All About American Cocker Spaniels

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 10, 2022
7 min read

American cocker spaniels are free and merry dogs that belong to the sporting group. They’re alert animals that are highly people-oriented. 

They were originally bred to hunt birds, but these days, they vastly prefer hanging out at home with their family. They’re adaptable pets that can make themselves comfortable in a variety of settings — as long as someone is there to keep them company. 

Body size. If you’re familiar with many different spaniel breeds, you might find the average American cocker spaniel's size surprising. Members of this breed are the smallest sporting spaniels in the American Kennel Club (AKC). The males tend to be slightly larger than the females, but they otherwise look the same.

The average male American cocker spaniel size is 14.5 to 15.5 inches tall. The average height for females is one inch shorter — typically ranging from 13.5 to 14.5 inches. 

These dogs are lightweight for spaniels. Their weights should be proportional to their heights. Males average between 25 and 30 pounds and females between 20 and 25 pounds. Talk to your veterinarian if you're worried that your pet is underweight or overweight.

Their small size means that this spaniel is easy to transport. They’re happy to hop in your car and go for a ride. They also don’t need much living space and are perfect for small apartments.   

Body shape. American cocker spaniels have well-balanced, sturdy bodies. They should have enough muscle on their legs for a quick, easy gait, but they are never bulky. 

Their heads are chiseled, refined, and easy to recognize. Long, lobed ears emerge from the head at around eye level. American cocker spaniels have broad muzzles and square jaws.  

Their tails are aligned with their spines. Some people have them docked — or cut — but this isn’t at all necessary for their health.  

Lifespan. As a medium-to-small-sized dog, the average American cocker spaniel life expectancy tends to be over a decade. They usually live for at least 10 to 14 years, so plan on having a long life with your dog — especially if you decide to adopt one as a puppy.

Coats. American cocker spaniels have double coats that are generally silky and long. A double coat means that these dogs grow two distinct coats — each with unique properties. 

The undercoat is short and is meant to help protect the skin. The outer coat of fur is short on the head but becomes much longer on the body. This layer is flat or slightly wavy. It feathers out from the body at the ears, chest, and legs. 

They’re a colorful breed of dog. The AKC acknowledges at least 22 different color combinations for the breed. Examples of these include: 

  • Black 
  • Black and white
  • Black, white, and tan
  • Brown
  • Brown, white, and tan
  • Golden
  • Red
  • Silver

These colors can come in four distinct patterns: 

  • Ticked
  • Roan
  • White markings
  • Merle markings

Eyes. This breed’s eyes are round, but their outer rim can make them seem more almond-shaped. 

The breed standard favors dark brown eyes — but they can also be blue or brown with flecks of blue throughout. These variations are usually not a problem for most families and can even add to a pet’s beauty. 

Personality. American cocker spaniel personality traits include:

  • Happiness
  • Gentleness
  • Intelligence
  • Eagerness
  • Impishness

The AKC rates them a four out of five in terms of their affection for their families. They’re incredibly attentive to their humans and like to know what’s going on in their world. 

The American cocker spaniel temperament is very even-keeled. They should never be too timid or too aggressive. 

They’re also moderately playful dogs that are content to trot around your yard with other dogs or humans for company. 

Grooming. Cocker spaniels can have fairly time-consuming grooming needs. 

Metal-toothed combs are recommended for regular, thorough grooming sessions. You can follow this up with a soft brush — but will need the comb to pick through tangles and mats. 

Pick snarls apart; don’t pull on them. Pulling will only hurt your dog’s skin. Also, be cautious around their thin ears — some combs can pierce right through them. 

You’ll also need to bathe spaniels regularly. Thoroughly rinse out the shampoo and dry them on a low heat setting with a blow dryer. If you treat them too roughly during this process, you’ll dry out and irritate their skin. With careful attention, on the other hand, your dog’s beautiful coat will flow and shine.  

You will also need to keep a close eye on their ear canals. Keep them dry and free of debris. Trim their nails and brush their teeth regularly.

If you would rather use a groomer for all of this, make sure that they’re familiar with the breed. 

Feeding. Cocker spaniels can be picky breeds when it comes to feeding time. Choose among high-quality dog foods to find the kind that your individual pet likes the most. 

Talk to your veterinarian if you’re having trouble finding something that your pet enjoys. An ingredient base of chicken and rice is a common favorite with this breed. 

Also, make sure that you have a good understanding of your dog’s nutritional requirements and the human foods that dogs can eat

Always leave out clean water that your dog can easily reach. 

Exercise and Mental Stimulation. Cocker spaniels have reasonable amounts of energy and need physical activity to maintain their muscle tone. 

This doesn’t have to be too extensive, though. Their favorite activities include playing fetch and taking leisurely walks with their owners. They can get plenty of exercise running around your yard with kids or other dogs.  

They need a moderate amount of mental stimulation. Engagement with others while they play is a great way to satisfy both their physical and mental needs. 

Veterinary visits, medications, and immunizations. Your veterinarian is the best person to determine all of the vaccinations that your pet needs, but all dogs should get a core set. 

This set includes vaccinations for:

These vaccinations can begin as early as six weeks of age. There are also other, non-core vaccinations that you can discuss with your veterinarian. 

Dosages for flea and tick medications are based on your dog's weight and used as needed. Oral and skin-based applications are available from your veterinarian or other distributors.

Many of these medications can be effective against a variety of pests and parasites, so talk to your veterinarian to figure out the best one for you.

American cocker spaniels are a very healthy breed of dog. There are few genetic conditions that you have to worry about when adopting a puppy. 

Some possible health issues, however, include:

  • Hip dysplasiaThis is a common condition in dogs where the hip joint doesn’t form properly. It can get in the way of your dog’s movements. 
  • Elbow dysplasiaThis condition is comparable to hip dysplasia but occurs at the elbow joint. 
  • Patellar luxation. This is a condition that’s similar to trick knees in humans. You should have your dog's joints tested for their susceptibility to this condition.
  • Eye conditions. These can include glaucoma, cataracts, and dry eye. Have your pet's eyes examined regularly by your veterinarian or when you think that a problem has occurred.

Something to consider before bringing your cocker spaniel home is that they can be a fairly needy breed. They develop separation anxiety if left alone for too long — which can lead to negative behaviors. 

Luckily, their eager-to-please attitude makes them easy dogs to train. Just make sure that you start their training early and include socialization with other dogs and humans. 

They rarely drool and only bark a moderate amount of the time. Plus, they’re great with small children, other dogs, and strangers. 

If properly trained, these dogs are fantastic additions to any household. 

American cocker spaniels come from the ancient spaniel group. No one knows the exact origins of spaniels, but some people have suggested Spain because of the linguistic similarities. 

Cocker spaniels were fantastic hunting dogs long before rifles were invented. They used to help take down birds while their humans were only equipped with nets and bows.

For centuries, all spaniels were informally grouped as either land or water spaniels. Cocker and springer spaniels could come from the same litter. 

Then — in the 19th century — breed standards were established, and the specific breed of the cocker spaniel was born. The “cocker” part of their name refers to the fact that they were bred to specialize in woodcock hunting.

Although the first spaniel arrived in America on the Mayflower — in 1620 — the first cocker spaniel wasn’t registered in the country until 1878. 

By the 1920s, there were clear differences between the American and British versions of this spaniel. The British dogs were taller, with long heads and less-plentiful coats than their American counterparts. 

These differences were acknowledged by the British and Canadian kennel clubs in 1940. In 1946, the AKC officially recorded them as two different breeds — the cocker spaniel and the English cocker spaniel. Globally, the cocker spaniel is called the American cocker spaniel to help distinguish the two. 

American cocker spaniels quickly became a popular breed. They were, in fact, the most popular breed in the U.S. throughout the 1950s and 1980s. They’re featured in the Disney film Lady and the Tramp. Former presidents Richard Nixon and Harry Truman owned members of this breed.  

They still remain a popular choice for today’s dog-lovers and can be found in homes around the world.