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Cocker Spaniel Intelligence: How Smart Are These Dogs?

When it comes to Cocker Spaniel intelligence, over 30 years with the breed has shown me that they are very smart, intelligent dogs. Used historically for hunting, they are quick learners who love to please dog owners.

All dogs are smart in their own unique ways. Intelligence does not automatically make for a good pet. To bring out your dog’s natural smarts, you should study the breed or do a DNA test and determine what breeds comprise your dog. 

Just like humans, who can be tested with IQ tests and the like, some people don’t do well with tests while others do. One person might be academically smart but isn’t handy with hands-on projects. Dogs are very similar. 

As a devotee of Cocker Spaniels, I can attest that they have high intelligence and respond to positive reinforcement techniques when training. For as smart as they are, they are also sensitive dogs, which we will explore more throughout this piece.

Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I am also an Etsy and Chewy affiliate.

Cocker Spaniel Intelligence: How Smart Are These Dogs?

Cocker Spaniels are the smallest of the American Kennel Club’s Sporting breed. Both American Cockers and English Cockers were originally bred as hunting dogs. Being skilled at hunting for a type of bird called the ‘woodcock,’ these gun dogs have wrapped themselves around their owners’ hearts. 

Since the Cocker was bred for hunting, consider this specific job in her overall intelligence factor. In addition to being bred for a specific job, other canine intelligence markers include:

  • Easy to train
  • Can concentrate for periods of time 
  • Devoted to their owner(s)
  • Chatty (if the barking indicates a drive to succeed)
  • Fond of people in general 
  • Memory skills (ability to recall things)
  • Ability to learn and understand voice commands  and/or hand signals
  • They can manipulate you into things in the most amazingly cute ways
  • Ability to understand spatial problems like puzzle games, where items are kept, etc.
  • Retains many words and can recall them easily (ball, treat, play, etc)

One of the key researchers in the field of animal cognition is Professor Alexandra Horowitz, author of several books on dogs. She notes dogs are very attentive and responsive to people, which she considers a great social cognitive skill. 

“Dog-cognition researchers do not study ‘intelligence’ per se; we look at different aspects of cognition,” Professor Horowitz shares. 

dog plays with dog tornado

What is Dog Cognition? 

Canine cognition involves studying a dog’s mind. From a higher level, cognition involves the way dogs acquire, process, and store information and the conceptual skills that inform behavior, such as sensing, perceiving, learning, remembering, and reasoning. 

At Horowitz’s research labs, she and her team study cognition through what a dog smells. Why does this matter? Well, in her own words, Horowitz says,

“We admire the dog’s olfactory acuity, and we should: dogs have hundreds of millions more olfactory receptors, the cells at the back of the nose that grab odors out of the air, than we do. They have two dedicated, separate routes in their snouts for sniffing and breathing; they have elaborate bones in their nose that hold yet more olfactory tissue; they even exhale out the side slits of their nostrils in order not to disturb the odors coming in.

And as the performance of dogs that do tracking, search-and-rescue, and other detection tasks, they can use their highly sensitive olfactory instruments to locate substances that we never even thought had an odor: cancerous cells; minute quantities of TNT; the day-old footprint left by a missing person.”

Cognition is a lot more than how your dog does or doesn’t react to being told to ‘sit’ or ‘stay.’

Consider that dogs, including Cocker Spaniels, are detecting things like cancer, diabetes, and COVID from smell alone.

FUN FACT: The part of the dog’s brain that analyzes smells is about 40 times larger than ours.

What Is A Cocker Spaniel Personality Like? 

There are two types of Cockers – the English Cocker Spaniel and the American Cocker Spaniel. Most Cocker fanciers agree that both breeds are sweet-natured, fun, and intelligent. I send that motion.

As I wrote in “Is a Cocker Spaniel Right For Me,” the Cocker personality is one that thrives with his pack. They are overrepresented in the separation anxiety category, but they love to please. 

The Cocker Spaniel’s official breed description includes, “above all, they must be merry.” 

Of special note, Cocker Spaniels are notorious foodies who love to please. Just be careful not to over-treat them.

How Can I Make My Cocker Spaniel Smarter?

If you have a Cocker Spaniel puppy, now is a great time to work on cognition and behavioral training. Teaching a new trick or new command to these quick learners is great for bonding, too.

Pro Tip: Early socialization with other dogs and people is important for the merry Cocker Spaniel.

Over the past 30+ years raising Cocker Spaniels from puppyhood on up, we make sure to do 100 things with our puppy in 100 days. You can also access a printable version of the list by visiting my link. 

Adult Cocker Spaniels can be trained and taught new things at any stage of their life. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Use positive reinforcement.
  • Never force a dog to do something.
  • Start slow.
  • Work in short bursts- no more than 10 to 15 minutes and always end on a positive note.
  • Don’t get frustrated or mad at the dog: Patience is the most important thing.
  • Introduce your dogs to others at a young age. If your dog is older, consider talking to a positive reinforcement animal behaviorist.
  • No matter your dog’s age, keep them mentally happy and engaged. One of the greatest joys of being a dog parent is bonding with your dog. Keep their friendly nature intact.
  • Never spank or yell at your dog for not doing something. Not only is this cruel, but you teach your dog what a bully you are. Harsh treatment is a no-no with any dog.

Cocker Spaniels are a very sensitive breed. Your dog may wind up being a title holder, trick dog, pro at rally, a show dog, or something in between. Cockers, like people, are unique individuals.

Decide what you want to do with your Cocker Spaniel and then slowly get started. The next section outlines things you can try with your Cocker. 

The goal isn’t to make them smarter but to help them be the best version of themselves and live their best life. 

Activities To Consider With Cocker Spaniels

If your dog shows little to no interest in an activity, don’t force him to engage. Imagine if you hate playing football and your dad ‘makes’ you play. You really want to be dancing, but your dad says no. One look into those expressive eyes, and your Cocker will show you what they do and don’t like.

Dog brain games and puzzlesInteractive toys that require dogs to move and/or remove parts to access treats. Examples are Nina Ottosson and Outward Hound games and Kong treat dispensers.
Training and CommandsTeaching your dog to follow certain words in exchange for a reward (treat or praise.)
Interactive PlayTaking the time to engage with your dog in fun play one on one.
Nose WorkTeaching your dog to use their sense of smell to locate hidden objects or treats.
Socialization Introducing your dog to different people, animals, and situations
Physical ExerciseA healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body, so provide regular exercise.
Competitive ObedienceTeaching a dog to respond to specific commands or cues in a consistent and reliable manner and consider an obedience test.
Agility Dog agility is a competitive sport and recreational activity involving dogs navigating through an obstacle course quickly and precisely.
Flyball Flyball is one of the fast-paced dog sports that involves teams of dogs racing against each other in relay-style competitions.
Tracking A dog sport and training activity that utilizes a dog’s natural scenting abilities to follow and locate specific scents or tracks.
Dock DivingAlso known as dock jumping, is a popular dog sport that involves dogs leaping into a body of water from a dock or platform. The objective is for the dog to achieve the greatest distance or height when jumping into the water.
Dancing Also known as canine freestyle or musical canine freestyle, is a performance sport that involves choreographed routines performed by a dog and their handler to music. I did this with my Cocker Spaniel at home for fun.
Indoor games like hide-and-seekThis is a fun, indoor activity where one person hides with a treat and another person waits with the dog. Learn to play canine hide and seek.
Change up your walking routineTake a different route and let your dog go on a ‘sniffari’ where he or she can take in all the different scents of a new route.
Take trips and visit new places togetherDogs, like people, may become bored without being exposed to new things. I highly recommend traveling with your dog. New situations, sights, and sniffs are good for the body, mind, and soul.
Play the shell gameAlso known as the cup game or shell and ball game, is a mental stimulation game for dogs that involves hiding a treat or toy under one of several cups or containers and then having the dog find the hidden item. This also helps bring out their playful nature.
Train for Canine Good CitizenCGC is a certification program offered by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in the United States. It is designed to promote responsible dog ownership and good manners in dogs. It also strengthens the human-animal bond.
Train for Trick Dog titlesOffered by the AKC, this titling program allows dogs to earn titles based on their proficiency in performing a variety of tricks and skills. The program aims to showcase the training, skill, and bond between dogs and their handlers. Here’s how trick titles instill canine confidence.
Teach them the names of toys The more toys you can teach, the more fun you can have. Be reasonable about it.
Spend quality bonding time with your dogThere is nothing better than spending one-on-one time with your Cocker Spaniel telling them how wonderful they are. This creates strong bonds.

How Can I Test My Cocker Spaniel’s Intelligence?

Back in the day, I decided to see what my first Cocker Spaniel’s IQ was. I purchased a book called The Dog IQ Test by Melissa Miller. It was a lot of fun, and Brandy Noel proved to be smarter than an average dog. 

These days, there are many books you can purchase, including Test Your Dog’s IQ: Genius Edition by Rachel Federman. 

A company named Dognition offers fun, paid, science-based games to help reveal how your dog sees the world. 

I tried Dognition with my second Cocker Spaniel, Dexter. It was a lot of fun, and since we took the tests, the company offers different pricing for different packages. 

True Story About Improving a Cocker’s Intelligence 

I recall dog-sitting for Cocker Spaniel owners about a decade ago. When they picked the dogs up after 10 days, they were shocked by the things we taught them in their absence.

“Ricky isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed,” I recall his owner telling me. 

For me, there is no such thing as a ‘dumb dog,’ just a lazy owner. All dogs have a level of intelligence; humans need to tap into that dog’s cognition and work with them.

We didn’t teach these excellent companions anything extraordinary. We simply taught them basic things like sit, stay, fetch, drop, and a few other things. We used positive reinforcement, lots of praise, and treats.

As they left our home that day, poor Ricky cried to stay behind. I advised his owners to work with both dogs, as they were smart, eager to please, and very good-natured. 

How I Kept My Cocker Spaniels’ Minds Active

Each of my Cocker Spaniel was/is smart, and they each had unique activities they loved. My Brandy Noel loved to play indoors with toys and carry a stick when she went for daily walks.

Dexter was a renaissance dog who loved people and engaging in everything with us, his moms. He left this world with his four titles: Canine Good Citizen, AKC Trick Dog Novice, AKC Trick Dog Intermediate, and keeper of my heart. We also did doggy dancing for fun at home and to keep in mental and physical shape.

Our Alvin is very active and curious. He knows many doggy commands, and loves the outdoors, and at 18 months old, he holds the AKC Trick Dog Novice and AKC Trick Dog Intermediate titles. We do these things for fun and because he is part of the family.

As my Cockers aged, I adjusted what we did according to their physical limits. We always got outside, sometimes with the help of a dog stroller. Dogs, like people, will languish if left to sleep all day and night. One of my favorite games is to play wrestle with my Cocker Spaniels. They all had a blast, and so did I.

I expose all my Cocker Spaniels to a variety of people and situations and give them physical and mental stimulation throughout their lives.

FUN FACT: Most experts in our research admit Cocker Spaniels are among the more intelligent dog breeds. They are problem solvers who are eager to please.

Want to Know More About Cocker Spaniels?

Here are a few articles we penned about this intelligent breed:

Are Cocker Spaniels High Maintenance Dogs?

Are Cocker Spaniels Hypoallergenic?

Cocker Spaniel Personalities

Are Cocker Spaniels smart dogs?


  1. Great read on Cocker Spaniels! They indeed are smart dogs. I enjoyed your piece on the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. It’s fascinating to learn about different breeds and their traits. Keep up the good work!

  2. I think cocker spaniels are definitely smart dogs! They’re very active and love to play, which makes them great companions. They’re also very loyal and protective of their owners, which is a trait that many people find very appealing

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