The smart, gentle, and happy American Cocker Spaniel is a joy to have in any family. This medium-sized, sturdy dog is ranked as the 31st most popular dog breed in the country by the AKC (American Kennel Club). With its loving personality and adventurous spirit, it’s no wonder that such large amounts of families continue to register this dog year after year.
History of The American Cocker Spaniel
The popularity of the American Cocker Spaniel began with its exhibition in the United States in the 1880s. From the 1930s to the 1950s (and again in the 1980s), the Cocker Spaniel was actually the number one breed in the US registered with the American Kennel Club.
These dogs come from a long line of history, with records of the Spaniel family itself (originally noted as “Spanyell”) going all the way back to the 14th century. The name “Spaniel” (meaning “Spanish dog”) indicates the breed’s possible roots to Spain.
As a hunting dog, the American Cocker Spaniel received its name due to its excellent ability to hunt woodcock, a bird of the sandpiper family. Initially, the American Cocker Spaniel and English Cocker Spaniel were considered to be the same breed due to their likeness and similarities. However, in an effort to maintain each dog’s specific traits and characteristics, breed enthusiasts decided to separate the two into American and English Cocker Spaniels, which the AKC recognized in 1946.
The Cocker Spaniel is part of the AKC’s Sporting Group, which encompasses a number of dogs that are “naturally active and alert.” They also tend to require a fair amount of exercise due to their energetic and work-loving nature.
This breed of dog is sturdy, adaptable, and easily enjoys both outdoor and indoor life. The Cocker Spaniel is loyal, quick to learn, and has a very gentle demeanor.
Physical Traits of The American Cocker Spaniel
The American Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the AKC’s Sporting Group dogs and generally weighs in at around 24 to 28 pounds. On average, male Cockers are 15 inches tall at the shoulder, while females are slightly shorter at 14 inches.
One standout feature aside from the dog’s naturally athletic body is it’s flowing, medium length coat. The Cocker Spaniel’s smooth coat is usually thicker due to the dog’s natural inclination for outdoor activity and can either be flat or somewhat wavy.
Cockers can be found in a multitude of colors. Officially, the breed’s coats are either black, ASCOB (any solid color other than black), or parti-colored (two or more solid colors). Within those terms, though, are a range of colors from jet black, to tan and cream colors, to a combination of all.
Breed Standard of The American Cocker Spaniel
While the above qualities mentioned encompass the average Cocker, some of the American Kennel Club’s standards for the breed dictate the following:
- 15 inches tall for males and 14 inches tall for females (from the shoulder) with a variance of no more than ½ inch above or below
- The length of breastbone to the back of thigh being longer than that from the top of the withers to the ground
- A length of body that allows for a straight and free stride
- Round, full, and forward facing eyes
- A dark brown iris
- Ears not higher than the bottom of the eye
- A rounded head with deep and square jaws
- Teeth that meet in a “scissors” bite
- A coordinated and smooth gait
Coloring Standard of The American Cocker Spaniel
- For black Cockers, the darker the coat, the better. Some white on the chest or throat only is allowed, though.
- ASCOB (any solid color other than black) Cockers can range from a light cream to a dark red in color and can include brown and brown with tan points. The more uniform the color, the better. Again, some white on the chest or throat only is allowed.
- Parti-colored Cocker Spaniels can have two or more solid colors, with one always being white. Acceptable color combinations are black and white, red and white, brown and white, and roans. Tan points can also be present in any color combination.
Tan points can range from a light cream to a dark red and can make up no more than ten percent of the dog’s coloring.
Colors that fall under the AKC’s standard for Cocker Spaniels are:
- Black, black and tan, black and white, black white and tan
- Brown, brown and tan, brown and white, brown white and tan
- Buff, buff, and white
- Red, red and white
- Merle markings
Temperament of The American Cocker Spaniel
As a hunting and Sporting dog, the American Cocker Spaniel needs regular physical exercise. With that being said, daily walks outside are enough to keep the dog happy, as Cockers equally enjoy being indoor dogs.
It’s hard to find a Cocker Spaniel that isn’t content with life. These dogs have an abundance of happiness and enjoy meeting and being sociable with other people and pets.
While Cockers were originally bred to be hunters, they do extremely well living as just another member of the family. While overall temperament and personalities depend on how the dog is trained and raised, most get along well with children, other dogs, and even cats.
Because of their appealing friendliness toward family and strangers alike, the American Cocker Spaniel doesn’t tend to act as a very good “watchdog.” That, however, doesn’t take away from their extreme loyalty and faithfulness to their family.
Cockers tend to be easily trainable and put forth great effort to please their trainer. As a standard, this breed should be trained with a firm focus on positive reinforcement. Their sensitive nature makes Cockers very impressionable and eager for love.
Because of their natural tendency as hunters, Cocker Spaniels will always be aware of birds, both in their own yard and on walks. It’s important that Cocker Spaniels remain on leads while out walking to keep them from taking chase of nearby birds and accidently running into the street.
These dogs tend to thrive when they’re around humans; they often prefer not to be alone. Leaving them indoors and by themselves for too long can lead to separation anxiety and boredom, causing constant barking or destructiveness. While they do well in small spaces, like apartments or condominiums, they have a definite need and desire for human companionship and love.
Physical Abilities of The American Cocker Spaniel
Cocker Spaniels are extremely athletic dogs that love to run and take part in daily walks. They also enjoy swimming, retrieving, and exploring their agility in a multitude of ways. They make wonderful travel partners, as they’re generally up for any new activity their family can think of.
As historical field dogs, Cockers easily and quickly learn to hunt when they’re given the task. The ability comes naturally to the dogs, and they absolutely have the stamina to continue hunting and retrieving all day long.
Cockers have a particular knack for sniffing out and sorting through bird trails, even in dense, thick brush. Being hard, but agile workers have given them a place as “gun dog” in many hunting homes across the country. Their aptitude for tracking and retrieving, combined with their intense desire to please their human companion makes them invaluable partners in the field.
American Cocker Spaniel Health and Care
Cocker Spaniels have a general lifespan of 12 to 15 years and tend to be healthy dogs, overall. With that being said, there are specific health concerns that families of Cockers should be aware of.
Serious health concerns for American Cocker Spaniels can include:
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy - PRA is retinal degeneration with a usual onset between 1 and 8 years of age. The disease can progress over time, leading from night blindness to possible daytime blindness as well.
- Cataracts - Cataracts occur in both humans and dogs. Technically, they’re lens opacities that can eventually require surgery. Often times, though, dogs can still see without needing to surgically remove the cataract.
- Patellar Luxation - PL is a dislocation of the kneecap that can generally be corrected with surgery.
- Glaucoma - Seen in both humans and dogs, glaucoma causes pressure in the eye that can lead to blindness within one year.
- AIHA (autoimmune hemolytic anemia) - AIHA is a condition where the immune system of the dog attacks its blood cells, causing fatigue, jaundice, and liver enlargement. Medical treatment usually controls symptoms.
- Hypothyroidism - Seen in both humans and dogs, hypothyroidism affects the thyroid gland, sometimes causing obesity, fatigue, epilepsy, and skin conditions. Once diagnosed, the disorder is treated with both medication and dietary changes.
- Epilepsy - A disease that can cause mild or severe seizures and require consistent medical treatment.
Lesser health concerns can include problems like:
- Hip dysplasia - Hip dysplasia is a degenerative joint disease that can cause pain and an inability for the hip to properly function.
- Allergies - Common food allergies can lead to itchy and sensitive skin, hair loss, and constant licking or scratching.
- Ear infections - The breed’s long ears make them commonly susceptible to infections of the ear. These can be treated with antibiotics.
- Cherry eye - This disorder causes the dog’s “third eyelid” to extend from the eye as a pink mass and can lead to further eye problems if left untreated.
It’s important that your dog comes from a reputable breeder to avoid bad practices and health concerns later on.
Like any other dog, your Cocker Spaniel will appreciate regular visits to the vet and routine ear checks and cleaning to avoid infections.
Another main point of care for the breed is its long, flowing coat, as it’s often easy to become tangled and matted. Their coat requires regular cleaning and careful brushing, and because of the fineness of their hair, brushing should be gentle and light to maintain fullness (aim for 2 to 3 times per week at minimum). Depending on the preferred hair length, regular clippings are necessary as well(sometimes as frequently as once per month).
Feeding is also to be done with particular care. If left to their own devices, the Cocker Spaniel will likely overeat, causing weight gain and possibly leading to obesity.
The recommended amount of food for the average size Cocker is 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of quality dry dog food per day. Of course, consulting with a vet for each individual dog is important because dietary needs can range from one dog to the next.
Training your American Cocker Spaniel
Cocker Spaniels are easily trained, but it’s important to start young to avoid any bad behavior during adulthood.
The first few months with your Cocker Spaniel puppy are crucial to developing good habits. Cockers truly thrive when they’re able to spend time with their family, and being adamant that they receive that attention as puppies is important. Showing them love and affection will teach them that they’re part of the family and have a place in their home.
Leaving Cocker puppies alone too much during their first few months can cause them to feel neglected and become bored, rambunctious, and constant barkers. Giving the puppy enough exercise, especially when young, will keep their energy levels from fluctuating and becoming too pent up.
Socializing Cocker Spaniels as puppies is also absolutely necessary. While the breed tends to be a naturally social one, not exposing them to other people and animals as puppies can cause them to become timid and shy.
Cockers sometimes tend to bark excessively, even when given sufficient attention and stimulation, so practicing a “quiet” command is a good idea and will likely be easily adopted by the dog.
Because Cocker Spaniels are somewhat sensitive dogs, they train easily and efficiently when given lots of positive reinforcement. Negative reactions can scare the dogs and cause them to pull back or retreat.
The hunting aspect of the breed’s personality might cause them to chase after birds while out on walks. Unless they have complete ability to follow commands while off-lead, keep them on the lead to keep them safe.
The American Cocker Spaniel is a wonderful and hugely popular breed of dog that makes an excellent addition to any family that’s willing to include it. The Cocker will go to the ends of the earth to please its family and finds genuine happiness in simply being along for the ride.
Raising a Cocker Spaniel as a fully inclusive member of the family will form an unending bond that the dog will eagerly cherish. Giving them attention, love, and frequent social interactions will produce mature, happy, and praiseworthy behavior.
Whether the American Cocker Spaniel is raised to be a hunting dog- working in the field, or an indoor pet- living out its days in an apartment, with a solid relationship and the right care, this breed will truly thrive.