American Cocker Spaniel Temperament
What's Good About 'Em,
What's Bad About 'Em
American Cocker Spaniel Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2014
The American Cocker Spaniel of good breeding is sweet-natured, happy, gentle, and playful.
The smallest of the sporting breeds, he does need regular exercise, but daily walks and romps will suffice.
When well socialized, American Cocker Spaniels are friendly and peaceful with strangers and other animals, though there is timidity and excessive submissiveness in some lines.
Cocker Spaniels are responsive to persuasive, cheerful obedience training that includes praise and food rewards.
All of that is the good news.
The bad news is . . . Cocker Spaniels need a great deal of brushing, combing, and clipping. They shed a lot and often have a distinctive doggy odor in their skin and long ears. They're very sensitive dogs -- often hypersensitive. You have to be careful when correcting them with your hands, as a lot of them tend to react defensively when you try to make them do something they don't want to do. More than any other breed, Cocker Spaniels tend toward excitable or submissive urination (tendency to dribble urine when excited or nervous), especially when they're young.
In summation, an American Cocker, when you can find a good one whose breeder isn't inbreeding and who has done all the proper health tests (hips, knees, and eyes), can be a very nice dog. Unfortunately, you have to look long and hard to find a good one. Far too many American Cocker Spaniels are nasty and/or neurotic. And they have serious health issues -- indeed, they're one of the riskiest of all breeds in the health department.
If you want a dog who...
- Is conveniently-sized and sturdy
- Has a pretty feathered coat that comes in a variety of colors
- Needs only moderate exercise
- Is friendly, or at least polite, with strangers
- Is peaceful with other pets
An American Cocker Spaniel may be right for you.
If you don't want to deal with...
- An extremely careful search to avoid all the nasty, neurotic Cocker Spaniels
- "Separation anxiety" (destructiveness and barking) when left alone too much
- Frequent brushing, combing, and clipping
- Lots of shedding
- A distinctive odor from the skin and ears
- Potential for excessive barking
- Excitable or submissive urination (tendency to dribble urine when excited or nervous)
- A multitude of serious health problems
An American Cocker Spaniel may not be right for you.
- choosing the RIGHT breeder and the RIGHT puppy
- or choosing an ADULT dog from your animal shelter or rescue group – a dog who has already proven that he doesn't have negative traits
- training your dog to respect you
- avoiding health problems by following my daily care program in 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy
More traits and characteristics of the American Cocker Spaniel
If I was considering an American Cocker Spaniel, I would be most concerned about...
- Unstable temperaments. American Cocker Spaniels are a dime a dozen, and most of them are bred and offered for sale by people who don't have the slightest idea of how to breed good-tempered dogs. Obedience instructors and behavioral consultants see LOTS of American Cocker Spaniels with neurotic behaviors, including aggression and biting.
- Defensive reactions. I don't know why so many Cockers growl or snap when you handle them in some way they don't like, but as an obedience instructor, I'm always extra careful when putting my hands on a Cocker Spaniel.
If you have small children, I do not recommend an American Cocker Spaniel. There are just too many Cockers who won't tolerate any nonsense. And there are too many Cockers who feel overwhelmed by the loud voices and quick movements that children can't help making -- and stress and shyness (even defensive biting) may be the result.
- Separation anxiety. More than many other breeds, American Cocker Spaniels need a great deal of companionship and do not like being left alone for more than a few hours. They tend to express their unhappiness through destructive chewing and barking.
- Grooming, shedding, and doggy odor. To keep their silky coat free of mats, American Cocker Spaniels require regular brushing, and also clipping and trimming every couple of months. Cocker Spaniels also shed a great deal. Their hairs come off on your hands when you pet them, stick to your upholstery and clothing, and hide under the furniture. Finally, many Cocker Spaniels have a distinctive doggy odor that some people find offensive.
- Barking. American Cocker Spaniels are often too quick to sound the alarm at every new sight and sound. You have to be equally quick to stop them.
To teach your Cocker to listen to you, "Respect Training" is mandatory. My Cocker Spaniel Training Page discusses the program you need.
- Serious health problems. From hip problems to eye problems to skin problems to epilepsy, American Cocker Spaniels are one of the riskiest of all breeds in the health department.
To keep this breed healthy, I strongly recommend following all of the advice on my Cocker Spaniel Health Page.
To learn more about training American Cocker Spaniels to be calm and well-behaved, consider my dog training book,
Teach Your Dog 100 English Words.
It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will make your American Cocker Spaniel the smartest, most well-behaved companion you've ever had.
Teaches your dog to listen to you, to pay attention to you, and to do whatever you ask him to do.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a healthy American Cocker Spaniel puppy. Health problems have become so widespread in dogs today that this book is required reading for ANYONE who is thinking of getting a purebred, crossbred, or mixed breed dog.
If you'd like to consult with me personally about whether the American Cocker Spaniel might be a good dog breed for your family, I offer a Dog Breed Consulting Service.
Once you have your American Cocker Spaniel home, you need to KEEP him healthy -- or if he's having any current health problems, you need to get him back on the road to good health.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy is the book you need.
Raise your dog the right way and you will be helping him live a longer, healthier life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.
Please consider adopting an ADULT American Cocker Spaniel...
When you're acquiring an American Cocker Spaniel PUPPY, you're acquiring potential -- what he one day will be. So "typical breed characteristics" are very important.
But when you acquire an adult dog, you're acquiring what he already IS and you can decide whether he is the right dog for you based on that reality. There are plenty of adult American Cocker Spaniels who have already proven themselves NOT to have negative characteristics that are "typical" for their breed. If you find such an adult dog, don't let "typical breed negatives" worry you. Just be happy that you found an atypical individual -- and enjoy!
Save a life. Adopt a dog.
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