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American Cocker Spaniels: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em

American Cocker Spaniel temperament, personality, training, behavior, pros and cons, advice, and information, by Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

American Cocker Spaniel dog breed

The American Cocker Spaniel should be a sweet-natured, happy, playful dog. And many individuals are.

Unfortunately behavioral consultants like myself see an awful lot of American Cockers with neurotic behaviors, including nastiness. So you need to be very careful when buying or adopting a Cocker Spaniel. Obviously you want to choose one of the nice ones!

The American Cocker does need regular exercise, but daily walks and romps in the backyard or at a dog park will suffice.

When well socialized, American Cocker Spaniels are friendly and peaceful with strangers and other animals.

Some Cockers are a bit stubborn, but most are responsive to persuasive, cheerful obedience training that includes praise and occasional food rewards.

Some Cocker Spaniels, especially adolescents and young adults, are excessively submissive. These dogs might suddenly urinate (or dribble urine) when they get over-excited or feel intimidated. This might simply be someone's hand reaching to pet them, or your body looming over them during play. This is not a housebreaking issue! It's called excitable or submissive urination and it might go away with time as long as you don't punish the dog.

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.

Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.

More traits and characteristics of the American Cocker Spaniel

If I was considering an American Cocker Spaniel, I would be most concerned about...

  1. Unstable temperaments. The American Cocker Spaniel is such a common breed that many people breed them. Unfortunately, most of those people don't know how to produce good temperaments. The result is a lot of poorly-bred Cockers with neurotic behaviors, including aggression.

    If you have small children, I would be very careful about choosing an American Cocker Spaniel. A good Cocker would be fine, but there are so many whose temperaments are suspect. Some of these dogs won't tolerate any nonsense. Others get overwhelmed by the loud voices and quick movements that children can't help making. If you combine such a sensitive individual with active children, the result might be stress that could lead to defensive biting if the dog felt startled or threatened.

  2. Potential 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.
  3. Grooming. To keep their silky coat free of mats, American Cocker Spaniels require weekly brushing and combing. Also clipping and trimming every 2-3 months. If you clip the short really short, it's much easier to care for.
  4. Shedding. American Cocker Spaniels shed a LOT. Make sure you don't mind hair on your clothing and furnishings.
  5. Doggy odor. Cocker Spaniels have a distinctive doggy odor that some people find bothersome.
  6. Potential 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.

  7. Potential health problems. From hip problems to eye problems to skin problems to epilepsy, American Cocker Spaniels are one of the riskiest breeds in the health department. To keep this breed healthy, I recommend following all of the advice on my Cocker Spaniel Health Page.

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.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.

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