springer spaniel dogs

10 Things you Should Know About the English Cocker Spaniel

If you haven’t already noticed, I LOVE Cocker Spaniels.  I love their cuddly, fun, energetic personalities. Every dog is an individual, they don’t all follow the stereotypes, but there are some general breed characteristics.  Want to know more about the breed and its history? Here are some well known and lesser known details about these floppy eared cuddle monsters.

1. Did you know that the breed actually originated in Spain?

Despite being called an English Cocker Spaniel, the breed has its very early origins in Spain.  This is where Spaniels were first used as hunting dogs.

source url The term Cocker comes from the fact that this smaller Spaniel was used to hunt woodcock.

Part of the Gundog Group, there are two types: the show type, which is more square and squat and the working/field type, which is more athletic and lean.

The American Cocker Spaniel came along later and tends to be smaller, squatter and squarer.

2. Cocker Spaniels are known for being energetic, “people pleasing” dogs

They never stop!  They are definitely a breed that benefits from an active lifestyle.  They love to be outdoors and they enjoy having a “job” to do. They are well suited to sporting activities such as Cani-Cross, Agility, Scent Work and Working Trials.

They also love to please.   Their tails never stop wagging and, if given praise, it will wag even more wildly with enthusiasm.

They generally bond strongly with their owners and they are a dog that enjoys company.  They don’t tend to do so well being left for too long on their own.

They do tend to make great family pets but, as with any dog, we always recommend that you teach your children how to interact appropriately and safely with them.

3. What kind of home would suit a Cocker Spaniel?

An active one”  They have bundles of energy, are very intelligent and need a decent amount of exercise and stimulation.  Although they love to snuggle (part of the thing I love about them), they really do need to burn of their copious amounts of energy to avoid problem behaviours appearing as a result of boredom.  They love long walks (another thing I love about them) and they are often keen swimmers.

Because they bond closely with their owners, and due to their high energy levels, they would benefit from a home where there are family members around much of the day.  Not dog should be left alone for too long on their own but Cockers often crop up in discussions about separation anxiety. Because of this we also suggest that you don’t go to the opposite extreme of never leaving them alone.  Make sure that, from an early stage, you gradually get them used to being left for short periods on their own to try to avoid over dependency.

Their intelligence also means that they respond well to training.  They are usually very “foody” dogs too, so are extremely motivated by food rewards.

They can be greedy, so watch out for an expanding waistline

4. Cockers usually love food, I mean really LOVE it.

They can be notorious counter surfers, so management and training can be required around the kitchen and dining table.  They are also often scavengers so watch out for them grabbing everything and anything when out on walks, usually the smellier the better.  This is speaking from personal experience. We learnt the hard way, fortunately nothing that was a problem for their health. There was an instance of counter surfing for a full packet of dried lentils (who would think they would be appealing).  Cue a very distended tummy, an emergency call to the vet and then some very odd poops for a few days after!

Their love of food is a great thing when training as they are highly motivated to work for it.

It is often not so good for their waistlines as I always say, given the chance, they would eat until they pop. This means you have to be strict with watching how much you feed.  Always measure out and watch their waistlines.

My Vet has commented that he sees many more overweight Cockers than those of the right weight.  An average Cocker Spaniel will usually weigh somewhere between 11.5 – 14 kg – obviously this does vary though.

5. Cockers love to talk

Again, every dog is different but Cockers are often quite a vocal breed.  When excited they do like to “talk”. This just means you have to work on rewarding the quiet times or asking for an alternative when the vocalisation starts to avoid it becoming an out of control habit.

6. Cockers do need quite a bit of attention when it comes to their grooming regime

Cocker coats do vary quite a bit.  Show Cockers tend to have a thicker, longer coat than Working types.  Some people choose just to have it all trimmed right down regularly to save any time consuming maintenance.  I must confess, this is what I usually did with my guys.

They can have quite thick coats  and long hair on their underbelly and leg feathering and this can get tangled up with undergrowth on walks, it also gathers all the mud.  Their ears can get matted and tangled too if not taken care of.

If you are keeping their coats longer then they will need regular brushing and combing out.  They don’t tend to be excessive shedders though.

Their coats come in an amazing variety of colours.  From solid colours, to the mixed roan types. Daisy had a beautiful golden coat and goofy Sam was classed as an orange roan.

7. Watch out for those ear problems

With their long, hairy ears Cockers are notorious for developing ear problems, especially if they like the water.  It is important to keep their ears as dry and clean as possible. If possible, keep the hair shorter around their ear hole and use a good quality ear cleaner.  Don’t push cotton buds down their ear canal to clean it. This is a common mistake and it can cause damage to the eardrum and also usually just pushes any lingering dirt further down the canal.

8. No need to panic, but do be aware of the breed specific health conditions

Whilst most Cockers live full and healthy lifes, on average between 12 – 14 years,  it is always useful to be aware of the hereditary medical conditions which are common to the breed.  Eye conditions, mammary tumours, hip dysplasia, heart murmurs and chronic pancreatitis are all conditions that have been associated with Cockers.

The much discussed Cocker Rage, an unpredictable form of aggression, is actually extremely rare and often misdiagnosis has helped to perpetuate the term being bandied about often.

Both my Cockers kept in very good health until their senior years, but there were instances of ears and anal gland problems, both issues associated with the breed.  Daisy also had a heart murmur but it remained at a grade three (easily manageable) for her whole life, and she lived to be 14 years old.

We always recommend getting pet insurance for any dog to cover any unexpected medical bills.

9. ALWAYS, ALWAYS seek out a reputable breeder if you plan to get a puppy

We are huge advocates for dog adoption.  There are so many fantastic dogs out there, including Cocker Spaniels, in need of homes already.  Why not offer them a chance at a great new life?

We do recognise though that sometimes people want to buy a puppy from a breeder, we just implore you to do your research.

Cocker Spaniels are an extremely popular breed and, as a result, there are a lot of unscrupulous backyard breeders and puppy farms willing to cash in on this.  Many puppies become sick or die as a result of poor living conditions in those early day and they may go on to to have avoidable health or temperament issues. It also means that poor Mum and Dad are usually living in awful conditions too.

We can’t emphasise enough how important it is to do your homework and not get carried away when you see a photo of a cute puppy after a random search.

This “buying a puppy” guide from the UK charity Dogs Trust is a useful starting point when doing your research.

Some of the key take-homes are:

You should ALWAYS see mum with her pups and they should all look relaxed and happy in a clean, safe and warm environment.
A pup should never leave mum before they are 8 weeks old
The pups should have had their first worming dose and often their first vaccination and vet check before coming home with you
Consider what socialisation they have had and the environment they have been living in.  They should ideally be living inside a home and have their early socialisation should have been carefully considered.
In the UK, the puppy must already be microchipped in the breeders name before coming home to you.  This is the law.
If any of the above are not in evidence, alarm bells should be ringing.

10. It is a myth that there are no Cocker Spaniels in rescue

Some people will tell you that you have to get a puppy if you want to have a Cocker as there are none in rescue.

My Sam was a rescue and there are hundreds of others like him waiting for their forever home.  Whilst they are often snapped up if they come into a general rescue centre, there are lots of breed specific rescues out there with wonderful Spaniels that are looking for a great home.

Adopting a dog can be such a rewarding experience and certainly one we would recommend.

Photo by Tim Riesner
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