English Cocker Spaniels are cheerful, affectionate and sporty dogs. They love to be with their owner and love to play but also like to chase their noses. They can be stubborn at times and need consistent upbringing. Coat care requires daily attention.
The English Cocker Spaniel is best suited to an active owner who raises his dog in a positive and consistent manner and is not fooled by his dog’s pathetic gaze.
Choose the right breed for your situation: Before buying, find out if the English Cocker Spaniel is the breed you are looking for.
The English Cocker Spaniel is originally a hunting dog that belongs to the ‘bumping dogs’. His job was to chase birds such as pheasant or woodcock (‘woodcock’ in English) from the undergrowth. When flying up, a net was thrown over the birds, under which the dog also stayed until the hunter pulled him out. Later, the birds were shot after striking and the Cocker Spaniel had to wait until he could pick up the shot birds.
Meanwhile, the English Cocker Spaniel is primarily a cheerful, enthusiastic family dog, although it is also used for hunting training. The breed falls under breed group 8: ‘Retrievers, Spaniels and Water Dogs’.
The English Cocker Spaniel lives an average of 14 years.
The English Cocker Spaniel has a sturdy and compact build. Its shoulder height is approximately equal to its length from shoulder to tail base. The back is slightly sloping and he has a deep chest. The legs are strong and muscular and slightly short. The tail starts just below the backline, is of medium length and well coated. It is carried back in action, but not higher than the back. When the dog is in action, the tail is also cheerfully moving almost incessantly. The tail may not be docked in the Netherlands.
The snout is almost as long as the skull. There is a distinct stop (the transition between muzzle and skull). The eyes are full but should not bulge. The ears start at the level of the eyes, are lobed and so long that they reach the tip of the nose. They are covered with long, straight hair.
The coat of the English Cocker Spaniel is smooth and silky. It should not curl or wave. The hair is longer on the ears, front legs, chest and pants (the back of the hind legs).
There are lines of ‘working’ English Cocker Spaniels, still bred for hunting, that have a slightly different appearance: the head is less round, the ears are shorter and the coat is shorter and less thick.
There are all kinds of colors: solid red, gold, black or liver with possibly some white on the chest, black and tan (black with red markings), variegated (white with colored spots and possibly tan markings), and gray blue, orange, lemon or liver (possibly with tan markings). Sable has not been a recognized color since 2013. The eyes are preferably dark brown or brown, in liver-colored dogs they can also be hazelnut brown.
Males have a height at the withers between 39 and 41 centimeters, bitches between 38 and 39 centimeters. The weight is between 13 and 14.5 kilos.
English Cocker Spaniels are lively, cheerful and sporty dogs. They are affectionate and attached to their owner, which makes them prone to chasing them. They are curious about everything that happens and need plenty of activities. They are generally friendly to strangers. While the Cocker Spaniel is usually docile, he can also be stubborn. Monochrome dogs seem to be a bit more independent and more likely to exhibit dominating behavior than multi-colored animals. Red Cocker Syndrome has been described in the past in single-colored Cocker Spaniels, in which the dog suddenly shows aggression. Due to careful breeding, this is rare nowadays.
Cocker Spaniels from working lines are even more energetic than those from show lines.
The English Cocker Spaniel gets along well with other dogs, including dogs of the same sex.
If the Cocker Spaniel gets enough exercise, he can also learn to be home alone. Build this up slowly.
The English Cocker Spaniel will usually bark when visitors come or is disturbed, but due to its friendly nature it is not a real watchdog.
English Cocker Spaniels get along well with children, but do not like children to mess around with them. Never leave dogs and children alone!
The English Cocker Spaniel’s coat should be brushed daily to remove dead hair and prevent matting. Especially the places where the hair is long should be checked carefully.
Attention is also needed for the ears. If necessary, clean the auricle with a cotton pad (preferably no cotton wool due to loose fluff) if necessary, but do not go into the ear with cotton wool or cotton swabs and do not use any cleaner without consulting your vet. Excess hair in front of the entrance to the ear canal can be trimmed short to allow enough air to reach the ear. Do not pull hair out of the ear canal as this can cause damage and inflammation, especially in dogs that have already had an ear infection. If a lot of hair grows in the ear, ask your vet for advice. Stinky ears or a lot of shaking and scratching can indicate an ear infection, so go to the vet.
Also check daily that no grasses have gotten into his fur, between the toes or in his ears. In addition, comb the fur thoroughly at least once a week. Trim hairs that stick out from under the soles of the feet so that the dog does not walk on pads.
The Cocker Spaniel should be trimmed four to six times a year to maintain the coat properly, depending on how thick his coat is. The hair is plucked and thinned. Dogs with a thinner, shorter coat such as those from working lines need less grooming.
English Cocker Spaniels that have been neutered (both male and female) will have a thicker, woolly coat that tangles faster and requires even more grooming. Take that into consideration if you want to have your dog neutered!
As with any dog, check the teeth regularly and make sure that the nails do not get too long. Clean any tear lines with lotion.
Movement and Activities
English Cocker Spaniels have a lot of energy and need to be given plenty of exercise and a good daily run. They love to play and as a hunting dog they also love to sniff and follow tracks. That may mean that your Cocker Spaniel walks with his nose on the ground outside more than he pays attention to you. Make sure you stay interesting yourself, for example by offering fun games, assignments and attention.
Many Cocker Spaniels like to swim and don’t care much for the rain, although there are some that don’t like getting wet.
In addition to tracking and searching games, ball games and sports activities such as agility or doggy dance are also fun for this breed. But English Cocker Spaniels can also keep up with obedience.
Socialization and education
Good socialization is very important for the proper development of any puppy. Accustom your Cocker Spaniel puppy to all kinds of people, different dogs, other animals and all kinds of new things. Make sure that the introduction to new things is positive, so build everything up slowly.
Get your puppy used to combing and brushing immediately, by brushing him briefly and stopping before he starts to find it annoying or treat the brush as a toy. Do this at a time when the puppy is already calm, for example when he is tired. Also get him used to inspecting his ears and that you can touch him anywhere.
Train your English Cocker Spaniel gently but consistently. You have to be careful not to let his endearing or funny face wrap you around your finger. Make it clear that you are the one who sets the rules.
Teach the puppy at an early age that he is not allowed to bark endlessly, for example teach him the command ‘quiet’.
You should also practice handing over objects, as Cocker Spaniels can have a tendency to run off with a ‘loot’ and then defend it if you want to get it back. Teach him the “release” command, swapping the item for something else, such as a dog toy or kibble. Prevent him from getting things he shouldn’t have and don’t make a game of it by running after him!
Getting here is also important, because if the Cocker Spaniel gets a spur in his nose, he is difficult to reach. Reward him whenever he pays attention to you outside and make yourself interesting. Prevent him from running away by keeping him on a leash in difficult places until you have him well under control, so he doesn’t learn that it’s fun chasing a trail alone.
The English Cocker Spaniel is a good learner, but you need to make the training fun and varied to keep his focus on the lesson.
Take your puppy to a puppy class, but wait until they are fully vacinated. There he gets to know other dogs and to pay attention to you, while you learn how to teach the dog.
Diseases and hereditary disorders
Any breed can have hereditary conditions.
According to recent research by Utrecht University, the most important hereditary disorders for the Dutch population of the English Cocker Spaniel are:
- Susceptibility to otitis externa (ear infection)*
* This condition is related to the specific build as laid down in the breed standard. The appearance of this breed therefore has adverse consequences for its well-being.
In distichiasis, one or more hairs grow from the edge of the eyelid, where there are normally no hair follicles. If the hairs are directed towards the cornea of the eye, they will irritate the cornea. The symptoms consist of watery eyes and swelling of the cornea.
Otitis externa is an ear infection of the external auditory canal. This is more common in breeds with droopy and hairy ears, because less clean air can reach the ears and earwax is less likely to be expelled. This makes the environment in the ear canal more favorable for bacteria and sometimes yeasts that cause inflammation. The symptoms consist of pain and itching in one or both ears, scratching, head shaking, ear discharge and odor from the ear.
In addition to these two conditions, there are other hereditary conditions that can be of concern in this breed, namely:
- Eye disorders: progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), pupillary membrane persistens (MPP), keratoconjunctivitis sicca, cataract
- Familial nephropathy
- hip dysplasia
- Chronic hepatitis
- Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
- Dilating Cardiomyopathy
- Anal sac carcinomas
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an eye condition in which the retina deteriorates. First the dog will see worse in the twilight, later this leads to blindness. For PRA, a genetic test is available that shows whether the dog is clear, carrier or sufferer. A carrier does not suffer from the condition himself, but can pass it on to his offspring. The disease occurs in the Cocker Spaniel at all ages.
Membrana Pupillaris Persistens (MPP) is a condition in which blood vessels that are present in front of the lens of the eye in the unborn puppy do not disappear after birth. They then remain visible as threads and disrupt the view. There are several variants of it.
Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is an inflammation of the cornea because insufficient tear fluid is produced, causing the eyes to be too dry. This is because the tear glands are broken down by the dog’s own immune system. The dog will have eye problems, will rub or squeeze them, the eyes may turn red and there may be pus in the eyes. The condition must be treated with eye drops and medications to prevent the dog from going blind.
Cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye, also known as cataracts. Cataracts usually get progressively worse and eventually lead to a deterioration of vision. Metabolic disorders, external damage to the lens of the eye and hereditary factors can play a role in the development of cataracts. Sometimes it can be present from birth (congenital cataract). The lens turns white due to the cataract, which eventually makes the dog blind.
Familial nephropathy (FN) is a condition that affects the kidneys. The disease starts between 6 and 12 months of age. Symptoms may include drinking and urinating a lot, weight loss, little appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea, but it is also common that there are no symptoms until the dog has severe kidney failure. The disease is ultimately fatal. This condition is recessively inherited and a genetic test is available. The disease has been significantly reduced by testing parent animals.
Hip dysplasia (HD) is a condition of the hips that results in the femoral head not fitting properly in the hip socket. This causes damage in the joint, causing pain and difficulty moving. This condition is partly hereditary, but its development is also determined by environmental factors, such as a high growth rate and overload due to incorrect or too much exercise or being overweight. It is important not to let a young dog who has not yet grown out play too wild, too much chasing balls or other stressful activities. Feed your dog good quality food so that bones and muscles are built up properly.
Chronic hepatitis is a condition in which the liver is chronically inflamed. In the English Cocker Spaniel this occurs from the age of 8 to 9 years. There may be varying, unclear symptoms, such as poor eating, vomiting, diarrhoea, drinking and urinating a lot, lethargy and sometimes jaundice, fluid accumulation in the abdomen and brain symptoms, depending on the severity of the condition.
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is a condition in which the dog’s red blood cells are broken down by its own immune system. The red blood cells transport oxygen through the blood throughout the body. Because there is more breakdown than production of red blood cells, anemia occurs. There are various symptoms such as fatigue, low stamina, poor food, pale mucous membranes and if the condition is worse also an accelerated heart rate and breathing, yellow mucous membranes in the mouth and red urine.
Dilating cardiomyopathy is a heart condition in which the heart muscle is no longer able to contract with sufficient force. The heart muscle weakens causing the ventricles to widen. The exact cause is unknown. It is a condition that is getting worse. Symptoms include reduced stamina and shortness of breath.
Anal sac carcinomas are malignant tumors that arise in the mucous membrane of the anal sacs, usually in older dogs. This occurs in both females and males, although unneutered males appear to be less likely to develop this tumor. Symptoms are not always clearly visible, but include swelling and irritation in the anal glands, which can cause the dog to ‘sled’ or lick itself a lot, and sometimes constipation, drinking a lot and urinating a lot because the calcium level in the blood can be increased are. It is advisable to check the anal area of the dog regularly, for example during grooming.
The breed clubs require testing for hip dysplasia (by means of X-rays), an ECVO eye examination and/or PRA examination via a DNA test is also mandatory and the breed clubs require a DNA test for FN.
In the breeding regulations of the breed clubs you can check the exact breeding rules and see when parent animals are excluded from breeding to prevent hereditary disorders.
No specific experience is necessary to keep an English Cocker Spaniel in a responsible manner. For a dog from a working line it is nice if you already have experience with dogs, because they will ask a little more from you. Make sure you inform yourself well in advance, for example via the breed clubs.
- The tail of the Cocker Spaniel used to be docked, but this has been banned in the Belgium since 2006. This is also not allowed in the Netherlands and Germany.
- In America, the American Cocker Spaniel originated from the English Cocker Spaniel, which was mainly bred for appearance and has a longer, thick coat, a differently shaped head and a softer character.