The Cocker Spaniel: Interesting Traits and Features

From the elegant, athletic, field-bred English Cocker Spaniel to the goofy, snuggly American Cocker Spaniel, let’s find out more about these popular dogs.

Mar 29, 2024byChelsea Pinkham
the cocker spaniel traits and features

Who could forget Lady from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp”? There’s a reason that Cocker Spaniels are generally portrayed as sweet, doting, gentle dogs. These two exceptional breeds are outgoing, affectionate, and lovable all around. With a medium stature and phenomenal temperament, Cocker Spaniels can make excellent first-time dogs. Let’s get to know the history, everyday needs, and all there is to know about these beautiful canines.

The Cocker Spaniel’s Breed History

beautiful english cocker spaniels
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The first Spaniels were said to be developed as early as the 1300s. Believe it or not, these dogs are not among ancient breed groups; Spaniels are many centuries old, but dogs have been around for millennia. As domestic dogs continued their long and winding love story with the human race, people continued to innovate new ways in which canines and humans could work in tandem.

From a historical lens, Spaniels are fairly new to the game. The English Cocker Spaniel is the predecessor to the American Cocker Spaniel; these dogs were said to have Spanish lineage. “Spaniel” was actually derived from the word “Spanish.”

english cocker puppy fetches
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These Spanish dogs were used in hunting, with different breeds used to pursue different types of birds. “Cocker” came from the Woodcock bird, which is what Cocker Spaniels were primarily bred to hunt. Spaniels would work in tandem with hunters, flushing birds out of the bush before the days of high-power hunting rifles. In those days, nets were the primary way of capturing birds; hunters needed a dog to assist with the hunt, or it would have been nearly impossible.

In the early 19th century, dog breed enthusiasts in England began naming the Spaniels according to their role in the hunt. Field Spaniels, Irish Water Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Brittany Spaniels, and Sussex Spaniels are just a few examples of this extensive group of dogs. The English Cocker Spaniel was given its name during this time period and was further developed for the purpose of hunting Woodcock.

American Spaniels vs. English Spaniels

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English Cocker Spaniels eventually made their way to the United States, where breeders decided to create the American Cocker Spaniel as a companion-bred dog. While the English Cocker Spaniel’s breeding emphasis is on utility in the hunt, the American Cocker Spaniel was bred to be more endearing and manageable for the everyday dog owner.

American Cocker Spaniels in general are less athletic, carry a bit less endurance, are shorter in stature, have a shorter snout, and have a shorter lifespan by 1-2 years on average. These dogs are more prone to obesity, and when sourced from unethical breeders, are more likely to suffer from health issues. Their faces are also “droopier” in appearance.

cocker spaniel puppies
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In England, the English Cocker Spaniel is simply called the “Cocker Spaniel”, while the American counterpart is referred to as the “American Cocker Spaniel”. Oppositely, the American Kennel Club calls the two breeds “Cocker Spaniel” and “English Cocker Spaniel”. In both countries, the default dog that “Cocker Spaniel” refers to is whichever breed is native to that country.

While the English Cocker Spaniel is generally healthier and with a longer lifespan, they do require more exercise and mental stimulation than the American Cocker Spaniel. Both breeds benefit greatly from exercise and enrichment; for the English Cocker Spaniel, a daily routine involving these things is essential.

Appearance-wise, the preference between Spaniels really depends on personal taste. Those who do not like short-snouted dogs might gravitate towards the English, whose tall, regal build resembles that of a Springer Spaniel. American Cocker Spaniels can be excellent matches for senior caregivers or for those with chronic health problems.

Cocker Spaniels Make Ideal First Dogs

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Both English and American Cocker Spaniels are known for their exceptional temperaments. These dogs are known for their athleticism in the field, but a strong ability to settle down and relax in the home. Due to their taller stature and longer snouts, English Cocker Spaniels are generally more athletic than their American counterparts.

These endearing dogs will gladly join their caregivers on a challenging all-day hike or a romp in the park but are also happy to snuggle up on the couch on a rainy day. Want to go on a 25-mile mountain backpacking trip? English Cockers are up for the task! Feel like an all-day movie marathon without leaving the couch the next day? You’re in luck; they’re up for this, too!

Cocker Spaniels are highly biddable dogs, which means they have a strong intrinsic motivation to work alongside humans. They are highly trainable and are strong candidates for first-time participants in dog sports and trials. Whether it’s a highly athletic sport like agility or a deep-focus sport like competitive obedience, Cocker Spaniels’ happy-go-lucky nature and quick wits make them a perfect match.

Cocker Spaniels Are Gentle and Affectionate

american cocker and cat
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Cocker Spaniels are also known for their gentle and affectionate nature. These dogs are highly social and are not as genetically prone to handling sensitivities as some breed groups, like many terrier breeds. All dogs need ongoing training and active, positive socialization, but Cocker Spaniels’ inherently good temperaments tend to be far more forgiving to first-time dog owner mistakes. Of course, all dog owners should strive to do thorough research and continue the learning process throughout their dogs’ lives.

The small-medium size of Cocker Spaniels also makes them ideal for first-time dog caregivers. They’re small enough to transport, groom easily, and lift when needed, yet not fragile like a toy breed dog. Cocker Spaniels tend to be friendly with both people and other dogs. Their lack of a strong prey drive makes them ideal candidates for living with other animals, such as cats.

Special Care Considerations of the Cocker Spaniel

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What should those looking to bring home a Cocker Spaniel for the first time keep in mind? While these dogs are on the easier side of the behavioral spectrum, there are certain health issues to keep in mind. Cocker Spaniels were the most popular dogs in the United States from the 30’s until 1952. They saw a major resurgence in popularity around the 80’s and 90’s. Sadly, any breed that reaches this level of popularity will undergo questionable breeding practices.

Puppy mills and backyard breeders breed for aesthetics, not for health, temperament, or structure. Sadly, numerous health issues found their way into American Cocker Spaniels during their popularity peaks. These dogs are highly prone to ear problems, and caregivers must clean their ears out regularly. Bacterial and yeast infections are common, and foreign objects can become stuck in their long ears and cause problems.

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Luxating patella, or dislocation of the kneecap, can also cause issues for Cocker Spaniels. American Cocker Spaniels have adorable, droopy eyes, but these don’t come without issues. Many suffer from hereditary eye issues, ranging from cataracts to cherry eye, which can require surgery.

Skin infections and allergies are common as well, so it’s important to feed Cocker Spaniels a quality diet, wipe their fur with a damp cloth after romping through grass and vegetation, brush regularly, and bathe using hypoallergenic products.

Lastly, due to its stout structure, the American Cocker Spaniel is highly prone to obesity. Feeding guidelines should be followed carefully; these dogs should not be free-fed. Using morsels of high-value treats during training and providing plentiful exercise can all help extend the lifespan of a Cocker Spaniel. As descendants of the athletic, field-bred English Cocker Spaniel, Cocker Spaniels love to explore the outdoors and go for a romp in nature.

Bringing a Cocker Spaniel Home: What to Know

adorable spaniel puppy
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As a fairly popular breed, there are plenty of Cocker Spaniels- both English and American- in need of rescue. By finding a breed-specific rescue group, you will not only be providing a home to a dog in need but also enabling the rescue to clear up capacity to save more lives. Rescue groups should always be thoroughly screened by prospective adopters.

Constantly having litters of purebred puppies is a major red flag in a rescue group, as is having a fast turnover and constant intake of dogs. An ethical rescue group will likely have dogs placed in foster homes, where potential adopters can learn how the dog responds to living in a home environment. Adoption saves lives!

Do Your Research Before Buying from a Breeder

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If you elect to purchase a puppy from a breeder, doing your due diligence is absolutely essential. Acquiring a puppy from a subpar breeder will lead to heartbreak later on, as health problems, a lack of socialization, and poor behavioral genetics will all play a role in your puppy’s happiness and longevity.

Ethical breeders:

  • Breed dogs very few times.
  • Don’t allow everyday adopters to breed their puppies.
  • Take dogs back when buyers can no longer keep them.
  • Perform rigorous health testing on their dogs.
  • Strive to educate about their breed.

Finding an ethical breeder isn’t always easy. You’ll likely have to be on a waitlist months before the puppies are even conceived. Yet, in the long run, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that your new friend is healthy.

Cocker Spaniels Are Great for Many Families

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No matter how you choose to bring a Cocker Spaniel into your life, there’s no doubting how wonderful these dogs are. Relaxed in the home and revving to go in the field, Cocker Spaniels truly embody harmony and balance. Whether you choose a dignified, elegant, boisterous, and athletic English Cocker Spaniel or a goofy, loving, snuggly American Cocker Spaniel, you’re likely to fall ears-over-tail in love with these breeds.


Q: What specific daily grooming requirements do Cocker Spaniels have to maintain their coat and overall health, especially given their proneness to ear and skin issues?

A: Cocker Spaniels require daily brushing to prevent matting, regular ear cleaning to avoid infections, and bathing with hypoallergenic shampoo to keep skin healthy.


Q: How do Cocker Spaniels generally interact with children and other household pets, given their friendly nature but potential for handling sensitivities?

A: Cocker Spaniels are typically good with children and other pets, thanks to their gentle nature, but early socialization is crucial to ensure positive interactions.


Q: What are the average costs associated with owning a Cocker Spaniel, considering their health issues, grooming needs, and dietary requirements?

A: The average costs of owning a Cocker Spaniel include vet visits for health maintenance, grooming expenses, and quality diet provisions, which can vary widely based on individual needs and care levels.

Chelsea Pinkham
byChelsea Pinkham

Chelsea is an animal advocate, rescuer, and aspiring rewards-based dog trainer. She is a Fear Free Certified Pet Professional with over a decade of animal experience. Chelsea has worked at animal shelters, sanctuaries and with many private dog training clients. She immerses herself in canine behavior education as she pursues her CPDT-KA dog training certification. In her spare time, she trains dozens of fun tricks for her and her partner’s rescued adventure cat, Iggy!