Introduction to the English Cocker Spaniel

The English Cocker Spaniel is known as a merry and affectionate dog, slightly larger than the American Cocker Spaniel.

The two breeds are closely related and were registered as one breed until the 1940s. Today the English Cocker is active and calm (as an adult) and still used in the field. They love to be with their people and they make very good family dogs.

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History of the English Cocker Spaniel

Spaniels are believed to have originated in Spain, hence the name “spaniel.” There are references to spaniels in the British Isles dating back more than 1500 years. The dogs were originally divided into land spaniels (those that hunted on the land) and water spaniels (dogs that were used for water retrieving). Later spaniels became more specialized, mostly by size. The smallest spaniels were usually called cockers and were used to hunt woodcock. Larger spaniels were called springers and they were used to spring or flush birds from their cover. It was not unusual to have different size puppies/dogs in the same litters so the same litter could produce both cockers and springers in the past. Eventually breeders bred the dogs to be more specialized in work and appearance, producing Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Welsh Springer Spaniels, Field Spaniels, and other breeds that had previously all been land spaniels.

In the United States the appearance of the Cocker Spaniels began to change from the Cockers being bred in Britain in the 20th century. This led to a split in the breed in the 1940s and created the American Cocker Spaniel (usually called the Cocker Spaniel in the U.S.) and the English Cocker Spaniel (usually called the Cocker Spaniel in the UK). Both breeds are registered in kennel clubs in both countries. They are simply separate breeds now. The American Cocker Spaniel has been tremendously popular in the United States while the English Cocker has had a much smaller following.

Cocker Spaniels, before they split, were accepted by the AKC in 1878. They were one of the original nine breeds recognized by the AKC. Officially the English Cocker Spaniel was accepted by the American Kennel Club in 1946. Today the breed is the 61st most popular dog breed in the United States, according to the AKC, out of about 200 breeds and varieties. The American Cocker Spaniel is the 30th most popular breed. For many years the American Cocker was the most popular breed in the U.S.

In Great Britain the English Cocker Spaniel is very popular. They are the second most popular breed registered with the Kennel Club with more than 22,000 dogs registered per year. Only Labrador Retrievers are more popular. There are still working lines of English Cockers used for hunting. Dogs from the show bloodlines are typically sturdier and heavier, with more coat than the dogs used in the field.

English Cocker Spaniel Health-Related Issues

English Cocker Spaniels are generally healthy dogs. The most common health problems that crop up in the breed are not life-threatening. They include problems with the bite/malocclusion, cataracts, deafness (estimated to affect approximately 6.3 percent of dogs), skin allergies, benign tumors, shyness, and aggression toward other dogs.

Various health surveys have identified the leading causes of death as old age and cancer, followed distantly by cardiac disease.

Issues that can occur in English Cocker Spaniels but which are not common include hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, canine dilated cardiomyopathy, and heart murmurs.

Temperament issues, namely Rage Syndrome, has been a concern in the breed. Rage Syndrome can occur in many breeds and even mixes. It is characterized by a sudden, violent attack by a dog, with a glazed-eye look, when the dog seems to not be aware of what he’s doing. While this condition is rare even in English Cocker Spaniels, when it does occur it seems to be more likely to be associated with solid-colored English Cockers, and more often with dogs that have darker coloring. It occurs most often in English Cockers that are solid black or solid red/gold. Male dogs were also more likely to be affected. Rage can be diagnosed by an EEG or by genetic testing but these tests are not definitive. There are theories and speculation about the condition and its causes but no answers yet. This issue is rare in English Cocker Spaniels (and all dogs), but it does occur.

If you are thinking of breeding your English Cocker Spaniel, the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America recommends the following health tests:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) DNA Test
  • Patellar Luxation

ELECTIVE – TWO of the following:

  • OFA Thyroid Evaluation
  • Optigen Familial Nephropathy test results registered with OFA
  • BAER Test results registered with OFA
  • ACVO Eye Exam Results registered with OFA or
  • ACVO Eye Exam Results registered with CERF
  • OFA University of Missouri Adult Onset Neuropathy DNA test

Remember that most dogs do not major have health problems. Breeders work diligently to test and screen their dogs so they produce healthy puppies. But no one can completely guarantee that every dog will be healthy throughout their lifetime. If you are interested in getting a puppy or dog, be sure to talk to the breeder about their dogs and their health guarantees.

English Cocker Spaniel Temperament

English Cockers are happy, active dogs. They are kind and intelligent and, like most spaniels, they are gentle and understanding when it comes to knowing how you feel. They form a close bond to their people. They are very loyal and affectionate dogs.

English Cockers are sporting dogs and they enjoy regular daily exercise. Puppies and young dogs especially need plenty of exercise, though more mature adults tend to be content to wait for you to give the word to take a walk. The breed is nearly always referred to as “merry” because of their constantly wagging tail.

English Cockers get along well with other pets and they are very good with children. English Cockers can be shy so it is very important to make sure they are socialized from a young age and encouraged to meet friendly people. The breed is very intelligent, ranking 18th in Dr. Stanley Coren’s book The Intelligence of Dogs. They are very willing to please but they can be sensitive so it’s important to use gentle training methods. They respond well to positive reinforcement such as praise and rewards and clicker training. English Cockers can do very well at agility, rally, obedience, and other dog sports. They make excellent therapy dogs.

English Cocker Spaniel Grooming

English Cocker Spaniels have a moderately long coat that requires some maintenance if you wish to keep it long. A dog with a long coat will need to be brushed often. Some trimming is required, including the use of clippers and scissors. The coat also requires some “stripping,” meaning the use of stripping tools such as stripping knives and a pumice stone to remove dead hair. If you wish to learn to groom your English Cocker and keep his coat long, it’s a good idea to have an English Cocker Spaniel breeder or owner show you how to do it. Or you can buy a small handbook or video from the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America. They have a good section on grooming the breed.

If you prefer to keep your English Cocker’s coat short, you can talk to a pet groomer about trimming your dog’s coat. The coat is a little different from an American Cocker Spaniel’s coat but most pet groomers will be able to adjust to it and make it look nice in a pet clip.

Otherwise, grooming an English Cocker Spaniel is similar to grooming other dogs. You will need to check and clean your dog’s ears, keep his nails trimmed, and maintain his teeth in good condition. Any breed with long, floppy ears can be prone to ear infections so make sure you check your dog’s ears often and dry them after a bath so moisture doesn’t accumulate. Moisture in the ears can lead to infections.

English Cocker Spaniel Fun Facts

  • English Cocker Spaniels are probably best known today because the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – William and Kate – have one named Lupo. Lupo is a working type English Cocker and was bred by Kate’s parents. Lupo has been prominently featured in photos with baby Prince George.
  • In the United States and many other countries the tail of the English Cocker Spaniel is docked. In England and Wales the tails can be docked if the owner can prove that the dogs will be used for working or shooting since the docked tail keeps the tail from being injured in the field.
  • The English Cocker Spaniel is a little larger than the American Cocker Spaniel. However, the English Springer Spaniel is larger than the English Cocker Spaniel. Although the breeds were at one time closely related, when you see them they look nothing alike.
  • The English Cocker Spaniel comes in many solid colors, parti-colors, and roan colors. The most popular color in the breed is blue roan.

Common English Cocker Spaniel Mixes

English Cocker Spaniels in the United States are not very common so you don’t see a lot of mixed breeds that include them. However, you can occasionally find a cross called the Colonial Spaniel. This is a cross between the American Cocker Spaniel and the English Cocker Spaniel.

English Cocker Spaniel FAQs

What is an English Cocker Spaniel’s Life Expectancy?

According to a 2004 UK health survey, the median life expectancy of the English Cocker Spaniel is 11 years and 2 months. This is not an unusual age for dogs of this size. The most common causes of death were old age and cancer (46.7 percent of reported deaths). It is not unusual for some English Cockers to live well into their teen years.

Are English Cocker Spaniels easy to train?

Yes, English Cockers are considered easy to train. They are very smart and they have a strong desire to please, like many sporting dogs. They are sensitive dogs so they respond best to gentle training methods and do well with positive reinforcement.

Do English Cocker Spaniels shed a lot of hair?

English Cockers are average in terms of shedding. Some dogs do have a lot of hair or feathering around their legs, however, which can scoop up a lot of dirt and mud. They tend to track this dirt and mud into the house. Be sure to brush this feathering often to keep it clean.

Do English Cocker Spaniels make good apartment pets?

English Cocker Spaniels can make very good apartment pets as long as you are willing to make sure your dog gets plenty of daily exercise. This breed needs more than just a couple of long walks, especially when they are puppies and young dogs. They need to stretch their legs and run. Otherwise, they have very good manners and they do not bark a lot. They can do very well living in the city as long as they get enough exercise.

Are English Cocker Spaniels good with Children?

Most English Cocker Spaniels are very good with children. They make very good family dogs. As always, make sure that you supervise your dog and children when they play together. Accidents can happen very quickly and you need to be near. Teach your children how to play gently with a dog.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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