A little history never hurt anyone. The thing is, we always learn the basics of a story, but not the intricate details. These intricate details are often the most fascinating parts of tying the story together.
Hidden stories in President Washington’s success at Valley Forge that helped a nation to prominence, or how a young son of a gunsmith in the 1800’s developed a sidearm that changed the face of war forever are some of those that are worth knowing, yet are forgotten or not told.
At one time, birding was the sport of the developed world. Developed world is used loosely here, as I am referring the times of the 15th and 16th centuries. Upland game such as pheasant, quail, grouse and woodcock were the prey of the hunters of the times. Firearms were not used, instead the methods of falconry and hawking were the standard.
Man was already working with both birds of prey and dogs to achieve their sporting goals. A favorite dog for this type of hunting was the spaniel.
Spaniels were divided by size and weight. The smaller dogs were used to hunt woodcock. The ‘cockers’ as they were called, would hunt the brush and grab the bird. The woodcock preferred to stay hidden in brush or even dart from one place or another beneath a canopy of grasses. By being small, the cockers were close to the ground and were able to hunt the woodcock with ease.
The larger spaniels were named springers. The springer’s purpose was to find birds such as pheasant and quail. Once they found them, they would pause, wait for a command, and then flush, or spring, the birds into the air. Again, unlike today, there were no firearms, so once the birds launched the falcon or hawk would then be released to snatch the flushed bird and bring back to the handler.
Cocker spaniels and springer spaniels were born of the same litters. As breeders worked the genetics, the two were eventually separated into two different breeds. However, even into the 1900’s the only requirement to be a cocker spaniel was to be less than 25 pounds. The Kennel Club of the UK and the American Kennel Club listed rules for the cocker and springer as different breeds.
Essentually the same breed of spaniel became two different breeds based on how big one may grow because of how well it could hunt a certain species of bird.
Remarkably, the breeds do not stop there. The cocker for instance, has been divided into two separate breeds as well. One breed is the English cocker spaniel, the other is the American cocker spaniel.
In the kennel clubs attempts to track the lineage of different breeds, the English cocker spaniel is widely recognized as begin fathered by a single dog, Ch. Obo. Obo was born of a Sussex and field spaniel and was considered a cocker because at the time only size restraints were in place for cockers and springers.
Obo’s son, Ch. Obo II, was born on American shores, and is considered the father of the American cocker spaniel. The American version is slightly smaller than the English version, and the head is domed with a shorter muzzle than the English cocker spaniel.
But this is not without purpose. The Euroasian woodcock is a somewhat hearty bird, at least compared to the American woodcock. Because the American woodcock is smaller, the American cocker spaniel’s smaller size and head and muzzle shape makes it more adept at sniffing out the bird.
And you thought they were just dog breeds.