The sweet, gentle Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the American Kennel Club sporting dogs. She has a strong physique and a lovely, silky coat that can be either flat or wavy. The breed is active and energetic, and is happiest on the hunt or going for a long walk with her favorite people. Though endlessly patient when treated with love, Cockers are sensitive dogs who are known to growl or snap if they are reprimanded harshly. Training and socialization from an early age will draw out the most endearing qualities of this charming dog.
The Cocker Spaniel's beautiful, long coat is her defining feature. The silky fur can be straight or wavy. The coat comes in a wide variety of solid and mixed coat colors, including black, black and white, red roan, blue roan, sable, black and tan, brown and white, cream, and golden.
Average Height: 15-17 inches
Male: 25-30 pounds
Female: 20-25 pounds
Breed Standard & History
The Cocker Spaniel has a strong, compact physique, and a chiseled head with a noble profile. Her tail is typically docked to prevent injuries in the field. She is happy-go-lucky, but never frivolous. When focus is required during the hunt or field training, the cocker is attentive and serious. She is surprisingly fast for her size and able to sustain her energy over long days spent walking or hunting.
The Cocker Spaniel's name derives from her expertise hunting woodcock, a variety of wading bird. In 1946, the AKC formally recognized two breeds of cockers—the Cocker Spaniel and the English Cocker Spaniel. Though similar in temperament, English Cocker Spaniels are taller and heavier than their American cousins, and have a longer, narrower head, and eyes that are more almond shaped. Many also believe the English Cocker Spaniel's breeding retained a focus on hunting skills, while the Cocker Spaniel was bred for show ring success and companionship. Her supreme sweetness was immortalized by 'Lady,' the Cocker Spaniel heroine of the 1955 movie Lady and the Tramp, which catapulted the Cocker's popularity in the US.
AKC Breed Category
Often called the "Merry Cocker," this medium-build spaniel has an amiable, fun-loving nature. Her gentle, loving temperament makes her a peaceful companion and a calming therapy dog. The Cocker Spaniel has lots of energy to burn and loves company. If left alone without activity, she'll show her displeasure through excessive barking and other unwanted behaviors.
Are Cocker Spaniels Good with Kids? The Cocker's gentle nature makes her a good playmate for children, especially if she is accustomed to having kids around from an early age.
(Note: Every dog has a unique personality and distinct life experiences that affect her disposition. As a rule, adults should always supervise playdates between kids and their four-legged friends.)
Are Cocker Spaniels Good with Other Pets? The rambunctious, yet considerate Cocker Spaniel enjoys having other dogs to play with at home or at the dog park. They have a strong prey drive, so they should be monitored around birds, cats, and other small family pets.
Cocker Spaniels are generally gentle dogs who are not known for being overly protective when meeting other dogs or people. They will protect their home turf, however, and bark loudly when they hear noises.
Are Cocker Spaniels Good Guard Dogs? Cockers are attentive guard dogs who will alert the house—and all the neighbors—when someone is approaching the homestead.
Cocker Spaniels are energetic and need a few brisk walks and games of catch each day to keep them from developing destructive habits.
- Because of their popularity, Cockers are often bred in puppy mills without consideration for temperament. It is crucial to select Cocker puppies from responsible breeders.
- Excessive barking
- They are sensitive and respond best to gentle guidance and positive reinforcement.
- Prone to nervousness and submissive urination.
- May dash off after a bird, so Cockers should be leashed on walks and should wear a personalized collar with your contact information on it.
- The extra care needed for their luxurious coats can get expensive.
- Cocker Rage Syndrome or Sudden Onset Aggression – This very rare condition can occur in any dog breed but has been most frequently documented in Cocker Spaniels and show-bred English Springer Spaniels. It is defined by a sudden act of extreme aggression towards someone nearby. A few minutes after the incident, the dog will behave as though nothing has happened and appear not to remember. There is not an abundance of research into the condition, but it is thought to be an epileptic-type disorder or a genetic disorder caused by low serotonin in the brain.
Because of their compact size, Cockers make excellent dogs for apartments or smaller homes. Though hearty enough for long outdoor romps, they are indoor dogs who want to be close to their families at all times. They shed, but not excessively, and regular grooming will help contain the fur around the house. Gently and consistently train your Cocker to respond to the 'quiet' command to keep the peace at home and maintain positive relationships with neighbors.
Cockers enjoy forays outdoors, whether it's a play session in the yard or a long walk. But because she is extremely sensitive to being left alone, it is unkind to leave a Cocker Spaniel in the yard by herself for more than a few minutes.
Cockers are active, but probably require the least exercise among the sporting dogs. Two long daily walks and a game of fetch will keep this breed in excellent condition.
Cocker Spaniels are bred for long days hunting. They can handle a lot of vigorous exercise, as long as they are given time to rest with you at the end of the day.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: A healthy Cocker Spaniel can keep up with you for a two-mile jog. Keep in mind they are the among the smallest of the sporting dogs, so they are taking extra strides to keep pace.
- Hiking Miles: Cockers love exploring and can easily manage a half-day hike.
Cockers require 1½ to 2½ cups of quality dry dog food each day, split between two meals. They will beg for food and treats, but keep extra food to a minimum to prevent them from gaining weight.
Cocker Spaniels are not comfortable being alone. This is not an ideal breed for homes where the entire family is gone for hours at a time. Cockers are prone to developing separation anxiety even when left alone for short periods of time, and can develop destructive behavior as a coping mechanism. Counter-conditioning, desensitization, and crate training can help alleviate the problem and prevent household damage.
Health and Grooming
To keep the long, luxurious coat of the Cocker Spaniel in good condition requires extra attention. If you plan to keep your Cocker's coat long, you must wash and trim it once weekly, and brush it daily to prevent knots and matting. For those who opt for the easier 'puppy cut,' a bath every two weeks and brushing every few days is adequate. Cockers are prone to ear infections, so the ears should be wiped with gentle, veterinarian-approved cleanser and checked weekly. Their nails should be trimmed every few weeks, ideally before you hear the telltale clicking sound that suggests they are too long.
Common Health Issues
Cocker Spaniels may present the following breed-specific health conditions:
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Autoimmune hemolytic anemia
- Primary seborrhea, a skin condition
- Canine hip dysplasia
- Separation anxiety
- Patellar luxation
You can minimize serious health concerns in a Cocker Spaniel by purchasing from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
Cocker Spaniels are intelligent and eager to please, so they pick up on basic commands quickly. For any level of training, Cockers require gentle treatment because they are sensitive to harsh reprimands.
This curious dog loves learning new skills and showing off her athletic abilities. Cockers are skilled on the agility course, playing canine sports, and in advanced obedience training.
Sporting Dog Training
Cocker Spaniels are hunting dogs by nature and excel at field training. Many believe the English Cocker Spaniel is the better choice for hunting than her American cousins.
Here are a few commonly asked questions about Cocker Spaniels.
No. Cocker Spaniels shed and thus release pet dander into your home. Dander is the cause of most pet-related allergies.
Cockers are not particularly hyperactive, especially when well trained and given enough exercise. But without companionship, activity, and training, they will bark excessively.
Cocker Spaniels were originally bred to hunt woodcock, a wading bird, so they are comfortable in the water. They make good swimmers, but aren't eager to jump into every watering hole they pass. Always supervise your Cocker near bodies of water.
Yes, if allowed to develop the habit. Cockers are more prone to barking when left alone for long periods of time, or if they are poorly trained and socialized. Gently train your Cocker to respond to the "quiet" command from an early age.