The Cocker Spaniel is a true English dog belonging to the gun dog group. It is an active, friendly and intelligent breed and one of several types of spaniel closely related to the Field Spaniel and the Springer Spaniel. It is an enthusiastic breed especially when working in the field and a relentless wagging tail will show how much this breed enjoys flushing and retrieving game. It has a compactly built proportion with a softly contoured head without sharp angles. The slightly oval, medium-sized eyes are set wide apart and dark brown in colour which adds to the overall soft yet alert and intelligent expression of the breed. The lobular ears are feathered, set low the head and should reach the tip of the nose when pulled forward. It has an arched and slightly flattened head when seen from the side with a definite but moderate stop, a well-cushioned muzzle that is cleanly chiselled under the eyes and strong jaws with scissors bite teeth capable of carrying game. The nostrils are wide – typical of scent hounds, black or brown depending on coat colour. It has a muscular, arching neck that goes well with the shoulder and backline that slopes very slightly toward a gently rounded croup. The tail is carried horizontally but may be carried higher when the dog is excited. The front legs are straight with uniform size bones from elbow to heel. The hindquarters have broad and muscular thighs with round and catlike feet with thick pads. It has fine, short hair on the head and medium length, flat or slightly wavy, silky hair on the body and ears, with featherings on the legs. Coat colours are black, liver, shades or red, and parti-colours. A typical adult male has a height of 41 cm to 43 cm while a female stands between 38 cm to 41 cm at withers. Weight varies between 13 kg to 16 kg for males and 12 kg to 14.5 kg for females.
The Cocker Spaniel is one of the oldest spaniel-type dogs that exists today. Before the 17th century, all spaniels are regarded as one breed regardless of size, body type (long or short), speed, and coat type (long- or short-coated). Slowly, size differences made an impact on how hunters would handle game where larger spaniels were used more to spring game (Springer), smaller spaniels were used to hunt woodcocks (Cocker) and other birds. During the 1850s, additional spaniels appeared – the Welsh Springer, Devonshire Cocker and the Sussex Cocker. In 1874 when the new breed registry was published, all spaniels under 11 kilogrammes were classified under the Cocker type. When The Spaniel Club was created in 1885, breed standards were created for each type thereby separating the Cockers from Springers. In 1892, The Kennel Club (UK) recognised them as distinct breeds.
The Cocker Spaniel is a sturdy, lively, athletic and affectionate breed with a lot of stamina and energy. As a sporting dog, it is typically curious and likes to investigate things. It is an average barker but it will typically calm down once commanded by its owner. It has an outgoing attitude and typically not reserve with strangers, although some may display aloofness if not socialised early. It does not do well on its own and prefers to have a strong bond to members of the family because it is extremely loyal. It has a distinct trait of constantly wagging its tail, hence it is called the “merry cocker”. Although it is generally an affectionate breed, there are rare cases of Cocker Spaniels having aggressive behaviour towards their owners and/or strangers. Researchers call this the “Rage syndrome” and is closely related to the breed’s colour.
This breed ranks high in working/obedience intelligence and is moderately easy to train as a field dog but difficult to housetrain as a puppy. A good level of early socialisation with other animals is important so that it will get along with strangers, small children and other animals when it matures. Training should be firm and gentle with positive reinforcements. Harsh training will make the Cocker Spaniel fearful and aloof.
Grooming requirements vary depending on the coat type but regular combing and brushing are important. A dog with an excess amount of cottony hair is prone to matting and should be groomed more often. A dog that has silky and flat hair may not need frequent grooming. The ears are prone to infection so make sure to inspect and clean them for excess wax when necessary
Common health issues associated with the breed are skin allergies, cataracts, deafness and benign tumours. Rare health issues include canine hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, canine dilated cardiomyopathy and hurt murmurs. Cocker Spaniels in the UK have an average lifespan of 11 to 12 years. The most common causes of death are cancer, old age, cardiac diseases and a combination of other factors.
The Cocker Spaniel is an adaptable breed and can live in an apartment provided that it is given daily exercise to keep it healthy. As a working gun dog, this breed possesses a great deal of stamina and energy and as such, it requires an equal amount of physical activity. Long brisk walks for about an hour is ideal, as well as games of fetch, agility games or flyball.
Being lovable, gentle and playful, the Cocker Spaniel is excellent with children. It is also very good with other dogs including cats but not with birds and other small animals such as rabbits, hamsters, and similar pets.