Cocker spaniels in the field

Kim Parkman with thrree of her charges. From left, Toby, a Boykin, and two Cockers, Fig and Terra.

You can hardly have a conversation about South Carolina’s state dog, the Boykin Spaniel, without Kim Parkman’s name coming up. For more than three and a half decades she has been at the forefront of breeding and developing Boykins for success in the field.

More than 20 national field champions have been trained at her Pocotaligo Kennels near Sumter. And she campaigned one Boykin to a dual championship, winning both in the field and in the show ring. Known primarily as a Boykin trainer, Kim also worked extensively with most retriever, spaniel and pointing breeds.

She has also been heavily involved in the movement in the Carolinas to produce, train and compete with Cocker Spaniels in the field. Sought for years as family pets, or more often, family members, working cockers in the field has seen a recent resurgence.

But, hunting, finding and retrieving game is nothing new to the breed. Cockers were bred for hunting to begin with. In fact, the term Cocker Spaniel comes from the fact that they were the preferred breed for hunting woodcock.

Although now retired as a trainer, including Cocker Spaniels in her training schedule was a natural fit for Parkman, who explained the existence of two different Cocker breeds – the American Cocker, bred primarily for pets and the show ring, and the English Cocker, which is bred for field work.

Cocker Spaniel field trials were popular in the past, then interest faded. It has seen a revival of popularity in recent years.

“We have been having field trials for Cockers in South Carolina since the Wateree Spaniel Club held its first trial in April 2017,” she said.

Parkman got her first Cocker from a couple in Marion, SC, and promised them she’d make her all she could be. When she got the dog trained to being ready to compete, the closest trial she could find was a 10-hour drive away. Her husband suggested they go and watch a trial to see how it worked.

“If I’m going that far I’m going to run,” she said.

Kim Parkman is all smiles after a field trial with Terra.

The first day her dog did not make second series, but she did advance the second day, and Parkman eventually finished the championship on her.

In a Cocker Spaniel field trial, she explained, the dogs are run in braces. The field is staked out with a center line, one dog on each side of the line. Birds are placed in strategic spots so the dogs should not locate birds at the same time. Once a dog locates a bird, it must remain stationary until the handler sends it in at the direction of the judge on that side. Then the dog must retrieve the bird. Meanwhile the dog on the other side of the center line must honor the dog with the bird.

“If a dog does not commit a disqualifying fault in first series, it will advance to second series and run under the other judge,” Parkman said.

Disqualifying faults include breaking, poaching (finding a bird in the bracemate’s side of the field), a passed bird and hardmouth.

Once second series is completed, the judges will confer and present a list of dogs for third series. Then the dogs will run the course alone in front of both judges.

Parkman’s first Cocker champion was a female called Rise, full name FC (Field Champion) Talefeathers Pocotaligo Easter Sundy, MHA (Master Hunter Advanced). She is now working with Smoke, a male Cocker named Halfwood Phantom of Saltair, SH (Senior Hunter).

After decades of training top hunting and field champion retrievers, how does the Cocker Spaniel rank with all the other breeds she has worked with?

“They are fantastic field dogs. They love to work and their enthusiasm and animation just make you smile.”

And the highest compliment of all from a breeder and trainer of some of the top Boykin Spaniels in the country:

“My first Cocker was the best dove field dog I ever owned.”

Cocker Trials

Licensed by The American Kennel Club, three field trials for Cocker Spaniels were held  in the Carolinas this year.

The Wateree Spaniel Club SC Cocker Spaniel Field Trial was held Jan. 28-29 at Twickenham Plantation near Beaufort, S.C. The Wateree Spaniel Club has scheduled a Cocker Field Trial at Twickenham next year on Jan. 27-28.

The English Cocker Spaniel Club of America held a Cocker Spaniel Field Trial Jan. 21-22 at East Bend, N.C., and the Central Maine Spaniel Club held a Cocker Spaniel Trial Feb. 16 and 18 at Winnabow, NC. Check the Spaniel Events Calendar on the AKC website to see when those two trials will be scheduled in 2024.

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