Cocker Spaniel

More from the 2012 AKC/Eukanuba National Championship

Fast Facts

Country of Origin:USA
AKC Group:Sporting Group
UKC Group:Gun Dog
Use today:Retrieving trials
Life Span:12 to 14 years
Color:Solid black, chocolate, red, buff (a light tan), cream or any combination of color including white.
Coat:Silky outercoat, short on head and back and long on legs and underbody.
Grooming:Brush three times a week. Groom regularly.
Size:Medium Dog Breed
Height:13.5 to 15.5 inches
Weight:Proportionate to height

Happy but not yappy, the Cocker has won the hearts of millions of pet owners. The breed's ancestry is identical to that of the English Cocker, which was first imported to North America during the 1880s. Through selective breeding during the next 50 years, breeders in the United States gradually developed a different type of Cocker. This was a smaller dog that was higher on leg, shorter backed, with a sloping topline and shorter muzzle, more domed in skull and with profuse leg furnishings. For a time this attractive little dog became almost too popular for its own good. Overproduction threatened to destroy its merry temperament. Fortunately, this trend is now reversing. The luxurious coat comes in three color varieties: black, parti-color (white with markings in another color), or any solid color other than black. A good brushing every day will keep the coat mat-free. Males measure up to 15.5 inches at the shoulder, females 1 inch less. While the breed is probably still capable of working as a gundog, the majority of American Cockers enjoy life as loved and loving family pets that enjoy spending time with the children and going on daily walks. The breed fits well into most accommodations.


Cocker Spaniel

September B. Morn

The typical Cocker Spaniel has a happy disposition, a sweet-as-honey expression, and is always ready to accompany family members on outings. Combine this with the cuddly Cocker Spaniel nature and love of a good game, and it's no wonder this jolly little dog breed has enjoyed enduring popularity.

For a time the attractive Cocker Spaniel became almost too popular for its own good. Overproduction threatened to destroy its merry temperament. Some unknowledgeable and unethical dog breeders cut corners on both care and quality of breeding stock. The results appeared in the form of hereditary health and temperament problems that have taken dedicated dog breeders decades to correct.

Sensitivity & Aggression

The Cocker Spaniel is a sensitive dog breed both physically and emotionally. If it is in pain or fears pain, it may growl and snap to prevent handling. These dogs have a poor reputation among many veterinarians and are a top contender on their list of most disliked dog breeds. A veterinary exam must be done with or without the patient's consent, and a sensitive Cocker Spaniel, stressed by pain, fear or both, may self-protectively bite the hand that reaches for it.

Lori Jones, of Pittstown, N.J., is an AKC dog show judge and member of the American Spaniel Club. Jones believes the condemnation of Cocker Spaniels by veterinarians can be unfair. "Vets will misdiagnose aggression in Cocker Spaniels because they are biased. When they say 'Cockers are nasty,' that's prejudiced and unfair," she says. Jones adds that she has not seen much aggression in the Cocker Spaniels she evaluates at dog shows. In seven years of judging, only one Cocker Spaniel has tried to bite her while she examined it in the ring. "A dog's breed does not make it dangerous or vicious," she says. "That's caused by a lack of socialization, poor environment and stress."

Groomers, like veterinarians, commonly cite aggression in this dog breed. Ahwren Sheldan, owner of My Pet's Place Grooming in Bellingham, Washington, has groomed professionally for 27 years. She says, "For 15 or 20 years, Cocker Spaniels were one of the most difficult dog breeds to groom." She has noticed in about the last five years that Cocker Spaniel breeding seems to have improved. Sheldan no longer sees so many problems with nervous aggression in this dog breed. "There are still occasionally problem dogs," she says, "but they are usually that way because owners don't understand dogs need to be trained and socialized."

Sheldan suggests that owners start exposing puppies to grooming between 2 and 4 months of age to prevent difficulty later on. She also recommends taking puppies to a gentle-method obedience trainer while still young. "The dog needs to learn that part of its social responsibility is to allow handling by its owner and anyone else the owner says may handle it," says Sheldan.

Physical Problems

There may be good reasons for a Cocker Spaniel to behave self-protectively at grooming time. "People forget that Cocker Spaniels are high-maintenance dogs; their coats must be kept in shape," says AKC judge Jackie Rowe. She notes that this dog breed is prone to chronic ear infections and eye problems caused by irritating hairs. "A dog not acting right may be in need of care. I've seen Cocker Spaniel ears with big hematomas from shaking and scratching, ears so inflamed they must hurt all the time," she says. "That has a lot to do with behavior. You can't have a happy, healthy dog with a good disposition if it doesn't feel good."

Cocker Spaniel Socialization

In a sensitive dog breed like the Cocker Spaniel, there can be a tendency toward nervousness, even when the dog is fairly well socialized.

"Nervous peeing is fairly common with female puppies, especially when a person greets them in a high-pitched voice," says Sharon Belk-Krebs, a TTouch massage practitioner, pet sitter, trainer and Cocker Spaniel owner from Bellingham, Wash. To avoid causing puddles, greet a sensitive Cocker Spaniel in a low-key way. Don't squeak or squeal at the puppy and overexcite it. Instead, use a calm, quiet voice in the low end of your vocal octaves. You may find that delaying the greeting for about 10 minutes after you arrive home, allowing the initial excitement to wane, is also helpful with a nervous piddler.

Never scold or punish a puppy for nervous or submissive urination. You'll be very sorry if you do. Punishment always makes a nervous or submissive peeing problem worse and may cause it to endure for a lifetime. Instead, realize that your dog simply cannot physically control its bladder when excited. As a dog matures, submissive and nervous peeing tends to decrease or disappear altogether. Meanwhile, be patient, stay calm and keep paper towels handy when you greet your puppy.

Proper socialization is important for any puppy and is vital for Cocker Spaniel puppies so they grow up confident with good interactive skills. Knowledgeable breeders recommend beginning socialization of puppies at an early age by keeping the pups in a well-occupied part of the house. Puppies isolated from the human family become shy, suspicious and nervous around people, predisposing them to self-protective aggression.

"Socialization is the most important thing," says Jones. She encourages visitors to pet and handle her Cocker Spaniel pups. To protect incompletely immunized pups from communicable disease, Jones takes precautions. "When people come to my house they wash their hands in chlorine bleach solution before they can pet my pups." The bleach kills viruses that may be carried from dog to dog by human hands. This allows very early socialization experience without the danger of contracting illness.

It is particularly important to be sure your puppy is properly socialized with children. Normally, Cocker Spaniels love children, but a dog unfamiliar with kids may fear their fast movements and high-pitched voices. Fear can cause a Cocker Spaniel to snap self-protectively, which because of their corresponding size, can especially endanger a small child.

"A little dog with a little kid is like holding a stick of dynamite in your hand," says Rowe. "They're right at the same level, and if it has any tendency to bite, a dog can easily bite a child's face." Most Cocker Spaniels are great with kids, but it's important to socialize them with gentle children from very early on.


Physical discipline such as spanking, shaking or alpha rolls, which can hurt or frighten a dog, should not be used at all with Cocker Spaniels. These maneuvers, which many trainers and behaviorists consider too rough for any puppy, can especially devastate sensitive Cocker Spaniel puppies. Once hurt or terrified by an owner's punishing hand, it will be difficult for the dog to trust any reaching hand. This is especially noticeable when the dog is under stress, as at an animal clinic, groomer or even meeting a friendly stranger.

Overdiscipline can ruin a Cocker Spaniel's naturally sunny disposition. Jones, a Cocker Spaniel breeder for more than 30 years, has found that time-outs work well with this dog breed. From 3 or 4 months of age, Jones disciplines naughty Cocker Spaniels with a short time-out. "I tell them 'time out' and put them on a sit/stay in the corner for two minutes. If they don't stay there, I pick them up, put them back in the corner and make them stay a little longer."

Jones believes her pups seem to understand this punishment and respond well to it. It lets the dogs know they've done wrong and gives them time alone to think about it, but does not cause the dog to fear discipline.

How To Keep a Cocker Spaniel Happy

"Dogs should be part of the family," says Jones. "If you can't treat a Cocker Spaniel like it's part of the family, don't get this dog breed." She warns, though, that if a family is having emotional problems, the puppy will reflect their troubles. "If the family is happy, the Cocker Spaniel will be happy. But if you sell a puppy to a neurotic family, no matter how well socialized the puppy was from birth, it will turn out neurotic."

To be happy, a Cocker Spaniel needs to feel secure in its position in the family pack. "You must establish that you are the head of the pack with a lot of love and attention," says Rowe.

To keep a Cocker Spaniel happy, include it in your daily routine. "For a happy Cocker Spaniel," says Rowe, "take it with you in the car and on walks. Let your dog sit in your lap and watch TV with you and sleep with you at night. These are cuddly little dogs, they adore love. They really blossom with love."

Belk-Krebs challenges her Cocker Spaniels' minds and bodies with agility practice and competition. Flyball is another sport some of her dogs enjoy. "Others like the chase," she says, "but don't know what to do with the ball once they get it."

Avoid Problems From the Start

Because of the problems Cocker Spaniels can have with nervousness and aggression, the best way to avoid serious problems is to obtain dogs only from reputable dog breeders. "Make sure the breeder is someone you can go to for advice," says Buss. A dog breeder who knows the ins and outs of the Cocker Spaniel will be able to help you start your pup off the right way. A good dog breeder already has worked quite a bit with the puppy before you get it and can advise you how to continue its socialization.

Cocker Spaniels are busy, joyful dogs, playful, affectionate and merry. A properly bred Cocker Spaniel has courage and stamina and is an enthusiastic worker. Your best chance of getting a Cocker Spaniel with proper temperament is to go to a reliable, experienced dog breeder. Carefully check the breeder's reputation before you buy; it's worth the extra trouble to be sure you get a good dog.


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