Cocker Spaniels

by PetBond Veterinary Surgeon

Cocker Breed Attributes

Cockers are a nice size and adapt well to apartment living
They are lively and playful
Good natured and even tempered
Good around people and other animals including dogs
Very people-oriented
Good around children

Factors to Consider

Can suffer from separation anxiety when left on their own
High maintenance on the grooming front
Are known to like the sound of their own voices which results in excessive barking
Can be excitable if not properly socialised and trained at a young enough age
Not so good around toddlers and very young children
Are prone to drooling when excited
Shed steadily throughout the year

Background to Cockers

Originally bred as a working gundog, the Cocker Spaniel has consistently been one of the UK’s most popular family pets for decades. Over the years the breed has also made its mark in many other countries of the world both in the field and a home environment. They are happy, energetic dogs that adapt well to most lifestyles. Cockers are extremely intelligent, they boast having kind, patient, loyal natures and are never happier than when exploring a back garden, park or countryside with their noses glued to the ground.

The Cocker Spaniel is just at home in a home environment as they are out in the field and will happily retrieve objects around the house, garden or when out on a walk much as they would when working. They love to please which in short, means they are highly trainable. The dogs we see today were recognised as a breed when the Kennel Club was first established in 1873.

It’s worth noting there are two definite types of Cocker Spaniel, one being used in the field as a working dog and therefore quite a bit lighter, and the other being a show dog which have quite a bit heavier and sturdier build. Cockers need to know who is the boss and occasionally need to be reminded of this because they are much happier dogs when they know their place in the pack and who to look up to when they need any sort of guidance and direction.

Where & When did the Cocker Spaniel Originate?

Cocker Spaniels have a fascinating ancestry being descendants of one of the oldest breeds namely the spaniel. There are records of spaniels that date back to the time of Chaucer in the 14th Century and Shakespeare during the 16th and 17th Centuries. However, there are those who believe that spaniels arrived on British shores far earlier than that and it was at the time of the Roman invasion during 54 and 55 BC that these charming dogs were introduced to the UK. It is thought that spaniels may well have originated in Spain mainly because the name “spaniel” could come from the word Hispania which we now know as Spain. Others believe their name could have come from a French phrase which is Chiens de l’Espagnol which translated means Spanish Dogs.

Throughout time, spaniels were specifically bred to work, flushing out game for hunters in challenging terrains and were highly prized by the late 1600’s whether they were asked to work on land or marshlands and water. Originally, there were two “types” being land and water spaniels. It was only in the 19th century that enthusiasts began to separate them with “land” spaniels becoming a more specialised breed, although there is no evidence of them being used to retrieve game at that point in time, but rather to drive it towards the hunter. However, things changed during the 17th Century when spaniels began being used as gun dogs.

Cocker Spaniels were not recognised as a specific breed by the Kennel Club because Springer Spaniels could produce different types of puppies in one single litter, namely Springers, Sussex and Cocker Spaniels. The first of the modern Cocker Spaniels we see today first appeared in 1879 were Obo, the offspring of a Springer Spaniel a field spaniel.

By the mid eighteen hundreds, other spaniel breeds appeared on the scene, but it was not until the Kennel Club was established  in the UK in 1874 that any dog under a certain weight (11 kg) was deemed to be a Cocker. In 1885, a breed standard was set with enthusiasts introducing more desired traits in the breed. Over time, the Cocker Spaniel became a consistent winner not only at dog shows like Crufts which the breed has won more times than any other, but with families and owners alike due to their charming looks and ultra-kind natures.

Did you know…

Tail Docking has been carried out on Cockers for centuries. However, today this practice has now been banned in Ireland for the well-being of the dog, and veterinarians also agree with this ban.
There are 2 strains of Cocker Spaniels namely the show strain and the working strain with the working Cocker having a much lighter build than a show Cocker and they have finer coats as well as less feathering than their show counterparts
Cocker Spaniels are quite different looking than the American Cocker Spaniel

What should a Cocker Spaniel look like?

Height at the withers: Males 39 – 41 cm, Females 38 – 38 cm

Average Weight: Males 13 – 14.5 kg, Females 13 – 14.5 kg

One thing about Cocker Spaniels that is so endearing to many is their happy and kind personalities, always ready to wag their tail and ultra-eager to please. They are sturdy, compact looking little dogs that are never happier than when they are being kept busy. There is a distinct difference in the appearance of a working Cocker Spaniel and a Show Cocker with working dogs being lighter, they have finer coats and far less feathering than show dogs.

Cocker Spaniels have charmingly square muzzles with well-developed skulls which are nicely proportioned, giving them their unique and endearing looks. Their eyes are typically dark or brown in colour and nicely rounded, not protruded at all. Dogs with liver or liver roan coats as well as liver and white dogs have hazel coloured eyes that blend in well with their colouring which is totally acceptable as a breed standard. Cockers are considered to have an intelligent look in their eyes, gentle yet always very alert.

Ears are long and lobular, always lying close to a dog’s head. A Cocker’s jaw is strong with a perfect bite, a physical trait these dogs needed when carrying and retrieving game. Cockers, as previously mentioned are well-proportioned, compact little dogs with strong legs and nicely formed toplines that slope gently from the wither to the tail.

Chests are well developed being neither too narrow or too wide. Their hindquarters are nicely rounded and muscular. They have very cat-like feet being well padded. Cockers always carry their tails level to their bodies. One of their endearing traits is the eagerness with which they are willing to wag their tails not only when happy, but when they are tracking down a scent too.

Under their breed standard, Cocker Spaniels should have “flat, silky coats to the touch that should never be wiry or wavy, nor should their coat be too curly or profuse” and their front and back legs as well as their bodies should be well-feathered. Some Cockers have a slight wave in their coats and although very rare, dogs can have very curly coats too which is thought to be a throwback to their water spaniel lineage.

Show Cockers boast lovely flat and silky coats with lots of feathering on legs and trim. One of the most attractive physical traits the Cocker Spaniel boasts, is their amazing variety of acceptable colours under the Kennel Club Breed Standard being as follows:

Black
Black & Tan
Black & White
Black & White Ticked
Black White & Tan
Blue Roan
Blue Roan & Tan
Chocolate
Chocolate & Tan
Chocolate & White
Chocolate Roan
Chocolate Roan & Tan
Chocolate White & Tan
Golden
Lemon & White
Lemon Roan
Liver
Liver & White
Liver & White Ticked
Liver Roan
Liver Roan & Tan
Liver White & Tan
Orange & White
Orange & White Ticked
Orange Roan
Red

It is worth noting that sable coloured Cocker Spaniels cannot be registered with the Kennel Club.

Dogs with solid colours can have white marks on their chests which can be varying in size and when puppies with solid colours are first born, they can have white marks around the tip of their muzzles and/or toes which usually start disappearing once they start growing often vanishing altogether. Black Cockers can have varying shades of black, but the genetically pure black Cocker Spaniels have coats that are typically raven black

How should a Cocker Spaniel move?

Cockers move with true drive and they cover a lot of ground always looking keen and alert when they do.

What Do the Kennel Club look For?

The Kennel Club frowns on any exaggerations or departures from a Cocker Spaniel’s breed standard. The more exaggerated a trait is, the more it is regarded as being a fault because it could affect the overall wellbeing and health of a dog as well as their ability to work.

Male Cockers should also have two normal testicles fully descended in their scrotums.

It is also worth noting that the Kennel Club offers guidelines for the size and weight of a Cocker Spaniel. As such, some Cockers may be a little larger or smaller and they can also weigh a little less or a bit more than stated in their KC breed standard.

Does a Cocker Spaniel Have a Good Temperament?

Cocker Spaniels are renowned for their gentle and loving natures. They are full of life and are always ready and eager to please, their wagging tails are usually all the proof a person needs to see how “merry” these dogs can be. They are consistently one of the most popular family pets for this reason. The one thing you need to bear in mind, is that a Cocker will form a stronger bond with the person who feeds them. They are incredibly loyal characters that show a determination and resilience when needed.

However, Cocker Spaniels need to know who is alpha dog or they may start displaying a more dominant side of their character. They are quite sensitive to loud noises which can stress them out as can any heavy handling which could result in a nervous and timid dog. Cockers benefit from positive reinforcement training and need to be handled firmly yet very gently when they are being put through their paces. They also need to be given lots of mental stimulation to be truly happy and healthy dogs.

As a rule, Cockers make good family pets when given the correct training, exercise and leadership and can form close relationships with family members. In a working capacity, there are few dogs which can cover all types of ground and terrain, including working in thorny and thick bush and hedgerows, with the same grace and poise of a Cocker Spaniel. And everyone knows that Spaniels love of water. This is something to bear in mind when walking anywhere near water, especially in freezing weather when thin ice may be a problem. Another thing worth noting is that many Show Cocker Spaniels have retained their natural instinct to “work” which is another reason these dogs are so interesting and fun to have around and why they do better when they are kept busy and well exercised.

Is the Cocker Spaniel a good choice for first time owners?

Cocker Spaniels have remained one of the most popular family pets the world over thanks to their gentle, kind natures and because they are so amenable, they are a wonderful choice for first time owners.

What about prey drive?

Cockers have a medium to high prey drive, but the good news is that with correct training and handling it is possible to gently curb this trait. Teaching a Cocker the ground rules and boundaries from an early age together with instilling a strong recall response, all helps reduce the risk of a Cocker taking off after another animal they come across or spy in the distance.

Will a Cocker Be Playful?

Cocker Spaniels are renowned for being playful and of having a real sense of humour. They enjoy playing interactive games and like nothing more than to keep an owner entertained which they do well into their senior years.

What about adaptability?

Cockers are highly adaptable dogs and will happily live in an apartment setting providing they are given the right amount of daily exercise and mental stimulation. A bored Cocker would quickly find ways to entertain themselves which could see dogs being destructive around the home and excessive barking.

Will a Cocker Spaniel Suffer From Separation Anxiety?

Cockers form strong bonds with their owners and families which in short means they are not happy when left to their own devices for any great length of time. They are better suited to households where one person stays at home when everyone else is out or in homes where there are other dogs and pets.

Will a Cocker Spaniel Bark Too Much?

A bored Cocker Spaniel may well start barking excessively which is why it’s so important for them to be well exercised every day which should always include lots of mental stimulation. With this said, a tired Cocker is a well-behaved dog and a bored Cocker that’s not given enough to do will quickly develop behavioural issues which includes excessive barking.

Do Cocker Spaniels like Swimming?

Cocker Spaniels have a real affinity with water and will jump in whenever they can which is why it’s important to take extra care when walking a Cocker anywhere near more dangerous water courses.

Are Cockers good watchdogs?

Cocker Spaniels are not known to be good watchdogs, but they will bark if anyone comes to the door or if they think something untoward is going on in their environment.

Is a Cocker Easy to Train?

Cocker Spaniels are very intelligent dogs with the added bonus being they love to please and are always willing to learn new things they are taught. As such they are easy to train providing their education starts early and their training is consistent throughout their lives. Housetraining is not usually an issue with a Cocker because they quickly learn where to do their “business”.

Cockers need to be taught basic obedience from the word go and they should know the boundaries and limits an owner sets for them which they don’t typically test once they know the rules. The first commands to teach a Cocker are as follows:

Sit
Stay
Come
Wait
Leave
Quiet
Bed

Cockers enjoy taking part in all sorts of canine sports which includes activities like agility, flyball and obedience all of which they breed is known to excel at. A lot of Cocker Spaniels show a natural ability to work alongside hunters and quickly learn what they are asked to do when out in the field.

Will a Cocker be Safe with Children and Other Pets?

Cocker Spaniels are known to be very tolerant and patient with children of all ages which is one of the reasons they have remained such popular family pet the world over.  With this said any playtime or interaction between the kids and a dog should always be well supervised, especially when toddlers are around. If well socialised when puppies, Cocker Spaniels tend to be very good around other family pets and this includes cats and small animals commonly found in the home which is also due to the fact they are very social dogs by nature.

As with any other breed, it’s always a good idea to make sure any introductions to new animals and dogs goes smoothly which means you must be there and to make sure nothing happens that could make the introductions stressful.