Cocker Spaniel Breed Guide

Breed Group:
Sporting Dogs

Middle Age: 6 years

Geriatric Age: 12 years

Life Span: 12 to 15 years

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Cocker Spaniel History & Background Information

The Cocker Spaniel originated in Spain—a descendant of the Spaniel family—and the breed’s lineage dates far enough that we don’t have any record of their starting point. What we do know, is that in the 19th century, there were two types of Spaniels; home-dog, companion types, and hunting dogs. The Cocker Spaniel, a hunting type, took its name in particular due to the dog’s dexterity in hunting woodcock.

Throughout the 19th century, Spaniels were a broad breed with multiple different sub-categories. It was only in 1892 that the Cocker Spaniel was first recognized as an independent breed. It’s around this same time that Cocker Spaniels were imported to the US, where they gained immediate popularity. Due to the immense amount of Spaniels in the US (and the different breeders producing all sorts of variations), the breed wasn’t as refined as you might think.

Only in the early 20th century did we begin to see the rise of the Cocker Spaniel we know today. After a few smaller, homier Cocker Spaniels took to the publics’ eye, that’s when this variation of the dog became favored. Which then led to the AKC, post WWII, recognizing two different breeds; the English Cocker Spaniel, which paid more homage to a hunting dog, and the American Cocker Spaniel, which is the big-eared little people-lover we know so well today.

The AKC officially recognized the American Cocker Spaniel in 1946.

Cocker Spaniel Temperament & Personality

Purebred Cocker Spaniels are famous for their level-headed temperaments, and overtly affectionate characteristics. They’re by all means a family dog whose one quest in life is to love and be loved. Often integrated deeply into the family, they love doing anything that involves family activity or those dearest to them. A Cocker Spaniel’s temperament makes them cuddly dogs that love to play and jump around. Also, for being a smaller dog, they actually prove to be quite active.

However, despite their affection and enthusiasm for life, these dogs can be sensitive. They’re naturally a bit fickle and will crumble beneath an angry owner. They can become introverted and even resort to aggression if they feel their sense of security has been removed, or if they feel at all threatened. Their bubbly sense of joy can easily be replaced with timidity if not properly raised. Due to this volatility, Cocker Spaniels—way beyond most breeds—need profound care and attention.

Training a Cocker Spaniel

For all of you apartment or condo owners (or renters), rest assured; the Cocker Spaniel is perfectly suitable to live in smaller homes. Naturally docile and level-headed, they’re an easy breed to housebreak. Puppy classes and crate training are the most effective ways to create a well-behaved Cocker Spaniel in the home. Early socialization, like with all breeds, is a key component in their training as well.

In terms of training, positive reinforcement is everything. These sensitive creatures will withdraw if they’re scolded or domineered. They don’t like being yelled at or punished. Instead, an owner should use a reward system when training a Cocker Spaniel. Praise, treats, a favorite toy, and additional playtime are all fantastic methods to ensure your Cocker Spaniel is ‘doing the right thing.’

Aside from that, do note that this breed has a tendency to be a bit more of a handful than people expect. Although they’re not hunting dogs anymore, it’s still in their blood, and sometimes they’ll have a lot of energy in their puppy years. These relatively intelligent dogs will need an ample amount of physical and mental stimulation. If not stimulated, they’ll grow bored, and when a Cocker Spaniel is bored they tend to bark a lot and become destructive.

Exercise Requirements for Cocker Spaniels

Dependent on your Cocker Spaniel, this breed generally needs about thirty minutes of exercise a day, with a few brisk walks sprinkled between. Similar to Labradors, the Cocker Spaniel can either be hyperactive or a bit more lethargic and stagnant. The important fact to remember is that once this breed was considered hunting dogs. They’ll often act as such, and need an avenue to release their pent up energy. Give them a yard to play around in and watch them sniff out the entire area, chase birds, and dig holes.

The Cocker Spaniel likes to play with toys, their owner, and other animals. Take them off their leash and they’ll often stick close to their owners and trot beside them elegantly. Use the time of exercise to not only work their bodies but to engage them intellectually as well. It’s a perfect time to teach them commands, tricks, new games, and reinforce their obedience training.

A Cocker Spaniel tends to be glutinous about their food, and a bit lethargic when it comes to being active, making them prone to obesity. It’s important to note that as these dog’s age, motivation for the outdoors and exercise can often rest solely on the shoulders of the owner.

Cocker Spaniel Lifespan & Longevity

A Cocker Spaniel life expectancy is generally anywhere from 12-15 years.

Cocker Spaniel Breed Popularity

The Cocker Spaniel ranks 29th on the AKC’s most popular list of 155 registered dog breeds. They’re naturally loving, affectionate, and homey. Not to mention that a purebred Cocker Spaniel is an amazing addition to a family with children. They’re patient and gentle with youngsters, making them an all-around family dog. Problem is, with such a demand for Cocker Spaniels, breeders often produce litters with no regard to consistency, health clearances, and temperaments. For every true Cocker Spaniel bred, there’s also one that does not meet the breed’s reputation, keeping them out of the top ten.

Feeding Requirements for Cocker Spaniels

The Cocker Spaniel should eat anywhere from 1-3 cups of dry food per day, broken into two equal meals. These dogs are glutinous about their food, meaning they’ll overeat and under exercise if given the chance. It’s important as the owner to mitigate weight gain by administering consistent proportions of food, while still motivating their canine to exercise.

As with all dogs, age, metabolism, and weight are also important factors to consider when administering a balanced diet. Keep a close eye on your Cocker Spaniel to ensure that they don’t become obese. An obese Cocker Spaniel is an unhealthy one (they also have a hard time losing weight even if motivated, so it’s better to negate weight gain entirely).

Grooming a Cocker Spaniel

The Cocker Spaniel really takes the cake in the aesthetic department. Their gorgeous coats—which are often wavy—grow thick and short on their heads and back, then shorten in all the other areas. They come in an array of different colors, with light cream and black being the most popular. But as we all know, beauty is work and Cocker Spaniels are no exception to this rule.

If you want your Cocker Spaniel to be as handsome or elegant as can be, you’ll probably have to budget for it. Professional groomers charge a lot to groom the delicate and time-consuming breed. The point is: it’s not cheap.

At the very least, they should be brushed daily at home to keep the coat straight and untangled, as well as to mitigate shedding. Especially in their formative years, as these dogs have a reputation for being prissy and sassy on the groomer’s table. Bathe them once every two months and use shampoos that won’t eradicate their coat’s natural oils.

In terms of hygiene, their teeth should be brushed 2-3 times a week to avoid tartar and bacteria buildups. Their nails need to be trimmed monthly, as they won’t wear naturally. Probe their eyes, nose, ears, mouths, and bodies for any redness, inflammation, infection, or parasites. Pay particular attention to their ears, as the large and floppy design can often be the stomping grounds for bacteria or infection.

Are Cocker Spaniels Good with Children?

The Cocker Spaniel—when raised properly—is a perfect fit for a household with children. Their naturally affectionate demeanors and patience make them both loving and kind to the little ones. As with all dogs, it’s important that a healthy relationship is developed between the children and the canine, they’re introduced early on, and disciplined on the proper ways to interact with one another.

As stated previously, the Cocker Spaniel can be sensitive and will react poorly to a child’s aggression (especially because children don’t usually understand how their actions are received). So long as the Cocker Spaniel experiences early socialization, and meets the youngsters in his/her puppy years, they’ll be a perfect and loyal companion.

Cocker Spaniel Health Issues

Cocker Spaniels—with their 12-15 year life expectancy—are generally healthy dogs. They live long and don’t experience many health problems. But this doesn’t make them immune to health problems. It is extremely important that the breeder can provide health clearances—administered by certified establishments—for both the parents. Although it’s rarely the case, the conditions that can afflict a Cocker Spaniel are as follows:

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): historically, Cocker Spaniels are more prone to eye conditions than most other breeds, PRA being one of them. It occurs when the photoreceptors in the back of the eye begin to fail, which first causes night blindness, and eventually leads to complete loss of eyesight. However, PRA can be diagnosed in the early stages before blindness, thus giving both the dog and the owner time to adjust.

Cataracts: this potentially severe condition occurs when there is a cloudy film that forms over the eye lens. It ranges from impairing eyesight, not impairing eyesight at all, or causing blindness. There are treatments available for this condition, and they’re often successful.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA): this condition occurs when the dog’s immune system becomes, for lack of a better explanation, suicidal. Basically, the immune system will target the dog’s own, healthy blood cells, thus causing excessive harm to their organs. Symptoms range from discolored gums, all the way to an enlarged liver. However, the treatments for this condition are usually successful.

Hypothyroidism: this condition occurs when the thyroid gland either does not operate properly or develops abnormally. Symptoms range from hair loss and obesity to the manifestation of epilepsy. Treatments come in both medication or dietary forms and can be successful.

Hip Dysplasia: this condition occurs when there’s a displacement between the thigh bone and the hip joint. This separation causes severe pain, difficulty walking, lameness in the leg(s), and at worst mobility. It can be screened for, however, which only adds to the importance of the parent canines’ health clearances. There are treatments for this condition and often the dog will adjust its gait to compensate for the weak leg and live a normal life.

Other Resources

National breed website: The American Spaniel Club
Rescues: Cocker Spaniel Rescue 

Health Issues Associated with this Breed: