What are Cocker Spaniel's like?
Famously friendly and energetic, the Cocker Spaniel is an exceptional family pet, but does have a lot of energy and fur so they require moderate amounts of walking and grooming. But their adorable paw-sonalities make them pup-ular companions, as they are super loving and eager to please, which makes training easy.
English Cocker Spaniel overview
The English Cocker Spaniel is a people pleaser, and has been one of the most pup-ular breeds in the world for decades. This is largely thanks to their loving and gentle personality. They have all the benefits of the similar Springer Spaniel, but come in a smaller package with a wider array of colours. Like the Springer, Cocker Spaniels also come in two distinct lines, show dogs and working dogs. Regardless of the line, your Cocker Spaniel will always have thick fur, feathering, and pendulous ears.
Although they are one of the most pup-ular pets, the Cocker Spaniel was originally bred as a gundog. Many of the traits needed for their work persist, including their desire to work, eagerness to please, and the ability to be in the fields all day and never tire out.
This small spaniel packs in all the energy and enthusiasm needed for a successful hunter, but has an affinity for humans and a sharp mind so they are still easy to train. This balance has made them paw-fect pets for active families, as working gundogs, and as detection dogs.
However, their sociable nature and high energy levels do mean this is not a dog for a sedentary home or one where they will be alone for long periods. Although many dogs do get used to being home while the owner is working, they can develop separation anxiety.
Cocker Spaniel breed history
Centuries of shared history
The Cocker Spaniel’s history is tied with the history of the Springer Spaniel. Centuries ago these two breeds, and many other kinds of spaniel, were all considered one and the same and lumped together under the catch-all term, “Spaniel”.
It isn’t certain where they actually originated, but many accept these dogs came from Spain once upon a time. Although who brought them to the UK and when that happened are both lost to time. Regardless of where they came from, they have been here at least since the Roman period, if not even earlier.
Classified by function
As we mentioned, the different breeds of Spaniel didn’t emerge for some time, and they all were all simply classed as “spaniels”. Later, Spaniels began to be divided into groups based on where and what they hunted, and the manner in which they worked.
The greatest division was between water spaniels and land spaniels depending on whether the dog retrieved from the water, or on land. Later, land spaniels were split into functional categories according to how they hunted.
Setting Spaniels (Setters) would point at their prey to alert hunters, while Springing Spaniels would flush birds out into the air where they could be shot, or for a falcon to try to catch them. Cocking Spaniels were a subdivision of Springing Spaniels, so named for their excellence at hunting woodcock.
Close cousins of the Springer
Springer Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels were bred side by side for many years. In fact, they were once the exact same breed. When a litter was born to a Springer, the puppies would be classed according to their size. Springers being larger, and Cockers smaller. That meant you could have both Cockers and Springers from the same litter!
However, Cocker Spaniels became their own breed in the late 19th Century. Their shared ancestry with the Springer means that both breeds share many characteristics, such as their long ears, feathers, and temperament. They both show versatility as gundogs as they can both flush and retrieve game. They are also “soft-mouthed”, meaning they are able to carry birds without piercing the skin or damaging their prey so that they can be presented to the dinner table.
Around this time dog fanciers shipped the breed to America, where owners took a paw-ticulty liking to Cockers that were smaller than average with showier looks. Breeders began to try and bring these characteristics out, such as the longer ears and more pronounced eyes, while also aiming to make more of a show dog and companion rather than a hunting partner. This led to the creation of the American Cocker Spaniel.
Both the American and English Cocker Spaniel have been pup-ular across the pond, but the American breed took the states by storm. They were the most popular dog breed in the US for decades, and became a fixture of pop culture, most notably as “Lady” in Disney’s The Lady and the Tramp.
English Cocker Spaniel vs American Cocker Spaniel
The American and English Cocker share many characteristics, such as long ears and abundant feathering. However, their faces are different. English Cockers are taller and have longer snouts, with a characteristic “melting” expression and dark, round eyes.
The American Cocker has more pronounced feathering on their sides and longer ears, which are set lower in their skull. Their skull itself is more domed with a sharp stop where it meets their snout. They also have chiselling under their almond-shaped eyes, which helps to make their eyes more pronounced. Overall, the American Cocker is a touch smaller and more “showy” looking than it’s English cousin.
Their personalities are different too. Although both breeds are similar, the American Cocker tends to be a little more sedate. Both need the same amount of grooming and have similar exercise needs though.
Cocker Spaniel vs Springer Spaniel
Springers and Cockers are most easily divided by size and colour, as Cockers are smaller and have a wider variety of coat colours. Most notably, only the Cocker comes in solid, single colours.
Another difference is their fur. Although they sport similar coats and feathering, the Cocker’s fur is thicker and fuller, giving them a “fluffy” feel and appearance.
Although smaller, the Cocker still has high energy and exercise needs and requires the same amount of grooming as a Springer. Their temperaments are very similar too. That means the biggest consideration between these breeds is their size. (The same difference that separated the breeds in the first place!)
Cocker Spaniel facts
Most likely to win Crufts
Cockers are the breed with the most “Best in Show” wins at Crufts, and statistically are more likely to win than any other pooch. They’ve been top dog at the world’s most famous dog show seven times, while no other breed has claimed more than four crowns.
Admittedly, six of these seven wins were for a single breeder, H. S. Lloyd. He entered three dogs into Crufts, each pooch winning Best In Show twice each. That’s not to be sniffed at!
Cunning detection dogs
Tangle, a chocolate Cocker, was a pioneer in trialing the use of dogs to detect cancer. Although he was only 56% correct on the first trial, he kept indicating one “healthy” sample, and it was later discovered the patient actually had kidney cancer.
With further training, Tangle’s skill improved to 86% detection rate, and he was voted the coolest K9 in 2005. Tangle retired in 2012 at age 10, but made a huge mark on the use of dogs in medicine, including the charity Medical Detection Dogs which uses Tangle as their logo to this day.
This year, cockers (and labradors) trained to detect the disease have started trials to detect cancer in fellow dogs. Which means Cockers are making medical history once again!
Spaniels to shoes
The original boat shoes made by Paul Sperry were inspired by his Cocker He noticed his dog could run on ice without slipping, and realised his pup’s paws had grooves that helped to give him traction. He cut similar wavy markings into the soles of his shoes which helped to prevent slipping, and thus invented the boat shoes we know today.
Pup-ular with famous faces
From presidents to royalty, Cockers are loved all over. Two American presidents have owned Cocker Spaniels, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge own Lupo the Cocker, and dozens of celebrities coo over the breed, including Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney, and even the Beckhams.
Cocker Spaniel stats
Back when the breed first began to be separated from Springers, it was noted that Cockers should be under 12.7kg in weight. Nowadays, Cockers can be a little bigger. They’re a medium-sized dog with a sturdy build and characteristic long, curly ears. They have medium length fur that does shed, and feathers on their ears, legs, tail and chest.
|Average Height:||40.6 - 43.1 cm||38.1 - 40.6 cm|
|Average Weight:||12.7 - 15.4 kg||11.7 - 14.5 kg|
|Lifespan:||11-13 years||11-13 years|
Cocker Spaniel temperament
Cocker Spaniels are an incredibly social, playful, and loving breed. In fact, they’re so good-natured they have earned the moniker the “merry Cocker”. Their tails are endlessly wagging and their expression should be sweet and cheerful by breed standards, as well as through their bright and bubbly personality.
As well as thriving on human company and attention, Cockers are good with children and other animals. They do have a high prey drive though thanks to their hunting background, so be careful if you own any small animals like rabbits. Although with proper socialisation, your pup will probably look upon even “prey” animals as another member of the family.
Their hunting origins also mean that the breed was bred to be hard-working, eager to please, and easy to handle. This means they aren’t just focused on their humans, they actively want to play and work with you, which lends the breed to being easy to train.
Training will be necessary, especially if you want to be able to let this dog off the lead. Like most spaniels and gundogs, they can be “deaf” to command if on a scent, so you will need to build excellent recall if you want to be able to let your dog off the lead.
Despite being social, Cockers are sensitive. They are very adept at understanding your tone, and can be wary of strangers. Although confident, the breed can also be nervous in new situations or when meeting new people. (They’re often bolder meeting dogs.) So despite being boisterous and bouncy at home, your pooch might be more reserved on walks and when meeting others.
Can Cocker Spaniels be left alone?
Typically, no. Cockers thrive on human company and don’t do well if they’re left alone for long periods of time. However, just as some dogs are prone to separation anxiety, other individuals are content to be alone. It depends a lot on the individual dog and what training you do to teach them that being home alone isn’t scary.
Usually though, your Cocker shouldn’t be left for too long. If you’re at work all day, make sure you take them on a walk before and after work so that they rest in the day and make sure you have plenty of quality time together. Equally, if they are home in the day, it’s best to book a dog walker to pay them a visit, or send them to doggy daycare.
Many Cockers are seriously anxious when alone, often leading to destructive behaviour and howling within minutes of their owner leaving. Yet there are just as many pooches happy to stay home. Having company in the form of another dog or a bonded cat can help, as well as the usual boredom-busting tricks. However, the simple truth is that you should expect that your dog won’t like being left out, and you’ll need careful training to get them used to spending any time alone.
Are Cocker Spaniels good family pets?
Generally, Cockers are an amazing choice for a family pet. These dogs are playful, loyal, and affectionate so will happily spend all day, every day with their humans cuddling on the sofa and horsing around. However, due to their high energy levels, they can be boisterous. When combined with excitable kids , it means you could have dogs and children running amok, feeding off one another’s high energy.
This enthusiasm means many suggest they don’t live with younger children. But truth be told, the dog’s gentle nature and their sensitivity means that they tend to be aware of the gentleness required around children.
However given their high energy levels, Cockers are not suited for a sedentary household. They are adaptable dogs though, and can live in smaller homes as long as they get plenty of exercise.
Do Cocker Spaniels bark a lot?
They’re reasonably quiet, but Cocker Spaniels will usually bark if someone is at the door. It’s a good idea to teach your dog the “quiet” command so if they do speak up, you can put a stop to it. Meanwhile, individual dogs that are more nervous or have separation anxiety are more likely to bark or even howl if left alone.
Cocker Spaniel appearance
Cocker Spaniels are a medium-sized dog and like most spaniels, their appearance is largely defined by their long, elegant ears and the soft wavy fur. Although they have a medium length coat that can be straight or wavy, Cockers have longer fur on their ears, legs, belly, and tail that form feathers.
Show Cockers have longer ears and coats, and their feathers will form a skirt-like fringe around their bellies and legs. Meanwhile, working Cockers ears are higher on their head and move more freely, and they usually have less feathering on their bellies. Both working and show line Cockers are about the same size, and have sweet faces with round, dark eyes.
Cocker Spaniel colours
Cockers come in a wide range of colours and can be solid colour, parti-colour, or patterns such as roan, sable, or ticked. Cocker Spaniels come in almost every colour imaginable for a dog, and many owners are drawn to the breed for their sweet expression and fabulous fur. But what are those patterns and Cocker Spaniel colours?
Roan is a coat pattern where a Cocker has a base colour, but then has hairs of a secondary colour mixed in, muting the base colour. For instance, a dog might be black, but have some white hairs mixed in, giving them an almost smoky effect on their fur.
Ticking meanwhile is when the dog has white areas that have spots of another colour. These spots are small, and reminiscent of if you flick paint from a paintbrush onto paper. They often appear on a dog’s legs.
Sable is when their fur grows in two different colours, but both colours appear on the same strand of hair. Their fur will grow with one colour at the base, and a secondary colour that is at the tip of the hair. For example, a sable dog may have very dark hair at the roots but is gold at the tip.
Between the different colours and patterns, there are upwards of 20 standard combinations of Cocker colours.
Even within these colours, there’s plenty of variety. For instance, there are 6 different examples of “blue roan”. When you add in these variations, there are about 37 combinations of colour out there.
The standard Cocker Spaniel colours are:
|Black||Black and white||Black, white, and tan|
|Black and tan||Red||Red and white|
|Lemon and white||Lemon roan||Blue roan|
|Blue roan and tan||Liver||Liver and white|
|Liver and tan||Liver, white, and tan||Liver roan|
|Liver roan and tan||Sable||Sable roan|
Cocker Spaniel lifespan
Cockers are a reasonably long-lived breed, and the average Cocker Spaniel lifespan is 12 to 14 years. However, many pooches have been known to reach their mid teens. They are a hardy breed in general so with lots of love, regular exercise, and a healthy diet your pooch should live well past a decade.
What problems do Cocker Spaniels have?
Generally, Cockers are a healthy breed. There are a handful of hereditary conditions like hip dysplasia that parent pooches should be screened for before they are bred, which helps to continue the good health of the breed. Otherwise, many of the problems Cocker Spaniels have are preventable and treatable, and can usually be managed effectively with good hygiene and a healthy diet.
Some of the health problems Cocker Spaniels have are:
- Hip dysplasia
- Skin conditions
- Ear infections
- Eye problems
Hip dysplasia affects many breeds of dog, and it is a condition where the ball and socket of the hip joint don’t fit together properly. It’s uncomfortable and leads to arthritis. However, dogs that are going to be bred should be screened for this condition so the chances of their puppies inheriting the problem are slim.
Skin conditions are common with all breeds of dog, but most owners don’t realise that the majority of issues are caused by diet. Although some conditions are caused by direct contact with an irritant, most allergens are eaten. This means that between regular grooming and a good grain-free diet, most causes of canine skin conditions will be dealt with.
Cockers are prone to ear infections because of their long, furry ears. They are dark and warm, making them the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Regular cleaning and brushing to get rid of any dirt and matted fur will help keep their ears clean.
Plus, many canine ear infections are triggered by allergens that they have either encountered or eaten. (Usually, eaten.) If your Cocker is paw-ticularly prone to ear infections, your vet might advise you to try a hypoallergenic diet.
Pancreatitis can affect any dog, but Cockers are especially susceptible. As pancreatitis is caused by high amounts of fat in the diet, it is advisable to feed your pooch a balanced diet and avoid feeding them any fatty treats or table scraps.
There are a few eye problems that Cockers are prone to, including cataracts. Sadly, some conditions like cataracts simply become more common with age. All you can do to protect your pup’s eyes is make sure they are healthy and attend regular vet check-ups.
As you can see, many of the conditions Cockers are prone to are common canine illnesses. There are other problems to keep an eye on, such as obesity and bad breath, but these can be prevented with a healthy diet and good grooming and hygiene practices.
How much exercise do Cockers need?
Cocker spaniels are an active dog and need a moderate amount of exercise every day. Ideally, your Cocker Spaniel should have an hour’s walk every day, but ideally more. You can scale the amount of exercise according to your dog’s needs. But if you plan to keep daily walks to an hour, make sure you provide plenty of mental stimulation and games for your dog at home and one or two longer walks each week where they have ample op-paw-tunity to explore the undergrowth and sniff around like they were bred for.
Having been bred to accompany humans shooting, they’re used to spending hours in a field running back and forth sniffing out birds and fetching downed prey. So you should expect to spend plenty of time walking and entertaining your Cocker.
Need some inspiration for your next long walk with your Cocker Spaniel? Browse our favourite walkies to find your next adventure.
Cocker Spaniel puppies
When is a Cocker Spaniel fully grown?
A Cocker Spaniel will reach their adult height by 10-12 months, so they will be as tall as they will ever be by the time they reach their first birthday. However, this is not the end of their development. They will continue to gain weight and fill out over the next few months as their muscles develop.
By the time your Cocker Spaniel is 18-24 months old, they should be at their full adult height and weight. Meaning your Cocker Spaniel will be completely grown and developed by the time they have their second birthday.
Are Cocker Spaniels hard to train?
It was once noted in the 60s that Cockers had enthusiasm but a bit of a stubborn streak when compared to their Springer cousins. However, the difference seems long forgotten now and Cockers are an easy to train dog.
They’re eager to please and intelligent, so pick up tricks quickly. However, they are sensitive souls and paw-ticularly good at understanding your tone, so you must be patient and gentle with your dog.
What age do Cocker Spaniels calm down?
As a Cocker doesn’t reach physical maturity until they are 2 years old, the rule of thumb is that they do not reach their mental adulthood until then either. But, most people will say that Cocker Spaniels don’t calm down until they are 2-3 years old. Although this breed will always be active and busy well into their adult life, so don’t hold your breath!
That means your Cocker will very likely seem hyper when they’re young, and you will need to provide plenty of exercise, playtime, and mental stimulation to help them burn off their excess energy. Some dogs do calm down after they have been neutered or spayed, as some hyperactivity may be linked to hormonal changes in their body.
Hyperactivity can also be affected by diet. Kibble is especially notorious, as the sugars and simple carbohydrates in biscuits (thanks to the high starch content) break down into glucose quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar. Instead, your dog’s energy should come from complex carbs, from healthy fats, and protein to provide more stable energy and help prevent hyperactivity. (Find out more about the importance of your Cocker’s diet.)
Most people love Cockers for their energy and enthusiasm, but when both seem endless you might be longing for a calmer pooch. The problem is, this dog was bred to be active and working. That means even in adulthood they have quick minds and need a lot of exercise and stimulation to keep them happy. It’s a double-edged sword though, as their need for stimulation does mean they are super keen to join in with you for playtime and training.
In other words, you should always expect your dog to be lively both physically and mentally. Even adult dogs will have the occasional case of the zoomies, but still love to spend hours with you having a cuddle and a kip on the couch.
Cocker Spaniel names
Since they’re one of the most pup-ular breeds in Britain, you’ve probably met Cockers with all kinds of names. Working dogs are often given short, one-syllable names by their owners on the premise they are easy to shout loudly and clearly, and easy for the dog to understand. (Better for recall, allegedly.)
Otherwise, you might favour a more glamorous name that is befitting their charming looks. If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to finding the paw-fect Cocker Spaniel name, try browsing these 1000 girl dog names and 1000 boy dog names.
Cocker Spaniel grooming
Cocker Spaniel brushing
Cocker Spaniels have medium length fur that is either straight or slightly wavy and has a silky feel, which is reasonably easy to care for. However, their long ears and feathers need greater care and frequent brushing, (unless you cut them short.)
Their ears and feathers are a magnet for mud and burrs, and you should brush them at least once a week to make sure there are no tangles. You should pay special attention to underneath their ears and beside their tail, as the fur grows thickly here and is prone to matting. Many suggest daily brushing for your dog, but this seems excessive unless they’re running in the bracken every day. Every week or few days is usually fine.
Although your Cocker should only need their fur clipped once a year ready for summer to help keep them cool, you should trim their feathers and ears more often to stop them from getting scruffy and unmanageable. (It also makes them look very puppy-like!)
Washing your Cocker Spaniel
As for bathing, your Cocker should really be washed whenever they need it. These dogs love nosing through the undergrowth and are more than happy to go rolling in mud and splashing in any water they find. Because they are such dirt magnets, you might have to wash your Cocker regularly just for the sake of cleanliness and smelliness. If your dog isn’t in dire need of a bath, you can wash them once every 2-3 months. But obviously wash them more often if they need it!
Even between baths, you can try “spot-cleaning” your dog. Just brushing their feathers will often remove a lot of dirt and dead fur, and washing their muddy paws and legs with warm water after a walk is usually enough to keep them clean.
Although Cockers are usually fond of water, some can be nervous at bathtime.
Keep ears and paws clean
On top of this, your will need to pay paw-ticular attention to your Cockers ears and paws. Their long, furry ears are prone to infections so you should clean them regularly with gauze or cotton wool, and rinse them once a month with a special cleaning solution.
Their paws meanwhile grow fur between their pads, so you need to clean and clip the hair regularly to prevent painful matts that can splay their toes.
Do Cocker Spaniels shed?
Yes, Cocker Spaniels shed an average amount, so you will probably find hair on your clothes and furniture. Regular bathing and grooming will help to cut down on shedding though.
You will notice shedding increasing as the season changes, as your Cocker will moult into summer and winter coats to help them adapt to the changing temperatures. Cocker Spaniels are a double-coated breed, so they should have their undercoat stripped regularly by a groomer to help deal with shedding.
Shedding will also vary according to the individual dog and factors such as their neutering status. For instance, intact bitches that have not been spayed will shed during hormonal changes such as during seasons and pregnancy. Meanwhile, a neutered dog may not shed as much.
Are Cocker Spaniels hypoallergenic?
No, Cockers shed their fur and dander an average amount for dogs so they aren’t the best breed for anyone with allergies. That being said, allergies can be triggered by fur, dander, or drool and can vary between breeds, even those that shed. If you suffer from allergies, it’s best to spend time with the breed you fancy to see if you can live together without pup-set.
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