Cocker spaniels are loving, easy-going, and affectionate—a treat to have as part of the family. They are generally smart and easy to train. Thanks to their relatively small size—they grow to about 14 or 15 inches in height and no more than 30 pounds—they are also ideal for any size home, from apartment to single-family house. They are very loyal pets and will follow you from room to room all day long. Cockers also love going on brisk walks and seem to frolic everywhere they go. While they were originally bred as hunting dogs, they now make ideal companions for pet owners young and old.
Cocker spaniels are moderately sized, beautiful dogs. Male pups stand 15 inches tall, and female dogs grow to 14 inches tall. They should not weigh more than 30 pounds—and will need your help in not overeating. Cocker spaniels have thick, soft, wavy coats of many colors—black, light cream, red, white, and brown—and patterns, all with long, lush ears that people can’t resist petting. The term “sweet puppy dog eyes” was likely inspired by cocker spaniels with their big, dreamy, pleading brown eyes. But their looks require constant attention, both at home and with visits to the groomer.
The cocker spaniel is a merry breed. They are also smart and trusting of their owners. While they do have a hunting instinct, they are happiest being a companion at home. They are up for whatever their owner wants to do, as they are happiest pleasing their human family. Care to snuggle up on the couch? A cocker spaniel is in. Kids want to run around in the yard? They are up for that, too. And while reserved initially, cocker spaniels make fast friends with most everyone they meet. They have a sweet temperament and can be very affectionate and cuddly dogs. And with proper training, they also get along well with other pets, including cats. Thanks to their hunting instincts, sharing a home with a pet bird is not an option.
“Cocker spaniels are a beautiful dog with a very nice size, big enough to be sturdy and able to play with kids, but small enough to be an apartment or condo dog,” says Ryan Steen, DVM, medical director at Frey Pet Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. As long as your cocker spaniel is raised with kids that are kind and respectful to animals, it’s a match made in heaven.
People-oriented by nature, your cocker spaniel will prefer to be with you as much as possible. They enjoy being part of the family and truly thrive when they can be a part of all family activities. They do not do well when left alone and can turn to barking, crying, and destructive behavior when anxious. They aren't an ideal pet for you if they are left alone all day long. If left outdoors, they will dig or bark to keep themselves busy.
While your cocker spaniel will certainly like to snuggle up on your lap, you’ll need to make sure they get plenty of exercise, too, thanks to their hunting heritage. While puppies will be worn out on a short walk, adult cocker spaniels will need 30 minutes of walking twice a day with additional free time to play. They especially enjoy a good game of fetch. This exercise not only helps manage weight—cocker spaniels aren’t one to turn down a snack—but also keep your pup from getting grouchy and snapping at you.
If you get a cocker spaniel, be aware that consistent grooming will be necessary, Steen says. Regular hair cuts keep them looking their best and their hair from matting. For a style that requires little maintenance, ask the groomer to trim your cocker spaniel’s hair the same length all over, called a “puppy cut.” Their trademark floppy ears are usually kept with longer hair no matter the style. Introduce your cocker spaniel to grooming early. The breed has a bit of reputation with groomers—not so cooperative—so early introduction can make for more successful visits. Be prepared to take them every six to eight weeks for grooming, which can be an investment.
Between haircuts, plan to do plenty of brushing. Invest in a metal, professional-quality dog comb with fine and medium spacing for the teeth. If you encounter a tangle while brushing, pick through it gently. Regular baths—where you use a high-quality dog shampoo that you rinse thoroughly—are also essential. Nails should be trimmed regularly and you should wipe out their ears once a week to avoid infections.
You can take steps to make sure their ears don’t get soaked every time they go for a drink of water. Use deep, narrow bowls for food and water or consider using a snood to protect ears when your cocker spaniel eats.
Cocker spaniels make great therapy dogs as they are gentle and very loving. They are a versatile breed that can be trained for agility courses as well, since cocker spaniels are skilled at paying attention and following commands.
Training will require patience and repetition. Make sure to address barking early on. You’ll spend considerable time on potty-training as cocker spaniels are notorious for marking their spot indoors when excited or nervous. Lots of positive reinforcement over time will do the trick. They are sensitive and don’t respond well to harsh treatment, which could lead them to growl or snap. Be kind and gentle to bring out the best in their personality.
Generally a healthy breed—typically living about 12–15 years—there are a few common conditions owners of cocker spaniels should be aware of. “Allergies and chronic ear infections are some of the most common ailments I see in cocker spaniels,” Steen says. Their diet may be to blame, with common allergies to beef, chicken, corn, wheat, soy, milk, and eggs. Check with your veterinarian for suggestions on changes to their diet. And ensure you aren’t overfeeding your pooch. They will overeat and use their big, brown eyes to convince you they need a second helping at feeding time. But an overweight cocker is an unhealthy cocker. As they get older, cocker spaniels are prone to heart, liver, or kidney failure, as well as cancer. Cocker spaniels are also sometimes affected by epilepsy, progressive retinal atrophy, which causes blindness, and cataracts, which requires expensive surgical correction.
The cocker spaniel originated in Spain, mentioned as far back as the 14th century. By the 1800s, they were divided into two groups: toys (for companionship) and hunting dogs. Named for their excellence in field hunting the woodcock, they were recognized as an official breed in England in 1892. Cocker spaniels are thought to have been brought to North America with the pilgrims. In fact, the American Spaniel Club was created in 1881 and is the oldest breed club in America.
Cocker spaniels quickly became popular both with pet owners and breeders, and they did particularly well in the show ring. In 1921, a cocker spaniel took home Westminster Kennel Club’s Best in Show for the first time. In 1946, the American Kennel Club recognized the American cocker spaniel and the English cocker spaniel as two distinct breeds.
- Cocker spaniels were one of the first nine breeds recognized by the AKC.
- Cocker spaniels are the smallest member of the “sporting dog” category.
- Brucie, a black cocker spaniel, also helped popularize the showy breed by winning Westminster’s Best in Show, back to back in 1940 and 1941.
- Cocker spaniel popularity in the U.S. significantly increased when the breed was featured in Disney’s The Lady and the Tramp in 1955.
- Former talk show host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey owns two cocker spaniels, Sophie and Solomon.