Welcome to the BarkPost guide to dog breeds where we belly flop straight into the depths of dog breed origin, evolution, and purpose. Follow along each week as we publish new guides that highlight the strangest, most interesting, and most surprising stuff about these creatures who have been our best buds the last 30,000 years.
Intro / Overview
(All dogs are individuals, which means any single dog from any breed can be any number of ways, both good and not so good. Keep that in mind as we discuss breed generalities!)
When you hear the word “America,” plenty of things come to mind. The American flag. Fireworks. Apple pie. And when it comes to dog breed, you won’t find a pup that feels more American than the American Cocker Spaniel.
With their signature long ears, big eyes, and sweet faces, American Cocker Spaniels have been a favorite of dog lovers in the US for decades—and they’re still a favorite today (currently, the American Cocker Spaniel sits at #30 on the list of the AKC’s most popular dog breeds).
But what is it about these pups that makes them so special? Let’s take a deep dive into some interesting facts about the American Cocker Spaniel:
Also Known As... (Nicknames)
Cocker Spaniel (in the USA). Cocker. Merry Spaniel (a nod to their cheerful disposition). "Is that a curly blonde wig walking around or an American Cocker Spaniel?"
The first Spaniel made its way to the United States all the way back in 1620, when it crossed the Atlantic aboard The Mayflower. The Cocker Spaniel was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1878—and a national breed club followed about three years later.
After decades of breeding, the differences between Cocker Spaniels in the US and Cocker Spaniels overseas became more and more pronounced. The English Cocker Spaniel was declared an independent breed by the American Kennel Club in 1948—and in 1970, the UK Kennel Club followed suit, recognizing the American Cocker Spaniel as its own breed.
While American Cocker Spaniels are popular today, they hit their peak in popularity in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1980s—where the breed sat as the most popular creed in the US for an impressive 18 years collectively.
Of all the sporting dogs recognized by the American Kennel Club, American Cocker Spaniels are the smallest. The average height for a male American Cocker Spaniel is between 14.5 and 15.5 inches—while females tend to be a little smaller, measuring in at 13.5 to 14.5 inches.
The ideal weight range for a male American Cocker Spaniel is between 25 and 30 lbs. Because females are slightly smaller than males, they also tend to weigh slightly less—on average, between 20 and 25 lbs.
As mentioned, one of the American Cocker Spaniel’s nicknames is “Merry Cocker”—and, as a breed, they’ve certainly earned that nickname! American Cocker Spaniels are sweet, happy, and cheerful. They’re also extremely playful pups—so if you’re looking for a personality that loves to play, you’ll love this breed.
While American Cocker Spaniels are, overall, a confident dog, they can startle easily at loud or unexpected noises—so if you want their fun, cheerful side to come out, it’s important to make sure to avoid any environmental triggers that could make their more fearful, anxious side to emerge.
Intelligence / Trainability
American Cocker Spaniels are very in tune with their owners—and very eager to please! That means that with the right strategy, training your American Cocker Spaniel can be a breeze.
But the key phrase in that sentence is the right strategy. If you want to see results from training your American Cocker Spaniel, you need to take the right approach.
Here are some of the best training techniques for American Cocker Spaniels:
- Give plenty of praise. As mentioned, American Cocker Spaniels are easy to please. So if you want to train them effectively, show them that their behavior is pleasing to you! The more your American Cocker Spaniel realizes that following commands gets a positive reaction from you, their pet parent, the more they’re going to want to follow those commands. And the more successful you’ll be with your training as a result.
- Use your voice... Because American Cocker Spaniels are so in tune with their owners, they can pick up on changes in your voice. They can sense if you’re satisfied or disappointed based on the tone and inflection of your voice—so you can use that to your advantage during training.
- ...But don’t be too harsh. That being said, you don’t want to be too harsh in your training. Yelling at your American Cocker Spaniel or being too harsh in your corrections or redirections can actually have the opposite effect—and can make them less engaged in the training process.
- Work out their excess energy. American Cocker Spaniels are energetic pups. And if you want to get the most out of their training, you’ll want to work some of that energy off before you start your session. Before you start training, take your dog on a nice, brisk walk; once your American Cocker Spaniel gets some of their energy out, they’ll be much more likely to pay attention to training.
American Cocker Spaniels are definitely people dogs. They do best in an environment where they get to spend plenty of quality time with the people they love most (that means you!). If you plan to leave your dog at home for long stretches of time, an American Cocker Spaniel probably isn’t the best fit; if left alone for too long, they can be prone to separation anxiety.
American Cocker Spaniels also need some space to play. While they don’t need a large, fenced in yard like some larger breeds, American Cocker Spaniels will do best when they have space to play fetch, have fun, and engage their playfulness.
Good For Families And Kids?
As long as they’re socialized from an early age, American Cocker Spaniels make great companion dogs. And their playful, cheerful disposition makes them an obvious choice for families with children. So, if you've got a growing family and little ones running around the house? Not a problem.
American Cocker Spaniels have an average lifespan of between 10 and 14 years.
American Cocker Spaniels can live long, healthy lives—but, like all breeds, they’re not without their health issues. The most common health issues facing the American Cocker Spaniel are eye-related, including glaucoma, progressive retinal atrophy, and cataracts.
Some American Cocker Spaniels also struggle with patellar luxation, or dislocated kneecaps. (While this condition can affect any dog, it’s more likely to occur in females.)
Other health issues that are common in dogs—including the American Cocker Spaniel breed—include hip dysplasia, cardiomyopathy, and hypothyroidism.
Monitor your American Cocker Spaniel’s health with regular check-ups; typically, the earlier you detect a health issue, the easier it is to treat.
American Cocker Spaniels are outgoing, playful, and on the energetic side. In order to feel (and behave!) their best, this breed needs a decent amount of exercise. No need to go crazy; a few brisk walks and play sessions per day is plenty to work off your American Cocker Spaniel’s energy.
Friendly With…(Dogs? Strangers? Cats/Other Pets?)
American Cocker Spaniels are sweet dogs—and, generally speaking, they’re friendly with people and other animals. But not all spaniels are created equal! If you want your American Cocker Spaniel to get along with you, your kids, your cat, and the dogs down the street, it’s important to socialize them. And to do it early and often. The more they’re exposed to other people and animals—and the earlier that exposure—the higher likelihood they’ll grow up to be a friendly, adaptable dog capable of getting along with creatures big and small.
Coat & Grooming
One of the biggest draws to the American Cocker Spaniel breed is, without a doubt, their luxurious coat. (Especially around their ears!) But with that long, luxurious coat comes a pretty high maintenance grooming schedule.
American Cocker Spaniels need to combed regularly to avoid a matted coat. Ideally, every day (just be careful around the ears, which are extra sensitive and can get injured from too-aggressive grooming).
These luxurious-coated dogs also need regular trips to the groomer—or, if you want to groom your dog yourself, it’s important to get yourself up-to-speed on professional grooming practices. American Cocker Spaniels need to be thoroughly washed and rinsed (shampoo residue can cause skin irritation) and then blown dry—and they need to be groomed regularly.
Toys American Cocker Spaniels Would Like Best
American Cocker Spaniels are playful, cheerful, and love nothing more than to engage with their humans. And because of all of those qualities, there are few things an American Cocker Spaniel likes more than playing with toys.
But what toys does this breed love?
- Fetch Toys. American Cocker Spaniels are a) eager to please, and b) love to play with their humans. The best way to kill two birds with one stone? Fetch toys! A nice game of fetch is the perfect way to bond with your pup—plus, your American Cocker Spaniel will be over the moon when he realizes how happy you are when he retrieves his fetch toy.
- Tug Toys. American Cocker Spaniels are full of playful energy—and a game of tug of war is a great way to work off that energy (and have fun in the process!).
- Thinker Toys. Like most dogs, American Cocker Spaniels are food motivated—and if you want to find a way to engage their brain, a puzzle toy (complete with a hidden treat) is the best way to do it!
If you want to learn more about what toys to get for your pup, check out this article on the best toys for Cocker Spaniels.
Recommended Diet Or Supplements
If you want your American Cocker Spaniel to feel his best, it’s important to feed him a diet of high-quality food. Look for foods full of high-quality, natural ingredients and free of fillers (like grains, corn, and soy). You should also be aware of portion control; too much food can lead to an overweight (or obese) American Cocker Spaniel—and all that extra weight can cause a host of health issues down the line.
As your American Cocker Spaniel ages, you might also want to consider adding supplements to their routine. Supplements for joint health can help to keep your American Cocker Spaniel healthy and mobile no matter what their age. And, if your dog struggles with separation anxiety (as some American Cocker Spaniels do), a CBD supplement may also be helpful. As always, talk to your veterinarian before administering supplements to your dog.
BARK's Full Spectrum Hemp Oil is made of organically grown whole plants, grown in Colorado, and is non-psychoactive. It comes in 100mg, 250mg, and 500mg varieties, and can help with pet anxiety and pain relief. ($17.99-22.99.)
This joint supplement is veterinarian-formulated, made with all natural ingredients (glucosamine, MSM, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid), and comes in the form of 150 soft chews. Basically, it looks and tastes just like delicious treats, and it could really help your Cocker Spaniel with their hip and joint issues. ($32.99.)
For older Cocker Spaniels or dogs suffering with arthritis or hip dysplasia (or just any dog that likes lying down!), a comfortable, supportive dog bed is probably a good idea.
This dog bed is great for supporting your pup's tired body. A high quality combination of ergonomic memory foam and gel foam helps ease body aches, joint pain, hip dysplasia and arthritis. This bed offers the best therapeutic support for your hardworking pal. ($27.99-64.99.)
Notable Rescues to Find the American Cocker Spaniel of Your Dreams
American Cocker Spaniels are a popular breed—but there are also a ton of American Cocker Spaniels looking for their forever homes. If you’re ready to rescue (adopt, don’t shop!), check out these notable American Cocker Spaniel rescues:
- San Diego Spaniel Rescue, serving San Diego and Orange County, Southern California
- NorCal Cocker Rescue, serving Northern California
- Cocker Spaniel Resources, serving the Upper Midwest (Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota)
- Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue, serving New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maryland, and Delaware
- Oldies But Goodies Cocker Rescue, serving northern Virginia and the surrounding areas
- Adoptable Cocker Spaniels on Petfinder
Notable Instagram American Cocker Spaniels
Can’t get enough of the American Cocker Spaniel? Then it’s time to head to Instagram! Check out these Insta-famous American Cocker Spaniels:
***Looking for a gift to blow your American Cocker Spaniel's mind? Spoil them with BarkBox! Every month BarkBox delivers 2 original toys, designed in-house, 2 full bags of all-natural treats, and a chew. Sign up here and receive a free extra toy every month. <-- This deal is worth up to $120 in value if you sign up for a 12-month subscription! :)
Featured image via CoupleofCockers_/Instagram