Are you thinking about bringing a dog into your life and wondering, “Is the Cocker Spaniel breed right for me?” My heart beats dog®, and truth be told, it thumps with extra beats in a canine rhythm for American Cocker Spaniels. As a 30-year veteran of the Cocker Spaniel world, I am often asked about this stunning breed.
Happy, smart, gentle, and with a merry disposition: These are the breed standards of the American Cocker Spaniel.
The Cocker Spaniel has an interesting history. It is believed that spaniels originated in Spain, and Chaucer first wrote about them in the year 1340 in the book Canterbury Tales (more specifically, The Wife of Bath). However, archeologists have found models of dogs resembling spaniels in ancient Egyptian tombs.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, spaniels sniffed out and cornered hawks and falcons into a “corner” until the hunters could come along and fling a net over both dog and quarry. It was not until the late 1700s that the various distinctions between Springers, Cockers, Toys, Clumbers, Sussex, and Field Spaniels were bred.
The American Cocker Spaniel was founded in 1881 when two types of Cockers emerged: the English Cocker and the American Cocker Spaniel. The American Cocker is the smallest member of the sporting dog class.
With the wide eyes of melted chocolate and the adorable little face of a blonde Cocker in The Big Book of Dogs, I was immediately captivated by the breed. “Someday, I’ll have a dog just like that” my 7-year-old self made a mental note.
Caring for the Cocker Spaniel Breed
Cockers are a more sensitive breed. Textbooks and most Cocker parents will agree that Cockers are Velcro dogs. They love to be near their family members and are a breed more prone to separation anxiety. Some Cocker Spaniels love to cuddle.
The overall care for a Cocker on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being none and 10 being tons is about an 8. In the Cocker Spaniel Handbook, D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D., writes, “The Cocker coat care requires dedication and know-how. Fortunately, you have choices.”
Cockers have a long, thick, wavy coat. Cocker hair grows like wildfire. One day, you get the Cocker groomed, and then poof, you wake up and think, “When did all that hair grow back?” It is extremely beneficial to brush her daily. It is part of our nighttime routine: Brushing the coat, brushing the teeth, and checking for any lumps, bumps, or nuances in change along the way.
Those Cockers you see on television at dog shows look glamorous and beautiful because a ton of money and time has been invested in their diet, coat, and physical appearance: both inside and out.
It is in the best interest of the Cocker parent to find a reputable, trustworthy groomer and to do so early on. Dogs should be comfortable having their feet touched, their face handled, their nails clipped, and so on. If you get a Cocker puppy, handle them often, touch their feet, be gentle and brush their coat and get them used to being handled.
Of course, if you are like me and want to try your hand at grooming a Cocker, know this: It is not easy, it is not without effort, and a combination of the right tools and patience is key.
I am presently enrolled in a home study course to learn to groom my Cocker at home. Learn more about home grooming of a Cocker Spaniel. Note: It isn’t a quick and easy process. It can be done, but it takes work, practice, and someone to guide you in person and through study.
Cockers can easily tangle and mat. If you aren’t prepared to care for the Cocker coat, keep the ears free of hair and mats, and to ensure the coat is brushed and healthy, consider another type of dog.
Do Cocker Spaniels Shed a Lot?
Yes, but not like other heavier shedding breeds. Also, not all Cockers shed to the same capacity. After a bath, I notice my Cocker sheds a bit as well as during certain seasons. It is not constant, I do not wear fur all over my clothes, but yes, they do shed. Carry a pet hair remover product with you and keep one in the car.
What Colors Are Cocker Spaniel Dogs?
There are many different varieties of the Cocker coat color, but the ones you will see in the ring and which conform to breed standard are:
- ASCOB (Any Solid Color Other Than Black)
- Black with Tan Points
- The AKC Cocker Spaniel page more closely details the different color varieties.
There’s a lot of controversy around merle Cocker Spaniels, and with good reason. You’ll want to check out our article about the Merle Cocker Spaniel controversy.
Care for the Cocker Spaniel Coat
Outside of her outer requirements, the Cocker Spaniel is definitely a breed that thrives with her pack. That isn’t to say a dog cannot be left alone, but because the Cocker is a nosy, social, and “what’s next on our agenda” kind of dog, it’s best not to leave them home alone for hours at a time, especially during the workday.
Consider coming home for lunch, having a pet sitter stop by, or enroll them in a doggie daycare where you can check in and watch on a webcam.
Cockers, like all dogs, need exercise. They love to be couch potatoes with you and snuggle. They also love to play ball, go on long walks, and there are those Cocker parents who engage with their dogs in agility, fly ball, lure course, and many other exercises.
Cockers may or may not like the water: I’ve seen both. The ear of the Cocker Spaniel has its own unique challenges and for this reason, you must engage in due diligence. Speaking of ears…
Health of the Cocker Spaniel
This writer has experienced most problems that can be associated with a Cocker Spaniel. Here is a brief overview of some of the more common health problems that can affect Cocker Spaniels.
The big hanging, floppy ears are gorgeous but have their downside. Ear infections can thrive deep within the ear canal and cause a whole host of issues, namely pain and problems for the dog. Sometimes an ear infection is present and the dog parent will have no idea; you can’t see it after all.
Cockers affected with an ear infection may shake their head, paw or scratch at the ear, roll on the floor sideways to itch it, and there may be a rancid odor or even debris upon inspection. Always seek veterinary care.
If your Cocker is a water pooch, you need to be extremely careful to watch for any signs of infection and maintain the inner and outer ear to keep it healthy and infection-free.
Here’s how to prevent and treat ear infections in Cocker Spaniels.
Of note, dogs with food sensitivities and/or allergies to food or any number of triggers can get ear infections as a result. Cockers can have more skin issues than other breeds. As a good pet parent, just know what to watch for and have the veterinarian assess any consistent itching, biting, licking, or scratching.
I check my dog’s gums for any change in color from their usual pink to reddish healthy hue to anything that slightly resembles pale. This routine is performed nightly in conjunction with bedtime teeth brushing. I fear those four letters more almost as much as I do the Big C. In this case, I am referring to IMHA, or Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia in dogs.
My Cocker, Dexter, was diagnosed with IMT, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia in dogs, and it nearly cost him his life. Because we rushed him to the emergency veterinarian when we noticed changes in his gum color, we saved his life.
Cushing’s Disease and Addison’s Disease are also known to affect Cockers.
Some breeds produce more sebaceous oil than others, and the Cocker Spaniel is but one of them. Since they produce more oil, they can have more skin problems, including lumps, bumps, and growths. There are so many different things that a lump can be that each new lump should be brought to the attention of the veterinarian.
Some of the lumps my Cockers have dealt with over the years turned out to be (after aspirating, biopsy, and/or eventual removal) include:
- Mast cell cancer of the skin
- Sebaceous cyst
- Fatty tumor
Take the time to check out our Pet Parent’s Guide to Lumps on a Dog
In most cases, a lump will need to be aspirated at the very least. There is one thing that I can absolutely tell you about lumps on a dog: There is no way to know what a lump is unless it is tested in some way. Not every lump needs to be surgically removed. A lump can be monitored or lasered off by the vet in many cases.
I could write an entire book on the Cocker eye, but suffice it to say that eye issues are a concern in the breed. Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) can lead to blindness. Cockers can also get cataracts or glaucoma, plus the very common cherry eye. Our first Cocker was affected by bilateral cherry eye. Back in the 1990s, corrective surgery removed the swollen gland. Nowadays, there are a number of techniques used to help a dog with cherry eye.
At the very least, a qualified vet should be performing a complete yearly eye examination on the Cocker. Another option is to take your Cocker to an eye clinic in your area. With a few droplets of a solution in each eye, a veterinarian will assess if your dog is affected by a number of eye diseases.
Diligent Cocker breeders will include eye clearances on both the mother, father, and potentially others in the line before breeding or adopting Cocker puppies out to a pet home.
How Much Should Cocker Spaniels Weigh?
Because Cockers love food so much, they can very easily become overweight, which leads to all sorts of health problems. Like people, each dog is different and that goes for Cocker Spaniels. American Cockers tend to be a bit smaller than English Cocker Spaniels, so keep that in mind as you aim for your dog’s ideal weight.
There are breed standards and then there are Cockers who come from breeders and/or rescue and don’t fit the standard. The following numbers are averages:
Cocker Weight: 26 to 33 pounds for females; 29 to 35 pounds for males.
Cocker Height: 14 to 16 inches for females; 15 to 17 inches for males.
Read our article on Cocker Spaniel weight.
The Cocker Spaniel Personality
Backyard breeders, puppy mills, and crappy owners can lead to a dog who snaps or bites. This is true for any breed. It has been my experience in owning Cockers for over three decades that people have one of two schools of thought on Cockers:
- They are awesome dogs;
- They snap and I wouldn’t want one;
My first Cocker was a puppy mill rescue. If you don’t know what a puppy mill is and want to learn, we have written about puppy mills (no sad or disturbing photos). There is such a thing as Cocker rage in some dogs, and puppy mills perpetuate this concern.
Despite all of our best intentions, positive reinforcement, training, and a life of love, she would snap if someone startled her or tried to lunge at her, as oftentimes kids will do. We learned to keep her out of those situations and when in public, we did not engage in a situation that might escalate.
Our current Cocker Spaniel is the opposite. We know his background, his breed line, and we are more experienced Cocker parents now.
I’ll never forget a line I read in a Cocker Spaniel magazine many years ago, and I wish I could credit the person. She said, “Cockers have a very soft disposition and they do not do well with harsh discipline.”
Positive reinforcement is key in training a dog, and the Cocker is easily upset. Never spank a dog, never rub their nose in excrement (note: it’s disgusting, unhealthy, and an old wive’s tale), and always be kind to your dog, even when you might personally be upset or had a bad day.
Please check out these two very important links:
How Long Do Cocker Spaniels Live?
Cockers live anywhere between 12 and 15 years if their care is consistent, proper, and you take good care of the dog. I know of Cockers who have succumbed to illness at a much younger age, and I recently learned of an 18-year-old Cocker.
My first Cocker lived one week shy of 15 years. This writer believes she would have lived much longer, but irritable bowel disease took her from this earth.
Here’s our in-depth article on how long Cocker Spaniels live and what to do to improve their longevity.
Where to Get a Cocker Spaniel
Ah, the great breeder versus rescue debate. I have dealt with both. There is no shame in screening potential reputable breeders who genuinely care about the Cocker Spaniel and the home into which he or she is placed. There are plenty of unscrupulous, money-hungry, unqualified backyard breeders and puppy mills. Know how to spot a good breeder.
When the Associated Press asked us why Cockers are so popular, we shared our logic and reasons.
Popularity will mandate and dictate what the general public demands. Puppy millers and horrid backyard breeders must be shut down. Puppy mills are selling thousands of dogs online, many who are sick, abused, and have health problems.
I’ve fostered dogs and advocate for rescuing dogs in need. We fundraise through Wigglebutt Warriors(r), our fundraising arm, to help dogs in need who have been abandoned, neglected, abused, and/or dumped.
Like breeders, there are awesome Cocker rescue groups and some with which I would not engage. At their core, a good rescue group puts the dog’s interests first. This has been my experience with OBG (Oldies but Goodies) Cocker Spaniel Rescue. There are many good and loving, dedicated Cocker rescue groups out there. Just do your homework.
If you choose to open your heart and rescue a Cocker Spaniel, some things to ask the rescue group include: What they know about the dog’s history, health, and background along with any special needs, issues, or health concerns. It’s better to know and be able to help the dog and be prepared than to be surprised, and a reputable rescue group will share with you what they know.
It is said that when you rescue a Cocker, they rescue you, too. I can personally attest to that. Here are some things dog rescue groups do wrong.
Bottom line: A Cocker is a wonderful, wiggly, merry breed and a perfect companion for the right person or family. A Cocker is not for a short time and a Cocker, or any dog, is a commitment for life: At least the life of the dog.
- Ball obsessed
- Eternal puppies at heart
- Can be more prone to ACL tears than other breeds
- Commonly associated with piddle excitement (they pee a bit when super happy, like when you come home)
- Fond of Being Alone
- Cheap to Care For
- Low energy
- Heavy runners (running yes, long distance marathoning, not adviseable)
Bottom Line On Cocker Spaniels
I am a bit obsessed with the breed in a really good way: They wrap themselves around my heart in a way that other Cocker parents can understand, and I am ever the better person for it.
If you do get a Cocker, be loving, loyal, patient, kind, and simply be there. They will repay you a thousand wigglebutt times over for it.
Learn more about a Cocker Spaniel’s personality.