Gentle and sweet, the Cocker Spaniel was originally a hunting dog, with the word "Cocker" coming from the dog's ability to hunt the Eurasian Woodcock. Cocker Spaniels brought to the United States were originally bred to hunt the American Woodcock.
The American Cocker Spaniel was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1878. Since the American Cocker Spaniel is smaller than the English Cocker Spaniel, the Cocker Spaniel Club of America discouraged breeding between the English Cocker Spaniel and American Cocker Spaniel in 1938. First recognized as a separate breed by the Kennel Club in the UK in 1970, the American Cocker Spaniel is simply known as the "Cocker Spaniel" in the United States (as is similarly true of the English Cocker Spaniel in the UK).
Spaniels as a general "breed family" go back a long way. As early as the 14th century, the "Spanyell" was mentioned in literature of that era, although it's assumed that Spaniels came from Spain. Edward of Norwich, the Second Duke of York, mentioned Spaniels in his 15th-century book, The Master of the Game. He said, "Another kind of hound there is that be called hounds for the hawk and Spaniels, for their kind cometh from Spain, notwithstanding that there are many in other countries." In fact, historical records indicate that the first Spaniel to be brought to America was on the famous Mayflower voyage in 1620.
Spaniels were ultimately divided into land and water Spaniels, and then subsequently divided even further based on the size of the particular dog in question. The "Cocker" is the smaller of Spaniels, and in the US, remains the smallest of the Sporting Group by the American Kennel Club's definition.
The Cocker Spaniel has been exhibited in United States since the early 1880s. Although originally the same as the "other" Cocker Spaniel, the English Cocker Spaniel, today's American Cocker Spaniel has been bred for its "lines" and luxurious coat. The English Cocker Spaniel, by contrast, is still bred as a working dog. Interestingly, the American Cocker is also popular in England, and that led breeders of English-type Cocker Spaniel to petition the American Kennel Club to consider it a separate breed. In 1946, the English Cocker Spaniel was recognized as a separate breed by the American Kennel Club, decades after the American Cocker Spaniel's admission to the AKC in 1878.
What sets the American Cocker Spaniel apart from other so-called "Cockers" or even dogs of the Spaniel type is its relatively small size, with a weight of between 15 and 30 pounds, and a height of between 14.5 to 15.5 inches tall at the shoulder. With a wavy, soft fur coat that can only be called "luxurious," endearingly long, floppy ears, and soulful, expressive eyes, it's easy to fall in love with one of these little dogs as a family pet – and indeed, this gentle, affectionate pup makes an excellent family addition. Sturdy and athletic, the Cocker Spaniel has a broad muzzle, a square or even jaw, a rounded head with a pronounced stop, and usually dark round eyes. Merle Cocker Spaniels may have blue eyes, however. The ears, stomach, chest and legs are usually feathered, and the coat can be of any color, including solid colors, tan points and black, solid color and tan points, merle, or "particolor." Parti-colored dogs are white with tan and black points, white with black, or white with red or buff.
Fittingly, the American Cocker Spaniel is also known as the "Merry Cocker," and for good reason. Neither timid nor shy, the American Cocker Spaniel is simply sweet, agreeable, friendly and eager to please. It's worth noting that although tails can be docked in America, one of the things that makes the Cocker so endearing is its propensity to have a tail that's ever "in the wag" – this little guy or gal is so happy, all the time, that he or she simply can't help but show it.
If you adopt an American Cocker Spaniel as your family pet, you've made an excellent choice. Be careful, though, not to get your little family member from a puppy mill and instead work through a reputable breeder. These dogs can have personality and behavioral problems (no surprise) if they are "puppy mill" dogs. If you get your pet from a careful breeder who not only breeds high-quality dogs but takes care to raise and nurture them through adoption, you will have a truly happy and healthy family pet for years to come. Your pet is affable with just about anyone, including other people, kids, other dogs, and other pets, including cats. Highly social, your little one will not want to be out of the action. That said, be careful to socialize your puppy early to handle lots of noise if you have a particularly rambunctious household. Rough handling should NEVER be a part of your dog's life, not even by small children, so take care to make sure that discipline and handling in general are gentle, loving, and consistent. American Cocker Spaniels are known to be very trainable and intelligent, and have a special ability to show restraint when commanded to "freeze," which is a throwback to its hunting days when it would obey its master and only flush birds out upon command.
Cocker Spaniels are known as a "sporting breed" for a reason. Your pet is very active and needs daily exercise. Apartment life is fine as long as you give your pet a daily walk and plenty of exercise-related activity, including playing fetch, etc.
Sturdy and hardy, the American Cocker Spaniel can live about 12 to 15 years, with relatively few health problems, as long as you make sure you get your pet from a breeder who will give you a socalled "health guarantee." Even healthy Cocker Spaniels can be prone to disc disease, and to certain eye problems including something called "cherry eye" that can be corrected by a surgical procedure. Glaucoma and cataracts can also be a problem, as can progressive retinal atrophy, which can cause some Cocker Spaniels to go blind when they're as young as two years. This is simply a breed problem and you should have a veterinary ophthalmologist check your pet's eyes for signs of difficulty every year.
Cocker Spaniels can also have problems with ear infections, because of their long ears. Stay on top of ear care and clean them religiously.
Finally, something called autoimmune hemolytic anemia is generally fatal in Cocker Spaniels. With this condition, the dog becomes anemic because his or her own immune system attacks the red blood cells. Although this can be treated, it cannot be cured. As a result, life expectancy in dogs with this condition is much lower than is true of the breed at large.
In addition to keeping on top of your pet's ear cleanings, as mentioned above, take care to wipe under your pet's eyes regularly as well because they tend to tear up and leave deposits under the eye. Whether you leave your pet's coat long or cut to medium length, brush daily and shampoo relatively frequently. If your preference is a medium-length coat, it should be trimmed every three months or so.
Group Classification: Gun Dog, AKC Sporting
Country of Origin: N/A
Date of Origin: N/A
Shedding: Moderate Shed
Body Size: N/A
Weight M: 15-30 pounds
Height M: 14-16 inches
Weight F: 15-30 pounds
Height F: 14-16 inches
Litter Size: 2-7 puppies with an average of 5 per litter
Life Expectancy: 12-15 years
Recognized By: CKC, FCI, AKC, UKC, ANKC, NKC, NZKC, APRI, ACR
Black and tan, black, any solid color other than black (ASCOB), parti-colored (white and any other solid color), tan points with the tan less than 10% of the total body.
The Cocker Spaniel is a very adaptable dog that can do well in a smaller space such as an apartment but can also do well in the country. A fenced yard is important for this breed, as they do tend to roam.