Breed of the Week: The Cocker Spaniel (Video)


The Cocker Spaniel is best known as a companion dog, although he has his origins as a bird dog. He’s a very pretty dog, with his long, soft ears and silky coat (so if you don’t like grooming, bail out of this post and look for another breed), and extremely affectionate. Nothing pleases a cocker more than snuggling up on the sofa with his Mom and Dad, unless it’s playing in the yard with his human brothers and sisters. Keep reading to learn more about this great family dog.


Spaniels actually date way back. Originally, they were divided into water and land groups. The Cocker Spaniel actually gets his name for his ability to hunt the small game bird known as the woodcock.

For a long time, spaniels didn’t even have individual names. They were more named for their function than for anything else, as suggested above. It wasn’t until James Farrow actually named the breed in 1892 that Cocker Spaniels became recognized as a breed.

Before that, Americans who liked spaniels started importing what would today be known as the Cocker Spaniel into the United States. In 1881, the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America was formed by two men: James Watson and Clinton Wilmerding. They actually worked to breed a number of spaniel types, but eventually club members split off according to the characteristics they preferred.

Cockers became very popular, and in 1936, a specialty club was formed: the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America. A couple of years later, the club passed a motion to the effect that English Cockers and American Cockers ought not to be interbred. They also prohibited American Cockers from being shown in English classes.

Then, in 1939, a Cocker, CHC My Own Brucie, won Best of American Breed at the Westminster Dog Show, and the rest, as they say, is history. Brucie was beloved all over America, and when he died, his obituary was published in The New York Times.


Cocker Spaniel males stand about 15 inches at the shoulder, and females about 14 inches. Either sex will weigh anywhere from 24-28 pounds.


Properly bred Cocker Spaniels have exceptionally good temperaments. They’re cuddly and affectionate, and also active and alert. They love going for walks and playing vigorously, but they also love snuggling up with their humans.

The one thing that you need to know about a Cocker Spaniel, though, is that he’s never going to respond well to harsh treatment. If you punish him, he might snap, especially if he’s scared. You have to handle this dog carefully and with kindness.


Cocker Spaniels are pretty healthy, generally speaking but can be prone to eye problems. One issue is PRA (progressive retinal atrophy). This is a disorder that affects the retina and can lead to blindness. Glaucoma is another issue that can happen. If your dog’s eyes look red or cloudy, or he starts rubbing at his eyes, have your veterinarian check him out.

Another condition that can affect Cockers is AIHA (autoimmune hemolytic anemia). This is a disorder that occurs when the dog’s immune system doesn’t work properly. Symptoms can include fatigue, jaundice, pale gums and a swollen abdomen. The condition is treatable, but if your dog is diagnosed with AIHA, you should spay or neuter;  the condition is genetic, and you don’t want to pass it on.

Another issue that can affect Cocker Spaniels is hypothyroidism. This can cause skin problems as well as laziness, obesity, and even epilepsy. It’s treatable though, usually through medication and a special diet.

Cockers can also be prone to allergies. If it’s a food allergy, it’s no biggie; just don’t feed whatever is causing the reaction. If the allergy is to dust, you might need to go with a hypoallergenic type of bedding. If the problem is fleas, see your vet; don’t go with over-the-counter flea remedies, because sometimes they can do more harm than good.

Epilepsy is another disorder that can occur in Cocker Spaniels. The symptoms might be mild, or they could be severe. Epilepsy will manifest as seizures, and any type of seizure issue warrants a trip to the vet.

Hip Dysplasia is another problem that you might have with your Cocker. This type of disorder is usually problematic in large dogs, but small dogs don’t always get a pass. If you’ve bought your Cocker from a reputable breeder, they should be able to show you clearances on the parents. You won’t get them on a puppy, because the disorder doesn’t usually manifest in dogs under the age of two. If the parents are clear, though, chances are that hip dysplasia won’t be a problem in your puppy.

That’s about it. As you can tell from the foregoing, Cocker Spaniels are typically healthy dogs. These are just things to keep in mind, not necessarily disorders that your dog will ever develop.

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Care and Feeding

Cocker Spaniels are perfect for shut-ins and apartment dwellers in that they are very happy to be inside snuggling with their humans.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t exercise your dog. Cockers love daily walks, and also enjoy playing games in the yard with their humans. They don’t like being left alone in the yard, though; for that matter, no dog does! So give your Cocker outdoor time, but bring him in when you’re done playing so that he can enjoy snuggle time. If you neglect him, and leave him outdoors, there’s a very real risk that he’ll turn into a holy terror. That’s true of any dog.

As to feeding, Cockers aren’t huge gluttons, so you can free feed if you want to. Keep in mind, though, that these dogs are skilled beggars. You’ll probably have to really work at saying “No” to those big brown eyes when your dog is asking for treats.

If you want to feed on a schedule, you should give your Cocker anywhere from a cup and a half to two and a half cups of quality dog food each day, spread over two meals.

It’s worth mentioning, of course, that dogs aren’t all that much different from humans when it comes to how much they should eat. If your Cocker Spaniel is really active, he might need more food. If he’s a bit of a couch potato (as many Cockers are), he will need less.

Coat and Grooming

Cockers are absolutely gorgeous dogs, but they do need a lot in the way of grooming. The coat on a Cocker Spaniel is thick and wavy, and might be a solid color or a combination of white and another color. Either way, you’re going to have to brush vigorously every day if you expect to keep your Cocker’s coat tangle-free. If you’re not happy with a dog that needs a lot of grooming, then step away from the Cocker; this is not the right dog for you.

The Cocker Spaniel is also one of the very few dog breeds that really needs regular bathing – every two months, at least.

Given the grooming requirement when it comes to Cocker Spaniels, you should start early getting your dog used to grooming. He’s going to have to get the idea that this will be a regular part of his life. The trouble here is that, as sweet as Cockers generally are, many have a really bad attitude when it comes to grooming. So you will definitely have to start early if you want your Cocker to be okay with bathing and brushing.

Cockers can also be really sensitive when it comes to their ears, but given that they’re so long, floppy and hairy, it’s really important to check them regularly for dirt or anything that might suggest an infection. Wipe your Cocker’s ears out every week using a vet-approved solution. Don’t use Q-tips; the danger of them breaking off and lodging in the ear canal is every bit as real with your dog as it is with humans.

To further protect your Cocker’s ears, use shallow water bowls. If he’s not dragging his ears in the bowl, he’s also not pulling germs and bacteria up into his ears.

Kids and Other Pets

The Cocker Spaniel is probably as close to the perfect family pet as you’re ever going to get. He’s great with kids, and also respectful of other animals. Keep in mind, though, that this is a sensitive dog, and he might not react favorably to rough handling. In other words, don’t worry too much about training the dog; instead, train your kids!

Rough handling is a big no-no. There should be no rough-housing or ear-pulling. Your Cocker will be a great family dog as long as there are certain rules in place. And of course, never leave a dog of any breed or any temperament alone with young children. S*** can happen, and it happens when kids and dogs are left unattended.

As to other pets, a Cocker Spaniel that is introduced properly into a household with other animals is probably not going to present a problem. The breed doesn’t have much of a prey drive. Nonetheless, take the same approach as you would with children – supervise.

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The Final Word

If you want a relatively small dog that’s great with kids and other animals, then I highly recommend the Cocker Spaniel. This breed is also amazingly good with singletons. In short, the Cocker is just a good, all-around dog. You could do a lot worse.