Cocker Spaniel

Breed At A Glance


Joyful, trusting and social

Life Expectancy
12-15 years

Average Height
14-16 inches

Average Weight
15-30 lbs

Coat Color
Buff, black, and other solid colors, black and tan, or parti-colored

Coat Length/Texture
Medium length, silky and feathered

Shedding Propensity
Consistent year round

Also known as American Cocker Spaniel

General Temperament

The Cocker Spaniel is a gentle and happy breed that loves to be around people, qualities that have given it status as one of the most popular breeds for many years. They enjoy work as a hunting dog as much as they enjoy being companion pets. Their patient, affectionate nature and ability to adapt makes Cockers great pets for families with children. They can be just as happy in an apartment as a house with a yard, as long as they are given long daily walks and enough indoor activity. Like most breeds, they can become obese if allowed to be a couch potato.

Cockers are eager to please and are normally easy to obedience train, although they can be difficult to housebreak. They don’t challenge the authority of their owner. They are sensitive dogs and harsh training techniques can inspire fear easily in this breed. They also require socialization at an early age to minimize shyness, but generally get along well with other dogs and household pets. Overbreeding of this popular dog has lead to some wide variations in the breed’s temperament, so it’s important to avoid irresponsibly bred puppy-mill Cocker Spaniels. A Cocker Spaniel should never be snappy, nervous, high-strung or difficult to handle.

Breed History

The smallest of the American sporting spaniels, the Cocker Spaniel derives it’s name from it’s use in hunting woodcock in England, although it is now used to hunt a variety of upland birds and waterfowl.

The Cocker Spaniel was brought over to the U.S. from the United Kingdom in the 1880’s. They evolved in this country into a breed that is different enough in type, size, and coloring from its British counterpart that in 1946 the American Kennel Club recognized both as separate breeds.

Body Structure and Composition

The Cocker Spaniel has very long hanging ears, a rounded head, and a silky, feathered, medium-length coat (although the coat appears long on such a small dog). The muzzle is wide, deep and broad with a square jaw and dark, expressive eyes set so that they look straight forward. The body is compact, with a short back. The coat comes in buff, black, and other solid colors, black-and-tan, parti-color (white with black, white with buff or red, white with black and tan points). It’s constantly wagging tail is usually docked to 2/5 of it’s original length, and the dewclaws on front and rear legs are sometimes removed (although both of these practices are not essential to the dog, and have even been outlawed in some countries).

Medical Information

Unfortunately, due to excessive and irresponsible breeding, the Cocker Spaniel is prone to many health issues.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) and Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA) can affect Cocker Spaniels very suddenly and is often fatal. Both of these hemophilic diseases attack and eliminate the red blood cells, and can work extremely quickly. The symptoms can be extremely subtle, and include lethargy, weakness walking up stairs, depression, blood in urine or stool, vomiting, refusing food and treats, pale gums and inside of ears, yellow eyes (jaundice), labored breathing, and increased heart rate and temperature. These conditions can be treated, but treatment can be extensive and costly, and if discovered too late, they can be fatal. In some cases, the hemophilia can be a symptom of a larger problem, such as tumors or liver disease.

Epilepsy (a common chronic neurological disorder that is characterized by recurrent unprovoked seizures) sometimes occurs in Cocker Spaniels, but can be controlled with medication. Hypothyroidism – which causes underactivity of the thyroid gland and can cause lethargy, weight gain, skin infection and hair loss, cold intolerance, chronic ear infections or severe behavioral changes – can also be experienced the Cocker, but can be controlled with proper treatment .

Cockers are prone to ear problems, whether from trapped vegetative matter, mites, or infection. Discomfort from these conditions can lead the dog to shake his head frequently and sometimes violently, which can cause small blood vessels to burst and form a hematoma, which may need to be lanced. To prevent ear problems, check the ears every day. In addition, Cockers should be fed in deep, narrow bowls that allow them to eat and drink without getting their ears into the food or water.

Several eye maladies also affect Cocker Spaniels, including cataracts, glaucoma, and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), a degeneration of cells of the retina that eventually leads to loss of sight. Cockers also have a propensity towards developing skin problems, such as food-related allergies and Primary Seborrhea, a condition caused by overproduction of skin cells including sebaceous (oil) cells. The trunk, back, and ears are most commonly affected, and causes intense itching. Both of these skin-related conditions can be controlled through proper care.

Regularly trimming a Cocker Spaniel is a necessity, although the style depends entirely on the owner’s preferences. Some prefer to keep the Cocker’s fur long with just some occasional trimming; others like to keep them in a “puppy cut” where the fur is cut shorter all over to be more functional. Daily brushing is essential, especially if the dog is allowed id frequently outdoors where they enjoy running through thickets and fields, picking up seed heads and bits of shrubs and weeds that can cause the coat to tangle and mat. Cockers also have lip folds where bacterial infections can form, and it is important to regularly clean these folds with a mild antiseptic solution to help ward off infection.

Anecdotal Information

Lady, the demure heroine from Lady and the Tramp, is a Cocker Spaniel.

The American Cocker Spaniel is a very iconic dog that has been a beloved pet for many famous people (Richard Nixon, Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth Barret Browning, etc.), and has starred in commercial campaigns for companies such as Coppertone and Tim Hortons doughnuts.

Although they are not often used as hunting dogs these days, Cockers also do well in the sport of agility, and many enjoy playing Frisbee.

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