- Average Height: 14 to 15 inches at the shoulder
- Average Weight: 20 to 30 pounds
- Coloring: Black, red, golden, liver (chocolate), black and tan, or liver and tan
- Coat Type: Medium-length silky coat
- Dog Breed Group: Sporting
- Average Lifespan: 12 to 15 years
Key Personality Traits:
AffectionateGood with KidsActive
The Cocker Spaniel will happily go hunting for birds or hang around the house. He is easily trained, gentle, and playful, and loves splashing around in water. His tail is always wagging whether he’s following a scent or checking to see what’s under the couch.
Before the Golden Retriever and Labrador set the modern bar for the “great with kids” family companion, no breed was more beloved or popular than the Cocker Spaniel. Beautiful, sweet-natured and moderately sized, the Cocker’s popularity bounded happily forward after World War II with the two-time Westminster Best in Show winner Ch. My Own Brucie. At his best, the Cocker is a gentle, affectionate and healthy dog with soft, dark eyes.
Weighing less than 30 pounds (albeit with a tendency to gain more) with a soft, wavy coat in many colors and patterns, long ears and the most expressive eyes in dogdom, the Cocker is an excellent family pet — lively, affectionate, sweet and trainable. But at his worst, he’s a nightmare. Popularity has truly been a curse to the Cocker Spaniel, and he’s one of the favorite breeds of puppy millers, Internet retailers, and pet stores, who sell sad-eyed, floppy-eared, adorable puppies that too often grow up to be unstable, noisy, nervous dogs who are difficult to house train and have a tendency to snap and even bite.
If you’re lucky enough to find a puppy from a good breeder, get him off on the right foot with gentle and consistent training right from the start. A well-bred Cocker should be easy to house train, happy to be with you, and eager to experience new things even if it means walking on a leash, riding in the car, or going to puppy classes.
Because Cocker Spaniels are extremely people-oriented, even the best-bred and socialized dogs tend to be a bit unhappy when left alone. For some, this takes the form of full-blown separation anxiety, with the barking, crying, and destructive behavior that usually accompanies it. Accustom your dog from puppyhood to being left alone from time to time. However, if you expect long hours left on his own to be part of your dog’s usual routine, this is probably not the breed for you.
Cocker Spaniels are typically friendly with other dogs and with cats. They are moderate shedders, and their coats require brushing several times a week. They can also be kept clipped, in which case they’ll need to be professionally or home-groomed every four to six weeks.
While the Cocker Spaniel is on the small side, don’t forget that he is a Sporting breed. Although he doesn’t need the hard-core exercise of some of the other sporting breeds, he still needs to burn off a lot of steam as he could run all day – after all, he’s bred to do so. However, a half hour walk or game of fetching the ball once or twice a day is appropriate, although he’d love to go on longer walks with you. You could also substitute a solid 15 minutes per day of obedience training, which stimulates his mind as well as his body. He’s a busy little guy, sniffing all day to follow a scent.
The different colors within the breed are considered separate varieties. A Black Cocker includes solid black as well as black and tan. The acronym ASCOB stands for “any solid color other than black,” which can include buff, brown, silver, and so on. The parti-color Cocker is either black and white, brown and white, red and white, or tri-color.
Other Quick Facts
- Loving, affectionate and gentle, a well-bred Cocker is a terrific family pet and fits comfortably into any size home.
- A poorly bred Cocker is snappy and afraid of people. This breed is one in which it pays to work with a responsible, experienced breeder.
- The Cocker can compete in field trials, hunt tests, obedience, rally, agility, freestyle, and other forms of dog performance activities. He makes a good therapy dog.
- The Cocker tail is typically docked, or cut short, when puppies are three or four days old. This is a point of controversy to some because it is a cosmetic procedure, although people in the breed note that it helps protect the tail from injury in the field.
- Even well-bred Cockers are sensitive, so it’s important to use positive reinforcement and praise during training.
The History of Cocker Spaniels
References to “Spanyells” date to the 14th century. Different types of spaniels evolved over the centuries, some working on land and some retrieving from water. The Cocker, which flushes game and retrieves it under command, derives his name from his skill at hunting woodcock, a type of wading bird. He is the smallest dog in the Sporting Group.
Spaniels used to be classified by size, and different types of spaniels might be born in the same litter. Eventually, the various spaniel types became individual breeds, and so it was with the Cocker. By 1946 the size and appearance of the Cocker and what is now the English Cocker Spaniel had changed enough that the two were split off into separate breeds.
The popularity of the Cocker skyrocketed after the release of Disney’s classic movie “Lady and the Tramp” in 1955. The immense popularity fueled a rise in poor breeding that resulted in some bad temperaments, but Cocker breeders have worked hard to correct the situation. It is still important today, however, to find a responsible breeder who maintains the breed’s hallmark cheery disposition rather than continuing to put out the fearful and snappish dogs that nearly ruined the breed.
Until 1990, the Cocker was the most popular breed registered by the American Kennel Club. Today he ranks 25th, but he will always have a place among people who appreciate his moderate size, sweet nature and intelligence.
Cocker Spaniel Temperament and Personality
Merry and lively, the Cocker Spaniel is also intelligent and trusting. Although he still retains a strong instinct to hunt, he is most often a house companion. With his family he is affectionate and docile. He can be a bit reserved at first with strangers, but he soon makes friends. Cockers can be good companions for children: not so big that they bowl them over and not so small that they are easily harmed by them. When raised together, they can buddy up with other pets, including cats, but birds may be an irresistible lure — and not in a good way.
The Cocker is highly trainable, but he has a sensitive soul. Early socialization is critical, and even with it some Cockers will urinate submissively when their people come home or when they meet new people or dogs or go new places. Approach training with positive reinforcement methods, especially praise and high value food rewards.
The Cocker can be good at field trials and as a gun dog, although for years he was thought of as “just” a companion. A Cocker is versatile and can do so much more than just hanging around the house, but he’s quite content to do that too because he loves being with you.
Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. In the case of the Cocker, the “teen” years start at six months and continue until the dog is about a year old. His barking can be a problem unless you curb it early.
The perfect Cocker Spaniel doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Cockers have been overbred in the past, sometimes resulting in a fearful, slightly scary dog that in no way represents a well-bred Cocker. Look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
What You Need to Know About Cocker Health
Cocker Spaniels are susceptible to a number of health problems that are at least partly genetic. These include many different eye disorders including cataracts and glaucoma, as well as painful defects of the hips and knees. Just like people, all dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems. Many problems can be avoided by working with a reputable breeder who offers a health guarantee, but even the most responsible breeding practices can’t protect dogs from everything.
The Most Common Health Issues in Cocker Spaniels
Disc disease can make movement painful for the Cocker Spaniel, who is by nature an active dog who loves to run and play. Heart disease, liver disease, epilepsy – the Cocker is at risk for all of them.
The variety of eye problems that can afflict the Cocker Spaniel ranges from the cosmetic – a condition called “cherry eye” that can be corrected by surgery – and the sight-threatening, including cataracts and glaucoma. While many Cockers lose their vision entirely in old age, some can lose their sight as early as two years of age due to progressive retinal atrophy. Cockers are also prone to keratoconjunctivitis sicca, a condition known as dry eye, a deficiency of tears that can lead to corneal problems.
Make sure to have your Cocker Spaniel’s eyes examined once a year by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, and seek veterinary care immediately at any signs of vision loss, cloudiness, redness, irritation of the eyes or if the dog is squinting or pawing at them.
Cockers can also have hypothyroidism, which is the underproduction of thyroid hormone. This can cause weight gain, lethargy, hair loss, shivering and skin infections. Cockers should have their thyroids checked with a simple blood test any time thyroid disease is suspected. Skin problems may also indicate allergies, which are common in the breed, as are skin masses, which may be benign or cancerous.
Some Cocker Spaniels seem to be prone to congenital deafness, associated with white hair and blue eyes. At the age of three or four weeks, in some of these dogs the blood supply to the inner ear degenerates. It can occur in one or both ears and is permanent.
Those long spaniel ears tend to trap warm, moist air inside the ear canals, creating the perfect environment for growth of bacteria and yeast, which lead to ear infections. Ear infections can be chronic in some dogs with long ears, so it’s necessary to stay on top of ear care and clean them religiously. Repeated infections can cause so much damage to the ear canal that the dog will lose his hearing. Severely affected ears may require surgery. Follow-up care is especially important in matters of the ear to prevent new flare-ups of old problems.
Cockers have more autoimmune diseases than many other breeds, for reasons that aren’t clear. Many Cocker Spaniels are prone to autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA), in which the dog’s immune system attacks his own red blood cells to the point that the dog becomes anemic. While there is treatment, the mortality rate is high.
What You Can Do to Prevent Health Issues
Choosing a healthy dog starts with choosing a responsible breeder. There are a number of genetics tests and screenings available to help breeders weed out health issues in their lines. If a breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been “vet checked,” then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about testing.
Before individual Cockers can be included in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database, the ASC requires them to have a clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation or a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist (to check for cataracts, glaucoma, and progressive retinal atrophy); hip evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or PennHIP; a thyroid profile; and a profile for blood factor X and von Willebrand’s disease. You can search the OFA and CHIC websites yourself to see if a pup’s parents are listed.
Your breeder has to agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. Dogs don’t need to earn good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
Beyond preventative testing, remember that you also have the power to protect your Cocker Spaniel from one of the most common health issues: obesity. If you’re looking for the easiest way to extend your Cocker’s life, keep him at a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise.
The Basics of Cocker Grooming
The beautiful, silky Cocker coat that you see on dogs in the show ring doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of work to keep it shiny and tangle-free. For good reason, most people keep their pets in a short cut all over, known as a puppy cut. Even that requires a fair bit of maintenance. Dogs with puppy cuts should be bathed, brushed and trimmed about every two weeks.
If you want the flowing long coat, more care and time must be taken, and typically the bathing, brushing and trimming happens once a week. Most people choose to take their Cocker to a professional groomer, but you can learn to do it yourself. The cost of the equipment is equivalent to only a few grooming sessions, you won’t have to schedule appointments and you will find that you increase your bond with your Cocker. However, grooming isn’t for everyone, so if you don’t want to do it, find a groomer you like because it’s an absolute requirement for a Cocker.
Because Cocker ears are prone to infection, check them weekly to make sure the inside is a healthy, vibrant pink and doesn’t have a foul odor. If not, get to the vet quickly before the ear infection becomes a major issue. Be particularly careful to check the ears of a puppy as there is a significant wax buildup while the ear canal develops. Clean the ears using a vet-approved cleaning solution.
The rest is basic care. Trim the toenails every few weeks. They should never get long enough that you hear them clacking on the floor. Long nails can make it uncomfortable for the Cocker to walk, and they can get caught on things and tear off. That’s really painful, and it will bleed a lot. Brush the teeth frequently for good dental health and fresh breath.
Choosing a Breeder for Your Cocker Spaniel
So, you’ve made the choice to bring home a Cocker Spaniel—awesome! There are many excellent Cocker Spaniel breeders to choose from, and just as many not-so-excellent ones, too. Choosing a reputable breeder is key to finding the right puppy. Knowing how to spot a good one is half of the battle.
What are Signs of a Reputable Breeder?
A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks. Good breeders will:
- Welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and breed history
- Ask their own questions about the type of home you can provide for your Cocker Spaniel
- Prove they are in good standing with The American Spaniel Club, Inc, meaning they have agreed to abide by a particular code of ethics
- Offer a health guarantee on their puppies
- Be able to produce documentation on genetic testing to identify health issues present in their lines
What are Signs of a Bad Breeder?
Unfortunately, there are plenty of Cocker Spaniel breeders who are just out to make a quick buck and do not care about the health and welfare of the dogs they breed. Disreputable breeders may:
- Claim genetic health testing is not necessary because their dogs have never had problems or because they have been “vet checked”
- Seem only interested in how fast they can unload puppies
- Offer your choice of any puppy available online, purchasable sight unseen with a credit card
- Have multiple litters on the premises
Is an Adult Cocker Spaniel Right for You?
Many people dive headfirst into puppy parenthood before understanding the work and commitment involved. An adult Cocker, who is likely more trained, less active and less destructive than a puppy, may better suit your lifestyle. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
Adopting a Cocker Spaniel From a Rescue or Shelter
Adopting a Cocker Spaniel can be a great way to give a deserving dog a new, loving home. From animal shelters, to breed rescues and more, there are several great options for finding an adoptable Cocker Spaniel to bring home.
Head Online. Web Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com have helped thousands of pet owners find the perfect adoptable dog. You can use these site to filter Cocker Spaniels by specific geographic region, and by certain attributes like housetraining status. Also, AnimalShelter is another great website that can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. You may be surprised by what you find!
Talk to the Pet Pros. Vets, dog walkers, and groomers in your area are often more in-the-know about adoptable dogs than the average person. They are commonly the first network someone reaches out to when they make the tough decision to give up a dog. Also, these professionals may have connections with rescue groups and adoption agencies you weren’t aware of.
Talk to Breed Rescue. Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Cocker rescues in your area. Breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The American Spaniel Club’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. These types of rescue groups tend to be transparent about any health conditions the dogs have, making them a valuable resource for advice and support. Even more, they often offer fostering opportunities for dogs in need of a home, which is a great option for people looking to see what the experience of dog ownership is like before fully commiting.
Whether you bring home a puppy from a breeder, an adult from a rescue, or anything in between, take your Cocker to your veterinarian as soon as you can. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
Cocker Spaniel FAQs
Do Cocker Spaniels shed?
When it comes to shedding, Cocker Spaniels most often shed very little or not at all. However, the amount of hair they slough off depends on both the length of hair your Cocker Spaniel has as well as how often you get him groomed. Cockers who shed are more likely to do so around the spring and fall as they transition into or out of their seasonal coats.
Are Cocker Spaniels hypoallergenic?
Despite some anecdotal evidence suggesting otherwise, Cocker Spaniels are not hypoallergenic. Though Cockers tend to shed very little, this does not prevent allergy sufferers from being affected as the allergens exist in a dog’s dander, not his hair.
How long do Cocker Spaniels live?
The average lifespan for a Cocker Spaniel is between 12 and 15 years
How big do Cocker Spaniels get?
Adult Cocker Spaniels usually grow to be 14 to 15 inches at the shoulder, and weigh between 20 and 30 pounds.
Are Cocker Spaniels smart?
Yes, Cocker Spaniels are known to be incredibly smart dogs that are highly trainable. This intelligence is due in part to its lineage as a working breed. Cocker Spaniels respond well to positive reinforcement training methods, and love to be put to work.