Type: Sporting dog
Weight: Male – 11- 14 kg
Female – 11 -13 kg
Height: Male – 15.5 in / 39 cm
Female – 14.5 in / 37 cm
Appearance: American cocker spaniels and English cocker spaniels are two main types of the spaniel breed. The difference between them is mostly due to the separate breed standards in the USA and the UK. The American cocker spaniel is smaller, with medium long, thick and silky hair, coloured in white, black, brown, tan, grey, red or fawn. The nose is upturned and its colour depends on the coat colour black or brown. The ears are long, hung down, low set and have longer hair than the rest of the body. The eyes are large, rounded and dark.
Temperament: The American cocker is also known as the “Merry Cocker” because of its playful and happy personality, it is however also known for timidity and can be very stressed by rough treatment. With proper socialisation and gentle treatment this breed will let down its guard and is ready to be friends with everyone. Like the English cocker, the American enjoys human company and needs a lot of attention from its owners. American cocker spaniels are also well-known for their intelligence, obedience and trainability.
Skills: American cocker spaniels are mostly bred as show dogs with longer hair which makes them better as family pets than working dogs. The breed does preserve its hunting instincts and these can find an outlet in dog sports.
Behaviour Toward Other Animals and Children: The American cocker spaniel is an active and playful dog, a perfect companion for children. This breed feels most comfortable around people, so it is most suitable for indoor living as part of the family, it will cohabit with any other pets. This is not the breed to choose as an outdoor guard dog, deprived of human company American cockers will quickly become depressed.
Common Health Problems: Include eye and ear infections, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), glaucoma, cataracts, hemolytic anemia, luxating patellas, hip dysplasia, dilated cardiomyopathy, sick sinus syndrome, phosphofructokinase deficiency, canine epilepsy, rage syndrome.
Lifespan: Average 10 to 11 years. The most common causes of death are cancer, old age, cardiac problems, immunerelated and hepatic disease.
With Cocker Spaniels’ inability to control their bladder, potty training comes at the top of the list for their owners. American Cockers seem to lack control of their bladder when they feel scared, submissive, or excited. It may take quite some time to teach a Cocker where his bathroom is, but with consistency and a lot of patience on his owner’s part, he will eventually come around.
- Choose a relieving area in a quite place outside, free of distractions. Use a material that your Cocker enjoys most – some individual dogs may not prefer grass, but mulch or soil instead. You can also use a doggie litter box for smaller dogs or paper if the designated area is inside.
- Introduce a phrase that the dog will learn to associate with going to the bathroom, for example “Potty time” or “Go potty”. Bring the Cocker to the area first thing he wakes up, after feeding and playing, and before he goes to bed.
- Schedule trips to the toilet area according to the dog’s age – puppies who are two-months-old need to go every two hours, four-month-old pups can last about four hours between visits to the loo, etc. As the dog matures, relieving trips will become fewer.
- Provide the dog with privacy – stand at a distance and don’t distract him or play with him until he has done what he is supposed to do. Once he eliminates successfully, lavish with verbal praise and pats and rubs, or reward with a treat. Cockers are eager to please their owners and seeing you excited will be a great stimulator for the dog to repeat the behaviour that has earned him your praise.
- Be patient with your Cocker – if he can’t go for 10 or 15 minutes, simply bring him inside and wait another quarter of an hour before taking him out again. Supervise him while he’s inside or place him in a crate to prevent accidents.
- Never scold or physically discipline a Cocker Spaniel when he can’t go immediately or has eliminated at the wrong place. They are extremely sensitive dogs and any kind of reprimand will make them fearful and put at risk any further training.
- Clean indoor accidents with a specialised enzyme solution to get rid of the smell completely and prevent future incidents at the same place. You can use a crate when you are away. Dogs are naturally clean animals and the Cocker will do his best not to eliminate inside his crate. The crate should be used sparingly and never as a place for punishment.
- Establish a feeding and exercise schedule and take your Cocker to the relieving area every couple of hours until he learns to use only the designated area. A dog is considered housebroken if he hasn’t had an accident for at least 45 days.
When training an American Cocker Spaniel, owners should consider some typical breed characteristics that play a vital role in the dog’s training. American Cocker Spaniels are:
Cocker Spaniels won’t respond well to any kind of training that involves harsh methods or punishment. Use positive reinforcement that relies on consistency, praise, and rewards. Any kind of verbal reprimand or physical disciplining may cause a Cocker to shut out and become fearful of future training. Cockers Spaniels may eliminate submissively when they feel intimidated or stressed, which could jeopardise the success of potty training. Poorly trained Cockers turn into either fearful or aggressive dogs, both of which are unacceptable. Clicker training is known to give excellent results with the breed. Keep training sessions short and exciting. Cockers learn both good and bad habits quickly, and too much repetition will bore them and make them unresponsive. With proper training, any Cocker can grow into a confident well-adjusted dog.
Finding middle ground between permissiveness and discipline is essential in Cocker training. The person conducting the training has to find the proper balance of being gentle and being firm. On the one hand, being too harsh will make a Cocker wilt, on the other – being too indulgent may make the dog take the initiative of his training.
Cockers’ enthusiastic nature makes them perfect for obedience, agility, and tracking. Even though nowadays they are primarily used as companion dogs, Cocker Spaniels were originally bred to flush woodcocks out of dense brush. They are eager to please and love having a job to do. Overcoming obstacles on the agility course and scent discrimination on the tracking trial will help them satisfy their natural instincts and provide the physical and mental stimulation.
Cocker Spaniels’ instinctive behaviours may seem like a challenge, especially for if you’re inexperienced in dog training or a first-time dog owner. Their natural instinct to follow scents may prompt them to run off at times and be totally oblivious to any requests to come back. It is important that you train a strong recall command and always keep your Cocker leashed during walks and in a fenced area during off-leash activities.
American Cocker Spaniels are the smallest type of the Spaniel breeds, and the smallest sporting dogs registered by the AKC. Spaniels in America can be traced back to the early 17th century and the Mayflower, as it is believed that two dogs – a Mastiff and a Spaniel were carried on the ship. However, the bloodlines of today’s American Cocker Spaniels cannot be traced back undoubtedly to these two dogs, as pedigree and stud books were applied later on in the 19th century.
The earliest written recordings of Spaniels date back to the 14th century. They were used for netting and later, with the invention of the shooting gun, for flushing fowl and game. By the 19th century, Spaniels were divided into smaller dogs, mainly used as companions, and larger hunting dogs. Hunting dogs were divided into land and water Spaniels, with further divisions in land Spaniels. Springer Spaniels were larger and adapted to flushing any game and fowl, while Cocker Spaniels were smaller (up to 25 lbs), with a rounder head and shorter nose. They were used for woodcock shooting and it is largely believed that this gave the name of the breed.
English Cocker Spaniels were imported into the US in the late 1870s, and in 1881 the American Spaniel Club was formed. Originally, it included breeders of different Spaniels, but as differences between the breeds were refined, they split into various organizations. Cocker Spaniels were first registered in 1879 and quickly became popular among both breeders and the public. Some American breeders started favouring a smaller type of Cocker, which resulted in the development of a breed which was different in type, size, and colour from the English Cocker Spaniels we know today. They were used primarily as family companions and show dogs rather than hunting dogs.
By 1935, it was obvious that the two varieties of the Cockers had begun to differ substantially, which prompted a group of English Cocker Spaniels breeders to form a specialty club for their breed – The English Cocker Spaniel Club of America, which is still the parent club for that breed in the United States. The AKC recognised the English Spaniel Cocker and the American Cockers Spaniel as two separate breeds in 1946.
Bred to be smaller than the English Cocker Spaniel, American Cocker Spaniels don’t need the high amount of complex carbohydrates that hunting dogs require, even though they still retain similar nutritional requirements. If owners are willing to cook food for their Cockers themselves, they should provide a diet balanced in lean, high-quality proteins and slow-burning carbohydrates – ideally a blend of corn, wheat, poultry, and dairy products. The breed should not be fed soy, fish, and horse meat.
When feeding commercial food, read labels carefully and avoid foods containing filler-carbohydrates, as their effect is similar to a glucose crash in people after consuming large quantities of carbohydrates. You can supplement a Cocker Spaniel’s diet with the Vitamins A, D, and E, folic acid, and biotin. Cocker Spaniels tend to overeat when free-fed, so it is best that owners monitor their caloric intake and adjust meals and exercise routines to prevent them from the risk of obesity and diabetes.
The abundant coat of the American Cocker Spaniel requires regular attention and care. In addition to the professional grooming, which includes brushing, bathing, and trimming every 6-8 weeks, the wavy coat of the American Spaniel needs to be brushed daily at home with a bristle or slicker brush to prevent mats and tangles. Even if the coat is clipped short, it still needs to be trimmed and bathed every couple of months in order to maintain it clean and neat.
Cockers are prone to ear infections, so owners need to keep their dogs’ ears clean and regularly check for signs of infections, such as redness, itchiness, or bad smell. Use specialised pet wipes or a soft cotton ball dampened with a mild pH-neutral solution to wipe the ears and provide deep, narrow water and food dishes so that the Spaniel doesn’t get his hanging ears wet or soiled with food.
Some Cocker Spaniels have genetically bad teeth and there is a risk of losing them at a young age if not given proper dental care. Brush your Cocker’s teeth daily and have them professionally cleaned at least once a year. You can purchase specialised cleaners that can be squirted in the dog’s mouth or added to his water to prevent plaque and tartar build-up. Even if your use such solutions, you still need to brush at least several times each week.
This is a generally healthy breed and regular visits to the vet, proper diet, dental and ear care are sufficient to keep the dog healthy and stay on top of changes in his overall health. Owners should be vigilant about a few health conditions that may affect the breed:
- closed tear ducts – if the Spaniel is tearing a lot, he may have to be taken to the vet and have his ducts opened;
- conjunctivitis – there are different causes for conjunctivitis in Cocker Spaniels, such as allergies, contamination (especially if the dog loves to dig), inborn defects, closed ducts, even tumours. If you notice red tissue lining on the inner surface of the eyelids, mucus, yellow-green pus, or watery discharge from the eyes, seek veterinary assistance.
- ear infections – with their long pendulous ears, American Spaniels are prone to ear infections and need to have their ears regularly cleaned and trimmed. If the dog is scratching at his ears or shaking his head, check for redness, sensitivity, and bad smell and take him to the vet if you notice any of these symptoms.
- hemolytic anemia – it can be autoimmune, congenital, infectious, or drug-induced. Symptoms include jaundice and hemoglobinuria (passing dark-brown urine that contains hemoglobin), weakness, paleness, rapid pulse, and enlarged liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. Take your dog to the vet if you notice any of these symptoms.
Proper exercise is extremely important in raising a well-adjusted dog. American Cocker Spaniels come from a hunting-dog background and have plenty of stamina and energy to expend. Teach a Cocker puppy from a young age to chase and retrieve toys, play fetch, and take him for at least two walks a day. Although they enjoy a romp, Cockers would happily lounge inside with their family after a long walk or a play session in the yard. These dogs are sociable and require plenty of interaction. If left outside on their own for longer periods, they might start barking or display other negative behaviours. Owners should remember that there is no such thing as too much exercise for a Spaniel and that a well-exercised Cocker is a well-behaved Cocker.