Is the American Cocker Spaniel the Ideal Family Dog?

Updated December 2, 2021
Close-Up Of Hand Holding a Cocker Spaniel

The playful, intelligent, and adorable Cocker Spaniel is the epitome of a family dog. Before adopting a new family member, however, potential owners should investigate the breed's specific characteristics in order to find the perfect, faithful friend.

Cute Black Cocker Spaniel sitting in autumn leaves

Origins and History

For hundreds of years in England, spaniels were a category rather than a specific breed of dog. Mr. James Farrow's Obo Kennel was the first kennel in England to recognize the Cocker Spaniel as a distinct breed. The Cocker Spaniel was officially recognized as a breed in England in 1892. American fanciers began bringing Cocker Spaniels to the United States in the late 1870s. Captain, a liver-and-white Cocker Spaniel, was registered in the National American Kennel Club's inaugural studbook.

Cocker Spaniels immediately became popular among breeders and the general population. Some breeders began to select a smaller variety of Cocker Spaniel with a somewhat different conformation than the original English variety. In 1936, a group of English Cocker Spaniel breeders created the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America, which was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as an English type of the Cocker Spaniel.

In the United States, some are unaware that there are two distinct breeds of Cocker Spaniel: the English and the American. Beginning in 1940, the English and Canadian kennel associations recognized the variants as different breeds, and the AKC followed shortly after in 1946. The AKC refers to "American" Cockers simply as Cocker Spaniels, and recognizes the English Cocker Spaniel as a separate breed. Interestingly, this naming distinction is reversed in other parts of the world, where English Cockers are known simply as "Cocker Spaniels," and the dogs belonging to the breed of the same name are called "American Cocker Spaniels."

Differences Between the English and American Cocker

Both types of Cocker Spaniel originated from the same background, but each breed has distinct physical characteristics. The primary differences between English and American Cockers are physical: the American Cocker has a shorter snout, longer neck, more luxurious coat, and is slightly shorter with a longer back. The English Cocker is taller and larger overall, and there are other physical differences that distinguish the two breeds.

Breed Characteristics

Every dog breed has distinct characteristics used to judge their conformation to the breed standard in dog shows. While most families are not concerned with the finer points of dog showmanship, knowing specific traits precludes adopting a mixed-breed dog that unscrupulous sellers attempt to pass off as a pure-bred.


American Cocker coats come in solid black, any-solid-color-other-than-black (ASCOB), and parti or multicolored. The Cocker's medium length coat is slightly wavy, requiring daily brushing and occasional professional grooming. A properly proportioned Cocker has a balanced appearance, with a rounded skull, arched neck, compact and sloping body, large feet that are rounded, and a docked tail. The weight of a healthy adult Cocker Spaniel is generally 18 to 28 pounds, depending on the dog's height and gender.


Cockers are lively, friendly dogs that develop a fierce loyalty to their owners. They are cheerful companions and should be exercised frequently. While this breed enjoys remaining indoors, they absolutely love the outdoors and going for walks daily. The breed is also notorious for barking excessively, especially if they have spent all day indoors or without company.

Their keen intelligence invites games and tricks, and cockers will eagerly play fetching or chasing games. They also excel in agility and tracking competitions. Cockers are excellent swimmers, and families should be cautious around unfamiliar bodies of water because cockers are quick to notice floating objects and may plunge in to retrieve them without encouragement.

American Cocker Spaniel Running Outdoors

Health Concerns

American Cocker Spaniels are generally healthy, but they are prone to several disorders.

  • Closed Tear Ducts: If your pet is tearing a lot, the ducts may need to be opened by a veterinarian.
  • Conjunctivitis: Pink tissue lining the inner surface of the eyelids may become inflamed, particularly if the dog enjoys digging.
  • Disk Herniations: Because of the dog's athleticism, their back must be very flexible and could be susceptible to herniated disks.
  • Ear Problems: Cockers may experience a variety of problems with their long, pendulous ears. Proper cleaning and trimming help minimize these problems.

The best way to keep your American Cocker Spaniel healthy is through regular veterinarian visits, vaccinations, proper dental hygiene, and ear care. If the dog starts to behave abnormally or exhibits symptoms of discomfort or pain, consult your veterinarian.


Cocker Spaniels typically live to be 10 to 14 years old, though some members of the breed have been known to live to 16 years of age or more. Provide your dog with a high level of physical activity outdoors, proper diet, good veterinary care, and lots of love, and you should see your pooch reach a ripe, old age.


The Cocker Spaniel's coat may be flat, silky, or wavy, and requires a high level of care, especially if it is kept long to conform to the breed standard. Many owners who do not show their dogs instead opt to shave or trim the Cocker coat down to make maintenance easier. Regular brushing is a necessity, even if your dog is trimmed, as the dog's top or guard coat protects a soft undercoat that is prone to shedding.

Avoid bathing your Cocker Spaniel too frequently, unless your dog is works or plays hard outside and often comes in the house dirty. Excessive bathing can strip natural oils from the dog's skin and coat, so it is best to avoid giving your dog a bath more than a few times a year. Trim nails as needed -- and begin trimming a puppy's nails early to acclimate them to the procedure -- but be aware that Cockers who play outside frequently often do not need their nails trimmed often, if at all.

Fun Facts About the American Cocker Spaniel

The American Cocker Spaniel is well-known, but the fun facts about them may not be. The following is a list of facts that you may not have known before:

  • They were bred as hunting dogs as early as the 1400s.
  • The large family of dogs came in a variety of sizes and colors, each with their own set of abilities to aid hunters in the field. Spaniels were finally divided into two categories: land and water, with cocker spaniels being utilized primarily for hunting on land.
  • Actor George Clooney had an elderly Cocker Spaniel named Einstein -- who died in 2017 -- that he rescued from a California animal shelter.
  • When Paul Sperry, the founder of Sperry fashion line, watched his Cocker Spaniel running on ice without a problem, he dug in deeper to determine how to create a shoe with similar grip. The first boat shoes were Sperry's Top-Siders, which had terrific traction and white soles that didn't mark up the boat.
  • Lady, in Disney's Lady and the Tramp, was a Cocker Spaniel.
  • Presidents Truman and Nixon both had cockers, named Feller and Checkers, respectively.

Finding an American Cocker Spaniel

Once you've decided an American Cocker Spaniel is the breed for you, look for a reputable breeder to find puppies for sale. Alternatively, you can find an American Cocker Spaniel puppy through a rescue or shelter, although you're more likely to find adult dogs this way.

Because of the Cocker's popularity, unscrupulous breeders indiscriminately breed them with little regard for inherent health or temperament problems. In order to choose the best pet, always examine the puppies interacting with one another, their parents, and the people in their lives. It is important that Cocker Spaniel puppies be socialized from a young age: they enjoy companionship and camaraderie and will be happiest around familiar people. Of course, always examine puppies for obvious health problems and ask about their health history before selecting a new family member.

Locating Responsible Breeders

Because American Cocker Spaniels are a popular breed for puppy mills, it's important to research breeders carefully to make sure you are finding a well-bred dog who has been provided the best care. You should interview your prospective breeder and ask to see their breeding environment and expect that they will quiz you thoroughly in return to make sure you will be a good fit for their dogs.

  • The American Spaniel Club is the national parent club for the breed and you can find a directory of breeders on their website.
  • You can check the AKC site to find local dog shows that may have American Cocker Spaniels participating.
  • Speak to other owners to get American Cocker Spaniel breeder recommendations.
  • Ask your veterinarian if they have personal referrals.

American Cocker Spaniel Rescue

If you don't want to find an American Cocker Spaniel for sale, but would rather find an adult dog that needs a home, there are a few places to start your search.

  • First, contact breeders via the American Spaniel Club website. Many breeders do rescue and they may have dogs or know of dogs that need homes.
  • The American Spaniel Club Foundation has a list of rescue groups by state that specialize in American Cocker Spaniels.
  • Cocker Spaniel Rescue Services finds homes for Cocker Spaniels and Cocker Spaniel mixes in the midwestern U.S., including Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
  • Second Chance Cocker Rescue serves dogs and families in the state of California, and places as well as takes in Cocker Spaniels needing homes.
  • Cocker Spaniel Rescue of New England has been placing Cocker Spaniels in homes since 1987. They focus on placing dogs in the New England region, including within Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Because American Cocker Spaniels are a popular breed, they can be found in rescues and shelters that do not specialize in any one breed. To find dogs local to you, use national websites such as Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet. Both sites let you search by breed and zip code to find all the listed dogs within a certain search radius.

American cocker spaniel with rugby ball

Is This the Right Breed for You?

American Cocker Spaniels are among the most popular dog breeds for family pets in the United States today. Intelligent, loyal, playful, and energetic, Cockers are excellent pets for children and will grow with them into faithful friends making many happy memories. For the first few days of your new Cocker's homecoming, be sure to provide plenty of attention and affection. This bonding ensures a happy, loyal pet for many years.

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Is the American Cocker Spaniel the Ideal Family Dog?