A road trip to Georgia.
I had been tossing around the idea of adding an English Cocker Spaniel to our kennel for a while. If you subscribe to any hunting dog publication or podcast then chances are you’ve come across an article about them. There seems to be a lot of information coming out about these little balls of lightning recently and everyone seems to agree that they are a great addition to any bird hunter’s kennel. Like most of America I grew up with labs and fell in love with their gentle disposition and playfulness. Other than the ridiculous amount of shedding they are a hard dog to beat. I love my German Shorthair; Jackson has a fantastic disposition and is a great companion, still something attracted me to these little dogs. In 1892 the Kennel Club (UK) recognized the English Cocker Spaniel as an official breed. In 1945 the American Kennel Club recognized the breed as distinctly different from the now termed American Cocker Spaniel in the United States. After World War II, English Cocker Spaniels became very popular as pets and for conformation testing (show ring). As the years rolled on there became two distinct types of dogs within the breed, one that was bred for its hunting characteristics (considered working) and one that was bred for its looks (considered show). The show quality dog has a longer feathered coat and longer ears that would be a hindrance in the field. The best hunting quality lines are generally imported from England and tend to be more energetic, possessing a strong desire to hunt in the field. With the differences in these two styles of dogs ever present, it is very rare to see an English Cocker Spaniel that will excel in both conformation and the field. With this information in mind, I knew that I wanted to focus on obtaining a working English Cocker Spaniel that originated from English lines.
Research is a major part of finding the right dog. It is one of the most enjoyable experiences of dog ownership for me. I love calling around to different kennels and talking with breeders about their pups. Any good breeder is going to enjoy talking to you about them. It is not uncommon to have hour long conversations with complete strangers over the idiosyncrasies of their breed and particular line of dogs. After a lot of phone calls, emails, and text messages, I had narrowed down the field to a kennel I wanted to work with. The kennel was in the deep south of Georgia, near the Alabama line. An area that has a rich history of bird hunting, one that involves large historic plantations and prolific coveys of quail. Christopher Loizou is quite a character. When you call down to southern Georgia, the last thing you are expecting to hear is a New York accent. He was thrust into the world of working English Cocker Spaniels while pheasant hunting in South Dakota. It was there he saw his first English Cocker and was hooked. Not long after, he purchased his first English Cocker and Covey Flush Kennels was born. His Kennel has grown substantially over the years and he has an outstanding line of dogs.
I think it is important to talk about where your dogs originate from, especially as a breeder. In my short experience thus far, I have found that this just isn't a topic most breeders bring up. This wasn't the case with Christopher. He was extremely proud of his line. Most of which he has imported directly from England. Needless to say after a lot of great conversations, I was excited to be selected to get a pup from him. He had a planned litter due in early April which meant I would be traveling to Georgia in late May.
I should mention that before making the trip to Georgia I made a mistake that no responsible dog buyer should ever commit; I had never in person seen a working variety English Cocker Spaniel. I had done an extensive amount of research and spoke to several breeders and trainers, but I still had never laid eyes on one. While not an egregious error, I think it is important to go see the dogs you are looking at before you get one.
In late May I received a phone call from Christopher advising I could pick up my pup. Google Maps had it as a 12 hour drive one way. I knew that meant it would take at least 14 with a couple of stops. My mom offered to go with Tracy and I on the trip down there to break up the driving. I happily accepted her offer and the three of us made plans to go down there over a weekend. The plan was to drive as far as we could get, stay overnight in a hotel, then pick up the pup as early as possible the next morning and drive back. We gathered up all the things you need on a long car trip with a new puppy (crate, towels, bowls, collar, leash, cleaner, water, food) and headed down to Georgia. We made it to Atlanta which seemed like a good place to stop, so we found a hotel and sought out a place for dinner. We found a local place that had fried green tomatoes and fried chicken, had a great meal, then explored the downtown area around the hotel. The next morning we awoke and finally made it to Christopher's kennel. He was waiting for us with our pup in hand. We had previously settled on the call name Lucy, so I could yell "Luuuucy I'm home!" every time I walked in the door (If you don't know the reference you've never seen a real television show). Tracy was the first to hold Lucy and as soon as she had her in her arms, Lucy looked up and licked her face. From that point on I knew that she was going to be a special (or more likely spoiled) dog.
Christopher showed us around the kennel and showed us Lucy's parents, both of whom were great affectionate dogs. He showed us where he raised them, where he bathed them and even talked about how he constructed his kennel. It was obvious that he took a lot of pride in his pups and I was elated to discover that. Before we left, Christopher gave us a retrieving demonstration with one of his older males and I was stunned. I had seen video and read articles about the way these dogs move and behave when working, but the words didn't do it justice. The dog was like bottled lightning just waiting to be released. He appeared so happy to be working for Christopher. His tail was wagging a thousand miles per hour and he was obediently responding to all of Christopher's commands. I could see why these dogs have been nicknamed the "merry little Cocker". I was so excited to get her home and see how she would develop in the next coming months.
Against our better judgement, we decided to drive straight through on the way home. We made several stops for food, potty breaks, and sanity; making it back in about 16 hours. Lucy was great the entire trip. She slept most of it and not once made a peep. The next morning we introduced her to our other dogs. They took to her immediately. Jackson, our GSP especially formed a fast bond with her. The two could often be caught sleeping on the couch together.
Lucy has been a delight to train. The attitude and intelligence she possesses is incredible. I think is inherent in her to want to make you happy. She just turned 8 months old and has already been on her first hunt. She is a machine. She can keep pace with Jackson, but get into the smaller cover he can't reach. She is frantically intense in the field, bouncing from cover to cover, tail wagging briskly. She absolutely loves the water. If we allow it she will swim on her own in circles for hours. When she gets on bird scent she doesn't let up until she gets a flush. She is a natural retriever, bringing shot birds on land and in water back to hand. She is a close hunter, in most cases staying within 20 yards. We are continuing to work with her to develop her hunting pattern and retrieving style. She is taking direction extremely well. It has certainly been a learning curve for me going from a pointing breed to a flushing breed, but she is making the transition easy. We are excited to continue to watch her develop and get her involved in some hunt tests this spring. We will post those results as we work on them. Thanks for reading!