Complete Guide To The Cocker Spaniel: Care, Grooming, Feeding, and More

Once America’s most popular breed, Cocker Spaniels are gracious dogs with winsome eyes and long luxurious coats. Immortalized in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, these charismatic scamps are friendly and faithful companions.

I’ve known many Cocker Spaniels throughout my 30 years of working with dogs as both a veterinarian and (when I was much younger) as a kennel attendant in a very large (300 kennel) boarding facility. My early experiences with Cockers were not good as they had been heavily overbred for decades and were generally unpleasant and unhealthy dogs. However, over the past 10-15 years, that has complete changed as the breed became less popular.

Being less popular has caused the casual backyard breeder to exit the scene and allowed the responsible breeder a chance to return this breed back to the charming, fun-loving dog that it was always meant to be. I have no problems recommending a Cocker Spaniel to any potential dog owner now.

How Big Do Cocker Spaniels Get?

20 – 30 lbs14″ high at the shoulder

What Do Cocker Spaniels Look Like?

The possible coat colors include:

BuffBlackBlack and White
Black and TanBlack, White, and TanBrown
Brown and WhiteBrown and TanRed

Hair is straight or slightly wavy with a silky or velvet-like texture. Ears are long, low-set, and heavy. Their oval eyes are a soft, deep brown — blue shades are a disqualification for shows.

Smaller dogs may be mistaken for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel — larger examples for the English Springer. But their tall foreheads and short muzzles usually give them away.

What Is The Personality Of A Cocker Spaniel?

Cocker Spaniels are outgoing but not overbearing. Needing only moderate exercise, they’re a good fit for most families and older adults who like brisk walks and simple games. They like to travel and enjoy a challenge but are generally easy to please — they take their cues from their owners and are rarely demanding.

Patient and trustworthy, they form strong bonds with their social group and enjoy canine companionship. But curious to a fault, they’ll bark more than average if not trained — anything to attract new friends. Puppy kindergarten and early socialization are recommended to teach them apartment-friendly manners.

What Kind of Grooming Do Cocker Spaniels Need?

Cocker Spaniels shed infrequently but need meticulous grooming to keep them in top condition. They benefit from professional grooming, but with the right tools, products and practice, it’s something most owners can handle.

Avoid slicker brushes and grooming gloves — a fine steel comb that reaches the skin is better for thinning the undercoat and removing tangles. Knots tend to form under the tail, hindquarters and behind the ears.

Limited trimming is permitted for shows, but pet dogs can be clipped short for comfort and convenience. A “puppy cut” is the most popular, followed by the classic American trim which is slightly longer and retains the Cocker Spaniel’s characteristic leg feathers. Select the length that best fits your lifestyle and the dog’s temperament. Keep in mind that more particular cuts will require more frequent trips to the groomer.

They have really hairy feet (the underneath portions and especially between the toes) that I recommend trimming to keep their feet drier and cleaner. It also allows for the nails to be exposed better when on a walk. Cockers can grow their nails really quickly so I generally recommend trimming them at least once monthly.

What Are The Exercise Needs Of A Cocker Spaniel?

Spaniels in general are a very active type of dog. Many of my Cocker Spaniel patients are avid ball chasers and many love to visit the dog park. I’ve also had a few over the years compete in agility trials as well as flyball.

Don’t expect your Cocker Spaniel to be a couch potato unless you’ve already taken them on a long walk or a trip to the dog park earlier in the day. They need a solid 30-minutes (minimum) vigorous walk. This is not the walk so they can use the bathroom. This is exercise.

Think of the difference as to how you see people walk at your local mall: are they the window shoppers who stop at every store window for 30 seconds or are they the mall walkers that stride purposefully around the crowds? Is this a walk for entertainment or exercise? It can be both but it should be exercise first.

What Is The Best Food For A Cocker Spaniel?

Cocker Spaniels require no special dietary considerations other than they tend to lean towards obesity as they get older (at least the dogs in my practice have). Because they’re already a small frame size, adding extra calories is easy by giving them high-calorie snacks and small bites of people food.

Before we start with the food lists, just know that grain-free dog foods are a myth. There’s zero science showing that they are helpful. In fact, there’s increasing evidence that it’s causing issues in certain breeds of dogs. Food allergies are the only reason to even consider a grain-free diet but only choose one with the help of your veterinarian.

Basic dog foods that I recommend include:

How Long Do Cocker Spaniels Live?

10-14 years based on information from the AKC

What Health Conditions Do Cocker Spaniels Have?

A few decades ago Cocker Spaniels were in much worse shape than they are today. As someone who worked with them for 30 years, it used to be quite common to see them in the veterinary practice frequently. Today, more responsible breeding has eliminated much of those issues.

However, Cocker Spaniels are still known to be predisposed to certain health conditions including:

  • Cherry Eye
  • Cataracts/Glaucoma
  • Obesity
  • Dental Disease
  • Hypothyroidism

The American Spaniel Club is very diligently trying to constantly improve the breed by imposing rigid standards for breeding-caliber dogs. I’ve seen a big improvement in the past 20 years in this breed and would recommend a Cocker Spaniel from a reputable breeder for anyone.

Where Can I Find a Cocker Spaniel?

List of Breeders From The American Spaniel Club

AKC Puppy Page

Where Can I Find Out More About Cocker Spaniels?

American Spaniel Club

AKC Breed Page

Interesting Facts About Cocker Spaniels

Cocker Spaniels have a fascinating history. Here are a few entertaining facts about these lively and lovable rascals.

• They’re More Than Just Pretty

Cocker Spaniels are ranked 20th among trainers for their intelligence — they obey first commands 85 percent of the time. Bella Boo the Cocker Spaniel can do hundreds of tricks and has her own YouTube channel. Ginger learned commands in a second language in just three weeks.

• Don’t Depend on Them as Guard Dogs

Cockers are devoted companions but are less likely to chase a burglar than charm him. Invest in an alarm system.

• They’re Pilgrims

Records show two dogs accompanied the Pilgrims on the Mayflower — a mastiff and a spaniel — landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620. Cocker Spaniels were among the first breeds registered by the American Kennel Club in 1878.

• Cocker Spaniels Can Detect Cancer

Dogs can detect cancer by scent, but some are better at it than others. In a small 2004 study, Tangle the Cocker Spaniel had the most success, learning to identify 80 percent of malignant tissue samples.

• They’re Named After Birds

European spaniels were once classified only as land or water dogs, but they developed more distinctive characteristics over time. Bred to hunt fowl, Cocker Spaniels were named after early bird hunters’ favorite quarry — the woodcock.

• Cocker Spaniels Were Once America’s Sweethearts

Cocker Spaniels skyrocketed in popularity in the 1950s. Companions to Vice President Richard Nixon and stars of the Disney masterpiece “Lady and the Tramp,” Cockers were America’s top dogs for over a decade. They now rank a respectable 30th on the AKC’s list of most popular breeds.

• They’re Companions to the Rich and Famous

The Cockers’ gentle spirit and friendly demeanor make them celebrity favorites. George Clooney shares a home with Einstein, a rescue from a California shelter. Kate Middleton received one as a wedding gift, and David and Victoria Beckham purchased Olive, a black Cocker puppy, in 2015.

• We Owe Them for Top-Siders

The non-slip soles on the world’s most famous boat shoes were inspired by a Cocker Spaniel’s paws. Paul Sperry, observing the traction his dog, Prince, had on slick surfaces, modeled Top-Siders after the groove-like patterns on his pads, obtaining a patent in 1935.

• There’s More Than One Cocker Spaniel

English and American Cocker Spaniels were once a single breed. But they eventually developed different characteristics and were recognized as two distinct dogs in 1945. American Cocker Spaniels are smaller with a rounder head and short snout — English Cockers have a lower forehead and longer muzzle.