Is the English Cocker Spaniel a Good Companion?

Last Updated on April 26, 2023

Popular in various countries around the world, the English Cocker Spaniel is known for its luscious, silky coat, large expressive eyes, and affectionate personality.

But as a born and bred hunter, does the English Cocker Spaniel also make a good companion?

Purebred English Cocker Spaniel portrait

Keep reading to find out more about this beautiful breed, which goes by simply Cocker Spaniel, Cocker, or the acronym ECS.

Where did the English Cocker Spaniel originate? 

Spaniels have been around for a good number of years, even referenced in the works of famous authors, such as Shakespeare and Chaucer.

The Spaniel family contains a large variety of different types of dogs, trained for highly specialized tasks. 

Back in the day, Spaniels of various sizes were classified into two types, water Spaniels or land Spaniels. English Cocker Spaniels were in the land variety and were initially organized by size, under 25 pounds (11 kg)

However, near the end of the 19th century, breeders began classifying spaniels into specific breeds, including the Irish Water Spaniel, Welsh Springer Spaniel, Sussex Spaniel, and Clumber Spaniel.

The English Cocker Spaniel was organized with the English Springer Spaniel until separated into their own breed around 1870. 

At this stage, it was decided that breed was more important than weight, and so in 1885, the England Spaniel Club was formed to create breed standards for each type of Spaniel.

The English Cocker Spaniel Club of America only came much later in 1936. Today, they are the smallest breed in the gundog group. 

The English Cocker Spaniel took their name from the woodcock game bird, which the breed was used to find, flush and hunt.

Alongside hunting woodcock, these sporting dogs were also used for tracking various other types of birds.

They proved to be fantastic retrievers adept at hunting in rugged terrain and soft mouths that wouldn’t hurt the catch. 

Did you know that Lady, from the popular book and film Lady and The Tramp, is a Cocker Spaniel? Royals Prince William and Kate Middleton also have an English Cocker Spaniel gifted to them as a wedding present.

Also, former US presidents John F. Kennedy, Harry S. Truman, and Rutherford B. Hayes, all had Cocker Spaniels.

What does an English Cocker Spaniel look like?

Cute English Cocker Spaniel dog
Source: @cockerbabette / IG

Although small, the English Cocker Spaniel is a sturdy dog. They are small enough to hunt in small bushes and also to snuggly sit in your lap.

These short-coupled dogs have a body that is slightly longer than it is tall with a compact build. They have a powerful gait, a long head with a square muzzle, and sometimes a docked tail.

Two of their most recognizable features are their soft, round, dark brown eyes known for their melting expression, while their long ears are also characteristic of this breed.

The ears of a Cocker, which are set low on the face, should reach the nose tip when pulled forward. 

Check out this super cute video of a Cocker Spaniel from a puppy to two years old to see what your dog will look like as it grows up:

Working Cocker vs. Show Cocker

There are two different types of English Cocker Spaniel, those bred as working dogs and those bred for show.

Typically working or field Cockers will have a shorter coat, with light feathering on the chest, ears, and legs. Their ears, although still long, can be lifted up when on alert.

Although larger and less agile than conformation show-bred Cockers, their body will also be strong and powerful, capable of carrying prey up to a third of their body weight and leaping walls.

Bred for work, this strain of ECS will have an intense hunting and prey drive. 

On the other hand, Cocker Spaniels bred for the show ring have very low set ears, which can even drag on the ground when drinking and eating. Their silky coat will also be profuse with lots of feathering on the belly and legs. 

American Cocker Spaniel vs English Cocker Spaniel

Portrait of American Cocker Spaniel dog
Meet the gorgeous American Cocker Spaniel dog

Once considered the same breed, American Cocker Spaniels were listed as a separate breed from the English Cocker around 1930.

At this time, American breeders were selecting smaller dogs with a more rounded face, shorter muzzle, and fluffier, feathered coat. The two varieties were recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1946. 

While the English Cocker Spaniel is still found today out hunting in the field, the smaller American Cocker is a pure companion and show pet.

Although the American Cocker Spaniel is the more popular breed in the United States, the English variant is more well known throughout the rest of the world, being extremely successful as a pet and show dog in the United Kingdom. 

Don’t miss out: Different Types of Spaniels

How big do English Water Spaniels get?

English Cocker Spaniel dog sitting on the carpet

English Cocker Spaniels stand between 15 and 17 inches (38 and 43 cm) tall at the withers and weigh between 26 and 34 pounds (12 and 15 kg), with females typically being 1 to 2 inches (2 to 5 cm) shorter and 2 to 4 pounds (1 to 2 kg) lighter than males of the breed. 

As a small breed, English Cocker Spaniels are well suited to various environments, including apartment-style living, provided they are given adequate daily exercise.

As family loving pets, English Cocker Spaniels will want to be indoors with their owners and are not well suited to life outside or in a kennel. 

What type of coat does an English Cocker Spaniel have?

English Cocker Spaniels are known for their characteristic medium-length coat. Their silky coat can either be wavy or flat and typically has feathering on the ears, legs, chest, and belly.

Young English Cocker Spaniel chewing soccer ball toy

The feathering helps to protect their body when hunting in rough bushes, preventing injury. However, the feathering should not be too long that it causes them to get stuck or becomes a nuisance. 

The coat of the English Cocker Spaniel comes in numerous colors, including solid black, red, or liver.

Black and tan and liver and tan are common variants, as are parti-color Cockers, which have shades of red or white with black and liver.

Any colored Cocker Spaniel can have tan markings on the rump, throat, muzzle, feet, and eyebrows.

Blue roan Cocker Spaniels are some of the most in-demand when it comes to color. In this case, the coat is white, speckled with black. Liver and red roan are also sought after but very rare.

Are English Cocker Spaniels good family dogs?

Beautiful woman with her English Cocker Spaniel dog

Great companion dogs and fabulous around children, English Cocker Spaniels are known for their friendly, fun-loving personalities.

These gentle dogs make great pets for families of any age, and their happy disposition makes them a pleasure to be around.

They are people-oriented pups that are very affectionate, eager to please, and thrive on attention.

As a result, they can suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for too long, leading to destructive tendencies such as digging and chewing. 

English Cocker Spaniels also enjoy the company of other dogs and even can get along with cats. Just be wary of their hunting instincts, causing them to chase small animals, such as bunnies, squirrels, and birds. 

The good news is that as highly intelligent dogs and fast learners, they are easily trainable. Because of their loving natures, positive reward-based training works best.

These field spaniels will respond well to treats, play, praise, and plenty of cuddles. You want to try and not break the sensitive spirit of this breed.

However, they have been known to have a naughty, even stubborn side, particularly when it comes to disobeying commands and not coming when called. 

Do English cocker spaniels bark a lot?

English Cocker Spaniels are known to bark at noises and strangers, although this is not a desirable trait.

Working dogs may be more susceptible to yapping, especially when excited while barking could also be a sign that your dog requires company.

Despite their ability to bark, Cocker Spaniels are not known to be good watchdogs. They will alert you to strange noises but will be far too friendly to unwanted intruders. 

How to take care of your English Cocker Spaniel

English Cocker Spaniel running on the meadow

Just like in appearance, working Cocker Spaniels have different maintenance and care requirements than their show counterparts.

Knowing what type of English Cocker Spaniel you have will enable you to care for them adequately. 

Due to the breed’s history being used as a hunting dog in the United Kingdom, they are adaptable to various environments, including different temperatures.

Cocker Spaniels can handle cold weather, just not extremes, while also doing fine in warm temperatures, provided it doesn’t get overly hot. They are best suited to mild climates.

Exercising your English Cocker Spaniel

Both working and show Cocker Spaniels are lively dogs that love to be exercised. They have a lot of stamina and energy and need daily activity to stay healthy and entertained. 

Puppies will love puppy school, providing them with the training and socialization this breed needs from a young age. English Cocker Spaniel puppies will also benefit from 15 to 20 minutes of playtime every day.

From around four months, alongside obedience classes and playtime, you can also try taking your dog for a daily walk of about 0.5 miles (800 meters). 

As they get to a year old, Cocker Spaniels will enjoy jogs of around one mile (1.5 km). This length can be increased as your dog matures, and their bones and joints develop fully.

Fully grown Cocker Spaniels will have a high energy level, particularly working Cockers who require more stimulation than their show counterparts.

If you are active and busy and want a dog that will keep up with you on the go, then a working English Cocker Spaniel is the way to go. These dogs will love fast, long walks or jogs, playtime, including fetch. 

Due to their excellent trainability, Cockers also perform well in agility, obedience, and tracking tasks.

However, their hunting instincts mean they should be kept on a leash when out for a walk and need to be trained early to come to you when you call.

How bad do Cocker Spaniels shed?

English Cocker Spaniel dog grooming
Source: @jade.grooms.dogs / IG

English Cocker Spaniels have an average shedding level and are thus not considered a hypoallergenic breed

To keep your Cocker Spaniel’s medium-length coat shiny and matt free, brushing two to three times a week will be required.

A broad brush works best on a Cocker Spaniel, and Furminator or tight brushes should be avoided. You may need to use your fingers on occasion to get rid of any knots or debris caught in the coat. 

The feathered sections of their coat will need to be trimmed, so they don’t drag on the ground or become unruly. This clipping around the head, ears, tail, and feet can be done every couple of months. 

The longer, more fluffy coat and long ears of a show Cocker Spaniel will require more maintenance than the working variety of this breed.

These show dogs’ fur may need to be stripped by hand or with a special stripping knife by a professional groomer. 

In addition to grooming the coat, the low hanging ears of a Cocker Spaniel need to be cleaned weekly. As these dogs are prone to ear infections, be sure to check for redness, itchiness, and foul odors when cleaning. 

The teeth should also be brushed twice a week to remove any tartar build-up, while the nails should be trimmed at least once a month.

English Cocker Spaniel food consumption

English Cocker Spaniel eating food

English Cocker Spaniels require 1 to 2 cups of kibble each day. This high-quality dry dog food should be split into two meals.

As this breed loves to eat, they can become obese quickly, so be sure to measure your dog’s food and not leave anything out that they can get into. 

Cocker Spaniels are known to raid the rubbish or pantry, particularly when puppies, as they have a curious side to their personalities. 

What health problems do English Cocker Spaniels have?

English Cocker Spaniel dog with the Veterinarian

English Cocker Spaniels have a lifespan of between 12 and 14 years. Although a generally healthy breed, there are a few health conditions to be aware of with these small dogs.

In particular, English Cocker Spaniels get ear infections because of their hanging ears, which retain moisture.

Alongside regular ear cleanings, be on the lookout for a Cocker that scratches its ears frequently or shakes its head, as this could be a sign of ear infection.

If your dog is displaying any of these tendencies, take them to the vet immediately. 

Congenital sensorineural deafness is also a disease that mainly affects parti-colored English Cocker Spaniels. The degenerative hearing disease present at birth can lead to your dog being completely deaf by four weeks. 

These dogs are also prone to developing eye diseases such as progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and cataracts.

Show cockers can also suffer from ectropion caused by their droopy eyelids and excess skin on the face. The drooping of the lower eyelids with this disease can be extremely painful for your dog and can lead to infection.

English Cocker Spaniels are also known to be more likely to develop mammary cancer than other dog breeds.

Also, pyometra is occasionally found in Cockers, causing the uterus of female dogs to become infected and inflamed. 

Spaying a female English Cocker Spaniel is thus recommended and will help protect your dog from developing these conditions. 

Other health problems to be aware of in English Cocker Spaniels include patellar luxation and dilated cardiomyopathy, causing heart muscle failure and is particularly prevalent in solid-colored Cockers.

Kidney disease is also sometimes inherited and can display at a young age, typically between 9 and 24 months.

When buying an English Cocker Spaniel puppy, you should also expect to see clearances for elbow and hip dysplasia, von Willebrand’s disease, and hypothyroidism from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and a test for thrombopathia from Auburn University. 

Eye tests should also be done by breeders, with all health clearances and certificates available on the OFA web site.

How much does an English Water Spaniel puppy cost?

English Cocker Spaniel puppies

English Cocker Spaniel puppies can cost between £400 and £600. Litter sizes typically consist of between five and seven puppies, although litters have been known to have as many as twelve puppies. 

Until recently, a single litter could have puppies of various sizes.

In the past, the puppy’s size, personality, and stamina would determine their spaniel-type and purpose; however, with breed standards now enforced, this is no longer the case. 

English Cocker Spaniel breeders

When looking for an English Cocker Spaniel breeder, always look for one that can provide you with all the required health tests.

Also, some breeders do additional tests, for example, testing dogs for deafness before breeding. Avoid puppy mills that have no concern for the health of the dogs. 

Also, look for parent breeds that are known for their longevity. The mother Cocker Spaniel may even give you a good indication of the potential personality of your pup.

The English Cocker Spaniel Club of America provides a wealth of information for choosing an ethical breeder, and the AKC’s Breeder of Merit program recognizes those that go above and beyond.

Try out these English Cocker Spaniel breeders in your area when looking for a puppy:

  • Ryglen Gundogs, Brownston, IL
  • Bellamy English Cocker Spaniels

English Cocker Spaniel rescue / for adoption

You might be lucky enough to find an English Cocker Spaniel available at an adoption center or looking for a home on a rescue site.

This is particularly the case when people are not aware of a show Cocker’s grooming needs or the exercise requirements of a working Cocker Spaniel.

If you are looking for a rescue English Cocker Spaniel, check out these Spaniel breed adoption sites that may have the perfect dog for you:

  • Camp Cocker, Los Angeles, CA
  • Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue
  • Cocker Spaniel Adoption Centre

Who should get an English Cocker Spaniel dog?

English Cocker Spaniel dog posing in the flower background

English Cocker Spaniels, both working and show variants, make great pets in the right home.

You need to be prepared to care for their grooming and exercise needs and be aware that you will be getting a vocal dog that will want to be around you all the time, requiring oodles of affection.

Do you have an English Cocker Spaniel of your own? Let us know in the comments below.

Further reading: Popular English Cocker Spaniel mixes

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