menu icon

American Cocker Spaniel

Home »  Dog Breeds »  American Cocker Spaniel

There are two types of Cocker spaniel, the American and the English. In each country that they come from they tend to be called just a Cocker Spaniel. They both though have the same ancestors, bred to be hunting dogs in England with their main prey being the Woodcock from which they got their name. Today it is a talented breed that can be found participating in tracking events, agility, retrieving and hunting.

Here is the American Cocker Spaniel at a Glance
Name Cocker Spaniel
Other Names American Cocker Spaniel
Nicknames Cocker, Merry Cocker
Origin United States
Average size Small to medium
Average weight 15 to 30 pounds
Average height 14 to 16 inches
Life span 12 to 15 years
Coat type Medium length, silky
Hypoallergenic No
Color Black, black and tan, brown, and white
Popularity Quite popular – it is ranked 30th by the AKC
Intelligence Very good – it is a smart dog
Tolerance to heat Good – can handle some heat but not good in extremes
Tolerance to cold Very good – can handle colder climates quite well
Shedding Average – can expect there to be some loose hair around
Drooling Low – not a dog known to be a big drooler
Obesity Above average – it does love its treats so obesity may be a problem if it is not well exercised
Grooming/brushing Moderate to high maintenance – Brush daily
Barking Frequent – not a dog to have if there are noise issues or
Exercise needs Fairly active – it needs daily walks and regular play
Trainability Easy to train – need to be kept focussed
Friendliness Very good – when well socialized this is a very friendly dog
Good first dog Good but best with experienced owner
Good family pet Very good to excellent if well bred
Good with children Good – need socialization
Good with other dogs Good to very good with socialization
Good with other pets Good to very good with socialization – may chase small animals and birds
Good with strangers Good – some are more timid than others and if not from well bred lines it can be snappy
Good apartment dog Very good to excellent due to size but will need lots of exercise opportunities outside
Handles alone time well Low – this is not a dog who likes to be alone and it can suffer from separation anxiety
Health issues If you get from a good breeder then they are reasonably healthy with some possible issues. If you buy a poorly bred Cocker there are many health issues known to them including eye problems, hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, dental problems and IMHA. .
Medical expenses $460 a year for basic medical needs and pet insurance
Food expenses $145 a year for dry dog food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $215 a year for license, training, toys and other miscellaneous costs
Average annual expense $820 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $800
Biting Statistics Attacks doing bodily harm: 2 Maimings: 2 Child Victims: 2 Deaths: 0

The Cocker Spaniel’s Beginnings

The Cocker Spaniel is thought to originate from Spain and 'spaynels' can be found in writings as far back as the thirteen hundreds. In 1801 Sydenham Edwards write of the Land Spaniel that there were two types, the springer and the cocker. Cocker comes from the woodcocks they were used to hunt. They were gun dogs. They stayed close to the handler and used their sense of smell to look for birds close by and flush them out. They would also use their nose and eyes to find a downed bird and retrieve it.

Interestingly the term cocker spaniel up to the 19th century actually referred to small field spaniels which were a group of different spaniels used in hunting so as well as the cocker we know today that also includes the sussex spaniel, the norfolk spaniel and the clumber spaniel. Back then the only specification for being classed as a cocker is that they had to weigh under 25 pounds. Larger dogs were then classed as springers.

In 1873 the Kennel Club in the UK was formed and more effort was made to separate breeds in the cocker and springer categories. In 1892 the English Cocker spaniels and the English Springer spaniels were accepted as separate breeds.

The two dogs considered to be the founders of the English and American Cocker are Ch. Obo for the English and Ch. Obo II the son and founder of the American Cocker. In 1879 Obo was born to a field spaniel and sussex spaniel. Obo II was born in America because when its mother was pregnant it traveled by ship with its owner to America.

New Lease on Life

In the late 1870s other English Cockers were imported to America. Then in 1878 the AKC recognized the Cocker Spaniel. The American Spaniel Club was formed in 1881 by James Watson and Clinton Wilmerding. In America the Cocker Spaniel was bred smaller and at the start of the 20th century its appearance changed in other ways too according to the preference of American breeders. It has a shorter muzzle, domed head and shorter back. They quickly became popular.

In 1935 two classes were created to seperate the American and English Cocker spaniel and in 1938 the Cocker Spaniel Club of America said the two should not be bred together. In the UK this seperation did not occur until 1970 when the American Cocker Spaniel was fianlly recognized as a seperate breed.

Between a highly popular and succesful Cocker who won best American bred at the Westminster dog show in 1939 and 1940 and the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp from 1955, which had Lady as a Cocker Spaniel this dog rocketed in popularity amongst the public.

For 25 years it ranked at number one by the AKC. Unfortunately this popularity had a terible impact on the breed itself as poor breeders, puppy mills and the like jumped on the popularity and bred dogs into ill health and bad behaviour. While there are some good breeders and good lines still a lot of care and research needs to be done before you should buy an American Cocker Spaniel. Today it is ranked 30th by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

The Cocker Spaniel is a small to medium sized dog weighing 15 to 30 pounds and standing 14 to 16 inches tall. It has a medium length coat that is silky, flat or a little wavy. Color can include black, liver, tan, golden and red and they often have white markings. Rarely there can be all white cockers.

This is a sturdy dog with a rounded head, broad muzzle, dark almond shaped eyes and long ears that hang down and are set low. While docking is no longer allowed in most of Europe it is still an acceptable practice in the USA and Canada and there the tail is often docked. It does have some feathering around the ears, legs, stomach and chest.

The Inner Cocker Spaniel


The Cocker Spaniel that is from a good line and breeder is very affectionate and loyal and makes a great watchdog. It is not a very protective dog though so may not act to defend you. It is bold and very lively and loves to be social. It still makes a great dog for hunting or a great family dog.

It is a very happy dog and while just averagely intelligent it is sweet and gentle and respectful. There can be some entertaining moments with it and it is playful. It can be prone to shyness so socialization is important. With the right breeding, socialization and a firm but fair hand they are devoted, pleasant and well behaved.

It can be friendly with strangers but they can also be overly sensitive. This means they are not good when being yelled at or punished. They can also react by snapping if you try to correct them by hand and try to make them do something they do not want to. They can also be prone to submissive or excitable urination and they do not like to be left alone and suffer from separation anxiety. It is also prone to frequent barking.

Living with a Cocker Spaniel

What will training look like?

A well bred Cocker Spaniel is going to be easy to train as it is good at listening to commands and obeying them and is eager to please. It will probably still be hard to house train though and even a well bred dog can develop small dog syndrome if it is not treated correctly. Early training and socialization are very important for even a well bred Cocker. It will help with the shyness, the nervous urination and the defensive nature it can have.

Key to successful training is to be firm but positive and fair. Use treats, rewards, praise and encouragement to achieve better results. You also need to make it clear you are the pack leader and remain consistent. Keep in mind a Cocker from a poor line may be a lot harder to deal with.


How active is the Cocker Spaniel ?

This is a fairly active dog so expect to give it daily exercise. It is small enough to be able to live in an apartment comfortably but it is especially essential it gets outside for a vigorous amount of exercise each day. If there is even a small yard that would be somewhere for it to play. It would also enjoy trips to a dog park where it can play, run off leash and socialize.

It is already an excitable dog, if it is not given enough exercise it can be even harder to control and it will act out. It also needs mental stimulation. At least half an hour twice a day is best. Training and certain toys can offer the mental challenge it needs. It participates in activities like tracking, flyball, obedience competitions, hunt tests and agility.

Caring for the Cocker Spaniel

Grooming needs

There are a lot of requirements to maintaining the Cocker Spaniel. It will need some professional grooming on every 4 to 6 weeks which may include trimming the coat and clipping its nails when they get too long. The coat can be kept long or cut to medium length to make it more manageable. Dog nails have blood vessels and nerves in them so cutting too low needs to be avoided. A professional knows where is safe to cut and where is not.

It will shed a moderate or average amount so there will be some loose hair around the home to manage. Brushing daily is a great way to get rid of some loose hair, debris, tangles and stimulate its skin's natural oils to give it a healthy shine on its coat. Bathing should just be done when it really needs one to look after those oils. You should brush its teeth two to three times a week and then check its ears for infection once a week.

Cockers can be prone to ear infections so look for early signs like redness, bad odor or discharge. Wipe them clean with a damp cloth or ear cleanser and cotton ball. Keep them dry after they get wet. You should also wipe their face under their eyes to avoid tear stains.

Cocker Spaniels do not have a good reputation when at vets and groomers, they do not like being handled and can be aggressive about it. Be sure to handle yours from a young age and get it used to everything being touched and done so it is easier for others to take care of it when needed.

Feeding Time

How much it will need to eat will depend on its size, metabolism, age, health and level of activity. It is likely to fall somewhere between ¾ to 2½ cups of good quality dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals. Cocker Spaniels like their food and if given the chance it will over eat or try to con you into feeding it more with those big brown eyes! Be strong as you do not want it becoming overweight.

The best kind of bowls for this dog are the narrow deep type. Using these means its ears will not fall into its food and water and get dirty.

How they get on with children and other animals

They get on well with children and can be playful, affectionate and lively with them. It is a good family dog when well trained and socialized. Poorly bred dogs though can be more snappy and may dislike younger children around them as they can be too hands on.

Around other pets and animals it is good when socialized. It does have a background of hunting and may chase smaller animals or birds when outside.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

There are some serious health issues that American Cocker Spaniels can be at risk of and that ill health is a lot more probable in badly bred lines. Issues include cancer, eye problems, patellar luxation, allergies, IMHA, hip dysplasia, liver problems, bloat, ear infections, obesity, AIHA, epilepsy, Hypothyroidism and skin problems.


Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dogs attacking people over the last 34 years the Cocker Spaniel can be found to be involved with at least 2 attacks both of which were classed as maimings. This means the victims, in both cases children, were left with permanent scarring, disfigurement or loss of limb. No deaths have been linked to this breed.

Keep in mind this is based on reported attacks. Sometimes dog attacks, especially when done by smaller dogs like the Cocker are not always reported especially if the injury received was fairly minor. Part of the reason Cocker Spaniels are less popular than they once were is that bad breeding led to snappy and aggressive, poorly behaved, over anxious dogs. Take the time to find a good breeder to lessen this issue.

It is also true that any dog can become aggressive under certain circumstances. Be sure you can train and socialize it properly. You can stimulate it enough mentally and physically and you can care for it and afford its food and medical bills.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Cocker Spaniel is going to cost about $800. Finding good lines is now difficult but worth the effort and also worth paying a bit more for. Some top breeder may charge more up into the thousands. If you are interested in rescuing a dog you could visit some shelters and rescues to find one. It will likely be an adult dog but not only are you giving a poor dog a new chance it is less costly too. $50 to $200 is standard and most have initial medical work done for you included in that price.

Those initial costs come in the form of some medical tests and procedures and then some basic items you need for your new dog. A veterinarian should check it over, have blood tests done, give it some shots and deworming, have it micro chipped and spayed or neutered if old enough. This will cost $270 plus. Items needed for the dog are a crate, carrier, bowls and collar and leash. These will cost upwards of $215.

There are also annual costs to prepare for. Medically there will be some basics like check up with a vet, vaccinations, flea and tick prevention and heartworm prevention. This will be at least $235 a year. It will need either pet health insurance or emergency medical savings of at least $225 a year ready for other medical issues.

It will need at least some basic training and costs start at $120 a year for that. It would be a good idea though to plan in it having more than just the basics. It will need a license for around $20 a year. Toys will be at least $30 a year and then there will be other miscellaneous needs for $45 a year. Obviously it will need feeding. As well as a good quality dry dog food you will need treats to offer as a reward and encouragement during training and to give as a treat. Food annual costs will start at $145.

Over all there are annual costs totaling a starting figure of $820.


Looking for a American Cocker Spaniel Puppy Name? Let select one from our list!

The American Cocker Spaniel has many great things about it which is why it spent so long as the top dog according to the AKC. It is a manageable size, looks beautiful, has a sweet and kind nature, trains easily and is cheerful and full of life. When it is at its best, from a good breeding line and a good breeder there are not many reason not to love it!

However there are a lot of badly bred Cockers still out there. It also does have some nervous or shy tendencies so socialization is key. Avoid buying from pet stores, back yard breeders or places that do not have a good reputation. While one from a good breeder can be a delight with some work eager to have different experiences, happy to be with you and poorly bred one will be snappy, may even bite, be over nervous and unstable.

More to Explore

Dog Owner Reviews