The English Cocker Spaniel as it is known in North America is often referred to by many in the breed as one of Canada’s best kept secrets. Little is known by the general public about a breed that can trace its origin back to the 14th century.
Spaniels may have arrived in England during Caesar’s invasion (54-55 BC). Many believe Spaniels (meaning dog of Spain) originated in Spain. Over time they were eventually transported to England and other parts of Europe where wealthy land owners utilized the Spaniel for hunting purposes.
In the beginning there were just “Spaniels”. Initially there were no distinctions made between different Spaniels used for hunting in woods, pointing in brush, flushing birds from thicket or for retrieving. Breeders would determine the specific job the Spaniel would eventually do by evaluating a growing puppies bone, muscularity, intelligence and overall size. It was not until the later 15th century that Spaniels were divided into classifications by size, weight and function; there were Land Spaniels and Water Spaniels. However breeders were still not opposed to combining both types to produce dogs capable of hunting specific game.
By the 1800’s in Europe, Spaniels were evolving into two distinct types; the Springing Spaniel and the Cocker Spaniel. Because of its smaller size and role it was considered a flushing Spaniel and was used primarily for flushing out Woodcocks hence the name “Cocker Spaniel”.
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 to evolve. The Cocker Spaniel became quite popular in America and Canada due to its willingness to retrieve and its outstanding temperament with all people. The Cocker’s friendly, energetic, fun-loving personality made it 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. Some would say the English Cocker became "Americanized". The conformation was changing, 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 a very popular family pet, more so then the hunter's helper the Spaniel was initially bred for.
The differences became so evident 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. Up until 1946 in America, the English Cocker Spaniel and the American Cocker Spaniel competed in Conformation shows as one breed.
In 1940, the Canadian Kennel Club and in 1946 the American Kennel Club recognized the English Cocker Spaniel as a distinct breed, separate from the "American" Cocker Spaniel.