American Cocker Spaniel

There is some confusion over names between this breed and the English Cocker Spaniel. To Americans, this is simply THE Cocker Spaniel. To English enthusiasts, the English Cocker Spaniel is THE Cocker Spaniel. For clarity, the only solution is to add the country prefix in both cases. The original function of this breed was to flush and retrieve game birds.


By the end of the nineteenth century, mostly in the 1870s, English Cocker Spaniels were being imported into North America to hunt birds - usually woodcock, grouse or pheasant. By 1881 there was already an established American Cocker Spaniel Club, but until the 1930s there was no marked difference between the New World and Old World examples of the breed. Then, those breeders with a special interest in show dogs began to shrink the breed to a more petite scale, suitable for modern households. The result was an increasingly popular show-breed that was soon to become the Number One pet dog in the US.

Those still employing the dog as a hunting field-worker were not happy about this new trend. They wanted to keep the breed as it had always been. In 1935 they formed a separate club and interbreeding between the small show dog and the larger field dog was forbidden. By 1946, the existence of these two separate breeds of Cocker was formally accepted by the AKC.

So successful was the little American Cocker Spaniel that it started to attract the unwelcome attentions of commercial puppy-farmers. For a while, the breed looked as though it would sink into medical chaos as a result of this, but gradually the serious breeders and more scholarly enthusiasts intervened and saved the breed in its high-quality form. The future of this wonderfully lively and appealing little dog now looks bright again.


The merry Cocker is how it was known and merry it is. Cockers became the darlings of the show world and charmed themselves into many households in the US and throughout the world. They became America’s popular dog; however, the breed’s popularity nearly became its undoing.

The American Cocker Spaniel was promoted and bred indiscriminately, with little attention paid to the very thing that had made it such a hit: its temperament. Additionally, at the time there was no knowledge of heritable problems.

Today there is a concerted effort to breed only animals cleared of heritable defects and to concentrate on the basic strengths of the breed. Its temperament is not only heritable but is secured by raising puppies carefully and socializing them early. There is now a preponderance of the merry Cocker temperament in the show ring and at home — but it was very nearly lost.


So long as it is carefully bred, the Cocker is quite hardy. Health problems are apparent in various inherited disorders. These may be eye problems of several kinds, hip dysplasia, slipping stifles and epilepsy, as well as ear problems. The American Cocker Spaniel’s main heritable problems have been addressed by serious breeders who constantly screen all of their breeding stock.

Skin and ear problems can be coped with if the American Cocker Spaniel is kept scrupulously clean and trimmed and, of course, brushed and combed thoroughly several times a week. Its nails should be kept trimmed, either filed or cut weekly. If the ears are kept trimme'd at the top, checked weekly and cleaned when necessary with a little baby oil on a piece of cotton wrapped around your finger, most kinds of potential ear problems will be checked before they start. At the first sign of any odor from inside the ear, get a vet’s advice.

The American Cocker Spaniel is hardy in all types of weather but may be susceptible to tonsillitis. Drying the Cocker very carefully, even with a hair dryer, should the dog become soaked in the rain, may save a trip to the vet. Always buy from a reputable breeder and then keep your Cocker in a clean, comfortable condition.

Special Care and Training

It is important with this breed that training begins when the Cocker is only a pup. The young American Cocker Spaniel should be taught to allow an examination of its teeth to be sure the teeth are shedding properly. This early weekly training will prepare the pup for the brushing of its teeth to keep them clean and to avoid mouth odors as the dog gets older. The Cocker always has a heavy coat. It should learn very early to lie quietly on a table to be groomed with a brush and a comb. Grooming is best left to an older child or an adult, and it must be done regularly. Professional attention will be needed from a groomer even if the Cocker will not be shown since its coat growth is heavy and constant. It is important to housetrain this breed early and carefully.

Top quality food should be provided, particularly as the puppy is growing, but you should never let an American Cocker Spaniel get too fat. This breed quickly learns to beg from the table and its antics are irresistible, particularly to children. Children should be taught never to lift Cocker puppies by the back or front legs. Similarly, puppies should not be allowed to jump off furniture as this may damage the legs. Good walks on a lead or free running in an enclosed, safe yard is fitting exercise for this breed.

Puppies and Training

Puppies are born in litters of four to six. Solid-colored dogs are born as solid-colored puppies, but parti-colored ones are almost completely white for two weeks after birth. The American Cocker Spaniels are alert and easy to train. Daily lessons are best, but be careful not to give the puppies excessive attention as it tends to make them selfish and noisy.

Gallery of American Cocker Spaniel