The Beginning: An Eye for a Dog

AKC Gazette breed column, Cocker Spaniels—An eye for quality in a chosen breed can be refined and improved through education by mentors, attending seminars, watching dogs in the ring, and practice evaluating puppies.

Most Cocker fanciers probably got their first Cocker as a child, perhaps during the breed’s high-popularity years. Cockers were a frequent feature on calendars and other print ads. Many eyes are drawn to the long ears and soft look of the Cocker face!

My first Cocker encounter is forever imprinted on my mind. I was a child, perhaps 7 or 8 years old, and was looking around at the obedience-training facility where my mother was in the ring working with our Collie. What my eye fixed on back in the coatroom was the beautifully marked face of a black and white Cocker. Little did I know, but I later learned that dog was a show champion.

The image was never forgotten, thus when my parents informed me that the Collie was too much for my mother to handle and was being placed in a good home, I turned that sad event into a chance to seek a Cocker in that image.


Sophia crop


The road to fulfill the image was long, stopping along the way with a first Cocker who was from a show pedigree but not really show quality. If you can survive being a child and taking a dog like that to a show without a mentor, you can survive about anything “in dogs.”

Later, mentors were found (or they found me), and my “eye” for a dog continued to be refined, both as to the look of the Cocker and as to presentation in the ring. After a long search over many states, my first real show-quality (and later champion) Cocker was acquired. Based on long years of observation, I believe that a person has an inherent eye for quality.

From there, the eye can be refined and improved to a chosen breed through education by mentors, seminars, watching dogs in the ring, and practice evaluating puppies.


Kristi Tukua, the AKC Gazette's longtime breed columnist for Cocker Spaniels, with one of her dogs.


As refinement of your “eye for a dog” continues, the challenge is to distinguish “type” and the overall picture of the ideal dog portrayed in the standard, and not just good pieces and parts. In truth, some people unfortunately never move beyond this “pieces and parts” stage. The Cocker presents an additional challenge to the eye: coat!

You eye must be trained to “see through” all the coat that obscures movement and topline. This can be accomplished with observation of Cockers in motion and how the legs lift and flip the coat around as they move.

Your hands must train your eye. Not everyone has that inherent “eye for a dog,” but if they do, it can continue to be refined and improved.

That “eye” is extremely valuable in choosing Cockers for a breeding program or in judging competitors in the show ring.

To think it all starts with that first visual—being drawn to the soft look of the Cocker!

Kristi L. Tukua

Further information about Cocker Spaniels can be found here and here.

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