Cocker Spaniels are one of the good family dog breeds and the best small family dogs. Their friendly demeanor and passion for pleasing their owners make them versatile hunters, worthy competitors, and gentle as house pets.
Hunting, agility, obedience, or hanging out with the family are where the Cocker Spaniels succeed.
Versatile character, kind spirit, gentle demeanor, and happy family companion. They are one of the best home dog breeds and are included on our top 20 family dogs list for small apartments.
Cocker Spaniel History
Cocker Spaniels originated from Spain, where they were bred for hunting.
The English Cocker Spaniel is a similar breed that are well-known in the show ring.
In 16th century England, they were initially called Spanish spaniels, after the country where they originated, but by the 17th century, they referred to them as cockers.
The English used the dogs for hunting woodcock, a woodland bird; thus, the Spanish spaniels became known as “cockers”. On the smallish side, Cocker Spaniels do not fall into the lap dog category. Weighing up to 30 pounds, cockers are robust enough for hunting and extensive outdoor sporting activities. They are sufficiently calm to be content, quiet, gentle, and good family dogs happily watching TV next to their family.
Cockers have a long history of hunting fowl for noble families. One notable example was King Charles II’s dogs, who went on many hunts. Following the king’s death, enthusiasts crossed the dogs with Asian breeds (likely a Pug or Japanese Chin), altering the traditional appearance and resulting in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, named in the king’s honor.
Their royal origins are well-placed. We hope the breed overview in the following paragraphs will encourage you to consider the cocker spaniel for your next family pet.
American Cocker Spaniel vs English Cocker Spaniel
It’s easiest to tell the difference between the American and English cockers by head shape. English cockers have a rounded head shape, and American cockers have a flatter head shape.
American Cocker Spaniels enjoy notoriety as among the best calm family dogs.
English Cockers are slightly larger and have a more traditional English demeanor with a higher prey drive.
If you ever see an American and English together, the difference is easily distinguishable. Most people find the English variety more attractive and desirable, but the difference as a family pet is nominal.
Versatile Cocker Spaniels
Still popular with hunters today, many people choose Cocker Spaniels for house pets and family dogs because they are intelligent, one of the child-friendly dog breeds, and are not afraid to work hard.
They became famous based on their versatility. Some hunters use cockers to flush and retrieve birds but are also successfully trained to flush rabbits.
The American Spaniel Club hosts many events and competitions geared specifically for the breed and includes agility, field work, obedience, confirmation, tracking, and trick categories.
Some breeders specialize in working cocker spaniels who specialize in hunting or the show ring, while others focus on producing good family dog traits and character.
The American Kennel Club categorizes the friendly cocker spaniel in the sporting group. One of few small sporting dogs at home hunting birds and prized family companions. Their gentle nature makes them affectionate and excellent for families with children.
Cocker Spaniel Colors
Available colors vary by the breeder, and the most common colors include:
- black and white
- black, white, and tan
- brown and white
- brown, white, and tan
American Cocker Spaniel breeders produce several other colors, some more prevalent than others. Red, sable, blue, and cream are less common.
Challenging Cocker Spaniels
Some cockers may have problems if they don’t get enough exercise. Even if the dogs aren’t overweight, they must move around to stay fit. Sitting around all day in the house waiting on their owners to return from work could contribute to trouble if they don’t get proper exercise.
As sporting dogs, cockers need a “job”. Many enjoy playing fetch with a ball, frisbee, favorite tory, or fetching their favorite stick.
When bored, most dogs, including cocker spaniels, will get into mischief and could become destructive with pillows, furniture, rugs, carpeting, and have been known to get into trash cans, food storage, and other items.
Ensuring proper exercise and activity will keep the cocker spaniel happy, engaged, and well-adjusted.
Cocker Spaniels are prone to hip dysplasia, an inherited trait. Consult your breeder and ask whether their dogs have experienced this trait in prior generations.
Like other sporting dogs, cockers require regular grooming and brushing to clean their coats. The spaniels usually enjoy having their hair brushed.
With an average American Cocker Spaniel lifespan of 10 years or more, they usually live longer than the average dog breed. They make exceptional pets for anyone looking for companionship.
Reasons to Own a Cocker Spaniel
In general, the list of positives is accurate for most well-socialized and highly trained dogs. Cocker spaniels are rarely available from rescue groups because they are most often delightful to own.
Most difficulties are easily overcome. Training is key. Train early and train often. Use positive reinforcement. Reward good conduct and ignore the bad as a rule of thumb.
Do you like to hike? Take long walks? Run?
Do you have children that enjoy outdoor activities?
Do you travel extensively? Will you let your Cocker Spaniel tag along?
- Good family dog
- Desire to please
- Friendly with children
- Gentle nature
- Variety of colors and coats
- Adaptable and flexible
We had many cocker spaniels growing up and they are wonderful. They are willing to join their companions in any endeavor. They love to romp through the woods, go for a long walk, or even a short run with their owners.
Cockers are great hunting companions, fishing companions, and ours enjoyed car rides and trips. They are on our list of Top 15 Family Dogs for good reason.
Why Not to Own a Cocker Spaniel?
Many of the negatives are avoidable and preventable. Owners create trouble by not providing a safe, friendly environment, scolding as a form of punishment, or being abusive.
Few things are cuter than American Cocker Spaniel puppies, but puppies grow into adults. Will the adult cocker still be right for you?
Are you a dedicated couch potato?
Is your idea of exercising the short walk from the couch to the refrigerator?
Do you travel extensively? Would your dog be along for long periods during the day?
- Ongoing grooming requirements
- Shedding of long-hairs
- Inherited health concerns
- If not exercised, it could become destructive
- If not well-socialized, some could become aggressive or fearful
Other Popular Spaniel Breeds
If you run into difficulty locating an American Cocker Spaniel, here is a list of other suitable spaniels with good family dog traits:
- English Toy
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Some on the list have increased size and weight, so please research if it’s a deciding factor.
Other Similar Dog Breed Alternatives
- Bichon-frise: Popular lap dog
- Dachshund: Hunter who is at home indoors
- Boston Terrier: Popular lap dog
- Pug: Roly-Poly house pet
- Boxer: Full of character
- Beagle: Energetic, outdoor dog
Before bringing a Cocker Spaniel into your home, consider the commitment required for housebreaking, daily exercise, and regular enrichment activities.
- Cockers are ideal for people who are home a big part of the day, with available time to care for them. They need a walk several times daily, with one extended walk and time for playful activities.
- Cockers are not really suited for 8-hours a day in a dog crate or kennel with a short 20-minute walk before dinner time and no other exercise or playtime.
- They are good family dogs for children and adults.
Dog ownership comes with several costs, including a monetary commitment to provide food, shelter, toys, and grooming tools. Occasional professional grooming could also be helpful.
Cocker spaniels require regular veterinary visits, as with all house pets. If caught early on, many health considerations are treatable.
With awareness and purposeful care, the venerable Cocker Spaniel could be the good family dog you are looking for. They are one of the best dog breeds for home and farm.
If you want to consider other pets besides dogs, here’s a recent article with some possibilities.