The Cocker Spaniel is a very popular and versatile breed. The cocker spaniel can be seen hunting, as drug dogs, bomb detection dogs, service dogs, and competing in field trials, hunting tests, agility, obedience,
tracking, flyball, and conformation. Cocker spaniel truly excel in field trial and hunting test competitions. Almost every National Champion, National Amateur Champion, high point derby dog, high point amateur dog, and
high point open dog is a cocker spaniel. Watching a top cocker spaniel in the field is similar to watching an intense border collie herd sheep - truly amazing!
Over the years, cocker spaniels have drifted into two general types - show and field. Show cocker spaniels are bred for conformation and tend to be heavier boned, broader in the head, and heavier bodied. Field cocker spaniel are bred for performance and are generally more athletic appearing. This doesn't mean that show labs can't compete in performance events and it doesn't mean that all field labs are ugly. But, if your goal is to compete successfully in conformation competitions, you won't be happy with a field cocker spaniel. Similarly, if you want to compete in field trials and high level hunting test competitions, most show cocker spaniels won't fit the bill.
Cocker spaniels can have several health issues, primarily: hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy (eyes), retinal folds (eyes), hypothyroidism, epilepsy, and dwarfism. You can reduce your chances of buying a dog with health issues if you buy from responsible breeders who have their dogs screened by OFA (hips & elbows) and CERF (eyes). Both OFA and CERF have online databases where you can verify certification by dogs' names or registration numbers.