By: RL Johnson
Cocker spaniels are medium-sized hunting dogs. By: RL Johnson


Cocker spaniel (American), a.k.a. cocker



Physical Description

The American cocker spaniel is one of the most popular dog breeds according to the American Kennel Club’s registration statistics. They are medium-sized, active sporting dogs, the smallest spaniel breed and the smallest dog in the sporting group.


The coat can be silky, wavy or flat and comes in colors of black, black and tan, parti-colored or any other solid color. Field breed lines are bred for work and have shorter coats. Show or pet breed lines typically have longer coats.

The eyes are round and dark, and the ears are low-set and feathered. The tail is usually docked, although this is illegal in much of Europe for any non-working dog. The average height of a cocker spaniel is between 13.5 and 15.5 inches. Their average weight ranges between 15 and 30 pounds. The average life expectancy is around 15 years.


The spaniel breed dates back to the 14th century when the dog was known as a Spanyell. They were divided into 2 categories, land and water spaniels, and the land spaniels were further classified based on size. The cocker spaniel was the smaller of the 2 varieties.

The name is derived from their accuracy and efficiency with woodcocks, a game bird. The breed entered English dog shows in 1883 as a single breed and was later added to their kennel club in 1892.

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The breed began exhibiting in the United States of American in the early 1880s. The breed has changed since being developed in America and evolved with differences in size and coloring. For these reasons the breed is called the American cocker spaniel to differentiate it from the original English cocker spaniel. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1878.


The cocker spaniel is a companion pet and hunting dog and may also participate in conformation, agility, tracking and field events.


This breed of spaniel is intelligent, gentle, playful, devoted, dependable and can be amusing. They have a strong desire to hunt and are happy to work. They can suffer from separation anxiety so should not be left alone for long periods of time. They can also be shy; thorough socialization is required. They are good with children and other pets and are easy to train. Consistent training is strongly recommended to prevent negative behavior.

This video shows Suki, an American cocker spaniel, enthusiastically performing a long list of tricks:

Exercise Needs

The cocker spaniel is a well-balanced, medium-sized dog capable of great speed and endurance. They need daily exercise even though they are active indoors. They are good hunting dogs and can flush out game and retrieve on command. They are OK in apartments as long as daily exercise is provided. They are not suitable as an outdoor-only dog.

Grooming Requirements

This breed is an average shedder and needs to be brushed daily to prevent matting. The coat needs to be trimmed every few months if kept long, less if the coat is cut shorter or naturally shorter for working breed lines. The eyes need to be cleaned regularly because they tear often and can stain the facial hair around the eyes. Bathing can be done as needed.

As with all dog breeds, regular maintenance needs to be performed by brushing the teeth, keeping the nails trimmed at a comfortable length and cleaning the ears regularly. Ear cleaning is especially important for working breeds who frequent wooded areas, and their coats should also be checked for debris.

Common Health Problems

Because of the long list of potential health problems, ask for health certificates and clearances on your dog or its parents before adopting or purchasing this breed. When adopting from a shelter or rescue, these records are unlikely to be available.

The American Spaniel Club Foundation, Inc. offers a health and research section for additional information about health problems that affect the cocker spaniel breed. They are also involved in grants and research given to organizations and universities for the purpose of studying specific health problems common for this breed. The organization also offers a list of rescue groups throughout the United States of America for local contact or for more information.

Is the Cocker Spaniel the Right Dog for You?

Cocker spaniels can be excellent hunting dogs and thrive in family environments. They are good with children and get along with other pets. They can even do well in apartments as long as their daily exercise needs are met.

Although active indoors, cocker spaniels need daily exercise (walking and playing). They can suffer from separation anxiety, so keep this in mind if you spend little time at home.

Grooming responsibilities are moderate to high for this breed, and this will increase for dogs participating in hunting or dog shows. There is a long list of possible health problems common with this breed; regular veterinary appointments are a must.

If you have the time to interact with your dog every day and can handle the grooming and possible health problems listed above, a cocker spaniel would be a good breed to consider for your next pet.

Adopt, Don’t Buy

Purebred dogs end up in shelters and rescues every day, so start your search with those resources or check our adoptable dog search and cocker spaniel rescue groups.

If you locate one through a breeder, make sure the breeder is legitimate and has no signs of running a puppy mill. Ask for health clearances or any other tests performed on the parents of the dog you intend to obtain since this breed is susceptible to many health problems.

Additional Resources

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