The differences between a working and show Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Spaniels are one of the most popular and loved dog breeds in the world. 

These gentle, caring, yet energetic dogs are perfect family pets and are great and loyal  companions. They love being at home but equally, they thrive in the outdoors and enjoy lots of exercise.

But, did you know that there are two different types of Spaniel? That’s right, there are Working Cocker Spaniels and Show Cocker Spaniels.

Whilst technically the same breed there are some subtle and not-so-subtle differences you should be aware of if you are considering buying a cocker spaniel.

Before choosing your Cocker Spaniel you should fully understand the differences between the two to make sure your dog is going to fit in with your lifestyle and you have the time to give them the home they deserve.

In this guide to the differences between working vs show cocker spaniels, you’ll learn:

  • The traits they have in common
  • What makes them different
  • Origins of the Spaniel and why there are differences
  • And, lots more…

What are the differences between a Working Cocker Spaniel and Show Cocker Spaniel?

Appearance and Size

In terms of actual size, there isn’t normally much difference between the two. Most Cocker Spaniels have a small white patch of fur on their chest regardless of their colour or type.

Working Cockers Spaniels

Working Cocker Spaniels ordinarily have a longer and more muscular body then their show cocker counterparts. They are still classed as working dogs and are therefore built for speed and agility and are physically strong.

Working Cocker Spaniels have more angular features, longer snouts and their ears are much shorter than show cockers. These features were part of their breeding as long ears would snag on branches and undergrowth when they were “flushing” out birds.

The coats of working Cocking Spaniels are shorter and finer and, unsurprisingly, they have much less “feathering” than show cockers.

Both working and show cocker spaniels come in a broad variety of colours and coat types.

A working Cocker Spaniel with its pointed snout and shorter ears

Show Cocker Spaniels

The body of a show cocker is shorter and rounder than the working variety, but is still muscular and strong. Show Cockers are still classed by the kennel club as a working breed, and this is reflected in their breeding lines. 

Show Cocker Spaniels have rounder faces, shorter snouts and much longer ears. Their ears are lower on their head and should be level with their eyes, whereas the working Cocker Spaniel's ears are shorter and higher on their head.

The fur of a show Cocker Spaniel is much longer than a working Cocker Spaniel with significantly more feathering (long hair that grows around their belly, the back legs, ears and their hind quarters. 

A show Cocker Spaniel with long feathered fur, rounder head and longer ears


Whilst working and show Cocker Spaniels might have a number of differences in appearance they are much the same health-wise. 

They are both susceptible to eye and ear conditions, as are all Spaniel breeds and can suffer from some Spaniel-specific issues, such as canine hip dysplasia or a luxating patella.

Show Cockers can be susceptible to being overweight if they’re not regularly exercised, so keep an eye on the amount of food and treats they are having if this is the case.

Overall, Cocker Spaniels are relatively easy to care for and keep healthy.

Personality and Temperament

Both Cocker Spaniels have similar personalities and are known as the “Merry Cocker” due to their ever-wagging tail.  They are fun, energetic and lively dogs that are great additions to any family. 

Cocker Spaniels are well-behaved if they are given enough exercise and kept entertained with human contact and toys.

Exercise is vitally important for Cocker Spaniels and making sure they are regularly walked and played with will prevent them from getting bored and misbehaving. It’s unlikely that you will tire out a working Cocker Spaniel, although the show variety won’t need as much exercise - an hour a day is advised.

Cocker Spaniels are real “people pleasers” and if you’re not able to be with them or are out of the house for any length of time, make sure there is a variety of toys around the house to keep them occupied.


This is where the difference between a show cocker and a working cocker is clear. 

Working cocker spaniels need exercise and lots of it. They would happily run for hours and be outside all day given the choice.

They were bred as ‘flushing’ dogs, which basically means it was their job to ‘flush’ birds out of trees and undergrowth during shoots and this need for exercise still exists even for non-working family pets.

Show cockers are much less energetic and happy to stay at home and tire more easily. An hour of exercise a day for show cockers and you’ll have a calm, relaxed and tired dog.


Cocker Spaniels were recognised as a separate breed in 1893. Prior to that time, all Spaniel 

types were categorised under the broad “Land Spaniel” breed. The only requirement at that time was that Cocker Spaniels were under 25 lbs in weight - meaning they are the smallest of the Spaniel varieties.

The name “Cocker” originated from from Woodcocks, which were the birds they were tasked with flushing out of the trees and undergrowth.

Final Thoughts

Both working and show Cocker Spaniels are energetic, friendly and lively dogs and make great family pets. There are some differences between the two, mainly in their physical appearance and their exercise requirements.

Working Cocker Spaniels will need a significant amount of exercise, so bear in mind that you will need to dedicate time to that.

Show cockers, don’t need quite as much exercise, but still need human contact and can get put on weight so monitor their food and treat intake. 

We hope this guide to the difference between working and show Cocker Spaniels has been useful.

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