Cocker Spaniel in dog show

What Is Life Really Like For A Cocker Spaniel Show Dog?

In the show ring, Cocker Spaniels are game on and dress to impress with their gorgeous flowing coats. Judges reward the Cocker Spaniel that best conforms to the breed’s standard at a dog show. In order to do this, the judge must be intimately aware of that particular breed’s qualities. A dedicated Cocker Spaniel owner knows there’s a life inside and outside the dog show circuit.

So just what is life really like for a Cocker Spaniel who competes in dog shows?

Most Cocker Spaniels are treated with love, respect, and have a fulfilling life outside of the dog show ring. Cocker Spaniels are a high-maintenance breed that requires a lot of care, especially in the competitive dog show world. A Cocker Spaniel who exemplifies the happy, merry disposition called for in the breed standard will enjoy showing and live a rich, rewarding life outside the ring.

With the Beverly Hills Dog Show poised to make its mark on NBC television for the fourth year in a row, we went nose-to-nose with dedicated Cocker Spaniel owners, breeders, and handlers in the country who compete in dog shows.

As a bonus, we went straight to the “top dog,” David Frei, who is one of the most authoritative voices in the dog show world AND we want to go face-to-face with you, too!

Brooke of Nicole Tehranchi with her half brother, Wilbur of Christine Lockwood-Barron.

What’s Life Like For A Cocker Spaniel Show Dog?

Nicole Tehranchi is a breeder, owner, handler who entered her Cocker Spaniel, Brooke, into this year’s Beverly Hills Dog Show. All dogs have a “show name” and Brooke’s is Flight of Fantasy.

“I’ve shown my own dogs for about six years,” she shared. “I love the Beverly Hills Dog Show because it’s fun, indoors, and is televised as well.”

Tehranchi said the judges are looking for a sturdy, compact body in a Cocker Spaniel. They look for a cleanly chiseled and refined head with the overall dog in complete balance and of ideal size. A Cocker should have a nice sloping topline.

Above all, she shared, “He must be free and merry.”

Nicole at the Beverly Hills Dog Show 2020

Indeed. How many breeds call for a merry disposition? The Cocker Spaniel does!

There’s a common misconception are that our show dogs are kept in ‘cages,’ she reminded me. Having owned Cocker Spaniels for 35 years, Tehranchi loves the comical, smart, pleasing nature of the breed.

“These dogs are allowed to be dogs and run outside,” she said. “Mine live in the house with me [and] they play with toys, run around outside, and get dirty. They go to stores and meet people. They attend Meet the Breeds events and one of mine [dogs] is used for grooming competitions. My dogs are my kids.”

Dog show Cocker Spaniel on red carpet
Nicole Tehranchi at the 2020 Beverly Hills Dog Show with Brooke.

When Cocker Show Dogs Are Therapy Dogs

Christine Lockwood-Barron makes sure her show dogs have fun outside the show ring, too. When not showing in the ring, her Cocker Spaniel, Wilbur, spreads cheer as a therapy dog.

“While getting our other dog, Orville, ready at the 2020 Beverly Hills Dog Show, Wilbur was a natural doing therapy work,” Lockwood-Barron said.

Wilbur saw a lovely elderly woman in a wheelchair and didn’t jump on her. He simply laid on her lap and allowed the woman to hug and pet him.

“She was in love with Wilbur,” she shared. “It was awesome to see the lady smile and so happy.”

Show dog and therapy dog, Wilbur, working his magic in at the Beverly Hills Dog Show.

Misconceptions About Cocker Spaniels In Dog Shows

Ellen Toomey has been involved with Cocker Spaniels for 22 years, so she’s heard the false facts and misconceptions about Cockers in the show ring.

“The vast majority live as house pets during the week and sleep on the furniture, run around the yard and get dirty, play with toys, and get spoiled like non-show dogs,” Toomey shared from her New Jersey home.

She wants people to understand why judges are putting their hands on a dog in the ring.

cocker spaniel in show
Ellen with a black Cocker Spaniel.

“It’s all about conformation, the way the dog is built compared to the breed standard,” she said. “With Cockers there’s a lot of hair that can mask or hide the way a dog is built.”

She prepares for life in the ring by being ready prior to show day. It takes good nutrition, good vet care, and coat maintenance. She reminded me that Cockers start “grooming training” even before their first set of shots. By doing so, they learn grooming isn’t scary plus it enhances the human-animal bond.

For Toomey, her dogs are pets first and foremost that just “happen to show on weekends.” If the dogs didn’t enjoy it, she wouldn’t do it.

“You can’t make a dog show well or look like he enjoys something he doesn’t; there’s just no way.”

Winner in dog show Cocker Spaniel
Ellen Toomey proudly shows off her ribbon and Cocker Spaniel

How To Judge A Cocker Spaniel In The Show Ring

When dog show day arrives, the judges are most definitely looking at the Cocker Spaniel’s overall appearance.

So just how do judges pick Cocker Spaniels at a dog show? They look at the:

  • Head: A well-proportioned head that balances with the rest of the dog
  • Expression: Intelligent, alert, soft
  • Eyes: Round, full, looking forward, slight almond-shaped appearance
  • Ear: Lobular, long and well feathered
  • Nose: Balance to the face and muzzle, well-developed nostrils
  • Lips and Teeth: Upper lip covers lower jaw, strong teeth meeting in a scissors bite
  • Neck: Sufficiently long so the nose easily reaches the ground
  • Body: Deep chest, back is strong and slopes evenly and slightly downward
  • Coat: Short, fine head and medium body length
  • Gait: A typical sporting gait despite his small stature
  • Color: Three varieties: Black, Any Solid Color Other Than Black (ASCOB) and Parti-Color.

You can learn more about the American Cocker Spaniel breed standard on the American Spaniel Club’s website, of which we are a proud member.

Black Cocker in show ring
Marlene Ness with a Cocker Spaniel in a dog show.

How To Prepare A Cocker Spaniel For Dog Show Life

When Connecticut resident Marlene Ness purchased her first show dog in 1995, she started preparing long before any paws hit the ring floor. She’s bred Cockers for almost 20 years and worked in a grooming shop she later purchased.

Life in the dog show ring goes something like this:

  • Ensure the dog is in good health physically and mentally to participate in shows
  • Provide good nutrition and enough exercise on a regular basis
  • Before leaving for the show, bathe, dry, and trim the dogs
  • Pack the van with plenty of food, water, beds, a full tank of gas, and her generator which runs heat or air conditioning for the dogs depending on the season
  • Prep on arrival for show day with touch-up trimming and clean up
  • Get the dogs “ring ready” and wait for the scheduled time to enter the ring

She loves the social aspect of dog show life. Without Cocker Spaniels, she’d never have formed many treasured friendships.

Dog show winners
Marlene Ness keeps it all in the family.

“I get a huge reward for taking a dog that we have bred and raised from a puppy and getting the recognition from my peers that they agree we are breeding according to our standard and producing Cocker Spaniels to the best of our ability that represents the breed,” she stated.

Over in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, Kim Vavolo prepares for another dog show. A veteran to the life, she’s been showing dogs for 27 years.

When asked how her dogs are treated when not in the ring, Vavolo quipped, “That’s an easy one; my clients’ show dogs run to me over their mom or dad. They love to get in their crates, show, and they have plenty of runs and yards in which to play.”

Tri color cocker wins at dog show
Kim Vavolo loves the dog show life.

She loves the feeling of showing and finishing dogs that will improve the breed.

Speaking of improving the breed…

What Exactly Does Breed Preservation Mean?

“The Skye Terrier is one of many at-risk breeds in this world,” said NBC announcer and dog breeder David Frei during the National Dog Show telecast on NBC last November. “There are more great pandas out there.”

There are many breeds who are currently “at-risk” from a survival standpoint. We asked David Frei, who is one of the announcers for the Beverly Hills Dog Show, why breed preservation matters and what exactly it means for the dog world at large.

Frei spoke out in support of the advocacy of breeders Bill Shelton and Doug Johnson to help the public become aware of preservation breeders. Together, they released this statement:

“We dog breeders are changing the language to help people understand exactly what it is that we do. We are preservation breeders. No matter what it has been called in the past, we own this principle already and have owned it for generations of dogs.

“We are intentionally breeding dogs for health, happiness, and preservation of the breeds. This is what drives us – not producing dogs for dog shows and not producing dogs for puppy sales.

“We are and always have been preservation breeders – dedicated to bringing purpose-bred dogs into the world, healthy dogs with predictable characteristics, intellect and disposition. With that, we want to help them be healthy and happy, and give them the best chance to have a great, long lives in well-deserved, loving homes.

“That is what preservation breeders do – responsibly and accountably, for health and happiness, for these very important, loving members of your family.”

Me with beloved American treasure, David Frei.

Where To Watch Cocker Spaniels and Other Dogs

The 2020 Beverly Hills Dog Show presented by Purina and hosted by the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills will air on NBC on Sunday, May 17, 2020, from 8 to 10 pm ET. Dogs are pure joy, so be sure to tune in!

I talked dogs with the co-hosts of the Beverly Hills Dog Show. Watch the video below as I get the inside scoop with dog lovers John O’Hurley and David Frei:

Although there is not enough time to show all 200+ winners of the show’s breeds and varieties on the telecast, all of those winners are shown in streaming video in competition on the NBC website after the completion of the premiere telecast.

Watch your local listings for additional showings in your area on NBC and NBCSN.

Related Content

Do show dogs make money? Although Best In Show can win money and awards, competitors aren’t usually focused on winning big money. Many dog show participants are strictly in it for the passion of the breed such as Cocker Spaniels.

Do Cocker Spaniels win Best in Show? Depending on the show, yes they do. For example, an American Cocker Spaniel won Best in Show at Crufts in 2017. The American Cocker Spaniel won Best in Show four times at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Are Cocker Spaniels smart dogs? Yes, Cocker Spaniels are very smart dogs. Their original breeding purpose as hunting and gun dogs able to flush and retrieve game shows how intelligent and diverse they are. They are also clever and require stimulation to bring out their true personalities.

Facebook Live With David Frei

Watch the replay of my rousing FACEBOOK LIVE with David Frei below:

Read More About Cocker Spaniels

Is a Cocker Spaniel The Right Dog For Me?

How To Groom A Cocker Spaniel At Home

Cocker Spaniels Are Like Potato Chips: You Can’t Have Just One


  1. Very informative post! I’m not gonna lie… I’ve been one of those people who thought show dogs weren’t loved on or treated as warmly as someone’s regular dog. I loved reading about how the show dogs’ humans treat them just like regular dogs when not in the ring. Your article made showing dogs sound like a lot of fun. I bet it really is a great way to make awesome friends.
    It hurts my heart to know that there are dog breeds that are “at-risk” for being endangered/extinct (probably not the right words to use, but oh well 😉 I never thought about that being a possibility. As much as people like to promote rescue and adoption (which I am totally on board with – all my pets are rescues), it is important for there to be quality breeders out there as well. Thanks for the education!

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