If you are debating getting a Cocker Spaniel vs Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, they are two distinct breeds with unique qualities and characteristics. They both have Spaniel in their official American Kennel Club (AKC) breed name, but they are very different dogs.
The Cocker Spaniel is broken up into two separate and distinct breeds, but they are both members of the AKC’s Sporting Group. The AKC officially recognized the Cocker Spaniel in 1946 with the American Cocker Spaniel.
Prior to this date, there was no specific distinction between the American Cocker Spaniel and the English Cocker Spaniel varieties. Since breed standards and breeding objectives differed, the AKC split them into American versus English.
I’ve been a Cocker Spaniel pet parent for over three decades and am familiar with the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed. We’ve also interviewed some Cavalier pet parents specifically for this article.
While out on a daily walk my Cocker, I am often asked if he is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. After explaining he is not, folks are often confused and ask the difference. Although my Cocker is a tri-color American Cocker Spaniel, he shares some features and colors with Cavaliers.
Many breed differences exist despite Cocker Spaniels and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels being small-to-medium-sized dog breeds. In the following sections, we’ll share the differences between American Cockers, English Cockers, and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Cocker Spaniel vs Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Looking at the American Cocker Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, there are obvious physical differences in their outward appearances.
Of note: The true King Charles Spaniel is also called the English Toy Spaniel, but that is a different breed. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a British breed toy dog. The Cavalier is slightly larger while the King Charles is a bit smaller.
American Cockers are small-to-medium sized and generally weigh around 20 to 30 pounds. Females tend to be smaller and weigh less than their male counterparts.
Their heads are rounded, and they are known for their long, droopy ears and almond-shaped or round beautiful eyes. Their tails are generally docked per the breed standard. They are a member of the AKC Sporting Group.
Fun fact: My current male American Cocker Spaniel, Alvin, is the smallest male Cocker I’ve owned. He is 23 pounds, an ideal weight, and is what I would call the smaller size of medium.
English Cockers are also small to medium, but they weigh between 26 and 34 pounds on average. Their heads are more refined, and their muzzle is much longer and slender than the American Cocker Spaniel.
Their tails are generally kept long, with moderately long ears and almond-shaped eyes. They are a member of the AKC Sporting Group.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dogs are smaller and weigh between 13 and 18 pounds. They generally stand around 13 inches high and have large, round eyes with a feathered, longer tail.
Their heads are flat, and they have a regal, cute appearance. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a member of the AKC Toy Group.
Breed Differences Explained
Here’s a complete overview of what you need to know about each breed before taking the leap and welcoming one (or more) into your life.
What Health Conditions Does Each Breed Have?
This section could be a book, to be honest. Cocker Spaniels, both English and American and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, have health problems to which they are prone. All breeds have health issues, even mixed breeds.
However, Cockers and Cavaliers are over-represented in certain conditions. For that reason alone, they are not a beginner breed unless you are prepared to watch for certain health issues and plan to stay ahead of things so they don’t snowball.
It does not mean your dog will be affected by these conditions, but each of these breeds is prone to them.
American Cocker Spaniels
- Ear infections
- Food and environmental sensitivities
- Immune system disorders (IMHA, IMT, etc.)
- Cushings Disease and Addisons Disease
- Mast cell tumor and skin lumps/bumps
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)
- Glaucoma and other eye issues including cherry eye
- Thyroid disease
- ACL tears, patellar luxations
English Cocker Spaniels
- Patellar luxations
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)
- Juvenile-onset renal failure
- Ear issues
- Skin infections
- Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD)
- Blood clotting diseases
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
- Syringomyelia (neurological condition)
- Mitral valve heart disease (most common cause of death in the breed)
- Patellar luxation
- Hip dysplasia
- Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
- Ichthyosis (causes thick pads and dry, flaky skin)
As we wrote in our article about the differences between American Cockers and English Cockers, Spaniels, in general, originated during medieval Spain times and traveled to Canada, England, and the United States. The American Kennel Club indicates the first Spaniel came over on the Mayflower and was first registered with the AKC in 1878.
In 1883, England’s Kennel Club recognized the Cocker Spaniel as a separate breed from other Spaniels. Not until 1936 did the American Spaniel Club, of which I am a member, separate Cockers into the English Cocker Spaniel and the American Cocker Spaniel.
As the breed’s name indicates, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel gets its name from King Charles II of Great Britain. The King’s father and his supporters were called Cavaliers throughout the English Civil Wars, and the name stuck. King Charles II is believed to have taken his Spaniels everywhere, which is why they are depicted as lap warmers next to the aristocracy.
American Cocker Spaniel
One look at the American Cocker Spaniel’s head and muzzle, and you recognize the breed. They are more of a medium-sized breed, but some are smaller. American Cocker ears are long, low, and feathered. Tails are mostly docked, and the coat appearance is flat to slightly wavy.
Their faces are expressive and sweet, and their eyes are dark and round. For breed aficionados, their topline (back) slopes slightly. This breed has a longer coat the English Cocker.
English Cocker Spaniel
More of a true medium-sized breed, the ECS (English Cocker Spaniel) has a deep chest, dense water coat, and a longer, more slender muzzle than the American Cocker.
The head is well-proportioned, and their tails are generally left longer. Unlike the American Cocker, the ECS topline tends to be level, making them appear overall balanced. The ECS is a truly beautiful dog.
While covering the Beverly Hills Dog Show in California, my assistant and Cocker-loving friend, Naomi Lukaszewski, and I watched the English Cockers in the ring. We commented how they all seemed like proper little English gentlemen and ladies.
Fun fact: The point on a dog where the forehead meets the muzzle is called the stop.
King Charles Spaniel
“Cavvies” are small dogs compared to Cocker Spaniels. At first glance, you’ll notice these toys dogs are about 12 to 13 inches in height and has a moderately sized muzzle. The face of the Cavalier is also well-proportioned with a slightly round head.
Comparatively, American Cockers are between 13-½ and 15-½ inches and English Cockers are around 15 to 17 inches tall measured at the shoulders.
The temperament of any dog refers to their overall emotional and behavioral characteristics. Temperament can be influenced by a lot of factors. These include genetics, early socialization, training with positive reinforcement, and how the dog is raised.
They each will have different personalities. Just like people, some Spaniels are more outgoing and love playing with others and some don’t. Overall, however, here’s the scoop.
The American Cocker Spaniel has the word ‘merry’ in its actual breed standard. The American Spaniel Club says the breed must be “free and merry,” so the temperament is exceptional. Every American Cocker I’ve owned has been gentle, easy-going, funny, inquisitive, loving, and devoted to me and my spouse.
They lean towards separation anxiety and can be needy, but with the right pet parent and dedication, you’ll have a wonderful dog with a loving temperament.
English Cockers are cheerful, playful, and are friendly dogs towards people. They may be a little reserved at first, but so can American Cockers. Of all the English Cockers I’ve been around, they are personable and people pleasers.
The overall temperament of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels is affectionate and loving. They indulge their pet parents with love and devotion, which isn’t surprising considering they were bred to be lap dogs. The Cavvie is loyal, sociable, and eager to please.
Fun Fact: Each of these breeds are popular dogs. In terms of registrations in 2022, the AKC ranks American Cockers at 29, English Cockers at 40, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels at 14.
All dogs need exercise, both mentally and physically. When we speak of exercise, we are referring to both.
American Cocker Spaniel: American Cockers love to learn and please. At least one to two 30-minute walks a day will suffice, but spending at least two half-hour sessions with you one-on-one is ideal. Cockers love to play and engage with their pack.
English Cocker Spaniels: Like ACS, the English Cocker likes walks, play sessions, and time with their pack. Consider their age and overall health with all dogs when considering exercise needs. Mental stimulation is something all dogs require for life.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Although the breed is smaller, they should still have one or two 20- to 30-minute walks daily, along with interactive play sessions.
Many Spaniels, both Cocker and Cavalier, enjoy competing in canine athletics like flyball, agility, lure, and dog dance. Some Spaniels may like swimming, while others have a disdain for the water.
When the weather is cold or rainy outside, or I am looking for some indoor fun, here are 101 things you can do with your dogs indoors.
Personality and Traits
Here are the adjectives that best describe each of these breeds based on my personal experience, interviews with hundreds of Spaniel parents, and what the breed standard says. All three are affectionate dogs.
American Cocker Spaniel: Affectionate, friendly, intelligent, merry, silly, smart, nosy, cuddly, devoted, loyal, clingy, slick, and eager to please. If they are quiet, check on them because they likely got ahold of tissues, toilet paper, or dinner on your countertop. Yes, they are crafty and sleuthy, too.
Do Cocker Spaniels like to cuddle? I asked 15 Cocker parents to tell me.
English Cocker Spaniel: Friendly, sociable, intelligent, alert, energetic, social, exuberant, loyal, fun, and affectionate.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Gentle, spirited, mild-mannered, playful, loyal, smart, graceful, affectionate, good with strangers, good with other dogs.
On average, the weight range for the American Cocker Spaniel is between 25 and 30 pounds for males and 20 to 25 pounds for females.
The average weight for male English Cocker Spaniel is 28 to 34 pounds and female 26 to 32 pounds.
The standard weight for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is between 13 and 18 pounds, with males weighing more than females.
The following are average lifespans. I personally know of many Cocker Spaniels and King Charles Spaniels who have exceeded the average lifespan. I also know of many dogs who do not live as long as the average lifespan.
American Cocker Spaniel: 10 to 15 years
English Cocker Spaniel: 12 to 15 years
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: 12 to 15 years
Each breed has coats requiring regular bathing, daily brushing, and grooming. On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being least and 10 being most, here’s how the breeds measure up.
American Cocker Spaniel: 10. American Cocker Spaniels are one of the reasons dog groomers exist. I learned to groom my Cocker Spaniel at home. Their coats are high maintenance, especially if you plan to keep your Cocker in show coat.
I prefer a sporting/puppy cut on my Cockers, which means maintenance, baths, and upkeep is much easier.
English Cocker Spaniel: 8. I asked Diane Keller Wyatt, dog mom to both English Cockers and American Cockers, about her upkeep and grooming. She says ECS are less work to groom and less work to brush in between grooming compared to ACS.
She grooms American Cockers for a few clients and that always reminds her how much less maintenance is involved with the ECS coat.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: 9. The Cavalier’s long, silky coat requires regular grooming at least every 6 to 8 weeks, with baths as needed.
Brush them at least daily and keep up with the hair that grows between their paw pads. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are rarely seen shaved down, as their coats are kept intact and trimmed.
Coat Type and Color
American Cocker Spaniel: The breed has a thick, coarse coat but does not shed as much as a breed like Siberian Huskies or Labrador Retrievers. In terms of colors, the American Cocker Spaniel is shown in the ring in ASCOB (any solid color other than black), black, and parti-color, which is two or more solid colors, one of which must be white.
American Cockers have other colors, including tri, black and tan, blue and tan, orange roans, reds, chocolate (also called liver), chocolate and tan, sables, and sables and whites. The Merle Cocker Spaniel causes a lot of controversy in the ACS world. Merle is not a color but rather a pattern.
English Cocker Spaniel: The coat is not as thick as the American Cocker, but the belly coat can grow long on some ECS. English Cocker parti-colors are marked, ticked, or roan with white combined with black, liver, or shades of red. Solid ECS colors include black, liver, and shades or red.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: The American Kennel Club only allows Cavaliers to be ruby, tricolor (black/white/tan), black and tan, or Blenheim (chestnut and white.) Their coat is lustrous and silky, and they are a double-coated breed.
Fun fact: Blenheim is named in honor of Blenheim Palace, where the First Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, raised the color as predecessors of the Cavalier breed.
American Cocker Spaniel: American Cockers are foodies to the core. In the over 30+ years I’ve been involved with the breed, I can attest that many will act as if they were not fed to get a second meal. You need to pay attention to their food intake, or they can become chubby real fast.
The American Cocker is prone to food intolerances, what some call allergies. For this reason, you may need to delicately experiment with foods your Cocker can and cannot tolerate. Here is our list of the best dog foods for Cocker Spaniels.
English Cocker Spaniel: English Cockers are very similar in their diets to American Cockers but are not quite as digestively sensitive. You can follow a diet very much akin to one you feed the American Cocker.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Amazingly, you can feed your Cavalier the same food as a Cocker, as long as it is high quality and you work with a trusted brand or home-cooked diet.
Attachment to Humans
All three breeds are devoted to their humans. American Cocker Spaniels are called ‘Velcro dogs’ because they want to be by your side. I’ve tripped over my Cockers on many different occasions. I am now used to having a Cocker by my side wherever I go. They love their people, as they are social dogs.
English Cockers love their pack, too, but they are a bit less affected by separation anxiety in general. They love their people and want to be by your side but have more independence.
Cavaliers were bred to be lap dogs, so they aim to please and are devoted to their people.
None of these breeds are completely oblivious to their pack, and they all aim to please and make you happy.
Is a Cocker Spaniel or Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Right For You?
Each of these breeds makes great family pets if all members of the family, including small children, understand how to treat them. Cockers and Cavalier Spaniels don’t do well with harsh treatment, yelling, or being treated as toys and forgotten.
Beci Markjohn Beasley has owned both Cavaliers and Cocker Spaniels. The Pittsboro, North Carolina, dog mom has advice for anyone interested in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. She goes by @millys.on.missions.with.ramsay on Instagram.
“It’s very important to get a Cavalier from a breeder doing the proper health testing and socializing their puppies properly at an early age,” she says. “You want to take home a puppy that is happy, doesn’t mind thunderstorms or fireworks, and has the best chance at a healthy life.”
She admits there are no guarantees you will get a dog with good health, even with proper testing. However, at least you will “know that you did your best to get a puppy with the best possibility of healthy years ahead.”
When it comes to Cockers or Cavaliers, Beasley prefers Cavaliers.
“My sister has had Cockers for years, and I’ve had Cavaliers,” she shares. “I like the smaller size of the Cavaliers, their go-everywhere, do-anything attitude, and their gentle temperament.”
Beasley admits they (Cavaliers) seem to be a little more even-keel in temperament overall than the Cockers she’s encountered, so they are a better fit for her. Her sister’s Cockers are very sweet, but she feels they aren’t as friendly to people as her Cavaliers. However, she admits maybe she has not been around enough Cocker Spaniels to determine that.
Pam C. from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has owned four Cavaliers to date and a Cocker prior to that. She loves both breeds but says you haven’t recently seen many Cocker Spaniels in South Florida. She is on Instagram as @brandythedogfl.
”Cavaliers love to be with their people and other Cavaliers,” Pam shares. “Once you have a Cavalier, it’s hard to think about another breed (except possibly a Cocker).”
Personally, American Cocker Spaniels own my heart. They are loving and devoted, and want to own your heart and lay claim to it. They are smart and comical and have a puppy attitude through their senior years. Cockers are happy dogs who epitomize ‘merry.’
Of all my American Cocker Spaniels, only my female was a bit aloof and standoffish to strangers. She was a puppy mill rescue dog who took my heart and ran away with it.
Dog Breeder or Dog Rescue?
A good breeder will make sure pet parents are a good fit and will do their own background check. Here’s how to find a reputable Cocker breeder.
A reputable rescue will work with you to find the right Spaniel. Be sure to do your own due diligence. Here is a list of Cocker Spaniel rescue groups in the United States.
Here is a list of rescues from Cavalier Rescue USA.