The Cocker Spaniel breed has been around since the 14th century, bred in Spain as a hunting dog. The Spaniels were specifically bred for ‘flushing out’ birds during a hunt (mostly woodcocks) and retrieving them.

Spaniel is derived from ‘Spanish dog’ and the word ‘Cocker’ was added as a pre-fix due to the dog’s skill at hunting woodcock in the field. The English Cocker Spaniel was recognized and registered as a breed in 1892.

Characteristics of the English Cocker Spaniels

The English Cocker Spaniel Breed is registered with the UKC (United Kingdom Kennels) as a gun dog. They are good-natured and charming, active, and sporting with a compact build and a height of between 15 – 17 inches (at the shoulders).

The English Cocker Spaniel is known for being an even-tempered and balanced demeanor. It has a distinctive softly- shaped head and dark gentle eyes. Its lengthy, feathery ears frame its head, giving it a vigilant, almost ‘regal ‘look. The familiar, silky, medium-length coat varies in color and contrast from one spaniel to another. However, under that gentle, aristocratic beauty lies the heart of a skilled hunter’s assistant, who would switch roles from gentle house pet to fierce game bird retriever in a heart-beat!

The division of ‘toys’ and hunters

People were drawn to these handsome, intelligent, even-tempered Cocker Spaniel Breeds that were easy to train, had a solid physical structure and the temperament of a saint. This evolved into many Cocker Spaniels being kept and bred as companions (toys) and the lager Cockers, bred to assist with the hunt. A further division saw the hunters being split into water and land Spaniels to offer even more finely-tuned skills as ‘hunters’ assistants.

The worker Cocker Spaniel breeds bear a closer resemblance to their ancestors with finer coats less inclined to ‘feather’ like the coats of the toys or show dogs. Even the worker’s body shape lends itself to the hunt with longer legs, robust and tough. This strong physique allows them to carry heavy objects, jump over high hedges, gates, and fences while running at high speed.

The American Cocker Spaniel

The American dog fanciers began importing English Cockers in the late 1870s. Apparently, the first Cocker Spaniel to be registered as a true breed was a white, two-toned spaniel named Captain and it was recorded in the first studbook of the ‘National American Kennel Club’. Somehow, the second volume of the studbook that was printed in 1885, recorded ‘Brush II’, a black Cocker imported from England.

The American Cockers are lively yet easy-going and easily adaptable dogs that love exercise and are apparently fairly easy to train. They are also registered as sporting dogs with the AKC. The American Cocker Spaniels are smaller than the English Cockers and apparently, the smallest member in the group registered as gun dogs. Due to the Americans keeping and breeding the Cocker Spaniels as pets and show dogs, it has a heavier coat, a muzzle that is slightly smaller and its head, more rounded or dome-shaped.

The American Cocker Spaniel ‘Show Breed’

In 1939, the Cocker Spaniel breed won the ‘Best American Bred in Show’ at the prestigious Westminster Dog Show, for two successive years. This led to a huge spike in popularity and world-wide interest in Cocker Spaniels. This led to the American breeders focused on adapting their breeding programs to breeding Cocker Spaniels for the show ring and less for hunting in the fields. This led to a further split in 1946 when the AKC recognized the English and American Cocker Spaniel breed as two separate and very distinct breeds.

Cocker Spaniel males are a good 38cm tall and weight of around 13kg whereas the females are a slightly shorter 35cm tall with a weight of around 10 – 11kg.

The character traits of the Cocker Spaniel Breeds

A Cocker Spaniel that is well-bred, is affectionate, gentle, cuddly, and easily fits into family life. Naturally lively, it enjoys daily exercise whether it is a brisk walk or going for a hunt or playing with the kids.

Being a sensitive breed, Cocker Spaniels do not respond very well to being treated harshly. They can start growling or even snapping when fearful or in pain. In addition, over- breeding at the height of their popularity has also resulted in some Cocker Spaniel Breeds to become highly strung and vulnerable to health problems.

It is very important to start the training in socializing and obedience skills at a very early age so that your Cocker Spaniel can learn appropriate responses and canine decorum.

Health problems encountered by Cocker Spaniels

Although Cocker Spaniel breeds are known to be healthy, they are still vulnerable to certain diseases and health conditions:

  • Eye problems:

    Progressive retinal atrophy / Cataracts/ Glaucoma/ Eye

  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA):

    Cocker’s immune system attacks the blood cells

  • Hypothyroidism:

    Malfunctioning of the thyroid gland

  • Primary seborrhea:

    A skin problem due to an overproduction of skin cells

  • Allergies:

    Food allergies /Contact allergies (topical and chemical substances ) inhalant allergies, (caused by dust, pollen, etc)

  • Idiopathic Epilepsy:

    Often an inherited disease causing mild to severe seizures.

  • Canine Hip Dysplasia:

    lameness, pain due to abnormal development in the hip socket

  • Patellar luxation:

    Kneecap (patella) being dislocated (knee joint slides out of position)

As with all breeds of dogs, Cocker Spaniels need regular visits to your veterinarian. Any indication of illness or pain should be seen and treated by a veterinarian.

With healthy, loving care, you can enjoy your Cocker Spaniel companion for the best part of 14-16 years, which is their average life span.

Some parting notes

  • Do thorough research to find a reputable, registered Cocker Spaniel breeder before buying a puppy.
  • Cocker Spaniels can sometimes be given to nervousness due to insufficient socialization skills.
  • Adopt the “quiet!” command in the dog’s training routine as Cockers can become barkers.
  • The hunting blood of their ancestors may cause a Cocker to chase a bird when out for a walk. Always keep your Cocker Spaniel on a leash.
  • Always check your Cocker Spaniel’s beautiful long ears for infections.
  • Though expensive, it will be worth paying a professional groomer in addition to regular brushing, in order to maintain that healthy, stunning coat.