American Cocker Spaniel

Breed Group: Sporting

Temperament and Behavior

For many decades, the American Cocker Spaniel has been one of the most popular dogs in the United States. And for good reason — a Cocker can be a pure joy to own. They are highly affectionate, playful, amiable, nearly always happy, sweet and ready to please. Companion dogs by nature, there’s no place they’d rather be than by their owner’s side. Exceptional with children and other animals, they make excellent family pets for just about anyone. But these traits only hold true if you’ve chosen a well-bred dog. Because they are so popular in the US, poor breeding practices are common. The resulting Cockers can display erratic behavior problems. Use caution when choosing a breeder. Many say it is easier to find a poorly bred dog than one that is well bred. American Cockers can have high energy levels; however, a modest walk on a leash should suffice for their exercise needs. With adequate exercise, they tend to be calm indoors and can take to apartment or city life just as well as suburbia or the country. Some tend to bark excessively, particularly if left alone for more than a few hours. They make good watchdogs – their inquisitive nature leads them to alert their owners to newcomers. But with their friendly nature, don’t expect them to fulfill the role of a guardian.

Physical Characteristics

The American Cocker Spaniel smallest member of the sporting group, they range in height from 14 to 16 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 24 and 28 pounds. Their long, silky coats are flat or slightly wavy with longer hair on their abdomen, chest, legs, and ears. This longer hair is called feathering. Coat colors are buff, black, black and tan, parti-color, and, as the AKC refers to it, ASCOB or Any Solid Color Other than Black. An American Cocker Spaniel requires more grooming than most other breeds. To reduce their abundant shedding, their long, lustrous coat requires almost daily brushing, frequent bathing, and clipping every three months. They also need regular care for their eyes and ears, which are both prone to infection if not kept clean. They do well in moderate climates; but, their need for social interaction and companionship is so great that they should not be left outside for long periods of time. They don’t adapt well to extremes in either heat or cold.

Trainer's Notes

These dogs typically make wonderful training companions. They are intelligent and eager to please but do not react well to negative training methods. They simply give up if they feel they cannot please. Housebreaking can be difficult; patience and positive reinforcement are key. Social by nature – they love to be by their owner’s side. Socialization is important to counter the shyness in some lines. When a well-bred American Cockers is properly socialized, they are excellent with everyone including children, strangers, and other animals. Because of their popularity, careless breeding abounds. All too frequently this results in problems with temperament including fear, submissive urination, and aggression. Locate reputable breeders through the AKC or the national breed club. Then be sure to meet the parents of, and conduct a thorough temperament test before choosing a puppy.
Photo © by sannse available under the GNUFDL
American Cocker Spaniel
American Cocker Spaniel


The most frequent health issues associated with the American Cocker Spaniel include patellar luxation (which affects close to 1 in 4 dogs), cataracts, and glaucoma. The list of minor concerns for the breed is lengthy and includes phosphofructokinase deficiency, CHF, cardiomyopathy, ectropion, Cherry Eye, ILP, PRA, hip dysplasia, allergies, liver disease, lip fold pyoderma, urolithiasis, otitis externa, and seborrhea. Some suffer from gastric torsion and elbow dysplasia. A healthy American Cocker Spaniel’s average lifespan is 10 to 15 years.


American Cocker Spaniels are one of the most popular purebred dogs in America. With more than 16,000 dogs registered most years, the AKC ranks them 15th in popularity.

Breed History

The American Cocker Spaniel was developed from the careful breeding of the English Cocker Spaniel. In the late 1800s hunters of quail and other small game birds wanted a smaller hunting dog, so the larger English Cocker Spaniel was bred down in size. This smaller dog became the American Cocker. For decades, the English Cocker and the American Cocker Spaniel were considered variations of the same breed until the AKC separated them in 1935. Once a separate breed, the popularity of the American Cocker Spaniel began to soar. In the 1950s and 60s, the breed was nearly destroyed by careless over-breeding which continues today.

Additional Information

Although similar in many ways, quite a few differences exist between today’s American and the English Cocker Spaniel. English Cockers are larger, more athletic and performance driven. They retain their hunting instincts and are used much more frequently in fieldwork. American Cockers are smaller with heavier coats, require less exercise and can be a bit more submissive making them better household pets. Famous Cocker Spaniel owners include Lauren Becall, George H. Bush, Earnest Hemmingway, Katharine Hepburn, both John and Robert Kennedy, Sugar Ray Leonard, Cathy Rigby, Richard Nixon, Tom Selleck, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Harry S. Truman, and Oprah Winfrey. The National (US) Breed Club is The American Spaniel Club

Is An American Cocker Spaniel THE BEST Dog For YOU?

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