Ever since Tramp fell in love with Lady, cocker spaniels have been one of America's favorite dog breeds thanks to their soulful eyes, long and silky ears, and feathered legs that blow in the wind as they run. Originally bred as a hunting dog, the cocker spaniel today is most likely found on the couch as a cherished family pet.
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The smallest of the sporting spaniels, cockers have a big personality with a misunderstood temperament. Cocker spaniels actually come in two varieties: the American cocker spaniel and the English cocker spaniel. Both are similar in temperament though slightly different in size and conformation.
Cocker spaniel temperament
Cocker spaniels have been unfairly associated with snappy dogs, but a well-socialized cocker is usually calm, friendly, and approachable. It's important to get your cocker spaniel puppy from a source you're certain is not a puppy mill. Unfortunately, many overbred and undersocialized dogs often have temperament issues due to the conditions in which they were raised, and this is especially true if the breeds are popular and in high demand.
Also, both American cocker spaniels and English cocker spaniels are sensitive dogs and require positive training and reinforcement. Harsh reprimands will impact the temperament of these dogs, especially as puppies. Fortunately, cockers are sturdy and resilient, often becoming very attached to those who treat them well and spend a lot of time with them. These are not dogs who do well if left alone for long periods of time.
American cocker spaniels
The American cocker spaniels, like the English cocker spaniels, are energetic, busy dogs who thrive on attention and activity. Eager to please if trained using positive reinforcement methods, they do well at agility, flyball, and dock jumping. Some even train as therapy dogs.
Because the American cocker is slightly smaller than the English cocker, they are a little more portable and agile. The American cocker head is slightly wider, and the eyes are round, giving the breed a life-long puppy face. Regarding temperament, they are generally happy dogs who are not easily bothered, but they can be excitable and are prone to submissive urination issues.
English cocker spaniels
If you're looking for a slightly larger cocker spaniel, then the English cocker spaniel is for you. This spaniel body is slightly taller and wider than the American cocker, but the head appears slightly smaller thanks to a narrower skull and close-lying ears. English cocker spaniels are usually 15 to 17 inches in height at the shoulder.
The English cocker spaniel eyes are more almond shaped than round. The happy-go-lucky temperament, however, is similar to an American cocker spaniel. After all, "free and merry" is actually a breed standard, which is a characteristic necessary in the show ring. "Balanced" is a word often used to describe English cocker spaniels because they are both balanced in physical composition and temperament. English cockers are known to make good family pets, and they have a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years.
Cocker spaniel facts
The breed's name refers to a bird — a woodcock — that the dog was originally bred to hunt. Spaniels flush birds out of tall grass for the benefit of hunters. You can expect your cocker spaniel to be very attracted to birds or distracted by birds even to this day. Also, although single-coated, they have hair, not fur, and are not considered to be hypoallergenic.
Cockers spaniels have appeared in the dog show ring since 1880, but it wasn't until 1940 that the American Kennel Club recognized American cocker spaniels and English cocker spaniels as separate breeds. However, both types of cocker spaniels are so closely related that they're similar in disposition.