Type: Gun dog
Weight: Male – 13 -15kg
Female – 13 -14 kg
Height: Male – 15.5-16 in / 39-41 cm
Female – 15-15.5 in / 38-39 cm
Appearance: English cocker spaniels are often mistaken for the English springer spaniel, but the sharp eye can see the difference – the English cocker spaniel is smaller, has longer and lower-set ears and a shorter muzzle. The coat of the English cocker is solid or single-coloured, particoloured, or with roan types of markings. The colour can be black, liver with brown pigmentation, red with black or brown pigmentation, golden with black or brown pigmentation, sable, silver, ash, black and tan, and some other rarer combinations.
Temperament: English cocker spaniels are intelligent, friendly, active, playful and very kind dogs. The crave human company, don’t like to stay alone and can demand the constant attention of their owners. On the positive side they bond strongly with their chosen humans. With a cheerful nature and high level of obedience, the English cocker spaniel is the perfect companion either for playing or working, providing the owner is prepared to give the level of attention this breed needs.
Skills: English cocker spaniels are very effective hunters, they deliver game to hand, can follow hand signals and investigate for game birds.
Behaviour Toward Other Animals and Children: English cocker spaniel are outstanding in their high level of socialization and ability to communicate. They’re kind, alert animals, sensitive to human needs and emotions. They develop strong friendships with adults, children, and usually also with other dogs and pets, all of this makes them a perfect family pet. Cocker spaniels really do prefer to spend all of their time with their owners, which can also make them a great choice for an older less mobile person looking for a companion dog.
Common Health Problems: Include bite problems, skin allergies, shyness, cataracts, deafness, benign tumours, hip dysplasia, patellar lunation, canine dilated cardiomyopathy, heart murmurs, arthritis, rage syndrome.
Lifespan: Average 11 to 12 years. Most common causes of death are cancer, old age and cardiac problems.
Training an English Cocker Spaniel Puppy
Training a young puppy has to begin the moment he enters his new home. When he is first brought home, the puppy will need the comfort and security of his own feeding, playing, and sleeping area. It is best that he is provided with his own crate – large enough for him to lie down, turn around, and stand up. A cornered area of a room is also a good option, provided it’s penned up with a transparent sheet or a baby gate – the puppy has to be able to see his new family and gradually get accustomed to their movements, voices, and presence. Being let loose in a completely new environment will be overwhelming and stressful to the Cocker puppy. The crate or cornered area have to be lined with clean bedding and supplied with water and food bowls, and a toy. Owners need to reassure the puppy that this is his secure zone where he can get some rest and feel safe. The crate should never be used as a time-out place when he has done something wrong.
During the first couple of months, the puppy will listen to his owners and try to please them with his behaviour. At this so-called “sponge stage”, the puppy is eager, willing, and able to absorb the basics he needs to know and follow in the future. Over the next eighteen months, the positive behaviours he has grasped have to be reinforced by building on a well-established foundation. After the essentials of obedience training – basic commands and behaviours, he can be involved in canine sports, and all kinds of games and activities that will let him socialise with other dogs, animals, and people. The key to successful training is consistency. No matter how large the family is, all members have to use the same one-word commands to elicit the same behaviour every time.
There are some basic principles of puppy training that help even first-time dog owners deal with housebreaking and early stages of training successfully:
- Training has to start early – young puppies are focused and grasp new concepts easily when they are free from the distractions that would come when they reach maturity and their bodies start producing hormones.
- Timing is crucial – establishing feeding, sleeping, and playing hours and keeping to them helps with potty training, lead training, and all other basics the puppy needs to learn. Praising or correcting have to happen immediately after the Cocker Spaniel puppy has displayed positive or destructive behaviours. If he is given a treat 15 minutes after complying with a command, or told “No” half an hour after he has chewed on something or eliminated in the wrong place, he won’t be able to make associations what he’s being praised or scolded for.
- Patience and repetition are key – training sessions should be always of the same length and finished on a high note, even if this means going back to an easier command. The same words for commands have to be used and repeated as many times as it takes for the dog to learn them.
- Positive reinforcement goes a long way – in the beginning owners should use verbal praise, treat biscuits, and some pats on the head or rubs on the neck as rewards. Gradually, the treats can be withheld and used only for teaching new tricks and commands. Praising verbally and petting, however, have to continue throughout adulthood. The puppy’s name is reserved for praise, it should never be used to tell the dog off.
Training an Adult English Cocker Spaniel
Although training young puppies has the best results, untrained adult English Cocker Spaniels can also be successfully housebroken and taught basic commands provided their owners are patient with their slower learning rate. Regardless of the dog’s age, the same rules for training apply. He needs set hours for feeding, playing, and sleeping that will be kept to strictly. Routines, such as daily walks, house rules, crate training, praise and correction words have to be consistent.
Once the dog stops displaying destructive behaviours, such as jumping on people, barking excessively, chewing, etc, when his owners use a correction word or a command like “Stay” or “Heel”, he can move on to learning new commands and skills. Some of these include walking on a leash in line with his owners, not in front of or behind them, coming when called (every time), lying down, sitting, and staying still on cue, waiting for his owners to pass through a door first, drop an object he has in his mouth, and many more.
Cocker Spaniels are people-oriented breeds and need plenty of interaction with their owners. In order to prevent negative behaviours, owners should help their dog create a lifestyle pattern compatible with their own and spend enough time for obedience training, interactive games, such as fetch, and plenty of exercise. A well-exercised Spaniel is a well-behaved Spaniel. He has to be kept in motion as much as possible, and it’s highly recommended that he’s taught to chase and retrieve toys. He also needs to be provided with a variety of chewing toys to prevent him from chewing on furniture, shoes, and other objects. If there are children in the family, they need to understand that they should never “play fight” with the English Cocker Spaniel. They should be encouraged to get involved in interactive games with the dog but never in a way that may encourage the Spaniel to bite or show other destructive behaviour.
The history of Spaniels goes all the way back to the 15th century and some theories even suggest Spaniel-type dogs have been around since 2000 A.D., substantiating the antiquity of the breed with historic artefacts, including a Spaniel-like statue from the Cypriot collection of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, as well as mentions in Irish Laws of Spaniels as early as 948 A.D. Spaniels were first mentioned in English literature by Chaucer (c. 1340-1400), and frequent referrals to Spaniels in the royals household in The Book of Field Sports from 1486 also prove that Spaniels were known in Britain more than 500 years ago.
During the reign of Henry VIII, Spaniels were used for netting and were called sitting or setting Spaniels. In 1570, Johannes Caius classified all sporting dogs under two types – used for hunting beasts, and used for hunting fowl, with the latter subdivided into Spaniels and Setters. In the 16th and 17th centuries another type of Spaniels was recognised – the Toy Spaniel. A book from 1803 describes two different types of Spaniels – the Springer Spaniel which is larger and applicable to every kind of game, and the Cocker or Cocking Spaniel, which is smaller and more adapted to covert and woodcock shooting. The Cocker is described as shorter than the Springer, with a rounder head and shorter nose. All Spaniels that weighed less than 25 pounds were classified as Cocker Spaniels.
In the course of the 19th century, British breeders began dividing the Spaniels into specific breeds: English Springer, Welsh Springer, Cocker, Field, Sussex, Clumber, and Irish Water Spaniel. Before the formal classification of the English Cocker Spaniel, other breeds such as the Welsh Cocker, the Devonshire Cocker, and the Sussex Spaniel were designated as “Cockers”. They were, however, much larger than the English Cocker Spaniel and were later reclassified as Springer-type Spaniels. Springers and Cockers were recognised as separate breeds by the Kennel Club in England in 1892.
In 1902, the first Cocker Spaniel Club of Great Britain was formed and the Kennel Club issued the first official breed standard. By that time, the English Cocker Spaniel had been introduced to the US and recognised as a breed in 1878. As American breeders chose smaller Cockers for their breeding programmes, the development of Cockers in the US headed in a different direction and by 1935, it had become clear that American and English Cocker Spaniels were two very different types. The English Cocker Spaniel Club of America was formed in 1936, and the two varieties were recognised as separate breeds by the American Kennel Club in 1946. In the UK, the Kennel Club recognised the American Cocker Spaniel as a separate breed in 1970. Each of the breeds is called simply Cocker Spaniel in its native land.
- Spaying and Neutering
Unless owners are planning on breeding their English Cocker Spaniel, it is highly recommended that dogs be neutered or spayed as soon as they reach appropriate age – five to seven months for most breeds. Having a male English Cocker Spaniel neutered is essential to his behaviour. It decreases levels of aggression but does not affect the dog’s activity levels. Neutering decreases the dog’s desire to run and roam, as well as his “marking” behaviour, especially when females are in season, while on the other hand, it increases his ability to be house trained and kept safely around other male dogs. Spaying a female English Cocker Spaniel prevents the need to put the dog in isolation when she’s in heat and diminishes the risk of aggression and fighting with other females to establish pack order. The most important advantage of neutering and spaying is that it decreases the risk of reproductive cancer in both male and female dogs.
- Regular Vet Checks
Annual vet checks are essential in maintaining a healthy English Cocker Spaniel, and older dogs or dogs with known problems may have to visit the vet more frequently. Usually, a routine examination includes temperature check, weight check, stomach and abdomen palpation, heart rate and lung check, as well as examination of the nose, mouth, and teeth. Regular visits help recognise any issues and concerns and prevent serious conditions. They allow the vet to stay on top of changes in overall health and keep the Spaniel up to date on his vaccines and immune boosters. Owners should follow scheduled follow-up visits and recommendations strictly.
- Common Health Problems
According to a health survey by the English Cocker Spaniel Club, a major concern among the breed are eye diseases, notably progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and cataracts. There is a DNA test available for PRA in English Cocker Spaniels, so owners can find out at any time whether their dog has the disease, carries the disease, or is completely clear of it. Skin diseases, such as allergies and seborrhea, as well as ear infections are common in the breed. Heart diseases, such as cardiomyopathy and patent ductus arteriosus are becoming a concern, and a severe kidney disease claims the lives of many young English Cocker Spaniels. Up to 17% of English Cockers have low thyroid levels and hormonal/endocrine system diseases are fairly common in the breed. Epilepsy is unfortunately also common, and a rare neurological/behavioural condition, known as Rage Syndrome, which typically appears in English Springer Spaniels, can also affect English Cocker Spaniels.
English Cocker Spaniel puppies should be walked twice a day and provided with opportunities to run and play throughout the day. The level of exercise has to be adjusted to the puppy’s age and development stage. Too much strain and stress from over-exercising may lead to problems with the joints, muscles, and bones which are still developing. Proper exercise encourages muscle growth in puppies and older dogs alike. Even though they are a small breed, English Cocker Spaniels were bred for working dogs and require more exercise than other small dogs. Consistent exercise is essential for the dog’s mental and physical health. They need daily walks and play sessions in the yard, and excel at hunting, retrieving, and agility competitions.
A premium brand of food, varied in flavours can constitute a large part of the English Cocker’s diet, based on various factors, including age, activity levels and overall health. Although dry food is less expensive, more convenient, and usually nutritionally-balanced, it needs to be diversified with treats such as cheese bites, apples, and carrots. Fresh meat portions can be combined with dry food or semi-dry food. Table scraps have to be avoided at all times and treat biscuits have to be fed in moderation.
Daily brushing using a natural bristle brush or a slicker brush removes excess dead hair, prevents mats and tangles, and stimulates the distribution of natural oils for a neat shiny coat. The coat of the English Cocker Spaniel gets longer and fluffier after the age of 5-6 months and most owners have their dogs professionally groomed. The coat has to be hand-stripped, never clipped or razored.
The English Cocker Spaniel’s ears hang down and are prone to infections. They have to be regularly cleaned with specialised cleaning solutions and checked for redness, itchiness, or tenderness. If the dog is excessively scratching his ears or shaking his head, he needs to be taken to a vet, as this might indicate an ear infection.