Category: Dog

The Cocker Spaniel temperament

These happy little dogs are much more than just a house pet. Behind the lovely draping ears and the silky coat is a skilled hunter who would do anything for his master. Here are some more aspects of the Cocker’s temperament that you might want to familiarize yourself with.

A calm nature

These Spaniels are a calm, composed breed that is rarely highly strung, aggressive or noisy. You shouldn’t find that your Cocker is an excessive barker – he will usually be quite happy relaxing at home and is certainly not a watch dog.


Many Cocker owners comment on their dog’s happy natures and the fact that their tails are constantly wagging, especially when they catch hold of an exciting scent! These dogs are frequently found with their noses to the ground and their tails going back and forth and are little balls of energy when they get going.

Needs company

The Cocker is a very sociable dog. Not only has he been bred to enjoy the company of other dogs, he also craves human company, and like all gun dogs he likes to have a close bond with his master. If you have a home where everyone goes to work or school for the day and there is no one left to keep a dog company, you should reconsider getting a dog, or perhaps look into getting two Cockers so that they can keep each other company during the day. Cocker Spaniels get on well with other breeds too, even dogs that are much larger than them.

A hunting instinct

The Cocker has been bred with a strong urge to chase small animals, so if you have other pets this may not be a wise choice of dog for you. Having said that, a Cocker that has been raised alongside a cat from a young age should get on fine with it as he will not see the cat as prey. This urge means that you’re going to need to be very careful when walking your Cocker near the duck pond. He will most certainly give chase as soon as he catches wind of wildfowl. When you’re in the countryside, you’ll also need to be very careful where and when you let your dog off the lead. The last thing you want is your little dog taking off through the undergrowth in pursuit of a scent and running out of earshot from you.

Good with children

The Cocker’s smaller size and his gentle persona make him an ideal companion for children. Just be careful that your child knows how to treat a dog and isn’t too rough.

Energetic, without being frenetic

Cockers love to romp and play, and they will happily take a long hike or an ambling stroll with you for as long as you want. They have plenty of stamina and have a heritage of covering long distances back when they were hunting dogs. However, the good news is that they will be relatively calm inside the home and are happy to settle down beside you in the evenings, after they have been walked and fed.

Looking after your Cocker Spaniel’s ears

The Cocker Spaniel’s gorgeous long ears make him very pleasing to the eye. However, they can be prone to infections and irritations from time to time. To prevent this, here are some important ways to look after your Cocker’s ears.

Inspect the ears daily

If you can spot problems before they get too serious, you’ll find them much easier to treat. So, take a good look at your Cocker’s ears on a daily basis. Lift them up and look inside. Are they clear of debris? Do they look healthy? Are they clean looking? Be sure to note any changes so that you can report them to the vet.

Watch out for parasites

Unfortunately, the Cocker’s long floppy ears make wonderful homes for parasites. Ear mites can often be found in the ear canal. You won’t see the mites themselves, but you’ll notice a brownish canker or crusting. Also watch out for brown or black ear wax that looks like coffee grounds.

Know the signs

Look out for the following signs of ill health in your Cocker Spaniel’s ears:

  • Blood inside the ear or in the ear wax
  • An unpleasant smell coming from the ears
  • Discharge from the ears
  • Any redness, swelling or inflammation
  • Hair loss in the ear area
  • Excess shaking of the head from side to side
  • Paws constantly rubbing at the ear

Wash the ears gently

When it’s time to wash your Cocker’s ears, remember to go gently and not to wash too often, as these are delicate organs that can be prone to irritation. In general, keep them free from debris but remember that a small bit of ear wax is perfectly normal. Here are some tips for washing the ears:

  • Use a cleaning solution that has been made especially for dog’s ears, if you can (if not, a little warm water will do)
  • Apply the lotion to a cotton wool ball and carefully wipe the insides of the ears
  • Don’t use cotton buds or try to insert these into the ear canal – the ears are far too delicate to risk this!
  • Don’t use too much fluid as you don’t want drips getting into the inner ear – once the ear is wet it can be very hard to remove the moisture and this will really bother your dog
  • If you like you can clip the hairs inside the ears – but only if you think they are causing a nuisance rather than protecting the ear
  • Clean until you can see the ear canal
  • Dry the ears with a paper towel afterwards
  • You might also want to clean the fur on the outside of the ears, as these can often trail in food and water bowels leaving them messy and dirty looking

How to tell what your Cocker Spaniel is thinking

Cocker Spaniels are a sensitive breed that like to be kept company for most of the day. If you’re a Cocker owner, you’ll want to know when something is bothering your little dog, or when something has made him happy. Here are the signs to look out for.

Your Cocker Spaniel is happy

Cocker Spaniels are famous for their happy-go-lucky natures and will generally be in good spirits unless they are feeling under the weather or something has made them uneasy. A happy Cocker has a relaxed posture. The tail will of course be wagging! You might also find that your Cocker appears to be smiling a little with his mouth slightly open and perhaps panting.

Your Cocker Spaniel is feeling playful

Younger Cockers will be especially playful on walks, and when they meet another dog they will usually want to invite them to play. One of the first invitations to play is the “play bow” where the dog sticks his bottom in the air and his front paws and head close to the ground. He might also run away to encourage the other dog to chase him. There will also be lot of bouncing around and running in circles. Be prepared for some barking and yelping!

Your Cocker Spaniel is scared

A fearful dog will often hunch over and try to make himself look smaller, a bit like when he’s going to the toilet. He might look away to show he is submissive and not a threat. Some Cockers have also been known to urinate when they feel particularly threatened. Don’t get angry if this happens – you’ll only make him feel even more fearful. Other signs of feeling nervous or fearful include licking the lips, and sometimes rolling onto the back to expose the belly (this shows other dogs he is being submissive).

Your Cocker Spaniel is dominant

In general most Cockers aren’t overly dominant. However, you may find one or two who take it upon themselves to display “top dog” behaviour. Look out for a Cocker that stands very tall and proud, and tries to stand over another dog. The tail will be held high and stiff and the dog might growl a bit.

Your Cocker Spaniel feels aggressive

It’s very rare to see a Cocker that is naturally aggressive, unless he has been mistreated or has a neurological disorder. However, look out for the classic sign of aggression which is when the teeth are bared and the muzzle wrinkles up in a snarl. Barking and growling will probably follow. It’s best to remove your Cocker from the situation completely if possible.

How to make your Cocker more confident

If your Cocker is fearful, submissive or prone to urinating when nervous, it’s a sign he probably isn’t as confident as he should be. A happy, well-socialized Cocker should feel he is an important member of your family and should be calm in most situations. If he isn’t then something needs to change. Here are some ways you can help.

Know the causes of submissive behaviour

A Cocker that is too submissive probably has a low self-esteem. Some things that can cause this include:

  • Being around overly-dominant dogs and having a “low ranking” in the doggy pack
  • Too much scolding and punishment for bad behaviour
  • A lack of praise and recognition for good behaviour
  • Injuries and mobility problems, making him feel less able to escape when threatened
  • Confinement in a crate for long periods of time (another form of punishment)
  • Neglect and lack of contact with humans or other dogs

Familiarise yourself with the pack hierarchy

Today’s domesticated dog is descended from the wolf. Wolves live in packs in the wild and they have a pack hierarchy where there is a dominant “alpha” male and lower ranking males. The alpha male gets to eat and mate first, and generally makes the pack decisions such as when to hunt and when to approach outsiders. If your Cocker is overly submissive it means he believes himself to be ranking too low within your family pack. To a certain extent it is healthy for dogs to believe they rank lower than you do – it means they won’t jump on the furniture or try to eat food from your plate. However, a balance needs to be struck or you will end up with a dog that is either over confident and dominant, or under confident and submissive.

Look for the signs of an overly submissive Cocker

You’ll know your Cocker is too submissive if he:

  • Urinates when stressed
  • Can’t be left alone without whining or crying
  • Isn’t confident with strangers and won’t approach people to be petted
  • Gets fearful with other dogs when out on walks

Take action to boost your Cocker’s self worth

If you want a happy, confident and calm Cocker you will need to take action and make him feel loved and important. Here are some rules you should stick to:

  • Lots of praise and affection is essential
  • Treats help to show him he’s loved (not too many though!)
  • Instead of reacting to bad behaviour such as urination, just ignore it (this tells your dog: “this behaviour serves no use whatsoever”)
  • Play lots of games to improve confidence – tug of war is a good one to let him win at!
  • Lots of exercise should keep your Cocker calm and happy
  • Keep your home as calm and happy as possible – Cockers are sensitive and are affected by their home environments

How to groom your Cocker Spaniel

The Cocker Spaniel’s long, silky coat can take two very different paths: you can either cultivate the long look and groom your Cocker in the style of a show dog, or you can keep the coat clipped shorter for practical reasons. Here are some good tips for grooming your Cocker.

The Cocker coat

The coat of the Cocker Spaniel tends to shed, but this can be minimized with regular grooming, which helps to remove the loose fur all in one go rather than leaving it to fall sporadically around your home over several days. Those who haven’t picked out a Cocker pup yet are in for a treat – the coat comes in a huge variety of colours!

Why is grooming so important?

Grooming holds the following benefits for your Cocker:

  • Keeps the coat free from matts
  • Keeps the coat looking clean and tidy
  • Removes fur which would otherwise litter your home
  • Spreads natural oils throughout the coat which keep it healthy
  • Allows you to check for parasites, skin conditions and unusual lumps
  • Allows you to check for changes in ears, eyes and paws

Because the Cocker Spaniel has a long, silky coat it will need more maintenance than shorter and rougher haired breeds. The coat actually helps to regulate a dog’s temperature, circulating cool air in summer and conserving heat in winter. If matts are allowed to build up in the coat, they can interfere with this important process. What’s more, they can trap moisture and lead to all sorts of nasties such as parasites and skin conditions. So, take the time to keep on top of grooming sessions and if you can’t do this, make sure your Cocker is booked in for regular trimming sessions at the doggy salon. Either that, or learn the art of clipping the coat yourself.

Get your grooming kit together

Here is a handy list of the equipment you’ll need to keep your Cocker clean and tidy:

  • A pin brush
  • A slicker brush
  • A metal comb
  • A flea comb
  • Trimming scissors
  • Dog specific shampoo
  • Towels
  • A non-slip matt
  • Nail clippers
  • Cotton wool for ears

If you’re going to take the plunge and try the long haired look, then you should probably also invest in a proper grooming table.

Grooming your Cocker

If you have been wise enough to teach your Cocker to stay still and be groomed from puppy-hood, you’ll find the process a whole lot easier. Many Cocker owners also like to teach their dogs to lie on their sides for the majority of the grooming session, making it much easier to carry out. Take a few minutes a day to brush the coat thoroughly and you shouldn’t have any issues with the build up of matts. Brush in the direction of hair growth, from nose to tail and pay special attention to those hard-to-reach areas like the armpits. Here are a few tips:

  • If you encounter a matt, brush it from the very outer edges and work inwards towards the skin to avoid too much discomfort
  • Never, ever bathe your Cocker with matts still in the fur. If you do, the matts will turn to felt and will almost certainly need to be cut out of the fur, leaving a big hole and exposing the skin
  • After bathing, never leave the coat to dry naturally – this can also lead to matts. Instead, gentle towel dry your dog and use a hair dryer on a low heat until the coat is dry.

History of the Cocker Spaniel

The delightful Cocker Spaniel is a popular little dog. If you’ve decided to get a Cocker, you’ll want to know all about his history and his ancestry. Here is some useful information.

Ancient dog history

Back in Roman times, a variety of dog types were bred to fulfill everyday tasks such as guarding property, hauling and hunting. From these dogs there emerged some distinct groups, including:

  • Guarding dogs
  • Shepherd dogs
  • Sporting dogs
  • War dogs
  • Scent dogs
  • Sight dogs

Many of these are the founding breeds of today’s modern dog types and most dogs can be traced back to one of the above categories. As you can guess, the Cocker Spaniel is probably descended from the scent dogs, or hounds as they were later known.

Hunting dogs

Hounds were developed to chase and hunt down prey until it was either cornered or exhausted, wherein it would be killed. However, hunters soon realized that these dogs could chase prey for miles, which wasn’t very productive for the purposes of catching food. Instead, some clever hunters began to breed dogs that would simply track down the scent of game and flush it out from the undergrowth, or wherever it happened to be hiding. This was before the days of guns, so sometimes these hunters trained hawks to catch wildfowl that had been flushed out by their dogs. These scent hounds were very obedient and were a little bit more composed, waiting patiently for their master’s commands. They had to have good temperaments and the ability to get on well with other dogs, because they were often brought out to hunt in groups.


By the Middle Ages, many of these dogs used for flushing out wildfowl originated from Spain. It’s thought that the word Spaniel came from the Latin word for Spain, which is Hispania, which later became “Spaniels”. From these early Spaniels came the English, Irish and Gordon Setters who were trained to drop close to the ground and remain there stock still until their masters came to trap their quarry with nets. As for the remaining Spaniels, they were trained to sniff out prey and they were bred to have a medium body size and powerful legs so that they could easily push their compact bodies through the undergrowth in search of game. Their long wavy coats protected their skin from brambles which fell from the fur easily rather than becoming lodged there. To stop their tails catching in the brush, their owners began the practice of docking their tails.

Cocker Spaniels

These Spaniels became known for their happy-go-lucky temperaments and their tendency to follow their masters everywhere. Some Spaniels became experts at tracking woodcock, and they were known as Cocking Spaniels. In the late 19th century, breeders set about separating the Spaniel breeds into different categories. The Cocking Spaniels became the Cocker Spaniels and they fell into this category if they weighed under 281b. Those that were more than 281b were the Field Spaniels, and separate again from these were the Water Spaniels.

The Cocker Spaniel was registered with the American Kennel Club in 1879. Much later, in 1946, breeders in America successfully established a further division within the Cocker Spaniel breed – there became a recognized English Cocker Spaniel as well as a separate, distinct American Cocker Spaniel. The American Cocker had longer legs and a shorter back than the English Cocker and there were far more of them in the U.S. Today, both breeds are extremely popular throughout the world.

Health conditions in the Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Spaniels may seem full of energy with a zest for life, but the reality is they can be prone to some health conditions if the come from a poor breeding line. Always choose a puppy from a responsible, health conscious breeder to avoid this. In addition, remember your Cocker is only going to be as healthy as you raise him to be – whilst you can’t avoid some hereditary conditions, the responsibility for his general health lies with you. With that said, here are some of the most common health conditions affecting Cocker Spaniels.

Eye conditions
Many Cocker Spaniels are prone to eye diseases like cataracts, where the clear part of the eye (the lens) becomes cloudy and obscured the vision. Cataracts can lead to blindness if left untreated for a long time, however, often the cataracts themselves can be removed with surgery. Progressive retinal atrophy is also a problem, where the retina degenerates and leads to blindness. Glaucoma, where there is pressure in the eyeball, can occur too. It’s a good idea to have a really good look at your Cocker’s eyes on a daily basis so you can spot any issues that arise early on.

When the thyroid gland is underactive it stops producing enough thyroid hormone. This leads to a range of symptoms such as weight gain and obesity, hair loss, a dull, brittle coat, lethargy, seizures and dark patches of skin. Medication can help to manage this lifelong condition.

An autoimmune condition where the dog’s body attacks the blood cells can result in this form of anaemia. Look out for lethargy, jaundice and pale coloured gums. This condition also affects the liver and causes it to become swollen.

Hip dysplasia
When the thigh bone fits too loosely into its socket in the hip joint, a condition called hip dysplasia results. This is painful for the dog and can later develop into arthritis. Dogs with hip problems will be less mobile and may have an odd gait. Lots of breeders screen for this condition – check if yours does before you choose your puppy. Surgery is sometimes an option.

Patellar Luxation
When the kneecap doesn’t fit properly into the knee socket, it slips in and out of place causing the dog pain. You might see a dog stopping to pop its knee back into place once in a while, and affected dogs can develop a hop or a limp.

Cockers can get epilepsy which is characterised by persistent seizures. However, there could be something more serious causing your dog to have seizures, so if your Cocker does start having them you should get him checked by a vet as soon as you can.

Cocker Spaniel pros and cons

Are you in the process of deciding whether to get a Cocker Spaniel? These sweet natured dogs are a firm favourite both in the UK and abroad. Like all breeds though, they aren’t 100% perfect. Here are some pros and cons you should weigh up before you choose this breed as your canine companion.

Cocker Spaniel pros

Here are some advantages that come with the Cocker:

  • Active but not demanding

    The Cocker Spaniel is well able to keep up with an energetic, active owner. However, he is equally happy to cuddle up in the evenings once he’s been fed and walked. He doesn’t need as much exercise as some of the larger breeds, although he will certainly love as many walks a day as you can fit in. Like all dogs, he loves to be out and about! Bear in mind though that if your Cocker comes from a field line (i.e. if he’s been bred from working dogs) he will need more exercise and will have more energy than usual.

  • Gets on well with strangers

    In general, the Cocker can be trusted to react well to strangers. He isn’t suspicious by nature and will be quite calm and friendly when introduced to new people. So, he’s a good dog to take with you on errands and to friends’ houses. In fact, the more you have him with you the happier he will be.

  • Conveniently sized

    These dogs aren’t too large to be unmanageable, yet they aren’t too small either. In fact, they are a good size dog to have if you have children – they are neither too fragile nor too intimidating. They can live just fine in apartments as long as they get plenty of walks.

  • Trustworthy

    You can usually trust the Cocker Spaniel with other dogs – he is rarely aggressive or dominant. Being a hunting dog, he was originally bred to be able to hunt in groups of dogs and is fairly happy to have other canine friends.

Cocker Spaniel cons

Here are some disadvantages to be aware of with the Cocker Spaniel:

  • A high maintenance coat

    If you choose to let your Cocker’s coat grow to its full length, you will need to groom him daily to keep the coat looking and feeling its best. You might also need to fork out for professional grooming services from time to time, especially if you’re not too confident in this department yourself. Also be aware that the coat sheds quite a bit. This probably isn’t the breed for people who are house proud!

  • Can develop separation anxiety

    The Cocker loves to be wherever you are. This means he may bark and whine when left alone, or start to act up when he sees you’re about to leave the house. In order to combat this, you’ll need to teach your pup from a young age that it’s ok to be left alone. However, bear in mind that dogs aren’t really meant to be left alone for long periods because they are pack animals – your Cocker has every right to be anxious if you leave him for eight hours at a time.

  • Can be nervous or submissive

    Cockers have a bit of a reputation for being nervous and they can sometimes urinate when they get too excited. This is an act of submission on their part. It’s important to fully socialise your Cocker pup so that he grows into a calm and confident adult dog.

  • Prone to barking

    Cocker Spaniel owners also report that this breed can be prone to excessive barking, and might bark to warn you of every little thing. However, this is again something that can be avoided with good breeding and good training from puppy-hood.

Cocker Spaniel FAQs

If you’ve fallen for this lovely, long-eared dog, you’ll probably want to know everything about the breed. Here are some frequently asked questions you might find useful.

What’s the difference between an American Cocker Spaniel and an English Cocker Spaniel?

The English Cocker is the original Cocker Spaniel, which tends to be taller with a longer muzzle and a narrower head and chest, which make him perfect for hunting wildfowl through the undergrowth. When the English Cocker was brought over to America, some breeders started favouring different physical traits over these traditional characteristics, and so the American Cocker was born. This newer variation on the breed was smaller with a shorter back, a shorter muzzle and a domed head. In 1946, the American Kennel Club recognised the English and the American Cockers as two distinct breeds.

What is the Cocker Spaniel temperament like?

The Cocker is gentle, sensitive and very good with children. He is a good family pet and also perfectly suitable for the elderly or frail.

What should I be wary about when it comes to the Cocker?

Cocker Spaniels are so popular that they can sometimes fall prey to back yard breeders who are only breeding to make a profit and don’t really care about the welfare of their dogs or the future of the breed. So, be extra careful when getting a Cocker pup – you’ll need to spend some time seeking out the most ethical, responsible and health conscious breeder you can find. If you choose the wrong kind of breeder you could end up with a Cocker that has health or behavioural problems.

Is it true that the Cocker is prone to problems with the ears?

Yes, to a certain extent the Cocker Spaniel is prone to infections and infestations in the ears. This is largely because the ears droop down and don’t get a lot of air circulation. They can also become dirty and matted if they trail in food or mud. It’s a good idea to take a look inside the ears every day so you can catch any issues early on.

Are Cocker Spaniels easy to train?

Cockers tend to be eager to please, gentle and not overly dominant. This makes them good candidates for training, as long as you use plenty of rewards.

Do Cocker Spaniels come with any behavioural problems?

Behavioural problems tend to be caused by poor ownership skills. So, as long as you get your pup from a good breeder, train and socialise him well from puppy-hood and treat him fairly, you should end up with a well-behaved dog. However, some Cocker owners note that this breed is sensitive, and can be nervous or submissive sometimes. Avoid any form of punishment or harsh treatment such as shouting at your dog, or you could end up with more issues than you bargained for.

How much grooming do Cocker Spaniels need?

The amount of grooming you’ll need to do will depend entirely on whether you choose to clip the fur short or leave it to grow to its full length. Long haired Cockers need daily brushing and regular visits to the grooming salon.

5 activities you can do with your Cocker Spaniel

If you and your dog are looking for some quality time together, you’re in luck! The Cocker Spaniel can turn his hand to many tricks, and is a great all-round dog in terms of his athletic ability and his temperament. Here are some activities that are just perfect for you and your Cocker.

Canine Good Citizen training

The Kennel Club has devised a series of tests designed to prove that your dog is an excellent and well behaved canine citizen. At the end of the tests, your dog will receive a certificate which can be really useful to show people if you want to bring your Cocker travelling, to your office or on public transport. In general, Cockers should excel at being good citizens because they have such a gentle, even temperament. You’ll need to put in some effort before you take the test – train all of the basic commands and some thorough socialisation. For full details, check the Kennel Club’s website.

Agility training

Cocker Spaniels are surprisingly good at agility, despite their smaller size. The Cocker loves to learn new things and please his master, so agility training is a fun hobby you can do together. Once your Cocker is trained and can complete a course of tunnels, weave poles, jumps and the like, you’ll be able to bring him to compete at agility trials. It’s a great way to mix with other dog owners and compare notes!


Your Cocker’s keen sense of smell and his passion for the chase means that he’s the perfect dog for tracking competitions and work. Search online for a local club that does tracking tests. Usually, they will involve testing a dog to see if he can track a person’s scent over a considerable distance, with several changes of direction.


For the more ambitious Cocker owners, there is always the option to try showing your dog in the ring.Of course, you’ll need to own a purebred and your dog will need to meet all of the various criteria with no faults in terms of anatomy, gait and temperament. You’ll need to put in a fair bit of work when it comes to your Cocker’s coat too! However, it can be a great way to meet with other Cocker owners as dogs tend to compete within their own breed categories.

Obedience classes and competitions

If you have a particularly well behaved and intelligent Cocker, you can take him to obedience classes and teach him a variety of commands and tricks. Later on, when your dog gets really good, you can have him compete with other dogs in obedience competitions.

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