The American Cocker Spaniel is an intelligent, happy, and playful dog. Originally bred for hunting, American Cocker Spaniels have become popular family pets—in part because of their convenient size. They’re big enough to participate in busy family life activities, yet small enough to pack up and take on outings.
Cocker Spaniel History
Some experts believe the ancestor of the American Cocker Spaniel—the English Cocker Spaniel—was on the Mayflower when the ship arrived in the Americas in 1620. From there, Cocker Spaniels became the constant companions of settlers, taking on prominent roles as family guards and hunters.
The American Cocker Spaniel is more petite than its ancestor, the English Cocker Spaniel. In fact, it’s the smallest dog in the entire Sporting breed group.
Though American Cocker Spaniels excel as hunting dogs, they’re equally suited to life as household pets. As a result, they’ve been extremely popular in the United States for decades. So much so that classic books and movies have often portrayed the breed (e.g., “Spot” in the Dick and Jane series, “Lady” in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp).
Cocker Spaniel Traits
American Cocker Spaniels have sturdy, compact bodies and chiseled, refined heads. Their strong backs slope slightly downward from their shoulders to their tails. The breed is well-balanced and built for both speed and endurance.
Coat and Coloring
The hair on the top of the Cocker Spaniel’s head is short and fine, while the hair on the body is medium length with enough undercoating to give them protection. Their ears, chest, stomach, and legs are well-feathered. American Cocker Spaniels are known for their silky coats, which are flat or slightly wavy.
This breed comes in solid colors with tan points or parti-color. Ticking or white markings are also possible. The underlying color varies widely. It can be black or a color ranging from pale cream to a deep red, including roan and silver.
Distinctive Physical Traits
The American Cocker Spaniel’s eyes are round and full and look directly forward. They’re dark brown and appear slightly almond-shaped due to the shape of the eye rims.
Cocker Spaniels have recognizable ears—long, lobular-shaped, and well-feathered. The Cocker Spaniel’s tail is set on a line with the topline of the back (or slightly higher) and wags happily when the dog is in motion.
Cocker Spaniel Temperament
American Cocker Spaniels are an excellent breed for families. They’re lively, playful, devoted to their owners, and usually wonderful with children.
With a sweet disposition, Cocker Spaniels are generally sensitive dogs. They’re equally happy participating in active family outings or cuddling on the couch with their people. As an alert and happy breed, some Cocker Spaniels can be very energetic. So, regular exercise is always important.
American Cocker Spaniels are typically friendly towards other dogs and pets, provided they are socialized with them from puppyhood. And while they’re great with people they know, they may benefit from intentional socialization with strangers.
Cocker Spaniel Care
Cocker Spaniels require high-quality food that’s appropriate for their current life stage (e.g., puppy, adult, senior). A diet made for medium-sized dogs or one specifically formulated for Cocker Spaniels are good options to consider.
American Cocker Spaniels are prone to becoming overweight. Therefore, track food portions and treats carefully to help prevent weight gain. Measuring food using a standard measuring cup will help prevent you from overfeeding. But be sure to include treat calories when calculating your dog’s daily needs. Generally speaking, treats should make up no more than 10% of their calories for the day.
Cocker Spaniels’ coats are prone to tangles and mats if not groomed regularly. Experts recommend daily brushing to keep them healthy and free of loose hair. First, use a medium comb, followed by a once-over with a slicker brush. Many Cocker Spaniel owners use professional grooming services to keep their dog’s coat looking its best.
The Cocker Spaniel’s long ears can make the breed more susceptible to ear infections. So, you should check and clean your dog’s ears routinely to prevent infections.
While grooming, also take time to check your Cocker Spaniel’s nails and trim them as needed to keep them short and tidy.
Dental care is an integral part of any dog’s long-term health. In addition to professional dental cleanings, be sure to establish an at-home dental care routine, including regular teeth-brushing and dental treats or toys.
Bred to be active hunting dogs, American Cocker Spaniels need a lot of exercise to burn off their vast amounts of energy. Since they love spending time outdoors with their families, long walks and hikes are a great way to provide them with the regular exercise they need to thrive.
Cocker Spaniels also seem to enjoy dog sports such as hunting, tracking, retrieving, agility, rally, and competitive obedience.
American Cocker Spaniels respond well to reward-based training. Since they’re commonly quite food-motivated, you can offer treats as rewards for giving up inappropriate objects they’ve retrieved. Likewise, treats may help you manage any tendency your dog has for guarding items not intended as toys.
Occasionally, American Cocker Spaniels display fearful behaviors. Reward-based training can also help to minimize these.
Cocker Spaniel Genetic Health Conditions
Phosphofructokinase Deficiency (PFK) is a disorder where an enzyme important in the production of energy from sugars is lacking, resulting in weakness, muscle cramps, discolored urine, anemia, and jaundice.
Exercise-Induced Collapse (EIC) is a neuromuscular disorder which can cause incoordination and weakness, resulting in collapse, after periods of strenuous exercise.
Knowing if your Cocker Spaniel is a carrier or at-risk for these conditions can help you and your veterinarian plan for your pup’s lifelong care. With Wisdom Panel™ Premium, you can get results for over 200 genetic health tests.
Reviewed July 26, 2020 by Annette Louviere, DVM