English Cocker Spaniel

English Cocker Spaniel dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The English Cocker Spaniel (not to be confused with the American Cocker Spaniel who is smaller and has a different body type) has been around for centuries. The breed has been used extensively for bird hunting and they even derive their name from the woodcock bird which they were used to track and hunt.

The perky breed makes a great addition to any home as they are extremely friendly, intelligent and fun loving. They get along with people of different ages, kids, and other animals but their friendliness makes them a less favourable choice for a guard dog. However, it is also the quality that makes them such a popular pet around the world.

The breed has a lot of stamina and they enjoy investigating and doing new things. They are resilient, kind and compassionate and they rank as the 61st most popular breed according to the AKC.

Breed characteristics

Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHigh

Dog breed Group:Sporting dogs.
Height:14-17 inches tall at the shoulder.
Weight:26-34 lb.
Life span:12-14 years.
Main Highlights
  • Close relatives of the Field Spaniels, Welsh Springer Spaniels, and the Irish Water Spaniels.
  • The breed is very people oriented and is prone to separation anxiety.
  • They can adjust well to country living as well as apartment dwelling as long as they are sufficiently exercised.
  • The breed is one of the oldest Spaniels known to human kind today.
  • The breed can be an excessive barker when bored or unhappy.
  • Used as sniffer dogs in Cuban airports.
  • The breed is prone to obesity and needs to be provided with plenty of opportunities to exercise and run around.
Breed History

The breed has been around for at least 500 years (if not longer) and even has been referenced in the works of Shakespeare! For now, there are two different types of Spaniels: water Spaniels and land Spaniels. The English Cocker Spaniels belong to the latter group.

It used to be a common practice to divide one litter into multiple different breeds as it was quite common for the same litter to have multiple different sizes of puppies. At the end of the 19th century, breeders started dividing the puppies into specific categories based on stamina, intelligence and size thus it was possible for one litter to be divided into Field Spaniel, Sussex, Irish Water Spaniel, Welsh Springer, Cocker Spaniel and English Springer.

The English Cocker Spaniel has been widely used for bird hunting, more specifically for retrieving and pointing the game towards the hunters. They were known for working well in dry and wet difficult terrain.

In 1946 the English club insisted on separating between the English and the American Cocker Spaniel and considered them as two different breeds by discouraging breeding between the two breeds. Thus, the American Cocker Spaniel is slightly smaller and has a different body type, and is very popular in the United States but essentially obscure outside of the USA. On the other hand, the English Cocker Spaniels are known and loved around the world.

Today, they are the most popular breed in the United Kingdom and even Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate are among the proud owners. To prove they are known around the world too, you can also find them in Cuba, where they are also used as sniff dogs to detect food and drugs at the Cuban airports.


The males measure at 15-17 inches tall the shoulder, while the females measure at 14-16 inches tall at the shoulder. The females are slightly smaller and weigh in at 26-32 lb. while the males weigh in at 28-34 lb.

Personality and Character

The happy-go-lucky breed is lively, intelligent and friendly. They even got the nickname ‘merry cocker’ due to their constantly wagging tail and happy disposition.

They love their people and grow miserable when separated from them for long periods of time. They might develop destructive habits when bored or unhappy such as excessive barking and chewing. The breed enjoys spending time with their families and being part of the pack, but they tend to form close and deep bonds with one individual which it is usually the person that feeds them.

Spaniels make good companions for apartment dwellers as long as they are sufficiently exercised. They adapt just as well to country living and enjoy a good romp in the yard. Just keep in mind that they are a sensitive breed and don’t do well with loud noises or homes with high stress levels. They are also prone to submissive or excitable urination which happens when they are excited or nervous.

The breed makes a good watch dog as they bark and alert their owners to newcomers (or the wind). However, they make a poor guard dog due to their friendly disposition, and are more likely to befriend the intruder than deter them.

Due to their high intelligence they ranked 18th out of 132 different breeds in Dr. Stanley Coren’s dog intelligence trials.

Health and Potential Problems

The Spaniel is a sturdy breed but irresponsible breeding has left the breed vulnerable to health and temperament issues. That’s why you should never buy a dog or a puppy from a puppy mill. Most reputable breeders and shelters make sure the puppy or dog has received a clean bill of health from the vet prior to the purchase or adoption.

Here is a list of all the diseases that might affect your little Spaniel along their life:

  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: An eye disorder that causes a slow deterioration of the retina and may lead to limited vision or blindness.
  • Cataracts: An eye disorder found in both dogs and human and is usually developed in advanced age. It causes opacity on the eye lens, resulting in limited vision. In severe cases it can be surgically corrected.
  • Glaucoma: An eye disorder that causes increased pressure in the eye due to decreased fluid in the eye. The condition might be hereditary or caused by other eye disorders. Glaucoma is usually treated with eye drops or corrected with surgery in severe cases.
  • Hip Dysplasia: A common issue among dogs, occurs when the femur doesn’t fit properly into the hip socket and may result in lameness and discomfort. It is usually treated with pain medication and surgery in severe cases.
  • Hypothyroidism: A condition in which the body is unable to maintain proper thyroid hormones levels. Symptoms may include dry skin, weight gain, and sensitivity to cold. The condition is usually managed with diet and medication.
  • Renal Failure: A hereditary condition that causes liver failure at a young age.
  • Congenital Sensorineural Deafness: A condition that occurs at birth and causes a gradual deterioration of hearing to the point of deafness by four weeks.
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy: A heart condition which is caused by the heart muscles becoming overly distended. Symptoms may include weakness, weight loss, and fainting.
  • Patellar Luxation: A common condition among dogs caused when the calf, knee cap and thigh bone are not aliened properly. It may cause lameness and pain and is managed with pain medication or corrective surgery in severe cases.
  • Heart murmurs: A heart condition which is caused by irregular blood flow through the heart. The condition is managed by medication, limited exercise and dietary adjustments.

With plenty of exercise, proper diet and regular vet visits your lively companion will remain by your side for years to come.

Care Features

As with all other breeds, early socialization is very important to the dog or puppy’s development as an adult. The Cocker Spaniel has the tendency for shy and timid behaviour if not socialized properly so the process of socialization should start as soon as possible. The puppy or the dog need to be introduced to different people, animals, children and variety of environments and scenarios to grow up into a well-rounded dog.

Puppy kindergarten is highly recommended where the puppy can learn about the world in a supporting manner under professional guidance, and help you to develop a bond.

Create training is also an extremely important tool in the puppy or dog’s development. For some reason the English Cocker Spaniel proves a little more difficult to house train and crate training will be helpful.

Another condition the breed is prone to, is separation anxiety as they are very people oriented and sensitive. Crate training is great in helping your canine friend understand that, although their human companion is gone, they will always return. The crate also provides the dog with a safe haven they can retire to when tired and needing space. It will also help protect your prized possessions from the wrath of a bored Cocker Spaniel while you’re away.

The breed is very intelligent, they are eager to please and love learning and doing new things. However, training needs to be kept fun and innovative to keep them on their toes. They are sensitive to tone and if they think that the owner is meek or passive, they will not listen and will not obey the command. Also, they can be stubborn if they don’t see the point of the command and need a handler with a natural air of authority that can set boundaries and reinforce them consistently.

A calm, gentle and consistent handler will get the most out of the Cocker Spaniel, helping them reach their full potential. Any harsh or rough treatment or training causes them to become fearful and unresponsive so positive reinforcement in the form of praise and treats will go a long way. Gentle guidance and correction achieve the best results with the breed.

This active breed needs plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. They require daily long walks, play and light jogs. Enrolling them in obedience and agility events, as well as tracking and fly-ball trials is highly recommended. It gives them opportunities to vent their energy and get their brain going as well as solidify the bond between you two. Without sufficient exercise, they can become destructive and develop annoying habits such as excessive barking and chewing.

Feeding Schedule

The English Cocker Spaniels benefit from 1-2 cups of high quality dry dog food a day, divided into 2 meals.

It is important to keep in mind that the English Spaniel is prone to obesity. They do best with regular exercise and properly regulated diet that will keep them in a good shape for years to come.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The coat is silky, wavy and flat with feathering on the belly, chest and legs to protect the English Cocker Spaniel from scratches and other injuries while out in the field.

Common colours are black, red, black and tan, black, liver and tan. The coat is fairly easy to maintain and requires combing and brushing 2-3 times a week. The Cocker Spaniels are considered moderate shedders. Generally, the coat of the show dogs is longer than the Cocker Spaniels found working in the field.

Their ears do need more attention due to the shape and require weekly cleaning, as they can act as a host to grass seeds and ticks especially in the summer time. The shape of the ear makes it easier for moisture to be trapped in the ear canal and makes them more prone to ear infections.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Children will find the English Cocker Spaniel a cheerful, lively and playful companion. The Cocker Spaniel is gentle and enjoys the company of the younger pack members. However, as with all other breeds, play time between children and dogs should be supervised by an adult at all times. Children need to be taught respect and the proper handling of an animal — any ear or tail pulling must be discouraged immediately.

The breed usually gets along great with other dogs and cats. As long as they’ve been properly socialized or raised with them, they will prove a great companion to other pets as well. However, due to their breeding it isn’t unlikely for them to chase small critters or birds. The dog’s temperament depends largely on their breeding, environment, handlers and training techniques.

The breed is sure to bring a smile on your face and bring joy into your life. Perhaps one of the happiest, fun loving, curious breeds out there, they are eager to learn and please their humans.

Nothing makes them happier than being part of the family and being involved in packs activities. They love their family and are devoted to the younger members of the family. Even more, being away from them causes much unhappiness and stress to the English Cocker Spaniel.

They enjoy physical activity and love to go on walks and jogs with their people. The English Cocker Spaniel makes a fantastic addition to people of all ages. They are loyal, affectionate and smart.

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.