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Honest FAQ for American Cocker Spaniels

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

American Cocker Spaniel

It can be tough to find a well-bred American Cocker Spaniel. The Cocker from poor breeding can be brimming with health problems and unstable behaviors. Buy only from a breeder whose dogs are all friendly and confident and who can show you all of the required health clearances.

What kind of temperament and personality does the Cocker Spaniel have?

The most descriptive words that come to my mind regarding Cocker Spaniel temperament and behavior are:

happy, playful, submissive, dependent, barky... but if bred poorly, neurotic.

I give you my honest opinions about Cocker Spaniel temperament and personality traits and characteristics – positives AND negatives – in my dog breed review, American Cocker Spaniel Temperament and Personality Traits (What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em).

Where did the name Cocker Spaniel come from?

This small bird hunter originated in England, where he was used for hunting upland game birds such as the woodcock.  When the Americans saw the breed, they wanted one of their own, so they developed the "spin-off version" we're talking about in this article.

The naming of these breeds is weird...

  • If you're in England, you call your own (original) breed "Cocker Spaniel" and the newer US breed "American Cocker Spaniel."
  • But if you're in the US, you call your spin-off breed "Cocker Spaniel" and you call the original breed "English Cocker Spaniel."
  • So basically, "Who's on first?" and "What's on second?"

Fortunately, the breeds are much alike, so it doesn't matter that much.

What were Cocker Spaniels used for?

Cocker Spaniels worked alongside their owner in the fields and woods, scenting for upland game birds such as grouse and woodcock. When the dog locates one, he flushes it into the air for his owner to shoot, then retrieves the downed bird to his owner.

What traits would help Cocker Spaniels accomplish their work? That's right... a good nose, liveliness, hardiness, biddability, and willingness to work closely with his owner.

How big are American Cocker Spaniels? Height and weight?

About 13-16 inches at the shoulder, and 20-28 pounds, which puts them in the MID-SIZE category.

What colors do American Cocker Spaniels come in?

Usually buff, red, chocolate brown, black, or particolor (white with colored patches, or a speckled roan pattern). The dog may also have white markings, and/or tan trim like a Doberman.

Do American Cocker Spaniels come in different "types"?

Yes. There are (or used to be) three different types:

  • Field type. The original hunting spaniel, energetic and hardy, with a short feathered coat. Unfortunately, virtually no one breeds field-type American Cockers for hunting anymore. English Cockers, yes. American Cockers, no.
    American Cocker Spaniel

    Show type American Cocker

  • Show type. American breeders have distorted the breed into a caricature, doming the head, lengthening the ears, and flattening the muzzle so it rather looks like he collided with a wall. The original short, practical feathering has been exaggerated to nearly dragging on the ground. Such dogs wouldn't be able to run through a field without getting caught in the brambles and needing to be scissored free.
  • Pet type. People who breed for the "pet trade" typically aren't concerned with how their dogs look. So it's ironic that Cockers from pet breeders often look more like the original hunting Cocker, with a more moderate head and a shorter, more practical coat.
    American Cocker Spaniel

    Ready to romp and play!

How much grooming do American Cocker Spaniels need?

If you leave the silky coat long, American Cockers need a great deal of grooming. Every other day, you need to brush and comb out mats and tangles. Every month or so, you need to keep the hair around their private parts trimmed short for sanitary toileting. AND every two months, you need to use the clippers to shorten and sculpt the overall coat.

Honestly, I recommend shortening the coat a LOT so that your brushing and combing needs are minimal. The shorter the coat, the cleaner and neater it remains.

How much do Cocker Spaniels shed?

Lots. American Cocker Spaniels are heavy shedders. Along with shedding chunks of hair in the spring and fall, you'll find loose hair the rest of the year, as well.

Are American Cocker Spaniels hypoallergenic? Good for people with allergies?

No. Whether you're allergic to dog dander or dog saliva, Cocker Spaniels are not even close to being hypoallergenic dogs.

How much exercise do American Cocker Spaniels need?

Just a few walks, plus a decent yard for an occasional vigorous romp. Play games of fetch and tug. Set up a miniature obstacle course and run around it with him.

Do American Cocker Spaniels need a fenced yard?

Yes. Why? and best and worst fences.

Are American Cocker Spaniels easy to train?

I would call them moderately easy. Though they can be a bit resistant, a bit hyper-sensitive to correction, they generally do want to please. Here's how to handle behavior problems. Corrections should always be gentle with the spaniel breeds.

Are American Cocker Spaniels easy to housebreak?

Some Cockers housetrain with no issues at all. Others can be a bit... dirty, which will require more time and persistence on your part. Use a crate or pen and don't give in to the temptation to let him loose in the house too soon! Sadly, the vast majority of non-housebroken Cocker Spaniels were made that way by their owner.

Are American Cocker Spaniels friendly with people?

It varies. Some Cocker Spaniels are outgoing with almost everyone. Others are simply polite, while others are a bit standoffish, and others are timid. A well-bred Cocker Spaniel should never be aggressive toward anyone.

Are American Cocker Spaniels good with children?

I don't recommend Cocker Spaniels for children younger than about age 10. Spaniels in general have an innate sense of pride and fairness and may not put up with pushy children who step over the line. They're also very sensitive dogs who can feel overwhelmed and defensive by the mannerisms and sounds of younger children.

Are American Cocker Spaniels good with other dogs?

Yes, Cocker Spaniels are usually fine with other dogs.

Are American Cocker Spaniels good with cats?

Yes, Cocker Spaniels are usually fine with cats. Oh sure, like most any dog, they'll probably chase a cat who runs through their yard. But generally this is a cat-safe breed.

What's a good training schedule for training Cocker Spaniel puppies?

Here's the puppy training schedule I use for American Cocker Spaniels: Puppy Training Schedule.

What behavior problems do American Cocker Spaniels tend to have?

Most commonly I see excitability, excessive barking, housebreaking issues, and jumping on people. Not difficult problems to solve, usually.

More difficult to solve are separation anxiety and submissive/excitable urination:

  • Separation anxiety can occur when you have (accidentally) encouraged your Cocker Spaniel to be overly dependent on you. Then when you leave him alone, the dog grows anxious and stressed, which he tries to relieve through barking and destructive chewing. If you need to be away from home much, I don't recommend a spaniel breed.
  • Submissive/excitable urination. An excited or submissive dog doesn't always have complete control of his bladder. If he's very happy to see someone, his bladder might leak (or gush!). If he's a very sensitive, soft-tempered pup and you bend over him, or reach toward him, he might crouch and release a little urine, which is a canine social signal that says, "Don't hurt me. I accept your superiority." Submissive urination is most common in young and adolescent dogs, and in gentle, soft-tempered dogs.... such as Cocker Spaniels.

What health problems might American Cocker Spaniels have?

Lots of different eye diseases that cause blindness. Itchy skin conditions and growths. Loose knee joints that cause lameness and arthritis. Disk disease, epilepsy, heart disease, and more.

What breeds are similar to the American Cocker Spaniel?

Where can I buy a Cocker Spaniel puppy?

Show breeder or pet breeder? Read my article.

Where can I adopt an older Cocker Spaniel?

Rescue group or humane society/shelter? Read my article.

I just got a new Cocker Spaniel. Which pages should I read first?

  • Cocker Spaniel Health, which includes my advice on feeding, vaccinations, and daily health care. These pages are very important, because if you start your Cocker Spaniel puppy off on the wrong foot, he will probably experience health problems later on. Starting off right is essential.
  • Training American Cocker Spaniels, which includes my advice on respect training, housebreaking, and socialization. Again, you must start your Cocker Spaniel puppy off on the right foot by teaching him what he needs to know, and you must avoid doing the wrong things with him so that he doesn't develop bad habits that will be much harder to fix later on.

Do male dogs or female dogs make better pets?

Ah, let the debate begin! Honestly, male Cocker Spaniels have pros and cons, and female Cocker Spaniels have pros and cons. Visit Male Dogs versus Female Dogs

There's an adorable Cocker Spaniel puppy at the pet shop. The store manager assures me they only buy from responsible breeders. Could this be true?

No responsible breeder would ever place one of their Cocker Spaniel puppies in a pet shop for resale. To find out more about pet shop puppies, visit Pet Shop Puppies: Buying a Puppy From a Pet Store.

How do I pick the best Cocker Spaniel puppy from a litter?

You can do puppy personality tests. Visit How To Choose a Good Puppy.

What's the best dog food for Cocker Spaniels?

3 Best Ways To Feed Your Dog Healthy Food.

I have to take my Cocker Spaniel to the vet soon for shots. Which vaccinations does he really need?

The schedule of vaccinations that dogs really need has changed dramatically – but unfortunately most vets are not telling you this, because a good chunk of their income depends on frequent vaccinations. Please don't get any more shots for your Cocker Spaniel until you've read my article on Puppy Shots and Dog Vaccinations.

What are the pros and cons of spaying and neutering my Cocker Spaniel, and when should it be done?

Spaying and neutering are often recommended too early, which can lead to health problems later in life. Visit Spaying Your Female Dog or Neutering Your Male Dog for the straight scoop on the safest (and riskiest) times to spay or neuter.

I have a question about American Cocker Spaniels that I don't see answered on your web site.

It's probably answered in one of my free online books.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

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