Cocker spaniel breed profile
All breeds have their heroes – those dogs that stand out as exemplary examples of the breed and the Cocker Spaniel is no different. For the Cocker Spaniel she was perfectly groomed, immaculately well behaved, had a fondness for pasta with a mongrel and captured the hearts of adults and children alike. Everyone wanted a dog like Lady from Lady & The Tramp.
The flesh and blood Cocker Spaniel doesn’t always live up to that angelic image but it is never boring with one around! These are popular pets but were bred to be a working dog. The American version of the English Cocker Spaniel is distinctly American. These were hunting dogs – 15 inches of fire with a medium length double coat. This coat has been bred longer and requires regular grooming to keep it in good condition and free of tangles or mats.
The American Cocker Spaniel is shown in several varieties: black, parti-color and “ASCOB” (Any Solid Color Other than Black). The American Cocker can be solid black, black & tan, tri color, brown, brown and tan, buff, red, silver, blue roan, cream, golden, red roan and sable with or without white to make them “parti-color”.
Developed for hunting meant they needed athletic stature and energy as well as outstanding temperament. They’ve been at or near the top of the AKC standings for many years. This is the smallest member of the sporting dog class and they took their name from being especially talented at hunting woodcock.
Basic obedience training and consistent handling is the only way to get a dog even close to “Lady”. Cockers need to be challenged. They should be expected to obey basic commands and walk without dragging the owner when on leash. Beyond that teaching them tricks or giving them a job makes for a happy Cocker Spaniel and a happier still owner.
Early in their development the forerunner to the Cocker, called “Spanyells” date to the mid 1300s. They were smallish, fast, “birdy” dogs that would work their hearts out. The expression of the Cocker hasn’t changed greatly. In 1946 the AKC divided the Cocker to American and English Cockers – different breeds with the American slightly smaller with a more rounded head. The Cockers of that time were still keen on hunting.
With the popularity of the breed as pets they are seldom thought of as hunting dogs, but they still are intelligent to learn and some have proven themselves as tracking dogs. By the standard they are sturdy with a compact body and a balanced dog with a slightly sloping topline from front to back.
The modern Cocker gets attention with their beautiful coat which should be silky with feathering but allow a clear look at the movement. Excess trimming is not desired. As a hunting dog their function and appearance should be matched with an outstanding temperament that shows no timid characteristics.
Their normal size of 20-30 pounds, with males on the top end, allows for them to be in any homes even without large amounts of land. Because of their hunting heritage they love people and typically are not good guard dogs. They will bring your attention to everyone who passes by, but guarding is not a selection trait.
That beautiful coat takes maintenance – be prepared to groom your Cocker Spaniel regularly and comb often to keep matted areas from forming. This is much easier to prevent than try to deal with a matted dog!
Like Lady the Cocker will eat anything which may not be a good thing! Training and keeping your Cocker healthy means that short tail will be wagging in your home for a long time.
There are health issues that can affect the Cocker Spaniel including epilepsy, canine eye disease and for some a tendency to have adverse reactions to vaccinations. While there are fewer issues than in many breeds it is still worth testing for health and genetic issues before breeding and an incentive to breed only the best dogs. They can also be prone to ear infections, heart conditions and thyroid disorders.
For those who think only big dogs can be heroes the Cocker Spaniel doesn’t believe that. There’s “Muffy”, the buff Cocker playing with a two year old girl when she began barking and standing in front of the child, taking multiple strikes from a snake in the face and chest, ultimately giving her life for the child.
Cocker Spaniels compete successfully in agility, obedience, field trials, flyball, rally and as therapy dogs. They have been trained and received tracking titles. They’ve been military dogs and detected underground pipeline leaks, pinpointing what humans could not see. Taking this to a new level Cocker Spaniels are finding a new talent as cancer detection dogs. Giving man’s best friend a whole new meaning, they can pinpoint cancerous samples
In tests and training for this humans kept saying the dogs were wrong on one patient. The patients had been screened so the samples would be known to the humans. The dogs identified one that cleared screening but indeed on the ‘word’ of the dogs did more tests and found what might have been a fatal tumor in a kidney.
Cocker Spaniels are also among those trained for K9 use. No they aren’t likely to chase down an escaped prisoner nor does anyone need to suit up for bite work. The Cocker Spaniel’s job is using that outstanding nose that won him favor in the hunting field and detecting drugs or other items according to their training. Smaller dogs often work well when they must climb and get on things as their size does less damage than a large dog.
Cockers may need very strict routines and some can be a challenge to house train. Some will tend to bark or alert on everything that passes. Consistent training helps insure your pet understands what you want and, as a sensitive dog that wants to please, heavy doses of praise helps them to repeat the good behavior also!
Work with a breeder to get a dog suited for what you want, and commit to that dog completely. They require a daily brushing, training, a little food and a safe place to sleep. The Cocker Spaniel can return so much more than they take and are great small dogs for active families that can devote time to being with them. Any dog will need these basics, but the Cocker Spaniel has “that look”. That expression, those big brown eyes that melt the bad things away for just a little while as they take their ultimate role of companion and confidant.