The Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the American Kennel Club Sporting Group. The dogs, perhaps best known as Lady from “Lady and the Tramp,” are known for their big brown eyes, long, silky ears, and soft, flowing coats.
These energetic dogs love playtime, brisk walks, and time with their families.
Originally bred to be hunting dogs, Cocker Spaniels are more likely now to compete in conformation, obedience, or agility contests.
The dogs are social and don’t like to be left alone, and if they do so, they tend to develop problem behavior like barking, digging, and chewing.
The cockapoo, which is a popular crossbreed, is a Cocker Spaniel-poodle mix.
Cocker Spaniel physical characteristics
The Cocker Spaniel typically stands 13 to 15 inches tall and weighs 20 to 30 pounds. Male Cocker Spaniels tend to be slightly larger and heavier than females.
The dogs are known for their large, dark eyes and long, silky ears.
The Cocker Spaniel’s coat comes in a variety of colors.
- Jet black with no hint of brown. Black is the second most common breed color.
- Any Solid Color Other Than Black. Solid-colored coats range from pale cream and buff to red, brown, gold, or sable. Buff is the most common color.
- Parti-Color. Cockers also can have coats with two or more solid colors, one of which must be white. The most common parti-color combination is black and white.
- Tan Points. The points can be found over the eyes, under the ears, on the sides of the muzzle, on the feet or legs, on the chest, and under the tail.
The dogs are known for having a smooth gait and are capable of fast speeds and high endurance.
Breed behavior characteristics
Cocker Spaniels typically are happy, gentle, and smart. The dogs make great companions for children or other dogs. They are easy to train and love to spend time with their people. They enjoy playing fetch and going on brisk walks of at least 30 minutes. The dogs also enjoy sporting activities such as agility or fly ball.
Because they are people pleasers, Cocker Spaniels respond quickly to correction or a disapproving tone. Instead of shouting at your Cocker Spaniel, consider speaking in a firm, no-nonsense tone when correcting misbehavior.
Unfortunately, because they so enjoy spending time with their people, the dogs should not be left alone outdoors. If they often are left alone for extended periods, they may become bored and then destructive and will be likely to dig, chew, and bark. In extreme cases, the breed can develop separation anxiety.
Health tests and certifications
To ensure you are getting a healthy Cocker Spaniel, the American Spaniel Club recommends choosing a breeder who tests all dogs before breeding.
The tests should include screening for inherited conditions related to eye health and orthopedic disorders.
An eye specialist with a degree from the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists should examine the eyes of both parents within a year before breeding. The breeder should give you a copy of the exams.
The hips of both parents should by x-rayed before breeding and sent to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals at age 24 months or older. The OFA will interpret the results and issue a report. The breeder should give you a copy of the report.
Some breeders opt instead to evaluate the hips of the parents using a technique called PennHip. The PennHip method uses radiography to study the integrity of the hip joints to determine strength and flexibility. The test also is considered a superior predictor for osteoarthritis. The breeder should give you a copy of the evaluation.
Genetic traits found in Cocker Spaniels
As your Cocker Spaniel ages, you will need to pay attention to genetic issues that can affect your dog’s health.
Regular vet visits, preferably every six months, are necessary to monitor your dog and watch for any changes.
Because Cocker Spaniels are prone to several eye conditions, observe your dog’s eyes. Cocker Spaniels are prone to glaucoma, retinal atrophy, and cataracts, all of which can limit your dog’s ability to see.
As the dogs age, they often experience weight gain as their metabolism slows and they get less exercise. Because Cockers are prone to hypothyroidism, it will be crucial to monitor your dog’s weight. If your dog’s thyroid fails to function correctly, that can cause lethargy and hair loss, as well as weight gain.
Older dogs often develop arthritis, and Cocker Spaniel owners will need to watch for signs their dogs are experiencing joint pain or are having difficulty moving.
Because Cocker Spaniels are prone to developing both hip dysplasia and knee dislocation, their chances of experiencing joint pain as they age are exceptionally high.
You can help reduce the risk of joint pain or injury by keeping your dog at a healthy weight and preventing your dog from jumping from excessive heights. You also may need to make changes to help your dog like using a ramp to help them get in the car or using pet stairs to help them get on or off furniture.
Cocker Spaniel exercise needs
Although Cocker Spaniels are classified as a sporting breed, the dogs don’t need a lot of exercise. They aren’t considered high-energy dogs, but they do need activity, especially if they will be left alone for extended periods.
Most Cocker Spaniels need one to two hours of exercise daily. Because the dogs enjoy spending time with their people, you can meet their exercise needs with daily walks or games of fetch.
But Cocker Spaniels also can be couch potatoes because they love to be with their owners. The dogs willingly match their energy level to what their people need. But even sedentary owners need to make sure their dogs get some exercise.
As your Cocker Spaniel ages, it will continue to be essential to make sure the dog gets adequate exercise to prevent them from gaining weight.
Due to their long silky ears and soft coats, Cocker Spaniels require serious grooming.
Even if you plan to take your dog to the groomer, you’ll need to clean your dog’s ears and eyes regularly. You also need to be prepared to brush your Cocker Spaniel’s coat daily.
The good news is with regular grooming; Cocker Spaniels don’t shed much.
Because Cocker Spaniels require regular grooming, it’s vital to get your puppy used to the process early.
Bathing and brushing
Because you’ll need to brush your Cocker Spaniel’s coat daily, invest in both a professional-quality dog comb and a slicker brush.
Get a metal comb with medium to fine spacing. The comb will allow you to remove any loose hair and find any knots or snarls in the dog’s coat. If you find a knot, don’t pull on it with the comb or brush. Instead, use your fingers to loosen it, then follow with the comb.
Finish with a slicker brush, which usually has a square head filled with closely spaced, fine-wire bristles.
Use a gentle, high-quality dog shampoo and be sure always to rinse at least twice to make sure you remove all shampoo. Cocker Spaniels tend to have sensitive skin, and soap residue causes irritation.
Be sure to dry your dog’s coat with a blow dryer on a low setting. Remember, the dogs have sensitive skin, and heat also causes irritation.
Since most dogs dislike having their nails cut, it’s critical to handle your puppy’s feet, so they get used to someone touching them.
Even if you never plan to cut your dog’s nails, touch your puppy’s paws regularly. Pick each one up and hold it for a few seconds. Run a finger along the pads. Doing this will make it easier for someone else – the groomer, the vet, or a vet tech – to touch your dog’s feet.
Your dog will need to have their nails trimmed about once a month. If you walk on concrete or asphalt, that will help file your dog’s nails, but it will never eliminate the need to trim them.
Before you try cutting your dog’s nails at home, get clippers and styptic powder to stop any bleeding if you cut the nail too short and clip the nail’s quick.
Some dog owners file their dog’s nails after clipping them, but if you go for regular walks, the surfaces will naturally help smooth the nails.
Dogs, like people, need to have their teeth brushed. Failing to keep your dog’s teeth clean can cause dental disease, tooth loss, and other infections.
Start when your puppy is young and brush your dog’s teeth every day. At the least, you should brush two or three times each week. Many vets also recommend professional teeth cleaning annually.
You’ll need to buy specially-formulated toothpaste for dogs. Most of them come packaged with a two-headed toothbrush and a finger cap that you can use to clean your dog’s teeth and massage their gums.
If your dog resists teeth brushing, you also can help keep their teeth clean with dental chews, supplements, sprays, and wipes.
The Cocker Spaniel’s beautiful, long, silky ears are prone to infection. The ears trap heat and moist air in the ear canal, which creates a breeding ground for germs.
Check your Cocker Spaniel’s ears weekly. The ear’s interior should be a healthy pink. Check for signs of wax buildup or infection. Dog ear infections often are yeast infections that have a strong odor.
Both puppies and older dogs are more likely to experience ear infections. Wax builds up in Cocker Spaniel puppies’ ears as their ear canals develop. Their immune systems also have not fully developed, which makes them more susceptible to infections. As dogs age, their immune systems also weaken, again making them more susceptible to infections.
To prevent ear infections in Cocker Spaniels, keep the dog’s ears clean and dry. This can be challenging because their long ears occasionally touch the ground.
They also will drag their ears through their food and water bowls. You can prevent that from happening by feeding your dog from small containers or by using a snood to hold back your dog’s ears when they eat or drink.
Cocker Spaniels require at least weekly care to prevent stains from forming around their eyes. For some dogs with light-colored coats, you may need to wipe the area around their eyes daily.
Cleaning around the eyes also helps prevent bacterial infections from developing. This is critical since bacterial infections can lead to more severe eye conditions like cherry eye, which requires surgery to correct.
Cocker Spaniels are genetically predisposed to cherry eye, which happens when the gland behind the dog’s third eyelid slips out. When that happens, it will appear as a pink or red lump in the inner corner of your dog’s eye. Surgery is the only option to fix cherry eye.
Take your dog to the vet immediately if you see redness or discolored discharge.
Clean the area around your Cocker Spaniel’s eyes with a sterile saline solution or pet eyewash. Squirt the solution on a cotton ball and wipe the area around the eye to remove the dried tears and any other debris.
To prevent spreading any possible infections, use a different cotton ball for each eye, and wipe from the inner corner out. Take your time and be gentle. The inner corner of the eye is where most tear stains form.
Talk to your groomer or vet about trimming away any hairs that could get into the eye and irritate them.
If you bathe your dog, be careful to avoid splashing the eyes with either soap or water.
In addition to cherry eye, Cocker Spaniels also have trouble with their eyelids rolling inward against the eye, glaucoma, and cataracts. Be sure your vet checks your dog’s eyes during every visit.
Know when to use a professional groomer
Unless you are confident in your abilities to trim your dog’s hair, it most likely makes sense to take your Cocker Spaniel to the groomer.
Their coats are beautiful but require regular maintenance. In addition to brushing and bathing, the dogs need to get the coats cut or trimmed about every six weeks.
There are three popular haircuts for Cocker Spaniels: the puppy cut, the princess cut, and the catwalk cut.
Puppy haircut: Most Cocker Spaniels have the puppy cut because it requires the least maintenance. Keeping your dog’s hair short makes it easier to brush and helps prevent snarls or knots. Keeping the hair short also helps keep the dog cooler during summer’s heat.
Princess haircut: The traditional, classic Cocker Spaniel haircut is rare because it’s hard to maintain. In this cut, the dog’s hair flows to the floor. Owners with dogs using this haircut have the option of straightening the dog’s hair when they blow it dry or leaving it curly.
Catwalk haircut: Similar to the traditional haircut, this style should be done by a groomer. The hair is cut in layers to create a cascading effect. Like the traditional cut, this requires more maintenance.
The Cocker Spaniel is a friendly, happy dog who makes a great family pet. Just be prepared to spend time and money on grooming to keep your dog’s coat beautiful and healthy.
Sara B. Hansen has spent the past 20-plus years as a professional editor and writer. She’s also the author of The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels. She decided to create her dream job by launching Dog’s Best Life. Sara grew up with family dogs, and since she bought her first house, she’s had a furry companion or two to help make it a home. She shares her heart and home with Nutmeg, Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy. Her previous dogs: Sydney (September 2008-April 2020), Finley (November 1993-January 2008), and Browning (May 1993-November 2007). You can reach Sara @ [email protected].