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A Guide to Cocker Spaniels
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A Guide to Cocker Spaniels

Jack, Critter Culture Staff
Updated Sep 10, 2020

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It’s no surprise that cocker spaniels are among the most popular breeds of American purebred dogs. Their friendly temperament and silky coat are enough to charm even the most dog-weary people. The breed likely originates from Spain and came over to America on the Mayflower and was one of the first 9 breeds registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC). When cared for in the right way, these beautiful dogs make sweet and loyal pets.

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Cocker spaniels are sporty

Cocker spaniels love to run Bigandt_Photography / Getty Images

The cocker spaniel's small size and calm demeanour may fool people into thinking these dogs are just another type of lapdog. However, these plucky pups are adventurous, loving nothing more than sprinting across muddy fields and jumping in puddles. Cocker spaniels are the smallest members of AKC’s sporting dog family. Unlike other breeds, they don’t require a large amount of exercise to use up excessive energy. A couple of walks a day and a little playtime is sufficient to keep them happy and healthy.

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Cocker spaniels make devoted companions

Cocker spaniels - all the family's best friend Zmaj88 / Getty Images

The cocker spaniel’s sweet disposition and intelligent nature make them perfect companion pets. They are likely to get on well with all members of the family. They are with children and even adjust well to being around other pets. As naturally sociable animals, they love being around people and thrive on plenty of love, affection, and attention. With their unique spirit, sense of fun, and athletic build, cocker spaniels make particularly excellent pets for year-round outdoorsy-types.

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Cocker spaniels don’t enjoy being left alone

When left alone cockers can feel sad and scared uplifted / Getty Images

While cocker spaniels are reasonably relaxed dogs, they dislike being on their own. As they develop such strong attachments to their owners, they can suffer from separation anxiety if left by themselves frequently and for long periods. This anxiety may lead to unwanted behaviors such as chewing, scratching, and urinating inside. Cocker spaniels are also notoriously vocal and may indicate their distress through incessant barking, whining, and howling.

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Training should be reward-based

Cocker spaniels love to play ball SolStock / Getty Images

The cocker spaniel is a people-pleasing breed, and this makes them much easier to train than other dogs. They enjoy the challenge of mastering new tricks and are sensitive to commands and responsive to correction. However, their sensitive nature means they don’t respond well to harsh training methods, such as shouting and negative reinforcement. Instead, their owner can let them know that when they are doing well by giving them a tasty treat or playing their favorite game.

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Those eye-catching ears can cause them problems

They have beautiful but high maintenance ears BiancaGrueneberg / Getty Images

Cocker spaniels are susceptible to several health issues, and those long pendulous ears are particularly troublesome for them. They easily trap dirt, debris, and water, which causes irritation and inflammation. They also prevent air from entering into the ear itself, creating a warm, moist place perfect for infection-causing bacteria to grow. Parasites, such as mites, fleas, and ticks, also thrive in this kind of environment and in the tangles that can form on the outside of their ears.

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A cocker spaniel’s coat requires regular grooming

Regular grooming is important for a cocker's coat O_Lypa / Getty Images

Despite the cocker spaniel’s seemingly effortless beauty, that shiny, silky coat requires regular and thorough grooming to keep it healthy and tangle-free. Cocker spaniels have medium to long, soft topcoats that can be straight or wavy, and short, dense undercoats.

Daily brushing and regular trips to the groomers are recommended for this breed to keep their coat in tip-top condition. Owners also need to pay special attention to their cocker’s ears, making sure they are clean, dry, and knot-free.

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There are two types of cocker spaniels

Autumn portrait of two american cocker spaniels janpla01 / Getty Images

Once they reached America, cocker spaniels were divided into types, American and English, based on differing physical attributes. The American cockers are slightly smaller, with a domed head and a shorter muzzle. The English ones have a longer head and a shorter coat. English cockers were typically used for hunting, while their American counterparts were valued more for their companionship and showing ability.

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They are one of the most popular breeds in the United States

People can't get enough of those sweet faces SensorSpot / Getty Images

From their initial classification, American cockers led the way on the most popular breeds list, based on the number of dogs registered through AKC. They held the number one spot from 1936 to 1953 until the beagle overthrew them. They later reclaimed the title in 1983 and kept it for the next 7 years before finally losing out to the Labrador retriever. Cocker spaniels are the only breed to have been in the top spot twice.

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They come in a variety of colors

Part-color American cocker spaniel Eudyptula / Getty Images

The two most common colors of cocker spaniel are black and buff, but shades of silver, red, brown, golden, and sable are not uncommon. Their coat may be a single color all over or have multi-colored markings. Parti-color cocker spaniels have blocks of two or more colors. Either type may also have tan points usually found on the dog’s face, the bottoms of the ears, on their legs, and under their tail.

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They were originally hunting dogs

English cocker spaniel enjoying the outdoors Kesu01 / Getty Images

The cocker spaniel’s classification as a sporting dog is because they were bred to be gun dogs. They would flush birds out to be shot and then retrieve them. Initially, all types of spaniels were simply divided into land or water dogs. However, cocker spaniels distinguished themselves by being particularly effective at hunting Eurasian woodcock. It’s from this bird that they received their name.

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