ALL DOG BREED PROFILES

Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Spaniel
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Cocker Spaniel is considered one of the most beloved companion dog breeds that you’ll ever find. His old ways of being a bird dog still remain, but with obedience and training, this urges can be curtailed. They’re extremely beautiful to look at, especially when their coats are well-maintained. His cheerful disposition also makes your home quite welcoming to return to after a hard day’s work, and you won’t find a dog that’s more comfortable with snuggling on the couch.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessAbove Average
Exercise NeedsAbove Average

Dog Breed Group:Sporting dogs
Height:Fourteen to fifteen inches at the shoulder
Weight:Twenty-four to twenty-eight pounds
Life Span:12 to 15 years

The Cocker Spaniel is known for being the smallest member of the AKC Sporting Group of dogs, but that doesn’t mean that they’re anything to laugh at. They became the number one breed of dog from the 1930s to the 1950s. This declined for almost thirty years, but regained its popularity in the 80s. Even to this day, the breed still remained in the top fifteen.

It’s easy to understand how they became so popular once you’ve had one: they have a very merry and sound temperament, and strives to make the members of his family happy. Extremely loving and gentle, his goal is to put a smile on anyone’s and everyone’s faces. That’s what makes him such an excellent therapy dog to help those who are going through troubling times.

Due to his size, he can fit just about anywhere, from a home to a condo to an apartment. He can easily be a companion animal, keeping you warm on those cold nights, but he can be easily trained to be in the show ring, enter obedience and agility competitions, and even field work. Under all of that luxurious hair is a dog that is good at the job that is given to him.

Due to this loving nature, the Cocker Spaniel does very well with children, the elderly, and other animals in the home. He’s extremely trustworthy and loving, but due to the breed’s popularity, there has been a rise in unscrupulous breeders who are only in the business for a quick buck and don’t pay any attention to temperament or health. Because of this, many Cocker Spaniels have started to develop serious health and behavioral problems. Be sure that you’re getting a puppy from a reputable breeder who keeps their temperament in mind and performs the necessary health tests to ensure that there are no predispositions for genetic diseases.

The breed greatly resembles the English Cocker Spaniel, and the two breeds were once considered to be the same. However, breeders noticed the variety in the two strains and sought to keep them separate by discouraging the mixing of the two breeds.

Main Highlights
  • Cocker Spaniels can be quite sensitive, and this can lead them to being nervous. Even through proper socialization, it’s not surprising when a Cocker Spaniel has an episode of submissive urination. This is something to keep in mind when you’re considering getting one.
  • They can be frequent barkers, so it’s important that they be taught the «quiet» command from very early on, or this could become a problem.
  • Eager to please and enjoys being close to his family, the Cocker Spaniel will do everything to keep everyone happy. However, keep in mind that he was bred to be a hunting dog, so he has a tendency to chase birds and other small animals when you take him out for a walk. It’s not recommended that you walk him off-leash or allow him to roam around your yard unsupervised if you don’t have a fence.
  • Due to his sensitive nature, training methods should never be harsh or he will become quite fearful. Gentle and consistent training works best in order to sway him towards behaviour that you expect of him.
  • A Cocker Spaniel’s beautiful ears add to his charm, but their shape and size attract dirt and increase the risk of infections. They should be checked at least once a week to make sure that they are clean of debris. The same can be said for their beautiful coat. In order to maintain its look, their coat needs to be brushed on a daily basis. This is a lot more work that some dog owners are prepared for, so it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
Breed History

What is known as the modern Cocker Spaniel today is descended from the Spaniel family. This is a large group of dog that dates back centuries. Originally meaning «Spanish dog», the Spaniel family is believed to have originated in Spain. By the 1800s, there were divided into two primary groups: toys (as companions) and large hunting dogs. The second group was further divided into land and water spaniels, in order to catch the different prey that hunters were after: rabbits, hares, water fowl, et cetera. The Cocker Spaniel in particular was named for his exceptional skill in hunting the woodcock, a small flying bird.

In England, the spaniel was considered a functional category of dog rather than a single breed. The Cocker Spaniel was officially recognized as a breed until 1892, where the first kennel started to make them a distinct breed. Before that, however, they were being imported to the United States in the 1870s. This is when the differentiation began, and the American Spaniel Club was formed in 1881. It was known as the oldest breed club in America, but it eventually split into separate organizations to cater to the different Spaniel breeds that existed.

The Cocker Spaniel soon gained popularity with both breeders and the public. Sensibilities began to change, and breeders started to seek a smaller Cocker Spaniel so that they would be flashier in the show ring. This signaled the popular raise of the Cocker Spaniel, as they were easier to care for and were still a beautiful breed to look at. Brucie, a black Cocker Spaniel, won the Best American Bred in Show in 1939. He gained so much popularity that when he died, his obituary was published in the New York Times.

Size

There isn’t much of a size difference between males and females: males stand around fifteen inches tall, while females are at fourteen inches tall. They both weigh about twenty-four to twenty-eight pounds.

Personality and Character

You’ll know a Cocker Spaniel has been well-bred when he has a sweet temperament. He should be extremely affectionate and cuddly, and enjoy participating in any activities with the family. That isn’t to say that he’s a couch potato: he is playful, alert and active, and is ready to go on a brisk walk through a field at a moment’s notice.

The Cocker Spaniel is also known for being a very sensitive dog, both physically and mentally. His «soft» personality means that any harsh treatment will have him shying away from you out of fear. In the worst case scenario, he turns to growl or snaps at you in order to stop your ill-treatment of him. Early socialization and training is essential to teaching your dog what are the more appropriate behaviors expected of him. Kind and careful treatment works best in order for his personality to shine through.

Health and Potential Problems

It can be painful to watch your Cocker Spaniel start to age and succumb to certain conditions you wished you’d known about sooner. They tend to be generally healthy, but there are certain diseases and disorders that they are more prone to.

  • Eye problems: these problems can arise from a number of sources, such as progressive retinal atrophy (where the retinal cells in the eye start to degenerate and lead to blindness), cataracts (the lens of the eye becomes cloudy), glaucoma (pressure builds up within the eye from excess fluid, which can damage the tissues and nerves of the eye), and other eye abnormalities. At the sign of any redness in your Cocker Spaniel’s eyes, you should take him to the vet immediately for a checkup.
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia: this is a condition where a dog’s immune system causes it to attack its own blood cells. When this occurs, the signs you should look out for are pale gums, fatigue, and sometimes jaundice (a yellowing of your dog’s sclera is an easy sign). Feel your dog’s abdomen to see if it is swollen; this is an indication that he has an enlarged liver. Cocker Spaniels do very well once they receive treatment, but it is not recommended that they be bred.
  • Hypothyroidism: the thyroid glance can suffer from a disorder where there is a deficiency of a specific hormone within the body. This can lead to epilepsy, hair loss, lethargy, obesity, dark patches on the skin, and other skin conditions. Thankfully, this is an easy condition to treat with medication and a change in diet. However, this is a life-long treatment, so stopping it can lead to a relapse.
  • Primary seborrhea: skin sheds, repairs, and renews itself as needed, but sometimes this can start to malfunction. This disorder results in the overproduction of skin cells and the sebaceous cells (produce natural oil for the skin to prevent drying out). When this happens, the skin can become very greasy and scaly, and has a foul odour to it. Treatments for this condition include medication and medicated baths to remove the dead skin, oil, and odour.
  • Allergies: Cocker Spaniels are especially prone to allergies. There are three main types of allergies: food, contact, and inhalant. In the case of food allergies, it can be tricky to determine what the key ingredient is that is affecting his digestion, but by eliminating certain foods, you can eventually discover the culprit. Contact allergies are easier to spot, as a reaction will happen immediately upon contact with the substance. Inhalant allergies, such as pollen or mildew, can be removed by minimizing the time your dog spends outside or investing in a HEPA filter for your HVAC system.
  • Idiopathic epilepsy: this is an inherited condition and can cause mild to severe seizures. There are several causes for epilepsy outside of idiopathic epilepsy, such as metabolic disorders, infectious diseases of the brain, tumors, exposure to certain poisons, and severe head injuries, just to name a few.
  • Canine hip dysplasia: this is the abnormal formation of the hip socket so that the bones don’t fit together as well as they should. This can lead to pain and lameness. Ensure that the breeder you get your puppy from has done extensive tests to rule out that neither parents suffer from this condition.
  • Patellar luxation: this is where the kneecap is dislocated in your dog’s hind leg. The knee joint can often slide in and out of place when he walks, which can lead to a lot of crippling pain. You should take your dog to the vet if you do notice limping and/or your dog avoiding putting weight on that leg.
Care Features

The Cocker Spaniel is extremely well-suited for apartment living or in a condo, but they also do well with a large house and a yard. He doesn’t need a lot of space to roam, but he does need daily activity to keep up with his original intentions as a sporting breed. Quick play in the yard along with a brisk thirty-minute walk can certainly keep your dog happy and trim. However, refrain from leaving him outside by himself. He will resort to barking and digging in order to provide himself with entertainment.

He is a hunter at heart, and will go after small prey at any opportunity. He does very well at canine sports, hunt tests, tracking, and flyball. He has a better disposition when he is kept active, as being bored will encourage him to seek destructive behaviors in order to cure his boredom.

Feeding Schedule

When it comes to feeding the Cocker Spaniel, they have a tendency to overeat when they are given the chance. Take the time to measure his food carefully in order to ensure that he is not overeating. He’s not against using his big brown eyes to beg you for tidbits and scraps from your plate. This can quickly make him overweight, however, and lead to health problems. In order to maintain his weight, he should be fed around 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups of high-quality food per day.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Cocker Spaniel is known for being quite handsome, and much of that is due to his coat. It is thick and sometimes wavy; it is usually short on the head and back, and long on the ears, chest, belly, and legs. The breed can come in a solid color, usually, black, light cream, red or brown, or parti-colored, which is a mix of the other colors.

The grooming process of a Cocker Spaniel is very intensive and can sometimes be quite expensive. Many owners choose to have a professional groomer to care for their coat — bathing, brushing, and trimming — at least every six to eight weeks. Daily brushing is a necessary in order to keep the coat mat and tangle free. If you don’t have the time and patience for this, then this is not the dog breed for you. Some owners also choose to clip their dogs short in order to reduce the maintenance needed on their coat. However, trimming and bathing every eight weeks is more than some dog owners bargain for.

Some wouldn’t mind going through these processes if the Cocker Spaniel were more cooperative. This can be taken care of if your Spaniel is introduced to the tools and sounds of the instruments being used in the grooming process when he is a puppy. A lack of training in this area can make it more difficult to handle him when he needs his regular grooming treatment.

His ears, in particular, will require some special attention. Because of the long hair and shape of the ears, they are more prone to infections and dirt. They should be checked at least once a week. If there is any redness or a bad odor, then he could have an infection. The ears can be cleaned with a pH-balanced ear cleaner and a few cotton balls. To keep his ears clean while he is eating, you can choose deep narrow bowls, or employ the use of a snood. The easiest method, however, is to rubber band his ears on the top of his head to keep them out of the way.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

One of the main reasons the Cocker Spaniel is so popular is because they make such a good family dog. They get along very well with children, as long as kids are taught to be kind and respectful to them. Interactions should be supervised given the Cocker Spaniel’s gentle disposition, as he may lash out if he is treated unfairly by children. He also does well with other dogs and cats that are already living in the home.

The Cocker Spaniel is the friendliest dog you’ll ever meet, with a gentle disposition that borders on being shy. Take care to avoid yelling or inflicting harsh treatment on your Spaniel; he’ll learn very quickly and either shy away from you or resort to biting, and that’s not something any dog owner wants. Though he can be somewhat of an active dog, there’s no fooling those floppy ears and big brown eyes: he’s a cuddler, and there’s no better way he’d prefer spending his day with you.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

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