Popular or Not: What Is the Impact on the Breed?

AKC Gazette breed column: Cocker Spaniels — Through the ups and downs of breed popularity a breed club should strive to maintain structure, purpose and education.

Once adored, popular, and pictured in advertising, the Cocker Spaniel had many years of holding number-one ranking in American Kennel Club registrations. It is wonderful for your breed to receive attention. The downside of public demand for the breed, however, is an influx of breeders for commercial purposes, people whose core interest may not be producing healthy, beautiful specimens for show, performance, and companions but rather to make money. Further, because of increasing numbers, rescue organizations are burdened for placements.

Dedicated breeders, without regard to breed popularity, pursue goals such as those stated in the founding documents of most established dog clubs. That breeder will expend funds for good food, proper housing, and veterinary fees, as well as that precious commodity, time, in socializing puppies and exposing them to many different situations so they will be well-adjusted adults. Good breeders do thoughtful evaluations of Cockers used in breeding, as well as evaluations of the homes into which their dogs are placed.

Popularity can help the dedicated breeder in some ways. Public awareness can make puppies easier to place for companions, allowing the breeder to retain breeding dogs to produce the next good generation. The burden on dedicated breeders during a popularity phase is that more poor representatives of the breed are being produced, flooding the market. The poor specimens produced without pedigree study and consideration as to inheritance of temperament create bad impressions of the breed among the public and among caregivers such as groomers, veterinarians, and boarding kennel owners. Once word spreads regarding poor specimens and problems, a breed’s popularity may drop. Damage to the breed’s reputation is difficult to repair.

The Cocker Spaniel, per American Kennel Club statistics, ranked (in registrations) number 14 in 2003, and over 10 years experienced a significant drop to number 29 by 2013.

While breeders say they prefer their breed not to be “too popular,” which encourages commercial activity, one has to be alarmed at the foregoing statistic. There is always the “fad factor,” where certain breeds, either new ones or ones that receive substantial media attention or are the dog of choice for public figures, increase public demand. What can Cocker fanciers do as registrations and entries drop, and the homes for companion Cockers drop?

This columnist has been “in” Cockers from heights through the drops, and I suggest the following: that fanciers continue to be proud of their breed, and that fanciers examine the way they and their organizations are operating. Review fundamentals of why your Cocker clubs were formed. Even if the number of your members has dropped and the remaining members are fatigued, strive to maintain structure, purpose and education.

Members should be able to rely on consistent meetings and events. You must offer events that display the versatility of the Cocker. Public outreach is crucial! Seek positive publicity.

Remember my column on “Molly the Dental Dog”? Molly is the Cocker who works in a dental office and further serves in a shelter for abused women and in a library to aid children in learning reading. Cockers participate beautifully and successfully in the field (in many performance events). Clubs should highlight these Cocker examples for the public. Club members, please mentor new people showing interest in Cockers. This is a complex breed to present in the show ring. Encourage the newcomer toward advancement and success.

Naturally, as an individual, continue health testing and evaluation of your Cockers and striving to produce healthy, sound specimens that conform as closely as possible to the AKC standard. Your positive leadership through example is so important to the reputation of the breed.

—K.L.T. (January 2015), American Spaniel Club