The Spaniel family is a very old group of dogs, dating back to the 14th century. The Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the Spaniel breeds, and originates from the United Kingdom. They were used to hunt the Eurasian Woodcock, a small bird which was a popular meat bird of the time. The breed is thought to have made its way to the United States on board the Mayflower in 1620. There, it was developed into quite a different breed, more suited for hunting the American Woodcock, a smaller bird than its Eurasian counterpart.
The Cocker Spaniel was recognized by the AKC in 1878, but by the 1920′s, there was a significant difference between the English Cocker Spaniel type and the American Cocker Spaniel. The English Cocker Spaniel became a separate breed in 1946. This breed description refers to the American Cocker Spaniel.
These charming little dogs are sturdy and compact. They weigh up to 30lbs (14kg) when adult, and grow to 15 inches (39cm) in height. Their coat comes in a range of colors, including black, red, tan, liver and white.
Their head is one of the most recognizable features of the breed. Their skull is very round, and they have prominent large brown eyes, and long pendulous ears. Their coat tends to be long and wavy, and they have silky fur on their ears, legs and belly. Their tail is usually docked in those countries where it is legal to do so.
The Cocker Spaniel is a happy and outgoing little dog. Their tail is always wagging, and they enjoy the company of people. Whether you are out hunting game, or whether you are curled up on the couch, the Cocker Spaniel will want to be right there with you.
These dogs are intelligent, and benefit from obedience training and early socialization. This helps to avoid them becoming shy and reserved.
Because they are so playful and active, they are particularly suitable as companions for children.
This breed is particularly prone to eye disease. They can develop cataracts or glaucoma, both of which can make them blind. Progressive retinal atrophy can also occur in the Cocker Spaniel. This condition usually starts as night blindness, but progresses to complete loss of vision. Responsible breeders have their breeding dogs eyes checked by a veterinary ophthalmologist each year.
The Cocker Spaniel also suffers from itchy and uncomfortable skin allergies. Your dog may need frequent bathing with medicated shampoo, or even regular medication, to keep it comfortable.
All drop eared breeds are susceptible to ear infections, because the ear flap covers the opening of the ear canal, and prevents air circulation. These infections can be persistent, and hard to eradicate.
Older dogs can develop immune mediated hemolytic anemia, where their immune system destroys their red blood cells. Affected dogs have no energy, and will have very pale gums. Their urine is often very dark. This condition is usually treated with corticosteroids or other drugs that suppress the immune system.
The Cocker Spaniel suffers from a genetic enzyme deficiency which affects their ability to metabolize glucose. This results in anemia and a lack of energy. There is a DNA test to identify dogs that carry the gene for this condition, and these dogs should not be bred.
Some Cocker Spaniels can display unprovoked aggression, known as Cocker Rage. This is a difficult condition to diagnose, because there are many causes of aggression in dogs, and they need to be ruled out before a dog is labeled as having this condition. Cocker Rage is thought to have a genetic basis, but the cause is unknown.
Because they have been bred to work alongside their master, the Cocker Spaniel needs exercise and training. They need a long walk every day, and obedience training will keep their mind active. These little dogs are usually very successful at dog sports such as agility and flyball, which give them physical and mental stimulation all at once. A bored Cocker Spaniel will find their own fun, but it may not be fun for you.
Training will also teach your Cocker Spaniel that you are the pack leader in your home, which will make them feel secure, and prevent them from ruling the roost.
Even though their coat is reasonably long, the Cocker Spaniel doesn’t need a lot of grooming. A thorough brushing several times a week is enough to keep their coat tidy and tangle free, and to remove loose hair before it finds its way onto your floor and furniture. If you prefer, your dog’s coat can be clipped short which is even easier to maintain. These dogs need their eyes wiped daily to keep the fur underneath from becoming sticky.
The Cocker Spaniel is an all round ideal dog. They are friendly and affectionate, and easy to train. They aren’t difficult to groom, and they don’t take up a lot of space. These dogs are very suitable for people in a variety of circumstances, from families with children to elderly people living alone.
There are very few disadvantages to owning this breed, providing a prospective owner does their homework. You must ask breeders for the results of any testing for genetic disease in their dogs, and make sure you only purchase a pup from healthy parents. This will help you to avoid the heartache of owning a dog that has an ongoing health issue.
These dogs will be happy living in an apartment if they are given the opportunity to exercise. They are not the type of dog that will enjoy being left outside in a kennel, because they just want to be involved in all aspects of their family’s life.
If you think the Cocker Spaniel is the dog for you, you can expect to enjoy their company for up to 11 years.