Choosing an American Cocker Spaniel

The cocker spaniel is a very popular pet, available in two distinct versions, one of which is the American cocker. It is typically known as a companion pet and is a little smaller than the English cocker. Often ranked as one of the top dog breeds, the cocker spaniel is the smallest member of the sporting dog family and was accepted by the American Kennel Club in 1892.

History and Origin

Spaniels of all kinds have been faithful hunting companions for centuries. They are a large family of dogs and mentioned in literature as far back as the mid 1300s. Over time, the spaniel family was divided into land spaniels and water spaniels. In the middle of the 19th century, breeders began to pay more attention to standardizing and developing specific breed lines in the land spaniel group. Eventually, the English cocker line and English toy spaniel line were begun.

By the late 1800s, the English cocker could be found in the United States. In 1946, the cocker spaniel was officially divided into two separate breeds; the American cocker spaniel and English cocker spaniel, both recognized by the AKC.

The name cocker is disputed and some feel that the name refers to the breeds proficiency as a hunter of woodcocks.


The cocker spaniel is a medium-sized handsome dog. The head is round with a smooth forehead. The muzzle is broad, the jaws square and the ears hang long. The tail is often docked around the time of birth. The American cocker has a slightly more chiseled head and shorter muzzle than the English version.

The hair coat is one of the most distinguishable characteristics. It is silky, slightly wavy and of medium length and has a thick undercoat that protects them from cold and damp weather. The American cocker's hair coat is a little longer than the English cocker. The cocker comes in a variety of colors: Black, black with tan, cream, dark red, brown with tan, buff and others. Parti-color refers to a hair coat of two or more solid colors, one of which must be white.


The American cocker stands with a height of 15 to 16 inches at the shoulder and weighs 22 to 28 pounds.


Overall, the cocker spaniel is a cheerful dog that is willing to please. As with other spaniels, the cocker is energetic and needs regular exercise. If not allowed to exercise, behavioral problems often develop.

Home and Family Relations

Well suited for city or country life, the breed has natural protective instincts that make him a good watchdog. If raised with children, cockers can do well. Older cockers not exposed to children early in life tend not to tolerate their antics. The American cocker has been associated with some temperament problems.


Cocker spaniels have an inherent desire to hunt and they make capable gun dogs. They can be easily trained to flush and retrieve game. Even though they are land spaniels, they can adapt to water.

In addition to hunting training, the cocker spaniel is easily trained in obedience.

Special Concerns

Cockers should not be left alone for extended periods of time. This can lead to frustration and subsequent behavioral problems and destructiveness. With the increase in popularity of the cocker spaniel, indiscriminate breeding practices have resulted in temperament problems. Some are nervous and can be aggressive toward strangers.

Due to their long hair coat, the cocker must be groomed frequently.

Common Diseases and Disorders

  • Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia is a serious blood disorder that results in profound and life-threatening anemia.
  • Urolithiasis is a condition affecting the urinary tract resulting in the formation of bladder stones.
  • Seborrhea Is a condition seen in cocker spaniels, the scaling is primary and animals are born with a defect of keratinization. In these cases, the problem is evident at a young age, usually less than one year of age
  • Atopy is an itchy skin disease of animals that is caused by an allergy to substances in the environment.
  • Food Allergy affected pets develop skin lesions secondary to some food ingredients.
  • Melanoma is a tumor arising from melanocytes, which are the cells that produce pigment.
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is a disorder of the eye that results when tear production is decreased.
  • Cataracts causes a loss of the normal transparency of the lens of the eye. The problem can occur in one or both eyes and can lead to blindness.
  • Progressive retinal degeneration is a disease that causes nerve cells at the back of the eye to degenerate and can lead to blindness.
  • Glaucoma is a painful and serious condition that causes pressure within the eye to increase. It can lead to blindness if not treated early.
  • Lens luxation is a dislocation or displacement of the lens within the eye.
  • Entropion is a problem with the eyelid that causes inward rolling. Lashes on the edge of the eyelid irritate the surface of the eyeball and may lead to more serious problems.
  • Ectropion is a problem with the eyelid that causes eversion of the eyelid margin. It most commonly affects the lower central eyelid.
  • Corneal dystrophy is a primary, inherited, bilateral (both sides), symmetrical condition of the cornea that is not accompanied by corneal inflammation or systemic disease.
  • Corneal ulceration is the loss of the corneal epithelium (the outermost cells of the cornea).
  • Progressive retinal atrophy is a disease that causes nerve cells at the back of the eye to degenerate. The condition usually begins in older pets and can lead to blindness.
  • Distichiasis is a condition in which there is growth of extra eyelashes (cilia) from the glands of the upper or lower eyelid.

  • Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that results in pain, lameness and arthritis.
  • Anal sac adenocarcinoma is a tumor arising from the anal glands.
  • Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that develops between the ages of 2 to 5 years.
  • Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid gland does not function adequately. Without enough thyroid hormone, illness can occur.
  • Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) is a disorder that affects the spinal disks resulting in pain, difficulty walking and possibly paralysis.
  • Ruptured cranial cruciate ligament is a problem that results from tearing of the cruciate ligament in the knee, causing lameness that may be severe .
  • Medial patellar luxation is a disorder affecting the kneecap.
  • Otitis is an infection of the ear.
  • Cherry eye is an abnormality of the third eyelid.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a serious heart condition that results in a large, thin walled heart muscle.
  • Chronic hepatitis is a chronic and progressive inflammation of the liver of dogs that leads eventually to the replacement of normal liver tissue with scar tissue.
  • Lipomas are benign fatty tumor of the subcutaneous tissue.

    In addition, cocker spaniels are prone to demodicosis, deafness, facial nerve paralysis, dwarfism, hydrocephalus, vestibular disease and skin cancer.

    Although these occur infrequently, the following disorders have also been reported:

  • Patent ductus arteriosis (PDA) is a congenital birth defect caused by a blood vessel that normally closes after birth, but remains open resulting in the passage of extra volumes of blood into the lungs.
  • Chronic valvular heart disease (VHD) is a condition characterized by degeneration and thickening of the heart valves.
  • Sick Sinus Syndrome is a disease that causes a dysrhythmia of the heart.
  • Congenital Hypotrichosis – is a congenital disease causing symmetrical hair loss.
  • Congenital Elbow Luxation is a dislocation of the elbow joint.

    Life Span

    The cocker spaniel has an average life span of 14 to 16 years.

    We realize that each dog is unique and may display other characteristics. This profile provides generally accepted breed information only.

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