English Cocker Spaniel: Dog Breed Profile

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

Black and white ticked English Cocker Spaniel against green background

 www.bridgetdavey.com / Getty Images

The English cocker spaniel is a devoted companion, equally capable of hard work or happy family life. All spaniels were originally bred from the same lines, but the English cocker spaniel stands out today for its well-proportioned appearance and friendly disposition. With plenty of energy but a calm demeanor, the English cocker spaniel makes a great family pet.

Breed Overview

Group: Sporting   

Height: 16 to 17 inches (males); 15 to 16 inches (females)

Weight: 28 to 34 pounds (males); 26 to 32 pounds (females)   

Coat and Color: Silky coat of medium length with feathering on ears, legs, and torso. The coat comes in many solid colors, including black, red, liver, and golden. Markings can be tan or white. Parti-color coats are white with black, liver, or red coloring.

Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

Characteristics of the English Cocker Spaniel

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

History of the English Cocker Spaniel

The English cocker spaniel descends from a larger group of hunting dogs bred in Britain and beyond to be reliable and loyal field companions. Spaniels, whose early origins may date back as far as the 16th century, were particularly prized for their ability to assist with hunting game birds and waterfowl. Any given litter could produce both cocker spaniels—smaller dogs adept at hunting woodcock birds—and springer spaniels, prized for their ability to cause birds to ‘spring’ out from their hiding places. Initially, the only differentiation between the two classifications was based on the size of the dog.

In the 1890’s, however, the spaniel family was split in two, with recognition for both the cocker spaniel and springer spaniel. The breeds began to be independently developed and bred. Within the cocker spaniel breed, further differentiation in type became evident. In the United States, a smaller, slightly blockier and furrier version of the spaniel came into popularity. Termed the American cocker spaniel, these dogs stand in contrast to the slightly larger English spaniel bred with longer legs, a shorter back, and less fur.

In 1935, the split was made official when the AKC granted official recognition to the English cocker spaniel as an independent breed. Today, this devoted pet remains a popular breed on both sides of the pond.

Even England’s royal family appreciates the nobility of this breed. Prince William and Kate Middleton own an English cocker spaniel named Lupo—bred from a dog owned by her parents. 

Two women and three English cocker spaniels on boat, black and white photo
English cocker spaniels enjoying a boating holiday in England, 1935. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Getty Images

English Cocker Spaniel Care

The English cocker spaniel isn’t a high-maintenance dog breed, but does require some special consideration to be a happy, healthy pet. As part of the sporting group, these dogs have seemingly tireless energy and need an outlet for it. Plan to give your English cocker spaniel a lengthy walk each day or take him for a run. Without adequate exercise, they can become anxious or destructive. While these dogs can keep up with you outside for hours on end, they’re happy to rest and relax inside the home.

They’re eager to please their owners, so training is usually not too difficult with this breed. However, they have a sensitive nature and need plenty of positive reinforcement. Harsh training methods can cause fear and anxiety, and may contribute to undesirable behaviors like submissive urination or separation anxiety. If you’re a hunter, these sporting dogs seem to be naturals at their job and understand their role with relative ease.

Aside from daily exercise, regular grooming is likely the biggest investment of time you’ll make in your English cocker spaniel. The medium-length silky hair that gives these dogs such a beautiful coat can easily become matted. It also is subject to shedding.

The more you can brush and maintain the coat, the easier it is to control excessive shedding. To keep the coat looking it’s best, most owners of English cocker spaniels take their dog to a groomer on a recurring basis. The hair around the legs and torso often needs to be trimmed to avoid becoming unruly.

You’ll also need to regularly check your spaniel’s ears for strange odors or excessive wax buildup. Dirt and bacteria can become trapped inside the ear canal, and these dogs are sometimes prone to ear infections as a result.

Black and tan english cocker spaniel puppy on wood floor
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Golden English cocker spaniel in woods
Andriano_cz/Getty Images 
Brown English Cocker Spaniel with Pheasant in Mouth
Urbancow/Getty Images 

Common Health Problems

English cocker spaniels aren’t exempt from the health problems that sometimes plague purebred dogs. For this breed, be on the lookout for the following conditions:

To minimize the probability of having a dog with one or more of these health problems, look for a breeder that can provide clear test results for the hips and knees from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and clear eye results from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation for each parent dog. There also is a test for hearing available from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals that measures brainstem audiotry evoked response (BAER) and may be important if you’re considering a parti-colored English cocker spaniel.

Diet and Nutrition

Feed your pup a well-balanced and nutritionally complete dog food for optimal health and well-being. Whether you choose a conventional kibble diet, incorporate wet food, or opt for a raw diet, be alert for indications of an allergic reaction, which plagues some spaniels. If your dog has food allergies or sensitivities, you might opt for a limited-ingredient diet.

Keep a close eye on the weight of your English cocker spaniel. The breed can be prone to obesity if overfed and under-exercised.

Pros

  • Loyal family dog that does well with adults and children alike

  • Trainable and eager to please their owner

  • Possesses surprising stamina and endurance for their relatively compact size

Cons

  • Medium length coat requires regular grooming and sheds considerably

  • May suffer from separation anxiety and destructive behaviors if left alone for too long

  • Prone to knee, hip, and eye problems, along with skin issues and tumors

Where to Adopt or Buy an English Cocker Spaniel

When searching for an English cocker spaniel, first consider contacting rescue groups in your area. A surprising number of purebred dogs end up in shelters and rescues because of owner circumstance.

If you do opt to purchase a puppy from a breeder, be wary of backyard breeders. Instead, look for breeders that can provide health clearances for the parents of a litter and extensive information on your prospective puppy.

Some good resources to start with include:

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

An English cocker spaniel just might be your perfect fit, but make sure you take the time to thoroughly research the breed and decide if this canine is the one for you. Experienced breeders and owners can be a great resource for questions on trainability, energy requirements, and more. 

You might also be interested in learning more about these similar breeds: