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Key Breed Facts
Intelligence / Trainability
Children and Other Pets
Caring for a American Cocker Spaniel
Average Cost to keep/care for a American Cocker Spaniel
Breed Specific Buying Advice
American Cocker Spaniels are energetic, affectionate and kind natured, medium sized dogs that over the years have gained popularity both here in the UK and elsewhere in the world. They are the smallest of all sporting spaniel breeds having been originally bred as gundogs, American Cockers are a great choice for families with children because of their sweet personalities, but they are also a good choice as companion dogs too.
There is a striking difference between an American Cocker and an English Cocker Spaniel even though they share the same ancestry. The most noticeable differences are seen in the shape of their heads and the length of their coats, with the American Cocker boasting a much rounder skull, larger, fuller eyes and longer coat than their English Cocker Spaniel cousins. Traditionally, American Cocker Spaniels had their tails docked, but this practice has now been banned unless the procedure is carried out for medical reasons.
American Cockers were bred to be working gundogs way back in the 17th century when settlers took the first English Cocker Spaniels with them to the New World on the Mayflower in 1620. During the late 19th century the American Cocker was among the most popular choice of family dog both in the US and Canada too all thanks to their sweet and kind natures. They were found to be extremely adaptable and just at home in a working or home environment.
Although American Cocker Spaniels have been around in America for centuries, the breed was only officially recognised by the American Kennel Club in the late 1800's and an official breed club was set up in 1881. It is thought that a dog called Obo II is the father of all modern breed lines and it is worth noting that during these early days, there was not a lot of difference between an American and an English Cocker Spaniel.
The differences between the English Cocker and the American became noticeable by the 20th century, a time when American breeders through selective and careful breeding noticed various natural changes in the appearance of their spaniels. As such, a separate breed standard was established for American Cockers although up until 1946, the two dogs were exhibited in the same classes with English dogs being described as a "variety" of the American Cocker. After this, the two dogs were recognised as distinct breeds by the American Kennel Club.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the American Cocker Spaniel was the most popular breed in their native America and the breed was officially recognised as a breed by The Kennel Club here in the UK in 1970. For the ensuing years, the American Cocker Spaniel consistently remained at the top of the list in popularity in the States and were to become a popular breed in the showring both in the UK and the USA as well as elsewhere in the world.
It is also worth noting that for a while, the American Cocker Spaniel was categorised as being a "rare" breed in the UK, but their popularity as show dogs, family pets and companions saw breed numbers rise and today they are still among some of the more popular breeds in the UK.
Height at the withers: Males 37 - 39 cm, Females 34 - 37 cm
Average weight: Males 11 - 14 kg, Females 11 - 14 kg
American Cockers are slightly lighter than their English cousins, but it is the shape of their heads and eyes that differ the most with an American Cocker boasting a much rounder, refined head and larger eyes. Another difference is their coats, with the American Cocker boasting longer and silkier hair and lots of feathering which is prolific on their legs and on their body. Their coats can either be wavy or flat, but they share the same colouring as their English counterparts.
They are well-proportioned and balanced dogs that boast a compact body and a lot of bone. Their heads as previously mentioned are nicely domed and their eyes are large and full being almond-shaped. The shape of their eyes is accentuated by the curve of a dog's rims. American Cockers boast an intelligent, alert look in their eyes which is at the same time kindly and appealing. Darker coloured dogs boast darker eyes, but black and tan, cream and buff coloured dogs can have either black or dark brown eyes. Red and brown coated dogs have dark hazel eyes.
Their muzzles are broad and deep with square jaws. Their noses are large and well developed with darker coloured dogs having black noses whereas lighter coloured and parti-coloured dogs boast brown or black noses. Their ears are lobular in shape and neatly set on a dog's head almost level with their eyes. They are well covered with soft, wavy hair. An American Cocker boasts a strong jaw line with a perfect scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones.
Necks are long and well-muscled which dogs hold slightly arched. Their shoulders slope and their rib cages are well sprung. Front legs are nice and straight, well-muscled and well-boned. An American Cocker is a compact looking dog with deep chests and strong backs that slope neatly downwards to the tip of a dog's tail. Their hips are set wide apart and their hindquarters are muscular and well-rounded. Back legs are muscular and well-developed giving the American Cocker their powerful look. Feet are neat and compact with tough pads and hair that grows between a dog's toes.
An American Cockers tail is set level with their topline and moderate in length with the correct amount of feathering in relation to the rest of their coats. Tails are thicker at the base and taper to the tip which dogs carry level with their backs or a little higher. When alert, excited or working, these dogs carry their tails merrily adding to the merry appeal.
When it comes to their coat, the hair on an American Cocker Spaniel’s head is fine, short and medium in length. A dog's ears, abdomen, legs and chests are nicely feathered. Their coat lies flat to the body and is silky to the touch and wavy. These lovely little spaniels come in a variety of colours which includes the following:
When an American Cocker Spaniel moves, they do so smoothly covering a lot ground when they do. Dogs are always nicely balanced both in their forequarters and hindquarters.
The Kennel Club frowns on any exaggerations or departures from the breed standard and would judge the faults on how much they affect a dog's overall health and wellbeing as well as their ability to perform.
Males should have both testicles fully descended into their scrotums and it is worth noting that a dog can be a little lighter or heavier as well as slightly taller or shorter than set out in the Kennel Club breed standard which is given as a guideline only.
American Cockers are often referred to as Merry Cockers and for good reason because they are renowned for their cheerful personalities which is just one of the reasons they are a popular choice as family pets. They are energetic and intelligent characters by nature which means they need to be given lots of exercise and mental stimulation to the truly happy, well-rounded dogs. If left for long periods of time and not given enough to do, American Cockers can develop some unwanted behavioural problems which makes them unruly and harder to handle. It can also lead to a dog barking incessantly for no reason too.
They are very gentle and quite sensitive by nature which are just two of the reasons they are known to be so good around children. American Cockers are also very respectful and quickly understand who to look to for direction providing they are given the right guidance from an early age.
In the right hands and environment, they are generally easy to train and will learn things quickly, but this means they can learn both the good and the bad just as fast. As such, their training and socialising must start as early as possible and their education should be consistent throughout a dog's life so they understand what an owner expects of them. Puppies also need to be taught that grooming is a pleasant experience because American Cockers are high maintenance in the grooming department.
American Cocker Spaniels are the perfect choice for first time dog owners because they are so amenable and people-oriented, loving nothing more than to please and to entertain their families. They are especially good with children and older people although playtime can get a bit boisterous at times.
American Cockers are very social by nature, but because they have working and hunting dogs in their lineage, they do have quite a high prey drive which means they will happily chase smaller animals and pets whenever they get the chance and this includes the cat from next door. As such, care should always be taken as to where and when an American Cocker can run off the lead more especially in places where a dog might meet wildlife and livestock.
American Cocker Spaniels are known to have a rather mischievous, playful side to their natures and love nothing more than to entertain and be entertained. They quickly learn what pleases an owner which makes them all the more endearing. They enjoy taking part in agility and are especially good at other canine activities like tracking too.
American Cocker Spaniels are highly adaptable dogs and providing they are given enough daily physical exercise combined with as much mental stimulation to prevent boredom from setting in, they are just as happy living in an apartment in town as they are living in a house in the country.
American Cocker Spaniels form strong ties with their families and dogs are never very happy when they find themselves left on their own for longer periods of time. They are better suited to people who either work from home or in households where one person stays at home when everyone else is out so they are never alone for any length of time which could see a dog suffering from separation anxiety. This can lead to them being destructive around the home which is a dog's way of relieving any stress they are feeling and a way to keep themselves entertained which can also lead to incessant barking.
Some American Cockers like the sound of their own voices a little too much which is something that needs to be gently nipped in the bud when a dog is still young being careful not to frighten them bearing mind that like many other spaniels, they are sensitive by nature and do not take well to be harshly told off. Others will only bark when there are strangers about or when something they don't like is going on in their surroundings.
Most American Cocker Spaniels like swimming and will take to the water whenever they can more especially when the weather is hot. However, if anyone who owns a dog that does not like water should never force them to go in because it would just end up scaring them. With this said, care should always be taken when walking an American Cocker off the lead anywhere near more dangerous watercourses just in case a dog decides to leap in and then needs rescuing because they can't get out of the water on their own.
American Cocker Spaniels are natural watchdogs and are always keen and quick off the mark to let an owner know when there are strangers about although they would rarely do this aggressively preferring to keep their distance and bark as a way of alerting an owner.
American Cocker Spaniels are intelligent dogs with the added bonus of them always being eager to please. Over the years they have earned themselves a brilliant reputation as working dogs in the field and are renowned for their hunting, retrieving and tracking abilities. They also do exceptionally well in the show ring. Because they are so amenable to learning new things, American Cockers are easy to train, but like all breeds their education needs to start early and puppies should be well-socialised from a young age for them to be outgoing, confident adult dogs.
American Cocker Spaniel puppies are very cute and it is very easy to spoil them when they first arrive in their new homes. However, owners must start out as they mean to go on which means setting out ground rules, limits and boundaries so that a puppy understands what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. All dogs must be taught to behave and are much happier when they know their place in the "pack" and who to look up to for direction and guidance. The first commands a puppy should be taught are as follows:
American Cockers are kind natured dogs that generally make great family pets. They are normally very tolerant towards children, but as with all breeds any interaction between the kids and a dog should be supervised by an adult to make sure everything stays calm and the kids don't get too boisterous or knocked over in the excitement.
American Cockers also tend to be good around other animals and this includes the family cat. However, care must be taken when an American Cocker is around any smaller pets = commonly found in a home. With this said, introductions to any new pets or animal should be done carefully to make sure things go smoothly.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of an American Cocker Spaniel is between 12 to 15 when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality, well-balanced diet to suit their ages.
American Cockers are known to be healthy dogs although like many other pure breeds, they are prone to suffer from certain hereditary health conditions which are worth knowing about if you want to share your home with one of these energetic little spaniels. The health issues most commonly seen in the breed include the following:
Working breeds have traditionally had their tails docked, a practice that has been going on throughout time. The reason a working dog’s tail was docked was to prevent them from being damaged when a dog was flushing out and retrieving game in undergrowth. It was only in 1993, that a law was passed preventing anyone other than a vet from carrying out the procedure, but this was further changed when The Animal Health and Welfare Act (Scotland) came into effect in 2006 which invoked a total ban on tail docking unless for medical reasons.
In other parts of the UK, the Animal Welfare Act came into effect in April 2007 which meant that dog's tails could no longer be docked unless they fell into the category of a specific "working" dog or for medical reasons providing the correct paperwork has been submitted by a qualified vet who would undertake to carry out the procedure. There is a heavy fine for anyone who has a dog’s tail docked without submitting the necessary paperwork to the right authorities.
American Cocker Spaniel puppies would have been given their initial vaccinations before being sold, but it is up to their new owners to make sure they have their follow-up shots in a timely manner with the vaccination schedule for puppies being as follows:
There has been a lot of discussion about the need for dogs to have boosters. As such, it's best to talk to a vet before making a final decision on whether a dog should continue to have annual vaccinations which are known as boosters.
A lot of vets these days recommend waiting until dogs are slightly older before spaying and neutering them which means they are more mature before undergoing the procedures. As such they advise neutering males and spaying females when they are between the ages of 6 to 9 months old and sometimes even when a dog is 12 months old.
Other vets recommend spaying and neutering dogs when they are 6 months old, but never any earlier unless for medical reasons. With this said, many breeds are different and it is always advisable to discuss things with a vet and then follow their advice on when a dog should be spayed or neutered.
Some American Cockers gain weight after they have been spayed or neutered and it's important to keep an eye on a dog's waistline just in case they do. If a dog starts to put on weight it's important to adjust their daily calorie intake and to up the amount of exercise they are given. Older dogs too are more prone to gaining weight and again it's essential they be fed and exercised accordingly because obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years. The reason being that it puts a lot of extra strain on a dog's internal organs including the heart which could prove fatal bearing in mind that American Cockers can suffer from congenital heart failure.
American Cocker Spaniels are prone to suffering from allergies and it's important for a dog to see a vet sooner rather than later if one flares up. Allergies can be notoriously hard to clear up and finding the triggers can be challenging. With this said, a vet would be able to make a dog with an allergy more comfortable while they try to find out the triggers which could include the following:
All responsible American Cocker Spaniel breeders would ensure that their stud dogs are tested for known hereditary and congenital health issues known to affect the breed by using the following schemes:
Apart from the standard breeding restrictions that apply to all Kennel Club registered breeds, there are no other breed specific breeding restrictions in place for the American Cocker Spaniel.
It is mandatory for all KC Assured Breeders to use the following tests on their stud dogs and the Kennel Club strongly recommends that other breeders also follow suit:
The Kennel Club strongly advises all breeders to use the following test on all their breeding dogs:
As with any other breed, American Cocker Spaniels need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and to prevent them from putting on too much weight. On top of this, they need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.
American Cocker Spaniel puppies are boisterous and full of life which means it's essential for homes and gardens to be puppy-proofed well in advance of their arrival. A responsible breeder would have well socialised their puppies which always leads to more outgoing, confident and friendly dogs right from the word go. With this said, any puppy is going to feel vulnerable when they leave their mother and littermates which must be taken into account. The longer a puppy can remain with their mother, the better although it should never be for too long either.
It's best to pick a puppy up when people are going to be around for the first week or so which is the time needed for a puppy to settle in. Puppy-proofing the home and garden means putting away any tools and other implements that a boisterous puppy might injure themselves on. Electric wires and cables must be put out of their reach because puppies love chewing on things. Toxic plants should be removed from flowerbeds and the home too.
Puppies need to sleep a lot to grow and develop as they should which means setting up a quiet area that's not too out of the way means they can retreat to it when they want to nap and it's important not to disturb them when they are sleeping. It's also a good idea to keep "playtime" nice and calm inside the house and to have a more active "playtime" outside in the garden which means puppies quickly learn to be less boisterous when they are inside.
The documentation a breeder provides for a puppy must have all the details of their worming date and the product used as well as the information relating to their microchip. It is essential for puppies to be wormed again keeping to a schedule which is as follows:
There are certain items that new owners need to already have in the home prior to bringing a new puppy home. It's often a good idea to restrict how much space a puppy plays in more especially when you can't keep an eye on what they get up to bearing in mind that puppies are often quite boisterous which means investing in puppy gates or a large enough playpen that allows an American Cocker puppy the room to express themselves while keeping them safe too. The items needed are therefore, as follows:
All puppies are sensitive to noise including American Cocker puppies, bearing in mind that like many other spaniels, they are ultra-sensitive to loud noises by nature. It's important to keep the noise levels down when a new puppy arrives in the home. TVs and music should not be played too loud which could end up stressing a small puppy out.
As previously mentioned, American Cocker Spaniel puppies would have been given their first vaccinations by the breeders, but they must have their follow up shots which is up to their new owners to organise. The vaccination schedule for puppies is as follows:
When it comes to boosters, it's best to discuss these with a vet because there is a lot of debate about whether a dog really needs them after a certain time. However, if a dog ever needed to go into kennels, their vaccinations would need to be up to date.
Older American Cockers need lots of special care because as they reach their golden years, they are more at risk of developing certain health concerns. Physically, a dog's muzzle may start to go grey, but there will be other noticeable changes too which includes the following:
Older dogs change mentally too which means their response time tends to be slower as such they develop the following:
Living with an American Cocker Spaniel in their golden years means taking on a few more responsibilities, but these are easily managed and should include looking at their diet, the amount of exercise they are given, how often their dog beds need changing and keeping an eye on the condition of their teeth.
Older American Cockers must be fed a good quality diet that meets their needs at this stage of their lives all the while keeping a close eye on a dog's weight. A rough feeding guide for older dogs is as follows bearing in mind they should be fed highly digestible food that does not contain any additives:
Older American Cockers don't need to be given the same amount of daily exercise as a younger dog, but they still need the right amount of physical activity to maintain muscle tone and to prevent a dog from putting on too much weight. All dogs need access to fresh clean water and this is especially true of older dogs when they reach their golden years because they are more at risk of developing kidney disorders.
American Cockers are high maintenance in the grooming department and really do benefit from being professionally groomed more frequently than many other breeds so their coats and skin stay in top condition. They are known to shed quite a bit which like other breeds, tends to be more during the Spring and then again in the Autumn.
These dogs need to be brushed every day to keep on top of things and to prevent their long coats from getting tangled and matted. Their feathers need attention as they can grow quite thick. It's also important to keep a close eye on a dog's ears and to make sure they are thoroughly dried off if a dog ever gets wet or after they’ve been bathed. The reason being that air cannot circulate as well as it should because of the shape of their ears and this means moisture gets trapped in the inner ear creating the perfect environment for a yeast infection to take hold. This type of ear infection is known to be notoriously hard to clear up.
It is also worth noting that American Cocker Spaniels are prone to eye infections and as such it is essential that their eyes be cleaned regularly to prevent any sort of flare up.
American Cockers need to be given regular daily exercise and ideally this needs to be a minimum of an hour a day split into two sessions, namely a walk in the morning and then again in the afternoon. These dogs have a lot of stamina for their size and really benefit from a brisk walk that includes lots of interactive games. American Cockers are not couch potatoes and would not be the best choice for people who lead more sedentary indoor lives. However, they are the perfect choice for families and people who like to spend as much time as possible in the great outdoors with a canine companion in tow.
With this said, if you've decided to get an American Cocker puppy, it's important not to overdo things on the exercise front to begin with. Too much exercise could harm their developing joints and this could cause problems later in a dog’s life. A good 15 to 20 minutes play time in a secure garden is all an American Cocker puppy would really need, but once they have had their vaccinations, it's important to start socialising them as soon as possible so they get to meet new dogs, people and introduced to as many new situations when they are still young which makes for a more confident mature dog.
If you get an American Cocker Spaniel puppy from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same type of puppy food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a puppy's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upset in the process and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change their diet again.
Older dogs need to be fed a good quality, well-balanced diet making sure it meets all their nutritional needs and it must suit the different stages of their lives too. They are not known to be fussy or finicky eaters, but this does not mean you can feed an American Cocker lower quality dog food because it would not contain all the right vitamins, minerals and nutrients dogs need to stay healthy.
Puppies need to be fed a highly nutritious, good quality diet for them to develop and grow as they should. As a rough guide, an American Cocker puppy can be fed the following amounts every day making sure their meals are evenly spread out throughout the day and it's best to feed them 3 or 4 times a day:
Once a puppy is 12 months old they can be fed adult dog food.
Once fully mature, an adult American Cocker must be fed a good quality diet to ensure their continued good health. As a rough guide, an adult American Cocker can be fed the following amounts every day:
If you are looking to buy an American Cocker Spaniel, you would need to be prepared to pay anything from £600 to over £800 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old American Cocker Spaniel in northern England would be £28.97 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £63.43 a month (quote as of February 2018). When insurance companies calculate a pet's premium, they factor in several things and this includes where you live in the UK and a dog's age and whether they have been spayed or neutered.
When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality dog food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £30 - £40 a month. On top of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with an American Cocker Spaniel and this includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying your dog when the time is right and then their annual health check visits, all of which could quickly add up to over a £1000 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for an American Cocker Spaniel would be between £80 to £120 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a well-bred, healthy Kennel Club registered pedigree American Cocker Spaniel puppy.