- Because Cockers are so popular, it is especially careful to research breeders and find one who is dedicated to improving the breed.
- The sensitive Cocker Spaniel can be a bit nervous, even when he’s from a good breeder and has been properly socialized. Don’t be surprised if your Cocker exhibits submissive urination .
- Cockers can be barkers, so response to a “Quiet” command should always be part of this dog’s repertoire.
- The Cocker is eager to please and likes to be close to his family. But remember, he was bred to be a hunting dog. Don’t be surprised when he chases birds or other small animals when you’re out on a walk. Keep your Cocker on a leash whenever you aren’t in a fenced area.
- The Cocker has a “soft” personality. Harsh training methods will make him fearful, so be sure to use gentle, consistent training to get the best results.
- A Cocker Spaniel’s long ears are both a part of his beauty and a potential health problem. Be sure to check your Cocker’s ears every week for infections.
- Keeping the Cocker coat beautiful is expensive and a lot of work. Plan on paying a professional groomer and on brushing the coat every day.
- To get a healthy pet, never buy a puppy from a backyard breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Find a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs for genetic health conditions and good temperaments.
Breed standardsAKC group: Sporting GroupUKC group: Gun Dog GroupAverage lifespan: 11 – 13 yearsAverage size: 14 – 30 poundsCoat appearance: Silky, straight or slightly wavyColoration: Black, tan, black and tan, sable and various other colorsHypoallergenic: NoOther identifiers: Medium size, dark eyes, low-set feathered ears, docked tailPossible alterations: Coat may be another solid coloration other than black.Comparable Breeds: Brittany, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
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.
There are two modern breeds of cocker spaniel, the English Cocker Spaniel and the American Cocker Spaniel. They were bred as gun dogs; to use their sense of smell to cover low areas near the handler in order to flush birds into the air to be shot, and to use their eyes and nose to locate the bird once downed, and then to retrieve the bird with a soft mouth.The major differences between the English and American varieties is that the American is smaller with a shorter back, a domed head and a shorter muzzle, while the English variety is taller with a narrower head and chest.
Cocker spaniel coats come in a variety of colors including black, liver, red and golden in solids. There are also black and tan, and sometimes liver and tan, as well as a variety of color mixtures of those solid colors including roans, roan and tans, tricolors and those solid colors with additional white markings.
Rare colors can appear unexpectedly in certain lines, for instance while an all-white cocker is usually bred by selective breeding of very light golden strains, they can still appear very uncommonly to parents who are dark colored. A noted occurrence of this happened in 1943, when a grandson of My Own Brucie, Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1940 and 1941, was born all-white.
In its native United States, the American Cocker Spaniel was ranked the 23rd most popular breed according to registration statistics of the AKC in 2009, a decrease in popularity since 1999 when it was ranked 13th. For twenty five years the American Cocker Spaniel was the most popular dog in America. It was ranked number one first in 1936 prior to the English Cocker Spaniel being recognized as a separate breed, and held onto the spot until 1952 when Beagles became the most popular dog. It regained the spot in 1983 and held on at number one until 1990. In the UK, the American Cocker Spaniel is far less popular than its English cousin with 322 registrations compared to the English Cocker’s 22,211 in 2009.
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 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.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
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.
The American Cocker Spaniel generally lives between 12 to 15 years. Some of its serious health problems include progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cataracts, patellar luxation, and glaucoma. Diseases like elbow dysplasia, gastric torsion, and epilepsy can occasionally affect the breed. Other minor health problems that the American Cocker Spaniel suffers from include cardiomyopathy, ectropion, urinary stones, otitis externa, canine hip dysplasia (CHD), hypothyroidism, seborrhea, phosphofructokinase deficiency, entropion, “cherry eye,” liver disease, allergies, and congestive heart failure. In order to identify these conditions early, a veterinarian may recommend hip, knee, thyroid, or eye exams during routine checkups; DNA tests may be used to diagnose a phosphofructokinase deficiency, which may lead to anemia in the dog.
It is important that the American Cocker Spaniel receives regular eye, ear, and feet cleanings to keep them dirt-free. The dog also needs its coat brushed a minimum of two to three times a week, as well as a monthly hair trimming and nail clipping. Its exercise requirements, as with many other dog breeds, can be met with regular walks. And as the American Cocker Spaniel is a social dog that needs constant human companionship, it should be kept indoors to be closer with the family.
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 solution recommended by your veterinarian.
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.
Is this breed right for you?
Often used as a therapy dog, this breed is very intelligent and easy to train. Friendly and extremely affectionate, the Cocker Spaniel makes the perfect companion or family dog. Extremely active, the dog requires daily exercise and play. A luxurious and thick coat, it will need to be groomed regularly. A social animal, it is best that the Cocker Spaniel isn’t left alone much, and although apartment life may be OK if exercised regularly, it is best if it has space to play inside and outside.
Children and other pets
One of the reasons the Cocker Spaniel is so popular is that he makes a good family dog. He gets along well with children — as long as he is raised with them and the kids are kind and respectful to animals. But because he is a sensitive dog, all interactions between the Cocker and children should be supervised by a responsible adult.
The Cocker Spaniel also gets along with other family pets (given proper training and introductions), including dogs, cats, and small animals.
Did You Know?
Former talk show host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey owns two Cocker Spaniels, Sophie and Solomon. In 2010, designer Ralph Lauren custom designed a cashmere sweater the color of Oprah’s Cockers, which she gave away to audience members at her “Favorite Things” extravaganza.
A dream day-in-the-life
The Cocker Spaniel will likely sleep in or around its owner’s bed. Following you around wherever you may go, your shadow will likely be ready for some early-morning game of catch or at least a short walk around the neighborhood. Keep it busy throughout the day with a lot of conversation and breaks for play. Take it for a long walk at the end of the day, and show it lots of love before you turn in for the night.