American Cocker Spaniel: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

brown and white American cocker spaniel

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The American cocker spaniel is a small sporting dog breed from the United States that has a long, silky coat; big, expressive eyes; and long, furry ears. In the U.S., this breed typically is just referred to as the cocker spaniel. But, outside of the U.S., it’s known as the American cocker spaniel to differentiate it from its close cousin, the English cocker spaniel. The American cocker is the smallest breed in the American Kennel Club’s Sporting group. It was bred to hunt but also to be a loving family companion.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Sporting

HEIGHT: 13.5 to 14.5 inches (female), 14.5 to 15.5 inches (male)

WEIGHT: 20 to 25 pounds (female), 25 to 30 pounds (male)

COAT: Long, silky double coat

COAT COLOR: Combinations of black, tan, white, brown, red, silver, buff, and brown roan with/without roan and merle markings

LIFE SPAN: 10 to 14 years

TEMPERAMENT: Affectionate, gentle, companionable


ORIGIN: United States

Characteristics of the American Cocker Spaniel

American cocker spaniels typically have very affectionate and friendly personalities with a gentle temperament. Many tend to love kids and even other dogs. They are moderately energetic and enjoy playtime with their humans.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the American Cocker Spaniel

The American cocker spaniel's ancestors hail from England, where spaniels of different body types were routinely classified by weight rather than lineage. The larger, heavier dogs were called field spaniels or springer spaniels, and the smaller dogs were called cocker spaniels.

Breeders in the United States refined and standardized the American cocker as a distinct breed from its similar English cocker spaniel cousin. The American cocker is smaller and has a shorter muzzle and more profuse coat. The English and Canadian kennel clubs recognized the American and English cockers as separate breeds in 1940. And while the American Kennel Club first recognized the cocker spaniel in 1878, it didn’t list the American and English cockers as separate until 1946.

In the United States, the American cocker spaniel’s popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years. It was exceedingly popular from the 1930s to the 1950s. Disney’s 1955 animated film Lady and the Tramp even featured an American cocker spaniel as the sweet and gentle Lady.

Actors Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz with their three cocker spaniels sitting on a couch
Actors Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz with their three cocker spaniels in the 1950s

Archive Photos / Getty Images 

black-and-white 1960s photo of a cocker spaniel in a car with a person next to it

Kirn Vintage Stock / Corbis via Getty Images 

American Cocker Spaniel Care

American cocker spaniels require a moderate amount of exercise, as well as early and consistent training and socialization. They also have fairly high grooming needs.


Although American cocker spaniels are moderately energetic, they don’t need hours of daily exercise like some other sporting breeds. Their small size is an asset in this department. At least an hour of exercise per day should suffice via walks, games of fetch, and other playtime. Your cocker might also enjoy short jogging sessions, hiking, and really any activity where it can spend time with its favorite humans. To give it both a physical and mental challenge, consider training for a dog sport, such as agility or flyball.


Cockers require a lot of upkeep on their coat if you intend to keep it long. If you’re new to the breed, discuss proper grooming with a vet or professional groomer. It’s ideal to brush daily with a comb and then a brush to remove loose fur and tangles. Otherwise mats can easily form. You also can opt for a shorter puppy cut, which requires less frequent brushing. 

Baths are often required every one to two weeks, depending on how long the coat is and how dirty your dog gets. Be sure to rinse out shampoo thoroughly to prevent skin irritation, and then dry the coat with a dryer that's warm but not hot.

Thoroughly dry your dog’s ears anytime they get wet to help prevent infection. And check them ideally once or twice a week for any abnormalities. In addition, aim to brush your cocker’s teeth every day. And check its nails roughly once a month to see whether they need a trim.


Cockers are usually eager to please and respond well to positive training methods. Avoid harsh corrections, as they can cause this sensitive breed to shut down and not learn. Start with puppy training classes to teach your dog basic obedience and manners. This will help to prevent bad habits from forming. 

Also, aim to socialize your dog from as young of an age as possible to ensure it’s well-adjusted. Expose it to different people, other dogs, and various locations.

pile of American cocker spaniel puppies
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buff American cocker spaniels
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head of tricolor American cocker spaniel
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Common Health Problems

American cocker spaniels are prone to some hereditary health issues, including:

Diet and Nutrition

Your dog should always have access to fresh water. And you should feed a quality, nutritionally balanced canine diet. It’s typical to feed two measured meals per day. But be sure to discuss the type of food and amount with your veterinarian. Cockers love to eat, so it’s important to closely monitor their total daily food intake, including treats, to prevent them from becoming overweight.

Where to Adopt or Buy an American Cocker Spaniel

The American cocker spaniel is a relatively popular dog breed in North America. So be sure to check local animal shelters and breed-specific rescue groups for a dog in need of a home. If you're looking for a puppy from a reputable breeder, expect to pay around $700 to $2,000, though this can vary widely based on appearance and other factors.

For further information to help you find a cocker spaniel, check out:

American Cocker Spaniel Overview

  • Sweet and affectionate

  • Generally does well around children

  • Good for small spaces

  • High grooming needs

  • Prone to becoming overweight

  • Prone to ear infections

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Do diligent research to determine whether an American cocker spaniel is right for your lifestyle. Talk to breed owners, rescue groups, reputable breeders, and veterinarians. If possible, spend some time around cocker spaniels as well.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

  • What’s the difference between an American cocker spaniel and an English cocker spaniel?

    The American cocker spaniel is a distinct breed from the English cocker. The American cocker typically is smaller overall and has a shorter muzzle. It also generally has a slightly calmer and more loving demeanor than the English cocker.

  • Are American cocker spaniels good family dogs?

    American cocker spaniels can be excellent family dogs as long as they are properly trained and socialized. They tend to be gentle with children but should always be supervised around young kids.

  • Are American cocker spaniels good apartment dogs?

    American cocker spaniels typically can do well in apartments, as long as they get out every day to stretch their legs. They don't require a lot of space to play, and they tend to be adaptable and open to meeting strangers.

Article Sources
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  1. Cocker Spaniel Health. The American Spaniel Club.

  2. Cocker Spaniel Puppies and Dogs. Adopt a Pet.