American Cocker Spaniel: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

American Cocker Spaniel
The American Cocker Spaniel is cheerful and gentle.

Getty Images 

One of the happiest dogs you’ll ever meet, and known for its charming and outgoing temperament, the American Cocker Spaniel loves to make friends. This breed is the smallest in the AKC Sporting Group, which is comprised of spaniels, retrievers and pointers. It was originally bred to assist with hunting a type of wading bird called woodcock, flushing (scaring birds up into the air), and retrieving, sometimes in water. Today’s American Cocker Spaniel is no longer a popular hunting breed, but it shines as a family companion. 

In the United States, the breed is simply called the Cocker Spaniel, but outside the U.S., it is known as the American Cocker Spaniel to distinguish it from its close cousin, the English Cocker Spaniel. Likewise, the English Cocker Spaniel is known as the Cocker Spaniel in its native England. 

Boisterous yet gentle, affectionate and fun-loving, the American Cocker Spaniel has earned a reputation as an excellent family dog. This small but sturdy dog is generally wonderful with respectful children, and they love being involved in fun family outings. In fact, a Cocker in the house might feel a bit like a second shadow as they want to be with you as much as possible. These dogs don’t need too much space, so American Cockers can be a good choice for those with smaller homes or apartments as long as they get enough outdoor exercise. 

Breed Overview

Group: Sporting

Weight: 20 to 30 pounds

Height: 14 to 15 inches tall at the shoulder

Coat: Silky and flat or slightly wavy. Short and fine on the head, medium length on the body, and well-feathered on the ears, chest, belly, and legs.

Colors: Black, ASCOB (any solid color other than black) or parti-color (black and white, brown and white, red and white, and tri-color)

Characteristics of the American Cocker Spaniel

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 High
Amount of Shedding High

History of the American Cocker Spaniel

The American Cocker Spaniel’s ancestors hailed 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 smaller dogs called cocker spaniels. However, the American Cocker Spaniel was refined and standardized as a separate breed in the United States.

It was one of the original nine breeds registered with the American Kennel Club when the organization formed in 1878, and the American Spaniel Club (originally called the American Cocker Spaniel Club) created written breed standards to define how an ideal Cocker Spaniel should look, act and move. 

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

The breed reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the 1980s, when Cocker Spaniels were the most registered purebred dogs in the United States for nearly two decades. Today, the American Cocker Spaniel ranks 28th in popularity according to AKC breed registration statistics.

Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz with their three Cocker Spaniel dogs circa 1950s.
Actress Lucille Ball and her husband actor Desi Arnaz with their three Cocker Spaniel dogs circa 1950s. Archive Photos/Getty Images 
American Cocker Spaniel 1960
American Cocker Spaniels have long been popular pets in the U.S. (seen here circa 1960). Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images 

American Cocker Spaniel Care

The American Cocker Spaniel’s beautiful coat requires significant upkeep if you intend to keep it long. All American Cocker’s need regular baths and haircuts. You can take your Cocker to a professional groomer or learn to do it yourself.

When the coat is left long, it should be bathed and dried somewhat frequently—once a week or every other week. Or, you can opt for a short “puppy cut,” which is much easier to care for, needing less brushing and bathing to keep it clean and untangled. Keep in mind, the longer the coat, the more mud and debris your Cocker will track into the house. 

American Cocker Spaniels have long, heavily coated, drop ears, which are prone to developing ear infections. To keep these at bay, lift the ear flaps and inspect the ears every few days. Any redness, wax or odor must be addressed quickly. Clean the ears weekly with a pet-safe ear cleanser. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a good product and show you how to clean the ears properly. 

Although American Cocker Spaniels are energetic, they don’t need hours of daily exercise like some other sporting breeds. Their small size is an asset in this department, as they can easily burn off energy with daily vigorous walks and games of fetch in the yard. Your Cocker Spaniel might also enjoy short jogging sessions, hiking, and swimming. If you’re feeling up for a challenge, consider training for a dog sport like agility, flyball or dock jumping. 

The American Cocker Spaniel is an intelligent breed and can be readily trained as long as you approach things in the right way. Cocker Spaniels truly want to please you, and these gentle-natured dogs can be quite sensitive, so use positive training methods, like clicker training. American Cocker Spaniels love food, which is a great motivator for training.

Barking can be a concern with some Cocker Spaniels. In fact, the American Spaniel Club calls them “living doorbells.” This is great if you want a dog to alert you to strangers approaching your home, but left unchecked it may be problematic.

With proper socialization, most Cockers get along great with people, other dogs, and possibly even cats if raised together. 

American Cocker Spaniel puppies
If you desire an American Cocker Spaniel puppy, search out a reputable breeder. Getty Images 
Buff American Cocker Spaniels
These buff American Cocker Spaniels are classified as ASCOB (any solid color other than black).  Getty Images
American Cocker Spaniel
Tri-color American Cocker Spaniels are black, white and tan. Getty Images 

Common Health Problems

As with all breeds, certain genetically linked diseases have been identified in this breed. The American Spaniel Club recommends that all American Cocker Spaniels have screenings for hip dysplasia and eye health before being bred.

The recommended tests and exams include hip X-rays interpreted by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), and an ophthalmology examination conducted by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.

Diet and Nutrition

American Cocker Spaniels have big appetites. If allowed to overeat, Cockers are at risk of becoming overweight. Too much weight can contribute to the development of hip and elbow dysplasia, and also causes other health problems like diabetes.

In light of this, don’t leave food out all day for your dog to graze on (referred to as free-feeding). Instead, feed your adult American Cocker Spaniel two meals at scheduled times (morning and evening), measuring the food portions with a cup or scale.

If you’re not sure what or how much to feed your Cocker Spaniel, consult with your veterinarian or breeder for advice.

Pros
  • Sweet and affectionate

  • Great for families 

  • Good for small spaces

Cons
  • Needs professional grooming

  • Barking can be an issue

  • Prone to ear infections

Where to Adopt or Buy an American Cocker Spaniel

Although the American Cocker Spaniel is not as popular as it was in past decades, it’s not too hard to find one in the United States.

If adoption appeals to you, you are likely to find American Cocker Spaniels and Cocker Spaniel mixes in local animal shelters and through private rescue groups. For an American Cocker Spaniel puppy, you’ll want to seek out a reputable breeder. The American Spaniel Club provides a list of member breeders in good standing on its website. 

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you like the American Cocker Spaniel, you might also like these breeds:

Otherwise, check out all of our other dog breed articles to help you find the perfect dog for you and your family.