The Cocker Spaniel is a very happy and sociable dog. They are loved by many and one of the top 15 most popular breeds in the United States. They were originally bred for flushing out birds while hunting. This ability is still retained to some extent, but may be better in some lines than others. Nowadays Cocker Spaniels tend to have the important role of loving family companion.
Adult male Cocker Spaniels reach a height of 15 to 16.5 inches, whereas females are 14 to 14.5 inches tall. They typically weigh between 15 and 30 pounds at maturity.
Spaniels have been around for hundreds of years. They are believed to have originated in Spain – which is where the name ‘spaniel’ comes from. They were bred as hunting dogs and used to be grouped into land and water spaniels. Then in the United Kingdom they started to be refined and classified into different breeds of spaniel. The Cocker Spaniel was named because it helped in hunting woodcocks. They would flush out the birds from where they were hiding, and then locate them and retrieve them once they were shot down.
When the breed was imported to the United States, it had to be bred to a slightly different standard in order to hunt the American woodcock. At the same time, other breed differences were introduced physically. This resulted eventually in two different breeds – the English Cocker Spaniel and the American Cocker Spaniel. The American Kennel Club classifies the American Cocker Spaniel as the ‘Cocker Spaniel’, and the British type as the ‘English Cocker Spaniel’.
Just like in the movie, ‘Lady and the Tramp’, where Lady is a cocker spaniel, this breed is sweet and charming. They are loyal and love their families, and get on well with everyone. Their favorite pastime is receiving and giving attention. They are also very portable, making good traveling companions.
Cocker Spaniels have a double coat, with an undercoat protecting them against the elements, and a silky, medium length overcoat. They also have a lot of feathering on their ears, belly, legs and chest. Coat colors come in three main groups of black or black and tan, any other solid color than black, and parti-color. Parti-color means white with patches of other colors such as black or brown.
This breed would do well in an apartment, as they don’t need a whole lot of room, and only a moderate amount of activity. Cocker Spaniels should not be left outside for too long, as they will find amusement by digging up the yard or barking. Their undercoat helps to protect them against cold and wet weather. But in hot weather you might want to keep their hair trimmed shorter so they don’t overheat as easily. Providing shade and fresh water is also important when they are outside in the heat.
Cocker Spaniels are so friendly that they make terrible watchdogs. They are sociable and get on with everyone, including other dogs and pets. Bred to help in hunting, they will chase small animals though, so should be kept on a leash when they are outside. Some dogs may be more shy and others more aggressive, so good training and socialization at an early age is important. They do well with children and are sweet and gentle with them, but children should be taught how to treat them respectfully.
With their long silky coat, Cocker Spaniels need regular grooming. Many owners will take their spaniel to a professional groomer every few months for a trim and grooming to keep their coat in good condition. Otherwise matting can develop, which is hard to remove and may result in injury. Rinsing is important after bathing, otherwise their skin can get irritated. Their eyes should be cleaned regularly, and ear canals should be cleaned and dried. Their nails should be trimmed once a month. Cocker Spaniels have developed a reputation for being hard to groom. Often this is from a lack of training on how to accept handling.
Eager to please, this breed is easy to train because they want approval and affection. They should be trained with positive methods, and gentle and patient instruction. Housebreaking can be a challenge, but crate training usually helps. Training is not usually necessary for their inbred hunting skills of flushing and retrieving, as they have a natural instinct for it.
Cocker Spaniels are playful and energetic, so will be happy to accompany you on hikes and other outdoor activities like swimming. But they don’t need a huge amount of exercise, and a long walk coupled with some playing in the yard is usually enough. They enjoy playing fetch, and may also show interest in activities such as agility, obedience, hunting tests and field trials.
Your Cocker Spaniel’s diet should include a healthy balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Fresh water should be available at all times, and the primary source of protein should be good quality rather than a meat by-product.
Cocker Spaniel puppies should be fed three or four times a day when they are young, transitioning to three meals a day as they grow. By one year old they can have their food divided into two meals a day. You should give them a diet that is tailored to puppies, since they will need different levels of protein, fat and carbohydrate to the amounts an adult would need.
Many owners use a grain free food to feed their Cocker Spaniel, as it is less likely to cause skin problems and food sensitivities. However as a rule, Cocker Spaniels seem to be able to eat grains without too much problem. All dogs are different though, so you will need to cater your dog’s food to his individual needs.
Recommended daily feeding amount: 1.5 to 2.5 cups of high quality dry food, divided into two meals a day.
Spaniels tend to eat whenever they can, so food should be removed after being left out for 10-20 minutes. You will want to keep an eye on their weight to make sure they don’t become obese, as this can lead to health problems. The best way of doing that is to feel them and make sure you can feel their ribs. At the same time if you can see their ribs then they are too thin. Make sure you don’t feed them too many table scraps or treats, as these usually have more calories than standard dog food.
Common Health Concerns
Cocker Spaniels are susceptible to a few different eye problems. Progressive Retinal Atrophy is one of these – where the retina gradually deteriorates. It starts off with night blindness, which gradually progresses to daytime blindness. Dogs can live a relatively normal life even if they’re blind though, so long as you don’t move the furniture around too much. Other eye conditions include Cataracts, Glaucoma, and Entropion.
Hip Dysplasia can affect Cocker Spaniels, where the thigh bone doesn’t fit correctly into the hip socket. This is a genetic condition which causes lameness and pain. If you buy a puppy from a reputable breeder you can ask for proof that the parents were checked for this condition, as dogs with Hip Dysplasia should not be bred.
Cocker Spaniels also tend to be prone to a wide variety of allergies, including food allergies, contact allergies and inhalant allergies. If you become aware of itching, upset stomach, or other symptoms that might point to an allergy then you will probably need to treat it with medication, a change in diet, or a change in environment.
Patellar Luxation is another health condition that may affect this breed. In this condition, the knee joint slides in and out of place which can cause pain, and be crippling. In rare cases, Epilepsy can be diagnosed in a Cocker Spaniel. This usually shows itself in seizures, so if you notice mild or severe seizures you should take your dog to the vet to be checked. There are also other conditions that can cause seizures. They can also be prone to Hypothyroidism, where the Thyroid gland produces insufficient hormones. This can be managed with medication.
Cocker Spaniels are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Cocker Spaniels in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don’t see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Cocker Spaniel rescue.