The (American) Cocker Spaniel by Tais Vagostelo 

This article was written by Tais Vagostelo, St' James Cockers-Brazil – donated to Connie Bliss-Cochran who edited it to be better understood from her language !

When I star­ted to breed cockers, I remem­ber I had a very hard time rea­ding the stan­dard. It was so dif­fi­cult to me to unders­tand what it tru­ly meant, and how an ideal dog should be. But I was lucky enough to have a men­tor – Mrs. Sonia Peixo­to, Gol­den Gate Ken­nel in Bra­zil – who didn’t mind to spend hours and more hours, month after month, tea­ching me all the points of the stan­dard and sho­wing the faults and qua­li­ties of my dogs, hel­ping me to find a good stud sire for my bitches and giving me a pic­ture how a per­fect dog must be. 

Howe­ver, there are so many bree­ders around the world who are not as lucky as I was, and thin­king on them, I deci­ded to show my inter­pre­ta­tion of the stan­dard, with as many pho­tos as pos­sible, trying to help the novices to unders­tand the stan­dard of our so loved breed. 

Remem­ber, nobo­dy is able to breed to improve the stan­dard. The stan­dard is what it is. The bree­ders must IMPROVE THEIR DOGS to meet the stan­dard. That is the goal of any good bree­der and a good dog is the one who is as close as pos­sible to the standard's description. 

Never for­get some­thing : To breed good dogs you don't need any luck. You need KNOWLEDGE. If you are able to unders­tand the stan­dard and visua­lize how a good dog should be, you will not have any pro­blems to breed good dogs. You just need luck to breed GREAT DOGS, but the decent ones are a piece of cake !

So, here we go !

« To attain a well pro­por­tio­ned head, which must be in balance with the rest of the dog, it embo­dies the fol­lo­wing : 
EXPRESSION – the expres­sion is intel­li­gent, alert, soft and appea­ling.
EYES – eye­balls are round and full and look direct­ly for­ward. The shape of the eye rims gives a slight­ly almond sha­ped appea­rance ; the eyes are not weak or gog­gled. The color of the iris is dark brown and in gene­ral, the dar­ker the bet­ter. 
EARS – lobu­lar, long, of fine lea­ther, well fea­the­red and pla­ced no higher than a line to the lower part of the eye. SKULL – roun­ded but not exag­ge­ra­ted with no ten­den­cy toward flat­ness ; the eye­brows are clear­ly defi­ned with a pro­nun­ced stop. The bony struc­ture beneath the eyes is well chi­se­lead with no pro­mi­nence in the cheeks. The muzzle is broad and deep, with square even jaws. To be in corrent balance, the dis­tance from the stop to the tip of the nose is one half the dis­tance from the stop up over the crown to the base of the skull. 
NOSE – of suf­ficent size to balance the muzzle and fore­face, with well deve­lo­ped nos­trils typi­cal of the spor­ting dog. It is black in color in the blacks, black & tans and black & whites ; in other colors it may be brown, liver or black, the dar­ker the bet­ter. The color of nose har­mo­nizes with the color of the eye rim. 
LIPS – the upper lip is full and of suf­fi­cient depth to cover the lower jaw. 
TEETH – strong and sound, not too small and meet in a scis­sors bite.

The head is the most impor­tant part of any dog – Why ? Which part of the dog do you look at first to reco­gnize if that is a dober­man, a cocker or a col­lie ? The head, right ? We have dif­ferent opi­nions about how the per­fect cocker head should be. Basi­cal­ly, there are two types of heads that meet the stan­dard : Spor­ting and Plush and the dif­fe­rence bet­ween them should be the length of the fore­face and the skull shape.

Here are two VERY BEAUTIFUL examples of each one :

Which one is the right one ? That is the big dilemma !

The "plush lovers" say the skull of the spor­ting heads aren't round enough and the fore­face is too long.

And the "spor­ting lovers" say the plush heads' fore­face is too short and some­times the eyes are too round. And they never will be able to work on the fields because they couldn't car­ry a bird.

I like the plush head bet­ter and as I think the head is so impor­tant, I do my best to breed dogs with plush ones. I am what people call a "head hun­ter". It is quite dif­fi­cult for me to like a dog without a plush head. On the other hand, I will not think twice to use a male with a spor­ting head if I believe this male will help me to fix some faults in one of my bitches.

Howe­ver I have noti­ced the spor­ting head is quite domi­nant to the plush one. Eve­ry time I used a spor­ting to a plush I got NO plush hea­ded pup­py. A good example are the two pup­pies below. The dam is the same, a bitch with a very plush head out plush hea­ded parents. The pup­py A is out the MALE A (spor­ting) and the pup­py B is out the MALE B (plush), each pup­py (they are girls) was the first "head choice" of their litters.

As you can see, the PUPPY A is in the middle of a spor­ting and a plush head. It has the same round skull and high fore­head as the PUPPY B, the stop is almost as deep as the other, but the muzzle isn't as broad and the fore­face isn't as short as the pup­py B.

So, if you are a plush head lover, but all your dogs have spor­ting heads, I don't have good news for you. It will be very dif­fi­cult you get a plush head out them. But you will be able to get plush heads in two gene­ra­tions. You will use your bitch to a plush male, hold the best hea­ded girl and use her again to a plush male. You will have a good chance to get a plush hea­ded pup­py by doing that. 

Ano­ther impor­tant point to iden­ti­fy a good head- IT MUST HAVE A FIGURE "8" SHAPE, the two elipses being almost the same size. There are more examples below (believe it or not, the par­ti­co­lor was bred by me. It was the only par­ti lit­ter I ever bred):

More good heads with cor­rect 8 shape :

We have 3 other kind of heads than the plush and spor­ty, but not all of them are correct.

There is the the dog that doesn't have a deep stop, has a plain skull, the muzzle isn't broad, the fore­face is long. I don't know if there is a cor­rect des­crip­tion for this kind of head. I name them CARROTS, because it is what they look like to me.

If you have a cocker with this kind of head, maybe it would be a good idea to take this out your bree­ding pro­gram, because it will be so hard to have good heads (even if you like the spor­ting type) using it. Maybe you can keep a bitch (if her body is tru­ly nice) and use her to a very plush hea­ded male. But if you are plan­ning to keep a male with this kind of head … well, it must have a FANTASTIC body, the best move­ment and ter­ri­fic tem­pe­rament. But please never for­get.. this is MY POINT OF VIEW.

But some­times the dog has a high fore­head, short muzzle, deep stop, but the two elipses of the "8" are not the same size, it usual­ly hap­pens for two reasons :

  • The muzzle isn't broad enough
  • The eyes are too wide

The example below is a com­bi­na­tion of both : the eyes are too wide and the muzzle isn't broad enough.

I always used to think a head should be very plush ; the plu­sher the bet­ter, but I found out we can have heads that are much too plush and they are not cor­rect either. I call them over­done and it looks like a result of cros­sing of a boxer to a shar-pei ! 
You can note the stop is much too deep, "the bony struc­ture beneath the eyes isn't well chi­se­led". There are so many folds under the chin and on the area at the side of the eye to the ear­set. Here are two examples :

There is ano­ther kind of over­done head, but unfor­tu­na­te­ly I don't have any pho­to. It is when a spor­ting head style is over­done. The dog will look like a slumber.

But I have used over­done head dogs in my bree­ding pro­gram and I got very good results. You can use any kind of head with them (except the plush ones) and the pup­pies will have very nice heads. They work very well with spor­ting bitches. It is the only case you can get a plush head (out a spor­ting head) on the first generation.

We didn't finish yet ! we must pay atten­tion in eve­ry lit­tle detail of the standard :

EYESthe stan­dard says it is round and full, but not gog­gled, and the dar­ker the bet­ter. The bitch in the pho­to below, has two pro­blems with her eyes. They are gog­gled and could be dar­ker. All the other dogs I used to illus­trate the stan­dard have good shape of eyes and cor­rect color.

EARS – The stan­dard men­tions the ears are to be "of fine lea­ther and must be pla­ced no higher than the line to the lower part of the eye". We see the expres­sive high ear­set very often, espe­cial­ly on the dogs in adver­ti­se­ments. High ear­set is when the ears are pla­ced higher than the eye line. Unfor­tu­na­te­ly you see many more cases of high ear­set in the plush heads than on the spor­ting ones. Here is an example of a high earset :

Some dogs, espe­cial­ly pup­pies, look like they have a high ear­set in the pho­tos. In seve­ral cases, it is because someone is trying to get their atten­tion for the came­ra. Why do they do their best to look to any other side than the came­ra?! It is the same dog in two dif­ferent posi­tions. His ear­set isn't as high on the 2nd pho­to as it is in the 1st one.

And final­ly, don't for­get almost all the plush head pup­pies have high ear­set before the age of 2 months ! Same pup­py girl at dif­ferent ages :

TEETH – The stan­dard asks for strong, not small teeth, and for a scis­sors bite, we have seen in the USA, cham­pions who have a level bite. The Ame­ri­can judges pena­lize the bite as any other fault and to tell you the truth, I don't think they are that wrong. But in the other coun­tries around the world (FCI mem­ber) the bite is so very impor­tant. The dog will be hea­vi­ly pena­li­zed if it doesn't have a per­fect scis­sors bite and it is just impos­sible to finish a dog with a level bite. In fact, the (FCI) judges would like to dis­qua­li­fy them, the only rea­son they don't do that, is because it is not a dis­qua­li­fi­ca­tion in the standard.

It has been a big hea­dache for the bree­ders who import dogs from the USA in the past. Some­times we import a dog who had a good bite but who pro­du­ced bad ones because there are cases of bad bites in their line. But I am noti­cing day by day more Ame­ri­can bree­ders are paying atten­tion to the bite pro­blems and are eli­mi­na­ting dogs with bad bites from their bree­ding pro­gram. But the small teeth still are very com­mon, not only in the USA, but almost everywhere. 

I believe the other des­crip­tions of the stan­dard about skull, nose and lips are very easy to unders­tand and I don't need to com­ment on them. 

NECK – the neck is suf­fi­cient­ly long to allow the nose to reach the ground easi­ly, mus­cu­lar and free from pen­du­lous "throa­ti­ness". It rises stron­gly from the shoul­ders and arches slight­ly as it tapers to join the head. TOPLINE – Slo­ping slight­ly toward mus­cu­lar quar­ters. 
BODY – The chest is deep, its lowest point no higher than elbows, its front suf­fi­cient­ly wide for ade­quate heart and lung space, yet not so wide as to inter­fere with the straight for­ward move­ment of the fore­legs. Ribs are deep and well sprung. Back is strong and slo­ping even­ly and slight­ly down­ward from the shoul­ders to the set on of the docked tail. The docked tail is set on and car­ried on a line with the topline of the back, or slight­ly higher ; never straight up like a Ter­rier and never so low as to indi­cate timid­ty. When the dog is in motion, the tail action is merry.

"The shoul­ders are well laid back for­ming an angle with the upper arm to approxi­ma­te­ly 90 degrees which per­mits the dog to move his fore­legs in an easy man­ner with for­ward reach. Shoul­ders are clean cut and slo­ping without pro­tru­sion and so set that the upper points of the withers are at an angle which per­mits a wide spring of rib. When vie­wed from the side with the fore­legs ver­ti­cal, the elbow is direct­ly below the highest point of the shoul­der blade. Fore­legs are paral­lel, straight, stron­gly boned and mus­cu­lar and set close to the body well under the sca­pu­lae. The pas­terns are short and strong. Dew­claws on fore­legs may be remo­ved. Feet com­pact, large, round and firm with hor­ny pads, they turn nei­ther in nor out. 

When I star­ted with cockers – 1993 – the fronts were the big pro­blem in the breed and since then, it has impro­ved a lot, but it still is what our cockers have the worst pro­blem with. Each part depends of the other one. Bad shoul­ders will "des­troy" the topline, bad shoul­ders will make your dog's neck be short, bad shoul­ders will make your dog not have a good reach. And the most ter­rible, you can fix a head in two gene­ra­tions (like I said before) but you will finish your bree­ding pro­gram with the shoul­ders you star­ted with. 

My foun­da­tion bitch had quite decent shoul­ders with a good neck . I used her with a dog with decent shoul­ders (at that time it was quite impos­sible to find a cocker with excellent shoul­ders) and I didn't have any tru­ly bad shoul­ders in her litter.

But I deci­ded to import my first Ame­ri­can dog and I can tell you, its' shoul­ders were ter­rible. I used him once with this same bitch and all the 6 pup­pies had the same shoul­ders as their father. I used him with ano­ther bitch and she had only one pup­py, but with the same ter­rible shoul­ders. I just pla­ced him in a pet home as well his kids and didn't think to use him or any­thing out of him ever again. THAT WAS THE BEST DECISION IN ALL MY "DOG LIFE". Just a lit­tle detail – I paid US$ 2,000.00 for that dog plus ship­ping cost and it was in 1994 !

If you want some advice, here it goes : You can take your chances with heads, with hind­quar­ters, bites, even with tem­pe­rament, but NEVER use bad shoul­ders in your bree­ding pro­gram. In few gene­ra­tions you can des­troy all your years of hard work bree­ding dogs.

But let me start to explain about the shoul­ders and all the other impor­tant points. The stan­dard says the shoul­ders are to form a 90 degree angle with the upper arm. There is no way to explain this other than using pho­tos or drawings.

This is the ideal cocker, with pro­per angu­la­tion. In this dra­wing you can easi­ly see the pro­per 90 degree angle, but some­times we have pro­blems seeing these angles in a "real dog". Well, things will be much easier if you remem­ber to trace an ima­gi­na­ry line from the withers (nothing more than "highest point of the shoul­der blade" the stan­dard is tal­king about) to the ground. This line MUST TOUCH the dog's elbows. Check these photos :

The line touches the withers and elbows at the same time. It is what the stan­dard means : "when vie­wed from the side with the fore­legs ver­ti­cal, the elbow is direct­ly below the highest point of the shoul­der blade". Much easier, right ? What else are you able to see on this girl ? Can you see her long neck and short back ? Any clue why her neck is long and her back is short ? BECAUSE SHE HAS PERFECT SHOULDER ANGULATION ! Because her elbows are under the highest point of her shoul­der blade. It is exact­ly what the stan­dard asks for ! 

Like before, I tra­ced a line from the withers to the ground, but this time it isn't even close to the elbows. Why ? Because the shoul­der angu­la­tion is over 90 degrees. And what about the topline ? Can you see the short neck ? Can you see the long back from its withers to the tailset ? 

Now pay atten­tion to the 2nd line I tra­ced, the one from the elbows to the ground. What would hap­pen if the shoul­ders had pro­per angu­la­tion from its withers were there ? This dog would be much shor­ter in back and with a lon­ger neck, wouldn't it ? If you get a cocker maga­zine and start to trace these lines you will see why people say the fronts are the big­gest pro­blem in our breed !

SO, if you want to eva­luate your own dog, and if there is no one to stack it for you while you take a look on it. What to do ? Use your hands ! Stack the dog, put your thumb on the withers. Your lit­tle fin­ger should touch the elbows. Check the pho­to below. 

But did you remem­ber when I said bad shoul­ders will limit dogs move­ment ? Why it hap­pens ? Look at the pic­tures once again :

This time, I tra­ced a line from the withers across to the point where it meets the upper arm and keep a line­going straight to the ground. This line is exact­ly where they will put their fore­leg when they are moving. It is the famous REACH ! There is no way the leg can go ahead past that point, and it's not because they don't want to move, don't have atti­tude or is not being shown by a pro­fes­sio­nal hand­ler, it is because THEY CAN'T GO OVER THAT POINT. Their ana­to­my doesn't allow them to do that.
Loo­king at both of them side by side, can you see how the black & tan's shoul­ders are well laid back, like the stan­dard asks for ? So, eve­ry time you read or hear some­thing about well laid back shoul­ders you now know how it should be ! Now pay atten­tion to the ground. The black and tan will be able to put her leg much far­ther ahead than the black one, right ? It means she will cover much more ground than the other, with a single step. Now ima­gine the dif­fe­rence it will be in one day wor­king on the fields. But I will talk more about this when I start to work with the GAIT subject.

Just ano­ther impor­tant thing : When you are wat­ching a dog in move­ment (espe­cial­ly in a dog show) pay atten­tion to its front legs and on the nose (YES, THE NOSE). A dog with a good reach will be able to put his fore­leg ahead of his nose. If it is not able to do that, it is because it doesn't have a good reach and its has pro­blems with the angles of its shoul­ders. Let's see what I am tal­king about :

This is a Bra­zi­lian dog bred by one of my good friends – CH Good Advice Total Eclipse, aka Jordan.

Now Jor­dan in move­ment. Can you see his front leg is ahead of his nose ?

Now the same pho­to with some lines so you see bet­ter what I am tal­king about :

It wasn't that dif­fi­cult, was it ?

Now you alrea­dy know how to eva­luate a good head, lay­back of shoul­ders & long neck. Believe me, the head can change, but the shoul­ders never will. Bad shoul­ders never will be good ones. And the oppo­site doesn't hap­pen too. Some­times it can improve A LITTLE, but don't wait for MIRACLES, ok ? I have some pho­tos to prove what I am saying. Take a look at this girl. Since she was 15 DAYS OLD I was pret­ty sure how her shoul­ders should be. DON'T FORGET TO TRACE THE IMAGINARY LINE, ok ?

I will repeat this again : To breed good dogs you don't need any luck. You need KNOWLEDGE. If you are able to unders­tand the stan­dard and visua­lize how a good dog should be, you will not have any pro­blems lear­ning to breed good dogs. You just need luck to breed GREAT DOGS, but the decent ones are a piece of cake !

But we are not done with the fronts. We must check the ribs. The stan­dard says : "its front suf­fi­cient­ly wide for ade­quate heart and lung space, yet not so wide as to inter­fere with the straight for­ward move­ment of the fore­legs. Ribs are deep and well sprung." 

This is a dia­gram of a cocker, front view. You can see the ribs on it. If the ribs are not wide enough, the dog will have a nar­row front, but if it is too wide it will force the elbows to be out, like a bull­dog front.

These are the three types of front :

Ano­ther pho­to of a good front. This time I am using a sha­ved down dog. I tra­ced lines at the side of its sca­pu­laes. The fore­legs are exact­ly under it, sho­wing how a pro­per front should be. Read again what the stan­dard says : "Fore­legs are paral­lel, straight, stron­gly boned and mus­cu­lar and set close to the body well under the scapulae."

Don't for­get about what the stan­dard says about the ribs and move­ment "it is not so wide as to inter­fere with the straight for­ward move­ment of the fore­legs". Let's see what hap­pens with the move­ment of a dog with wide front :

Pay atten­tion to the elbow. Can you see it is "out" of the dog's body while it is moving ? I know it looks like it could be dif­fi­cult now, but believe me, you will be able to see it even the dog is in full coat. In fact, it is easier to see when the dog is in show coat, because you will see the coat going to that direc­tion while the dog is moving. You just need to train your eyes a little.

Some­times we hear the expres­sion : "this dog needs more sub­stance". Usual­ly people are tal­king about the fronts. The dog who needs more sub­stance is the one with the nar­row front. 

Some pup­pies with a nar­row front will improve with exer­cise. By the way, exer­cise is the best thing for any pup­py. Some bree­ders don't like to do that, saying it will damage the coat. Remem­ber, that a coat can grow out when the dog is older, but the same will not hap­pen with the dog's struc­ture. Exer­cise works great for the rears too, but we will talk about that later.

We are almost fini­shed with the fronts. We only need to talk about the chest and fore­chest. The stan­dard asks for a deep chest, "its lowest point no higher than elbows". There is no way you "see" how deep a chest is in a dog in show coat ; but you can feel it. Put your fin­ger on the elbows (there is an arrow sho­wing the right place), the chest must be dee­per than your fin­ger. By the way, it is a good test for the ribs too. If there is a "space" bet­ween your fin­ger and the ribs, it is because the ribs are not wide enough. Ribs with good shape will be very close to the elbow.

The pho­tos above are of the same girl. When she was 2 months old, you alrea­dy could see her fore chest (check the arrow). She had a good fore chest at that age and kept that when she was an adult. I tra­ced one line in front of her fore­leg. The fore­chest must be ahead of the line.

And I tra­ced ano­ther line to show where her chest "finishes". If you put your fin­ger on the arrow (exact­ly on the elbow) you will be able to touch her chest.

Now, a pup­py without enough fore chest. It is easy to see the pro­blem when the dog doesn't have much coat, but in full coat, it is quite dif­fi­cult, espe­cial­ly with a good trim­ming. It will be neces­sa­ry to touch the dog to feel the problem.

FINALLY ! We are done with the fronts. To conclude, the dog with a good front MUST have pro­per shoul­der angu­la­tion (90 degrees) + good rib cage (not nar­row, not too wide) + deep chest + good amount of fore­chest + paral­lel forelegs.

TOPLINE – Slo­ping slight­ly toward mus­cu­lar rear quar­ters. Back is strong and slo­ping even­ly and slight­ly down­ward from the shoul­ders to the set on of the docked tail. The docked tail is set on and car­ried on a line with the topline of the back, or slight­ly higher ; never straight up like a Ter­rier and never so low as to indi­cate timid­ty. When the dog is in motion, the tail action is merry.

Beside the fact I am a "head hun­ter", I agree there is some­thing in cockers (or any other breed) which is more impor­tant than the heads. It is the TOPLINE. What is the topline ? It is the neck + back + tail­set. A dog with a good topline is half way to being a good dog. 

Basi­cal­ly there are three kind of toplines, but I don't know how to say that in English. But let's see :

As the stan­dard says, the back must be strong and sloping. 

  • The first pup­py is a good example how a good back should be. 
  • The pup­py in the middle has a curve (roach) to it. Some lines have this type of roa­chy back on the pup­pies, but when the dog is an adult, the back will be ok. That was the case of this pup­py as well as her dam. I saw them gro­wing up and their backs were abso­lu­te­ly strong before one year old. I have one friend who is a very famous schnau­zer bree­der in Bra­zil and he says he has the same in his line. Some of his pup­pies has this curve, but when adults have the best backs. But how do we know if the pup­py will have a hard back in the future or will keep the cur­ved (roa­ched) back ? Only by using a cry­tal ball. There is no way to know. So, maybe it is bet­ter to don't take your chances kee­ping a pup­py like this.
  • The other pup­py is what I call a soft back. It is the same kind of a horse back (sway back) and I never saw one pup­py with this kind of back that will be ok when it is an adult. It is quite the oppo­site. It never improves but can get worse with age. Some pup­pies have good backs when young, but because they are over­weight they can become soft backs when adults. And it hap­pens very often with bitches after they have puppies.

With a good trim­ming and expe­rience sta­cking the dog, it is not dif­fi­cult to cover the pro­blem when the dog is sta­cked. So, the best way to see if the dog has a bad back is to watch the dog moving. Unfor­tu­na­te­ly, I don't have pho­tos to show them in move­ment. But here is a pho­to of a per­fect slo­ping back in movement :

We have three kinds of tail­set : NORMAL, LOW TAILSET AND TERRIER TAILSET.

This is an example of a LOW TAILSET. When the dog is sta­cked and in show coat, with a pro­per trim­ming, it is very dif­fi­cult to see the pro­blem. But when it is moving, the pro­blem will show up :

"Hips are wide and quar­ters well roun­ded and mus­cu­lar. When vie­wed from behind, the hind legs are paral­lel when in motion and at rest. The hind legs are stron­gly boned, and mus­cled with mode­rate angu­la­tion at the stifle and power­ful, clear­ly defi­ned thighs. The stifle is strong and there is no slip­page of it in motion or when stan­ding. The hocks are strong and well let down. Dew­claws on the legs may be removed."

As I did with the fronts, I will show the pro­per angu­la­tion. This is a pho­to of a bitch with very good angu­la­tion, front and rear :

Why I am saying she has very good angu­la­tion ? Let's take a look on the dia­gram I used to show the front angulations :

Now I am using the same lines on the photo :

Can you see she has the same angu­la­tion as the dra­wing ? It means she is BALANCED – ano­ther term used fre­quent­ly by bree­ders – and a dog with this kind of angu­la­tion will be able to move very well. And it isn't just theo­ric, this bitch is a great mover.

To unders­tand the rear angu­la­tion and its move­ment (it is cal­led DRIVE) it is neces­sa­ry to think in "to bend" and "to jump". I know, it doesn't seem to make sense, but I will show you my point.

You are stan­ding up and start to bend your knee. The more you bend, the higher you will be able to jump, right ? The same thing hap­pens with the dogs rear but the dog will not jump, it will "push the ground". The more angu­la­tion the dog has (bend in the knees), the more it will be able to push the ground, com­mon­ly cal­led 'DRIVE'. The bend in the knee is also cal­led bend of stifle.

This also means that a dog with less angu­la­tion (the knees don't bend enough) will not be able to 'push' the ground pro­per­ly (less drive) and an over angu­la­ted dog (knees bend too much) will 'push' the ground too much (too much drive)

Pay atten­tion to these two pup­pies, lit­ter­mates, pic­tu­red on the same day. It is impor­tant to say I resi­zed the pho­tos and the pup­pies have exact­ly the same height , ok ?

The first pup­py has pro­per rear angu­la­tion and the 2nd one less angu­la­tion. Can you see the knee of the first pup­py is much more bent than the second one ? What else you can see on these pup­pies ? Do you see the first pup­py has a slo­ping back and the second one a level back ? Why it hap­pens ? Because the second puppy's knees aren't as angled as they should be !

You can think the second pup­py isn't well sta­cked, but it is the "com­for­table" posi­tion for him. How do I know that ? Because the hock must be in 90 degres with the ground. In fact, his hock is a lit­tle ahead than they should be and you can see the angle with the table is less than 90 degrees. It is the rea­son we say THIS DOG NEEDS MORE ANGULATION, the angle should be higher. 

Ano­ther inter­es­ting bit of infor­ma­tion. Pay atten­tion to their hocks. Can you note the first pup­py has smal­ler hocks than the second one ? Eve­ry time you see a dog with a high hock it is because it doesn't have enough angu­la­tion. In fact, I believe a lot of pro­blems with rear angu­la­tion are because the size of hocks. As the higher the hocks are, the less angu­la­tion the dog will have.

What I don't know is the fol­lo­wing : the dog has high hocks because it has less angu­la­tion or it has less angu­la­tion because it has high hocks ? If someone has the ans­wer for this ques­tion, please let me know.

Now let's see other pho­to of the 2nd pup­py when he was a couple of months older :

This time we put his legs as far back as pos­sible, trying to improve his topline. But he still is "level" backed and not as a slo­ping back as it should be. The hocks still are at an angle smal­ler than 90 degrees. I tra­ced a line of the end of his back (where the tail­set starts) to the ground. The knee should go ahead of that line, but his doesn't. There is an arrow sho­wing where his knee is.

Why the knee can't go ahead of that line ? Because when it hap­pens his legs will not bend enough to push the ground properly. 

Check again the pho­to of the bitch with good rear angles. Trace an ima­gi­na­ry line on her tail­set to the ground and check her knees. Her knee isn't behind the line like the other pup­py, her rear legs are still bent and rea­dy to push the ground. Here is her pho­to again :

Now let's see the last example, the over angu­la­ted rears. This pup­py is over angu­la­ted. When I sta­cked him I could see his knee was not ahead of the line of his tailset. 

Take a look at his hock. Can you see the angle with the ground (table) is more than 90 degrees ?
But what would hap­pen if I stack this same pup­py and put his hock on the pro­per angle (90 degrees)? His knee would be after that line and that is not right. See the photo :

Maybe you are star­ting to won­der if a dog over angu­la­ted is much better :

  • He will be able to move fas­ter because he will "push the ground" much more.
  • A dog over angu­la­ted has short hocks (good point)
  • Dog who is over angu­la­ted always have a slo­ping back (great point)

Believe or not, a lot of bree­ders thought the same in the past. Nowa­days over angu­la­ted dogs are so com­mon in the rings, but they for­got about the balance of the dog. The front will not be able to fol­low the rear move­ment even if the dog has a good front. And we shouldn't for­get that until 1992, that cockers were to be 15% shor­ter in their backs than in height 

Try to have a pic­ture. The fronts were ter­rible, no pro­per angles and you alrea­dy lear­ned a dog with that cha­rac­te­ristc doesn't have GOOD REACH. The rears were over angu­la­ted, it means the dog had TOO MUCH DRIVE. And the back should be short ! To rei­te­rate : IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE DOG MOVE PROPERLY. The best movers were the ones with long backs. What hap­pe­ned ? They chan­ged the stan­dard in 1992, and the dogs should now be lon­ger backed.

I know a lot of people will not agree. They will say there are other rea­sons, but it is hard for me to agree with a dog who is ove­ran­gu­la­ted, for the rea­sons like pain in the back (someone alrea­dy told me about that). But just remem­ber IT IS MY OPINION.

You should keep this in mind – A GOOD DOG IS A BALANCED DOG. The rear and front should work toge­ther, ok ? 

Now we must see the rear from ano­ther view :

These are the pho­tos of the same bitch. The first one around 45 days old and the other when she was an adult. You can see her legs are paral­lel, not so wide and not so nar­row. It is how cor­rect rears should look like.

There are two other kinds : cow-hocked (the hocks almost tou­ching each other) and ano­ther one who would be exact­ly the oppo­site : The hocks are too far apart and the legs has the same shape as a "cow­boy leg" (bow leg­ged). I don't have pho­tos of these two types, but I will try to find them.

Well, we are done with the rears. I will talk now about short and up on leg dogs. I am sure you alrea­dy heard these expres­sions, right ?

"SIZE – The ideal height at the withers for an adult dog is 15 inches and for an adult bitch, 14 inches. Height may vary one half inch above or below this ideal. A dog whose height exceeds 1512 inches or a bitch whose height exceeds 14 12 inches shall be DISQUALIFIED. Any adult dog whose height is less than 14 12 inches and an adult bitch whose height is less than 13 12 inches shall be pena­li­zed. Height is deter­mi­ned by a line per­pen­di­cu­lar to the ground from the top of the shoul­der blades, the dog stan­ding natu­ral­ly with its fore­legs and lower hind legs paral­lel to the line of mea­su­re­ment.
PROPORTION – The mea­su­re­ment from the breast bone to back of thigh is slight­ly lon­ger than the mea­su­re­ment from the highest point of withers to the ground. The body must be of suf­fi­cient length to per­mit a straight and free stride ; the dog never appears long and low."

The stan­dard is VERY CLEAR about the dog's size. A dog or bitch who is over that size should be DISQUALIFIED. For this rea­son I never will be able to unders­tand why dogs in USA are so big. Howe­ver I alrea­dy noti­ced it is dif­ferent from one state to ano­ther. Some­times if you show a dog 15" tall it will look like a mini-cocker when you put it side by side with other cockers on the same show. I am sor­ry, but I don't think that is right. 

My dogs usual­ly are as close as pos­sible to the IDEAL HEIGHT (around 15", because it is what the stan­dard asks for, right?) but some bree­ders think my dogs are too small !

Ano­ther thing that I don't like are big bitches who look more like males than girls, or small males who look like bitches. I think you should know imme­dia­te­ly if a cocker is a male or a female by just loo­king at it. If you must ask the owner about the sex it is because some­thing is wrong. The same for the puppies.

As example ; I am using pho­tos of two lit­ter­mates – CH ST'JAMES NEVER ON SUNDAY and CH ST'JAMES NOVEMBER RAIN, at the same age. I think you will not have any pro­blems kno­wing who is who, right ?

But what about this cocker ? Is it a boy or a girl ?

Would you be sur­pri­sed to know it is a girl?!

Ano­ther impor­tant thing about the dog's pro­por­tion is the length of the legs. I believe eve­ry­bo­dy alrea­dy has seen a pho­to of the "father of the breed" – CH Obo. He was a very low dog. Don't for­get there is a big dif­fe­rence bet­ween a small dog and a low one. The low dog has short legs and the small is just small, but still a well pro­por­tio­ned dog.

When I star­ted out, my dogs used to be small with "nor­mal" legs – not so low not so long – but it was very com­mon to have some pup­pies short on legs. I had to intro­duce new dogs in my bree­ding pro­gram to fix that pro­blem. But you must be care­ful trying to make your dogs up on leg because you can get over­si­zed dogs, and of course, that is not desirable.

The last time I was in the USA to watch a Natio­nal was in Janua­ry, 2003. I have to say I was so disa­poin­ted with the buff dogs shown there. Almost 80% of all the dogs/bitches/puppies were short on legs. I believe the length of the legs are the worst pro­blem with the buff cockers nowa­days, even worse than the shoul­der angles. Since I haven't gone there since then, I am not sure if the pro­blem is still the same or if the legs are up now.

Here are examples of nor­mal, short and up on leg dogs. As usual, I am using puppy's pho­tos to show better :

You must stack the pup­py and see the area under its bel­ly. A nor­mal dog will be almost the same size from it's withers to the chest than from the chest to the ground. Howe­ver some pup­pies with a very deep chest will look like they are shor­ter on legs but in fact, they aren't.

As I said before, the shoul­ders never change, but the legs do. Some short leg­ged pup­pies at 2 months old can be nor­mal when are older. The oppo­site hap­pens too. And never for­get ; DON'T TAKE pho­tos of your pup­pies just after they got food. Their bel­ly will be so full and they will look like they have shor­ter legs than what they real­ly are. Ano­ther example of the same pup­py. I got the first pho­to as soon she got food. The other was around one month after. Much dif­ferent, right ?

I will start to work with move­ment. That will take more time because it is the most impor­tant aspect of the cocker. 

This is the most impor­tant thing about dogs, not just about cockers, but as all other breeds. In a breed like cockers. with so much coat, it is not dif­fi­cult to cover the pro­blems with a good trim­ming. And if you have enough expe­rience sta­cking dogs, you will be able to make the dog look beau­ti­ful, even when it is not even close to be perfect.

But when the dog starts to move, it will shows all its qua­li­ties and faults. The low tail­set will be there, the soft back too, espe­cial­ly the pro­blems with the fore­legs and rears.

A dog must walk trot­ting, like a horse. Look these photos :

The first dog has a trot­ting move­ment. Take a look at its legs and its tri­angle shape. But the second move­ment is not a pro­per trot. It is cal­led PACE.. The legs are paral­lel while its is moving, exact­ly like a camel. Some dogs move like that when they are going fas­ter than a "walk" and not as fast as a trot. Of course that is WRONG. I know only one breed who should move like that – Bra­zi­lian filas, but maybe there are others that do the same. BUT COCKERS CAN NOT PACE ok ? 

There is ano­ther "move­ment mis­take" very com­mon. A lot of people (I think they are the majo­ri­ty of the bree­ders) used to think the fas­ter the dog moves the bet­ter the move­ment is and THAT IS NOT TRUE ! 
Nowa­days the shows more look like races. Who goes fas­ter wins ! A pro­per move­ment appears like the dog is going in slow motion. As it has lot of REACH and DRIVE (front and rear) it will take more time to stretch the legs to the maxi­mun point than a dog with poor reach. Not sure if you under­tand what I mean. Let's try in a dif­ferent way :

You have two people wal­king side by side. One is moving with big steps and the other with lit­tle ones. But as they are friend they want to be toge­ther. What hap­pens ? The per­son with "lit­tle steps" will move their legs many more times than the other, but they have the same speed and are wal­king side by side

The same hap­pens with dogs with good and bad move­ment. They are able to move the same speed, but the one with lit­tle steps (not pro­per reach and drive – NOT GOOD AT COVERERING GROUND) will have to move the legs many more times than the other with good cover (big steps), isn't that truth ? 

But do you know what hap­pens ? People see that dog moving its legs so fast trying to go the same speed as the dog with good drive and reach and they think that one with the fast lit­tle steps is a MOVING MACHINE!!! But in fact the other one, who doesn't take so much effort to move because it has the "big steps" is the one who REALLY MOVES CORRECTLY !

Let's see what the stan­dard says about GAIT :

"Pre­re­qui­site to good move­ment is balance bet­ween the front and rear assem­blies. He drives with strong, power­ful rear quar­ters and is pro­per­ly construc­ted in the shoul­ders and fore­legs so that he can reach for­ward without constric­tion in a full stride to coun­ter­ba­lance the dri­ving force from the rear. Above all, his gait is coor­di­na­ted, smooth and effort­less. The dog must cover ground with his action ; exces­sive ani­ma­tion should not be mis­ta­ken for pro­per gait".

Do you see ? EXCESSIVE ANIMATION SHOULD NOT BE MISTAKEN FOR PROPER GAIT – it is not because a dog moves its legs very fast it means the even pro­per move­ment is right ! NEVER FORGET THAT ! 

When the exhi­bi­tors (espe­cial­ly the hand­lers) noti­ced a lot of people were making that same mis­take (inclu­ding JUDGES!), they start to make their dogs move fas­ter and fas­ter, like a race. But when you make a dog go so fast in its trot, maybe this dog will show some pro­blems in his back that in fact he doesn't have. But that doesn't seem to mean that much for some hand­lers . In their opi­nion ; A SHOW DOG MUST MOVE FASTER and that is all.

Ano­ther VERY IMPORTANT THING : Time after time we have in our breed dogs that become great win­ners, espe­cial­ly because they are great movers. It is a great plea­sure to watch them flying around the ring, but when you pay atten­tion to their struc­ture – ugly head, nar­row front and rears, very long back, you rea­lize that dog is nothing more than a mover. 

I believe you've alrea­dy noti­ced that there are some top models who aren't that beau­ti­ful. In fact you can't unders­tand why they are so famous, but when they see them in the "fashion shows" you notice they have some­thing dif­ferent, they have all the "eyes" on them. It is "the flash", it is what we say in the dog world "show atti­tude". And you can be sure the same hap­pens to the dogs.

"The flash" is a great thing to a hand­ler. One dog who is a great mover and has flash is half way to become a BIS win­ner, but to a bree­der THAT CAN NOT BE SO IMPORTANT. Of course I like a dog who is able to move cor­rect­ly, but it MUST HAVE other qua­li­ties. I never will use a dog with a bad head, long back, no bone, no sub­stance, just because it is a great mover or because has "show attitude".

I alrea­dy had so many dogs who had great struc­ture, they weren't per­fect but were very close to the stan­dard but besides that, they were able to move cor­rect­ly, BUT they didn't have "flash". They were able to finish their cham­pion­ship, but they never got any BIS. And eve­ry time they were in the same show with the "big movers" they lost. Is that fair ? Well … who said the dog shows are "fair games" ?

So here goes one piece of advice. Move­ment is very impor­tant to show the dog's faults, but it doesn't mean a "fla­shy dog" is a per­fect dog. Don't use a dog with your bitch just because it is a big win­ner or a great mover, because maybe it will mean nothing in your whel­ping box.

But let's talk about movement …

As you alrea­dy saw on this page, a dog with a pro­per front and pro­per rear angu­la­tion will have a beau­ti­ful REACH and DRIVE, an expres­sion we see very often on the stud sire adver­ti­se­ments. 
It will be BALANCED.
Let's see these pho­tos in movement :

You see this dog sta­cked and you believe it is a balan­ced dog. For the topline you are able to see it has good shoul­ders, but you are not sure about the rear. You can't see that very well with all that cover, right ? And you can't touch the dog to see how it real­ly looks like What should you do ? WATCH IT MOVING ! When you see this dog's move­ment you have the confir­ma­tion it has a good struc­ture. You trace a line from its two paws toge­ther to the back of the dog. And thus trace a line from that point to the front foot and ano­ther one to the back foot These two lines must have almost the same size. I used my com­pu­ter to trace these lines and believe me, THEY ARE EXACTLY THE SAME SIZE. This tri­angle must have two sides with the same size.

Do you want to see ano­ther dog moving, this time a young puppy ?

Once again we have the a tri­angle with 2 sides of the same size. 

But what is a DOG THAT'S NOT BALANCED ? We must think of him as two parts. Each part will walk with dif­ferent size of steps. If he doesn't have enough REACH, his "front steps" will be short ones. If he is over angu­la­ted in his rear, his "hind steps" will be large ones. So a dog that is not balan­ced is the one whose "front steps" will not be the same size as his "hind steps". 

A dog with bad reach will look like this :

You alrea­dy lear­ned the front legs should go ahead of the nose of the dog when it is moving. And loo­king to the tri­angle, you can see that one side is lon­ger than the other. The lon­ger side shows lon­ger steps. The smal­ler size, smal­ler steps. In this case, this dog has much more DRIVE than REACH. His "hind steps" are larger/bigger than the "front step".

And you can find ano­ther kind of move­ment pro­blem when a dog has more drive than reach : SIDE WINDING or SIDLE. What is that ? It is when the dog can not move in a straight line. Why does that happen ?

Very simple … look the pho­to of the buff pup­py moving (above). Do you notice the paws which are on the floor are very close to each other ? All the dogs used to move in that way. But now think of a dog that is not balan­ced. He doesn't have too much reach (small/short front steps) but as it is over angu­la­ted in the rear, he pushes the ground very hard (large/big hind steps). If this dog was moving in a straight line, he would put his hind leg AHEAD of the fore­leg. Of course, he can't do that, so what does he do ? He puts his hind leg at the side of the fore­leg. Look the dra­wing below.

Let's ima­gine these are two dogs. The left dog is a balan­ced one. The red elipses are his fore­legs. The blue are his hind­legs, ok ? He is moving in a straight line, because of his good reach, his fore­legs go ahead of his nose. As he is balan­ced, you can trace a per­fect tri­angle (green color) sho­wing his steps are the same size.

But the dog on the right isn't balan­ced. It doesn't have enough REACH (short front steps) and because of that, his fore­leg isn't ahead of his nose. On the other hand, he has too much DRIVE (large hind steps) and his hind leg goes ahead of the point his fore­leg is. He puts his two right legs side by side and to make that pos­sible, he can't go in a straight line. He must twist his body. It is Mother Nature adjus­ting the dog's move­ment to its structure.

It is what Byron San­tos (Sher­wood Cockers in USA) said : "I guess you have to des­cribe the rear as a "balan­ced to the front" because no mat­ter how good or bad the front is, God will adjust the rears so the dog can move more adequately"

Believe me, siddle (side win­ding) move­ment is much more com­mon than you can ima­gine, espe­cial­ly in short backed dogs. As I like the short back dogs, I alrea­dy had a couple of dogs with this pro­blem in my place. And I had oppor­tu­ni­ty to watch a Dober­man Natio­nal Show here in Bra­zil (I was the judge's assis­tant) and I can tell you 90% of the dogs on that show (inclu­ding the ones impor­ted from USA) had the same pro­blem. It is easier to see the pro­blem in a dober­man because there is no coat to cover its legs … 

But some­times you have a dog (very com­mon in pup­pies) and it moves straight, but when you put the leash on it he will start to to siddle. Some­times he is doing that because the dog is pul­ling away from you and not because it has pro­blems in his struc­ture, ok ?