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Cocker Spaniel - American


American Cocker Spaniels, sometimes simply called "Cockers," are the smallest of the Spaniel breeds. Their name is derived from the "woodcock" bird, which they historically were (and still are) especially proficient at hunting. These are lively, cheerful, intelligent dogs that excel as family companions and weekend bird-hunting partners. They also excel in the conformation show ring. Well-bred and well-cared-for, Cockers have glorious coats, dreamy dark eyes and wonderful dispositions. American Cocker Spaniels have been among the most popular of all purebred dogs in the United States for many decades. Unfortunately, their immense popularity at times has caused the Cocker Spaniel to suffer from overbreeding by unscrupulous people who focused on making money rather than promoting healthy, sound, well-tempered dogs. Reputable fanciers of this lovely breed have taken conscientious steps to stabilize the disposition and health of their dogs, in addition to maintaining their glamorous coats and promoting their instinctive hunting talents. The American Cocker Spaniel was recognized as a member of the AKC's Sporting Group in 1878.

History & Health


Spaniels, earlier referred to as "Spanyells," have been around for centuries. This is a large and diverse group of dogs, dating back to the 14th century or perhaps even earlier. Spaniels of all types historically have been bred to hunt, either on land or on water, or sometimes on both. The American Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the recognized Spaniel breeds and also is the smallest member of the American Kennel Club's Sporting Group.
American Cockers, and English Cockers, were bred specifically to flush and retrieve game birds. In fact, their name probably comes from the "woodcock," which is a bird that they apparently are especially proficient at hunting. During the 1800s, English Cocker Spaniels were imported to the United States and Canada in quite some numbers by bird-hunting enthusiasts, who valued their exceptional skills at flushing and retrieving woodcock, pheasant and grouse. English Cockers were accepted for show competition in England in 1883, and were given breed status in England's Kennel Club Stud Books in 1892. In the early to mid-1900s, the American Cockers began to diverge from their English counterparts. American breeders interested in showing Cocker Spaniels competitively in the conformation ring began breeding them down in size, which also made them especially suitable as family pets. The Cocker Spaniel soon became the most popular purebred dog in America.
Hunting enthusiasts resisted the trend towards breeding petite Cockers. In 1935, they formed a separate breed club for the traditional English Cocker Spaniels, called the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America, which remains today as the parent club for that breed in the United States. The AKC formally recognized the English Cocker Spaniel as a breed distinct from the American Cocker Spaniel in 1946.
The enormous popularity of the American Cocker Spaniel had its benefits for the breed but also brought some unwelcome consequences. Commercial puppy mills and other unscrupulous "breeders" began breeding Cockers indiscriminately, without attention to the health, temperament or well-being of the parents or their puppies. Fortunately, responsible fanciers of the American Cocker Spaniel intervened and continued promoting high-quality examples of their beloved breed. Today's American Cockers by and large are the endearing, energetic, affectionate companions that made them among the most popular of all purebred dogs.

Health Predispositions

The American Cocker Spaniel has an average life expectancy of between 12 and 15 years. Breed health concerns may include allergies, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, cancer, cherry eye, cataracts, ectropion, entropion, glaucoma, progressive retinal atrophy, corneal ulceration, keratoconjunctivitis sicca, ear infections, hemophilia, hepatitis, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, chondrodysplasia, hypothyroidism, patent ductus arteriosus, pulmonic stenosis, endocarditis, dilated cardiomyopathy, intervertebral disc disease, epilepsy and an assortment of dermatological (skin) disorders.

Temperament & Personality


Outgoing, sociable and almost uniformly happy, the American Cocker Spaniel is an extremely popular family pet. These are charming, sturdy little dogs that originally were bred to flush and retrieve birds on land. Many of them are still used for that purpose. However, their best role is that of a beloved family member. This sweet, easygoing breed loves children and usually gets along quite well with other dogs and even cats, provided that proper socialization takes place. Because American Cocker Spaniels tend to welcome friends, family and foe in the same fashion, they do not typically make good watchdogs. However, they are loyal, endearing companions that crave - and thrive on - human attention. They also are quite portable, given their modest size, which makes them great travel partners.

Activity Requirements

The American Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the Sporting Breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. Although they are not large dogs, they are energetic, active and playful. They thoroughly enjoy going on hikes, swimming and participating in other activities with their human family-members. This is a highly adaptable breed that can live quite comfortably in apartments or condominiums, as long as their owners give them enough exercise. A long, brisk daily walk is often enough for an older Cocker Spaniel. However, younger animals will need more activity, either in the form of walks, romps at the dog park, playing in the yard with other companion animals or playing fetch with their owners. American Cocker Spaniels are natural retrievers and usually are more than willing to chase a ball and bring it back for as long as their owner cares to toss it. It is important for owners of this breed to keep their dogs active and engage. A Cocker that is left to his own devices is likely to become bored and eventually destructive, as he tries to find ways to entertain himself.


American Cocker Spaniels are intelligent dogs that love to please their people and are easy to train. As with almost any breed, it is important that Cockers are socialized correctly starting at an early age. These are extremely sensitive, affectionate animals that are best trained using positive reinforcement and gentle, patient repetition of commands. Short training sessions several times a day are better than a single prolonged session. Owners should concentrate on getting their Cocker to master one basic command, before moving on to another one. Housebreaking can be difficult for this breed. Crate training usually makes potty training much easier. Flushing and retrieving birds come naturally to most American Cocker Spaniels, without the need for any advanced or specialized training. They also excel in competitive dog sports such as agility, obedience, rally, flyball, hunting tests, field trials and many others. Well-behaved Cocker Spaniels also make exceptional therapy dogs.

Behavioral Traits

Because the blood of generations of hunting dogs courses through the veins of American Cocker Spaniels, they are particularly alert to the presence of birds and other small animals. As a result, owners should not let their Cocker off-leash, unless the dog is thoroughly trained in obedience and has a rock-solid recall, because he might become distracted and try to chase any nearby moving creature. Some Cocker Spaniels have a tendency to be a bit aggressive, or a bit shy. Generally, this is due to inadequate socialization at a young age. The most important period for correctly socializing this breed is when the dog is 2-5 months old. During this key time, the owner should expose the dog to lots of new people and new situations in a positive, non-threatening manner. Children must be taught to treat the dog gently and affectionately, so that he learns to trust them. When a young American Cocker Spaniel is carefully introduced to new people, places and things, he usually learns to accept them readily and becomes a happy, trusting, gentle family companion.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The Cocker Spaniel is the smallest member of the Sporting Group. He has a sturdy, compact body and a cleanly chiseled and refined head, with the overall dog in complete balance and of ideal size. He stands well up at the shoulder on straight forelegs with a topline sloping slightly toward strong, moderately bent, muscular quarters. He is a dog capable of considerable speed, combined with great endurance. Above all, he must be free and merry, sound, well balanced throughout and in action show a keen inclination to work. A dog well balanced in all parts is more desirable than a dog with strongly contrasting good points and faults.

Size, Proportion, Substance
Size-- The ideal height at the withers for an adult dog is 15 inches and for an adult bitch, 14 inches. Height may vary one-half inch above or below this ideal. A dog whose height exceeds 15½ inches or a bitch whose height exceeds 14½ inches shall be disqualified. An adult dog whose height is less than 14½ inches and an adult bitch whose height is less than 13½ inches shall be penalized. Height is determined by a line perpendicular to the ground from the top of the shoulder blades, the dog standing naturally with its forelegs and lower hind legs parallel to the line of measurement. Proportion--The measurement from the breast bone to back of thigh is slightly longer than the measurement from the highest point of withers to the ground. The body must be of sufficient length to permit a straight and free stride; the dog never appears long and low.

To attain a well proportioned head, which must be in balance with the rest of the dog, it embodies the following: Expression--The expression is intelligent, alert, soft and appealing. Eyes--Eyeballs are round and full and look directly forward. The shape of the eye rims gives a slightly almond shaped appearance; the eye is not weak or goggled. The color of the iris is dark brown and in general the darker the better. Ears--Lobular, long, of fine leather, well feathered, and placed no higher than a line to the lower part of the eye. Skull--Rounded but not exaggerated with no tendency toward flatness; the eyebrows are clearly defined with a pronounced stop. The bony structure beneath the eyes is well chiseled with no prominence in the cheeks. The muzzle is broad and deep, with square even jaws. To be in correct balance, the distance from the stop to the tip of the nose is one half the distance from the stop up over the crown to the base of the skull. Nose--of sufficient size to balance the muzzle and foreface, with well developed nostrils typical of a sporting dog. It is black in color in the blacks, black and tans, and black and whites; in other colors it may be brown, liver or black, the darker the better. The color of nose harmonizes with the color of the eye rim. Lips--The upper lip is full and of sufficient depth to cover the lower jaw. Teeth--Teeth strong and sound, not too small and meet in a scissors bite.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck--The neck is sufficiently long to allow the nose to reach the ground easily, muscular and free from pendulous "throatiness." It rises strongly from the shoulders and arches slightly as it tapers to join the head. Topline--sloping slightly toward muscular quarters. Body--The chest is deep, its lowest point no higher than the elbows, its front sufficiently wide for adequate heart and lung space, yet not so wide as to interfere with the straightforward movement of the forelegs. Ribs are deep and well sprung. Back is strong and sloping evenly and slightly downward from the shoulders to the set-on of the docked tail. The docked tail is set on and carried on a line with the topline of the back, or slightly higher; never straight up like a Terrier and never so low as to indicate timidity. When the dog is in motion the tail action is merry.

The shoulders are well laid back forming an angle with the upper arm of approximately 90 degrees which permits the dog to move his forelegs in an easy manner with forward reach. Shoulders are clean-cut and sloping without protrusion and so set that the upper points of the withers are at an angle which permits a wide spring of rib. When viewed from the side with the forelegs vertical, the elbow is directly below the highest point of the shoulder blade. Forelegs are parallel, straight, strongly boned and muscular and set close to the body well under the scapulae. The pasterns are short and strong. Dewclaws on forelegs may be removed. Feet compact, large, round and firm with horny pads; they turn neither in nor out.

Hips are wide and quarters well rounded and muscular. When viewed from behind, the hind legs are parallel when in motion and at rest. The hind legs are strongly boned, and muscled with moderate angulation at the stifle and powerful, clearly defined thighs. The stifle is strong and there is no slippage of it in motion or when standing. The hocks are strong and well let down. Dewclaws on hind legs may be removed.

On the head, short and fine; on the body, medium length, with enough undercoating to give protection. The ears, chest, abdomen and legs are well feathered, but not so excessively as to hide the Cocker Spaniel's true lines and movement or affect his appearance and function as a moderately coated sporting dog. The texture is most important. The coat is silky, flat or slightly wavy and of a texture which permits easy care. Excessive coat or curly or cottony textured coat shall be severely penalized. Use of electric clippers on the back coat is not desirable. Trimming to enhance the dog's true lines should be done to appear as natural as possible.

Color and Markings
Black Variety--Solid color black to include black with tan points. The black should be jet; shadings of brown or liver in the coat are not desirable. A small amount of white on the chest and/or throat is allowed; white in any other location shall disqualify.

Any Solid Color Other than Black (ASCOB)--Any solid color other than black, ranging from lightest cream to darkest red, including brown and brown with tan points. The color shall be of a uniform shade, but lighter color of the feathering is permissible. A small amount of white on the chest and/or throat is allowed; white in any other location shall disqualify.

Parti-Color Variety--Two or more solid, well broken colors, one of which must be white; black and white, red and white (the red may range from lightest cream to darkest red), brown and white, and roans, to include any such color combination with tan points. It is preferable that the tan markings be located in the same pattern as for the tan points in the Black and ASCOB varieties. Roans are classified as parti-colors and may be of any of the usual roaning patterns. Primary color which is ninety percent (90%) or more shall disqualify.

Tan Points--The color of the tan may be from the lightest cream to the darkest red and is restricted to ten percent (10%) or less of the color of the specimen; tan markings in excess of that amount shall disqualify. In the case of tan points in the Black or ASCOB variety, the markings shall be located as follows:

1) A clear tan spot over each eye;
2) On the sides of the muzzle and on the cheeks;
3) On the underside of the ears;
4) On all feet and/or legs;
5) Under the tail;
6) On the chest, optional; presence or absence shall not be penalized.

Tan markings which are not readily visible or which amount only to traces, shall be penalized. Tan on the muzzle which extends upward, over and joins shall also be penalized. The absence of tan markings in the Black or ASCOB variety in any of the specified locations in any otherwise tan-pointed dog shall disqualify.

The Cocker Spaniel, though the smallest of the sporting dogs, possesses a typical sporting dog gait. Prerequisite to good movement is balance between the front and rear assemblies. He drives with strong, powerful rear quarters and is properly constructed in the shoulders and forelegs so that he can reach forward without constriction in a full stride to counterbalance the driving force from the rear. Above all, his gait is coordinated, smooth and effortless. The dog must cover ground with his action; excessive animation should not be mistaken for proper gait.

Equable in temperament with no suggestion of timidity.

Height--Males over 15½ inches; females over 14½ inches.
Color and Markings--The aforementioned colors are the only acceptable colors or combination of colors.
Any other colors or combination of colors to disqualify.
Black Variety--White markings except on chest and throat.
Any Solid Color Other Than Black Variety--White markings except on chest and throat.
Parti-color Variety--Primary color ninety percent (90%) or more.
Tan Points--(1) Tan markings in excess of ten percent (10%); (2) Absence of tan markings in Black or ASCOB Variety in any of the specified locations in an otherwise tan pointed dog.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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