The spaniel family of dogs is a very old one, dating back as far as the 14th century. Cocker Spaniels are the smallest of the sporting dog breeds. The Cocker Spaniel dog breed as it is now known is developed in the United States. To handle the hunting conditions in the U.S., the breed developed a shorter back and longer legs. Today, the American Cocker Spaniel is visibly a different breed from the English Cocker Spaniel. The American Cocker Spaniel’s face is one of the most recognizable in the canine world, with round, full, intelligent eyes, a rounded head, a broad muzzle, and hanging ears.
The Cocker Spaniel’s body is sturdy and compact; he is an athlete and should be ready for action at all times. The coat is short on the head and medium length on the body. The legs are well-feathered. The acceptable colors include black, black and tan, cream, red, brown, and even party-colors. The tail is docked. Grooming is a big part of Cocker Spaniel ownership. The silky coat requires daily brushing and combing; ignoring the coat will result in a matted mess. Many pet owners keep the coat trimmed short for ease of care. You will also need to check and clean the ears on a regular basis, at least twice weekly. The coat requires trimming every four to six weeks.
Cocker Spaniels are active dogs; bred to run in the field, they need a long, vigorous walk or a good run every day. Cockers shouldn’t be allowed to run free outside of a fenced-in yard, however, as many have retained their hunting instincts. If a rabbit or squirrel dashes past, they will be off after it. Most Cockers enjoy a game of fetch and canine sports, especially agility and flyball. Early socialization is important. Although Cockers should be happy extroverts, some can be a little on the shy and fearful side. When they are introduced to a variety of people, other dogs, and the sights and sounds of the world, this tendency can be diminished.
Training is important for both the Cocker and his owner, as Cockers are excellent at manipulating their owners. That wonderful head and those expressive eyes can get to anyone, but Cocker Spaniels, just like all other dogs, need to learn household rules and social manners. A well-trained, well-socialized Cocker Spaniel can be a wonderful playmate for kids. Sturdy enough to play yet small enough not to be overpowering, Cockers will play with the kids and then take a nap curled up with them. Most Cocker Spaniels are also good with other family pets, although interactions should be supervised; many Cocker Spaniels want to chase anything that runs. Major health concerns include eye defects, knee problems, car- diomyopathy, hypothyroidism, and hip and elbow dysplasia.
Cocker Spaniels were bred as gun dogs; to use their sense of smell to cover low areas near the handler in order to flush birds into the air to be shot, and to use their eyes and nose to locate the bird once downed, and then to retrieve the bird with a soft mouth. The major differences between the English and American varieties is that the American is smaller with a shorter back plus a domed head and a shorter muzzle, while the English variety is taller with a narrower head and chest.