cocker.gif (10105 bytes)The American Cocker Spaniel

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The spaniel is beautiful with very long hanging ears, a rounded head, and a silky, feathered, medium-length coat. It makes a wonderful companion, family pet, and gun dog. American Cocker Spaniel puppies have lovely tails unless there is surgical intervention that cuts them to 2/5 of its original size. Be aware that it is not necessary to dock tails in the American Cocker Spaniel for it to be a purebred. Being a true American Cocker Spaniel has to do with genetics, not surgery.

Dogs 15 inches (38cm.) Bitches 14 inches (36.8cm.)

24-28 pounds (10.9-12.7kg.)

Life Expectancy
About 12-15 years.

Breed History
Along with definite appeal as a family pet and child's companion, the Cocker Spaniel has an interesting history. American Cocker Spaniels were originally bred to be small-sized dogs. Some were less than 16 inches and barely 20 pounds. Eventually they were bred to become progressively larger. They were developed along with its cousins the Clumber, Sussex, Springer, Field, and toy spaniels. The American Cocker Spaniel was originally developed from careful breeding of the English Cocker Spaniels brought to the United States. Originally spaniels were hunting dogs, and were classified by size. Thus several different types of spaniels could come from the same litter. Cockers and toys were the smaller types, and, as the toy spaniels were bred as ladies' companions and Cockers were kept for hunting, were further divided into two groups. Later, spaniels were divided according to their method of hunting: Crouching or setting spaniels, and springing or finding spaniels. The Cockers were crouchers, and they were used particularly to hunt woodcock a game bird these spaniels flushed particularly well. The name "Cocker" comes from the woodcock.

From 1938 until 1955, the American Cocker Spaniel was the most popular breed in America. Today the AKC considers the Cocker to be a sporting dog, even though they are almost exclusively bred as companions and show dogs. It can also be used for hunting, tracking, retrieving, watch dogging and agility.

A well-bred Cocker is sweet, loyal, sensitive, cheerful, playful, trustworthy, easily trained, adaptable -- all those things most sought after in a family pet. It is a happy tail wagger but respectful of its master’s authority. It needs a moderate amount of exercise and will get pudgy if allowed to be a complete couch potato. Its sensitivity may be its only drawback, discipline must be gentle. They are lively, playful and devoted, but should be socialized well when they are young to avoid a tendency for timidity. Cockers love everyone and need people to be happy. They can be difficult to housebreak and some like to bark. However, the popularity of the breed has almost been its downfall: Puppy mills and backyard breeders have flooded the market with poorly-bred specimens that are yappy, snappy, nervous, high-strung dogs that are difficult to train and handle. Puppy mill Cockers can be found in pet stores. These puppies are produced solely because they sell. They frequently cost the same as a well-bred puppy from a responsible breeder. Backyard breeders of Cockers frequently know little or nothing about the breed and are ill let alone properly select a mate for her. They produce puppies to put a few extra dollars in their pockets, to give the kids the thrill of seeing puppies born, or to produce another dog. Better that they should find another way of making money, show the kids some pictures of birth, and buy a puppy from a responsible breeder.

Living Conditions
Cockers will do okay in an apartment if they are adequately exercised, and are fairly active indoors. A small yard is sufficient.

American Cockers have plenty of stamina and need regular exercise. When walking, avoid brushy thickets that can tangle the coat. Playing inside the house, like throwing a toy a few times a day is also a good source of exercise.

The eyes and ears need regular cleaning. Some owners prefer to leave the coat long, brushing daily and shampooing frequently with quarterly scissoring and clipping. Others prefer to clip the coat to medium length to be more functional. Either way, the dog will need regular trimming. When brushing, be careful not to pull out the silky hair. This breed is an average shedder.

Coat care is extremely important in the Cocker if the fur is allowed to remain long. Daily brushing is advised to control mats, remove dead undercoat, and add sheen to the fur. Most pet Cockers do not require a full show coat and more practical clips make routine grooming much easier. Cockers have lip folds and these areas are perfect protected areas for bacterial infections to form. Regularly clean these folds with a mild antiseptic solution such as chlorhexidine or hydrogen peroxide to help ward off infection.

Cocker owners must be willing to groom the soft, silky coat. Cockers love to run in thickets and fields and frequently pick up a variety of seed heads and bits of shrubs and weeds that can cause the coat to tangle and mat. Unless they are brushed out frequently, these tangles can pull the skin and cause sores that make the dog uncomfortable and may contribute to major skin problems if left untended.

For more information go to Grooming or Hair Care

Well-bred Cockers are subject to few diseases or genetic abnormalities, like progressive retinal atrophy, a genetic eye disease that causes blindness, and whose lines are free of heart problems epilepsy cataracts, glaucoma and patellar luxation and also can may develop chronic ear and skin infections. Some breeders have their dogs x-rayed for hip dysplasia, but this has not yet proven to be a big problem in the cocker.

Cocker ears lend themselves well to infections, because the long ear prevents air circulation that would dry the ear and prevent moisture-loving bacteria from gaining a foothold. Cocker puppies must be taught from an early age to have their ears handled, because they will need to be groomed to remove vegetative matter, tied back to encourage air circulation, and cleaned if infection does develop. Sore ears, whether from trapped vegetative matter, mites, or infection, cause a dog to shake his head frequently and often violently. Shaking can cause small blood vessels to burst and form a hematoma, which may need to be lanced. To prevent ear problems, check the ears every day. If the ears appear dirty, use a medicated solution such as Oti-Clean or baby oil to clean them, not water or alcohol. To avoid injury, use a cotton ball or a bit of cotton on the finger to swab the ear. If the ears are dirty and smell, and if the dog seems to be uncomfortable, call the veterinarian. Early treatment is necessary. Some owners pluck the hair out of the Cocker's ears, but plucking may lead to further problems if serum leaks from the hair follicles into the ear. Hairs can be clipped to allow air circulation. Cockers should be fed in deep, narrow bowls that allow them to eat and drink without getting their ears into the food or water.

For more information go to Health Problems

Like all other breeds and mixed breeds, Cockers should have some obedience training to teach them manners. As sweet as the breed generally is, an untrained Cocker can be a handful. Formal classes are not necessary as long as the puppy is gently taught to sit, lie down, stay, and come on command and can walk on a leash without pulling. Lots of Cockers like to do tricks and enjoy playing ball and fetch as well.

An owner who has trouble being firm with this adorable dog should seek a class from a club or a private trainer if he wants his Cocker to fulfill its potential as a top-notch family pet. Although they are seldom used for hunting in the US, Cockers make fine obedience and tracking dogs. Several local owners work their dogs in AKC and UKC obedience trials and have earned many titles. The dogs should also do well in the sport of agility, and, many enjoy playing Frisbee.

The Standard
Go to AKC Standard


Gun Dog, AKC Sporting


CKC = Continental Kennel Club
FCI = Fédération Cynologique Internationale
AKC = American Kennel Club
UKC = United Kennel Club
KCGB = Kennel Club of Great Britain
CKC = Canadian Kennel Club
ANKC = Australian National Kennel Club
NKC = National Kennel Club


The proud owner of a pet Cocker Spaniel should feed his dog a premium food for good nutrition, visit the veterinarian for yearly checkups and for any problems that arise in between, spay or neuter his pet, and be prepared to enjoy the company of this little dog for 12 years or more.



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