There are two breeds of dog known as Cocker Spaniels: the English Cocker Spaniel and the American Cocker Spaniel. Their name derives from ‘cocker’ meaning woodcock, which these dogs were bred to hunt, and ‘spaniel’ meaning Spaniard.
Although both types of Cocker Spaniel were originally classified as the same breed until fairly recently, the English Cocker Spaniel actually has more similarities to the Springer Spaniel and the Field Spaniel than its American cousin. English Cocker Spaniels have longer snouts than their US counterparts, and taller bodies. There are also differences in the grooming of the coats. Cocker Spaniels are friendly good natured dogs who make great family pets.
Height: Dog: 15 to 16 inches (39 to 41 cm), Bitch: 15 to 15.5 inches (38 to 39 cm)
Weight: Dog: 28 to 35 pounds (13 to 16 kg), Bitch: 26 to 33 pounds (12 to15 kg)
Average Litter Size: 5
Life Expectancy: 11 to 15 years
Good with Children: Yes
Kennel Club Classification: Gundog
Cocker Spaniels come in a range of 23 different colours. Some dogs are a solid colour, and this is usually black, gold, liver, tan, or red. It’s acceptable for a solid coat to have a white chest mark. Others are a mixture of two or three colours from the possible combination of red, orange, white, blue roan, tan, black, white, lemon, and sable. Some of these colours are, however, not considered official.
Cocker Spaniels are prone to shedding their long hair, so regular grooming is essential. It’s important to invest in a good brush, as their coats need thorough brushing daily, after every walk, and before bathing. As the fur is very long and takes a while to air dry, it is beneficial to blow dry a Cocker Spaniel whilst brushing the fur after a bath. Long fur is popular in the show ring, whereas non-show dogs can be clipped into a shorter style for practicality.
Eye and ear diseases can sometimes be found in Cocker Spaniels so it’s important to keep them clean. Be sure to check with the breeder about the overall health of the parents, and ask if they have been ‘clear eye tested’ to eliminate any hereditary problems. Regulate the diet of the Cocker Spaniel to prevent over eating, as excess weight can potentially lead to hip dysplasia or arthritis, as well as pancreatic health problems.
Cocker Spaniels haven’t earned themselves the nickname of Merry Cocker for no reason. These happy dogs love to please their owners, and have the reputation of being kind, patient, and loyal. They’re very adaptable and are comfortable both indoors and outside. Cocker Spaniels love attention, and in turn are devoted companions.
Cocker Spaniel puppies learn quickly if training begins when they are young, and house training isn’t too difficult.
However, if you want your Cocker Spaniel to learn to be a working gundog, you’ll need to apply a combination of balance and consistency between hunting and retrieving. Hunting is ingrained instinctually into all spaniels, and can become an obsession if there isn’t adequate balance.
Reward-based training is beneficial to this breed and, as they are willing to learn, you should find that your intelligent Cocker Spaniel picks up some obedience commands if you are consistent and positive. Some Cocker Spaniels can be prone to excess barking, and are known to be stubborn, so they will need firm but kind training to curb this habit.
The Cocker Spaniel is a lively breed, so they ideally need at least twice daily 30-minute walks to keep them happy and energised. Working dogs may require longer walks or more frequent outings. Being let off the lead to run around, and playing in the garden will give a Cocker Spaniel a good amount of mental and physical stimulation.
Spaniels in general are an old breed, first mentioned in texts from the 14th century under the name of ’spaynels’ showing their Spanish heritage. At this time, Cocker Spaniels were not a separate breed, but were classified, along with other spaniels, under one of two umbrella categories of land spaniels, and water spaniels. These two general classifications lasted approximately 500 years until the mid-19th century, when distinctions began to be noted within the breeds.
From the latter part of the the 19th century, small spaniels weighing under 25lbs began to be classified as Cocker Spaniels, and larger spaniels were re-categorised as Springer Spaniels or Field Spaniels. The functionality of a Cocker Spaniel as a working gundog was considered of primary importance, and ‘inadequate’ dogs were often killed at birth. Cocker Spaniels were excellent at hunting woodcock birds, and were considered to be reliable gundogs.
During the early 20th century, further divisions within Cocker Spaniels began to develop across the Atlantic, and eventually American and English Cocker Spaniels were recognised as two separate breeds. English Cocker Spaniels are thought to have descended from one specific English dog named Ch. Obo, whereas his American born son Ch. Obo II is considered the father of American Cocker Spaniels.
More recently, Cocker Spaniels have developed into two separate strains. The show strain has a longer thicker coat with more feathering, and they have a slightly less energetic personality. Working Cocker Spaniels are more hardy, require more frequent exercise, and have shorter and more practical fur.
Due to the English Cocker Spaniel’s friendly personality and versatility, during the 1930s these intelligent little dogs were the UK’s most popular breed, and similarly across the pond the American Cocker Spaniel enjoyed 25 years as the most popular dog.
The show strain of the English Cocker Spaniel in particular has seen great success in the UK’s most famous dog show, Crufts, winning Best In Show a total of seven times since 1928, which is more often than any other breed of dog. Most of the winning dogs were owned by Herbert Summers Loyd, the son of Richard Loyd, one of the founding fathers of the English Cocker Spaniel.
The American Cocker Spaniel gained Disney fame from the classic film Lady and the Tramp, meanwhile Prince William and Kate Middleton made the news in 2011 when they purchased a black English Cocker Spaniel named Lupo.