a lot of talking with breeders and wocker – knowledgeable handlers over there and the one breeder in Canada. Boy, did I learn a lot! Then with wait list time, I finally got my own wocker in 2015 and yet another journey of learning commenced.
So, here’s what you need to know about wockers and buying one.
- Wockers are field dogs. Yes, my Welsh Springers were from field and working lines, but their displacement behaviors were human-oriented or slow-down and sniff in nature. Many wockers, when stressed, kick it into high gear with their nose to the ground and race away from the handler. Others will do something similar to my WSS, nose to the ground and slow-down/stop. I’m not saying that it is BECAUSE they are wockers that they zoom off, but it is a common displacement behavior for these dogs. This behavior appears to peak around adolescence when the hormones seem to be kicking in. For Jenga it was around 10 months. The stories I have heard from others confirms this timing. This is even with fabulous foundations; 17 months later, we have gotten to a point where we can work through it or avoid it. Wockers can be “pressure sensitive” so if you like to apply a lot of pressure to your dogs, and if you personally frustrate over a dog disconnecting due to frustration/stress, then this is not the breed for you.
Wockers are like border collies, yet they are NOT like border collies.
- Wockers can be fast like border collies (it’s not a guarantee as I have seen a lot of slower wockers). Wockers can love agility and become agility fanatics (again, not a guarantee as I have also seen some turn off of agility).
- Wockers are like border collies in that there is a great variety in the breed. You need to know the lineage to know what you are getting. Some are small-ish, some are near springer spaniel size. [History lesson: cockers and English Springer Spaniels were once the same breed, simply labeled by size. They then split as they targeted size. Then they split again, focusing on show ring versus working hunting dogs. Some lineages have brought back some springers into the mix.] Some are more rectangular in proportions, and some are more square. Some have beautiful angulation that allows them to open up and run fast, and some are very straight in angles. Some are slight; some are almost staffie-looking. Some have very sleek coats, others have curls (although they all have substantially less fur than English Cocker show lines).
- They are a working dog. While they may have an off-switch in the home, many will pace, carrying around socks, shoes, stuffed animals. They do need exercise and brain work.
- Those who have worked both breeds tend to say the Border Collies are more biddable than wockers. Some people who have gone from border collies to wockers, find wockers very frustrating and question if they made the right decision. People who go from wockers to border collies, find border collies a delight. Although, they all absolutely love their wocker.
- Hand-in-hand with the above note about the wide variety in the breed, there is no guarantee on height. I have seen wockers who measure around 13.5” and many who measure around 15-16.5”. Like other breeds, females tend to be smaller than males, but there is no guarantee that a small-ish bitch and a small-ish dog will result in a “small” wocker. My own boy is a medium and he came from two small-ish parents, which were a targeted breeding for “small.” He’s a gorgeous, power-house boy who does well at the medium (16”/400) height. But if you have your heart set on “small” wocker, there is no guarantee on that front, and no reputable breeder should ever guarantee you that. There is simply too much variance within the breed to make such claims. Vast majority of this breed measure medium, with a few even pushing the limit into “large”/”standard”.
- The vast majority of wockers are bred in the UK. The UK has basically four types of breeders: gundog kennels (these kennels tend to dock the tails (2/3 length and may hesitate selling to non-hunting homes); individuals who breed one dog once to twice with great care and diligence with lineage considerations and comprehensive health testing (these are hard to find, but so worth the effort); backyard breeders (individual breeding done without care and diliegence – i.e., no health tests, concern for coefficient of inbreeding, lineage); and puppymills (indicators are: excessive, repeated breedings of bitches with questionable ethical practices such as use of males < 24 months of age, lack of health testing, lack of contracts, two breedings with sequential or alternating heats, lack of regard for coefficient of inbreeding (i.e., breeding litters well over the recommended 9%); over-charging for the dog; charging new owners based on color; and aggressive selling pressure tactics of wooing and seeking out buyers). There are a couple of gundog-kennel breeders in the USA, and one in Canada, and some throughout Europe.
- Wockers’ coefficient of inbreeding tends to run a bit higher than what is deemed ideal. Ideally COI should run 9 or lower. The COI for wockers used to be as high as 16%, but with good efforts by reputable breeders, the average has lowered to 10% now. Some litters this year  have been as high as 22%, which is the equivalent of a father-to-daughter breeding. Jenga’s COI is 11, which was below the average at the time of his breeding. Some kennels prefer line breeding due to the variety within the breed; however, the potential owner should take into consideration there is greater risk of genetically-based problems with higher COIs. There are also enough great lines now in UK, that COI above 10 is no longer needed.
- Like many, the breed does have health issues. The best thing to do is to access this website as it is quite comprehensive: http://workingcockerhealthscreendirectory.com/healthtestsavailable.htm . The other bit of advice is to check the actual Kennel Club registry for health tests, not generic or breeder websites. If the health test is legitimately associated with the dogs in question, they will be listed on the KC website database.
- Do your research on the breed, potential breedings (COI) and health tests of the potential parents by registering on My KC website. This is a phenomenal source of information! https://www.mykc.org.uk/
- Wockers are not cheap; however they shouldn’t break the bank. The average wocker should sell around the £400 to £750, not over £1,000. They should also not be priced based on color, especially if they are a “rare color,” like a double recessive (lemon/blue roan). As one vet explained to me, when I was considering a blue Doberman once, the recessive coats can sometimes be associated with health issues due to the double-recessive. It’s not written in stone, but you certainly should not pay MORE for a dog that has double-recessive traits. Any breeder (of any breed) should never charge extra for a “papered”/registered dog (i.e., for the papers).
- In addition to the purchase cost, there are the substantial shipping costs. To get a dog from UK to North America, you are looking at approximately £1,000. If you go to pick it up, it would require a trip to France, the Euro Tunnel /Ferry/EuroStar, flights, hotels, food. Dogs can only fly out of UK as cargo. The earliest you may legally ship a puppy into Canada is 8 weeks. (It is also illegal for a seller to sell the puppy at 6 weeks or earlier in UK.) Most airlines now refuse to ship dogs under 10 weeks or 12 weeks of age. After 3 months of age (12.5-13 weeks), the puppy requires certain vaccines as well to enter the country. If the breeder is unwilling to allow you to legally ship the dog, and apply pressure tactics, then do not get a dog from them. Get it in writing before you pay for your dog. Any breeder applying pressure tactics to keep the buyer silent or keep a secret about the dog’s age or the date of shipment is actively asking the buyer to break the law. A reputable breeder will be open and transparent about their practices.
If after all this, you still want a wocker, then by all means, drop me a line and I can share some of the lineages that I find particularly lovely. But be warned, it can take up to 3 years to get one! Then again, I love my guy and thoroughly enjoy all the lessons he has taught me.