The 30th most popular dog on the AKC’s breed list, the Cocker Spaniel was originally bred to be a hunting dog but has become a perennial favorite as a companion around the world. One of the many types of Spaniels created to hunt birds, Cockers are so named due to their intended focus on Woodcock. Popular in England starting in the 1800s, the Cocker Spaniel gained traction in America during the 1950s, thanks in part to the release of the Disney animated film “Lady and the Tramp”, featuring Lady the Cocker Spaniel.
Cocker Spaniel Appearance
The smallest member of the sporting dog group, Cockers typically weigh 20-30 pounds and stand 14-15 inches. Their soulful eyes are hard to resist, as are their long, soft ears. The tail is generally docked, and is always wagging. Their long, feathery hair can reach the floor if not trimmed, in some cases! Cocker Spaniels come in a variety of colors and patterns.
The Cocker Spaniel is extremely people-oriented, and are not good pets for people who are gone for long hours. They do not like to be left alone for lengthy periods and are prone to nuisance barking or destructive behavior if so. Crate training is a smart option for a Cocker that will be left alone for short, but regular intervals.
When well-socialized, Cocker Spaniels are some of the best breeds when it comes to being around children, other dogs, and cats. They are amiable and playful. Even with strangers, they are affectionate and social.
The life expectancy of a Cocker Spaniel is generally 12-15 years.
Caring for a Cocker Spaniel
Though they return loving care with doting affection, Cocker Spaniels do require more maintenance than some other breeds. Their sporting-dog designation and fine coat means that their owner will need to devote additional time to their needs each day. Cocker Spaniels are excellent choices for families, but not for those who are extremely busy with other obligations.
Veterinarians tend to see many overweight Cockers, so attention to nutrition is important. A dog’s intake and weight should be monitored and adjusted as necessary. Cockers are also known to be food sensitive, so owners will need to keep this in mind if they notice any allergy symptoms, such as skin itchiness.
Any high-quality dog food is appropriate for the Cocker Spaniel, but should be tailored to the dog’s age. Wet or dry food, or a combination of the two, can be fed depending on the preferences of the owner and the individual dog.
Treats should be limited and used sparingly, such as in training. Clean, fresh water should always be provided and easily accessible.
As a member of the sporting dog group, Cockers need daily exercise. However, they don’t need intense exercise such as long runs, instead they are happy with a brisk walk with their owner. A game of fetch is never out of the question, either!
Although they have become wonderful family dogs, this breed still holds hunting aptitude and are still used as bird dogs. Hunt training should begin at a young age if the owner plans to pursue it with their new companion.
Competitions are an option for Cockers as well. Hunt tests, agility, and field trials are opportunities for mental and physical engagement for the breed.
Training should start in a Cocker’s puppyhood, and should be gentle and consistent. These dogs are notoriously sensitive, so positive reinforcement during training often goes further than harsh punishment. This breed does not usually respond well to a disapproving tone of voice or yelling.
Cockers are notorious “people pleasers”, so training is generally easy if approached in the right manner from a young age. Food can be used as a strong motivator, but as aforementioned, caution should be used not to overdo it. Play can also be a reward for training progress.
As with all purebred breeds, Cocker Spaniels are prone to certain genetic issues. This breed is especially susceptible to eye problems. Some issues can be cosmetic, while others can go so far as to cause vision loss. It is recommended that all Cocker Spaniels have their eyes examined annually by a veterinary opthamologist. Owners should also see their vet if they notice any pawing at the eyes, squinting, redness, or unusual discharge.
Skin issues in Cockers often indicate food allergies. A simple allergy test can help identify the cause, and food avoidance along with allergy injections can help ease symptoms.
Though the cause isn’t clear, Cocker Spaniels seem more prone to autoimmune disease than other dog breeds.
The ears of the Cocker Spaniel will need to be monitored weekly, or more frequently if the individual tends to have issues with infection. The long, pendulous ears tend to trap warmth and moisture, which can harbor the growth of bacteria and fungi.
Unfortunately, while most of these issues are genetic, they aren’t usually detectable in puppies. The best way to prevent and minimize the impact of these diseases is to purchase puppies from reputable breeders and make regular veterinarian visits.
Monthly flea and tick preventative should be a part of the Cocker Spaniel’s care plan.
Brushing will need to happen several times a week, if not daily. Many owners remedy this by having their Cocker clipped every 4-6 weeks. A frequent choice is the “puppy cut”, which can be given to a dog of any age. This is when the hair is cut rather short all over. This keeps the dog clean and hair shedding under control. Other owners prefer the long, feathery coat of a show dog, though this requires a great deal more maintenance, bathing, and brushing. Grooming can be done by a professional or can be learned and completed at home.
- English Cocker Spaniel: Similar in many ways, this British cousin of the Cocker is its own unique breed.
- Welsh Springer Spaniel: Known as the “Welshie”, this is one of England’s oldest sporting breeds. At 17-19 inches, these dogs are slightly larger than the Cocker, but smaller than the English Springer Spaniels.
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: This breed is a delightful combination between a precocious toy breed and a more athletic spaniel. It has a proud role in British royal history, evidenced by its name.
- English Toy Spaniel: It was once decreed that these were the only dogs allowed in British Parliament!
- Nederlandse Kooikerhondje: This Dutch breed was used to hunt dogs long before gunpowder made its way to Europe. A “Kooiker” named Kuntz is credited with saving the life of his master-Prince William of Orange, the founder of the Dutch Monarchy-from a would-be assassin.