About Cocker Spaniels

The Cocker Spaniel (or English Cocker as the breed is called in the US) was originally developed as a working gundog, used for woodcock shooting, their small size enabling them to work through dense cover with ease. Over the years, the breed has split into the Working-type Cocker & the Show-type Cocker.

The Working Cocker

The Working Cocker is much valued in the field for their speed & intelligence – they look somewhat different to most people’s idea of a Cocker Spaniel having very much less coat & an altogether different head shape but can make very good companions for the active family who understand that this Cocker will not adapt well to a sedentary lifestyle – he is intelligent & will need owners who understand the need for mental stimulation as well as exercise. Working Cockers will often enjoy agility or obedience training if the opportunity for gundog work is not available. Some have also been successfully trained as drug sniffer dogs.

The Show-type Cocker

The Show-type Cocker is the type most commonly seen as family pets. Although some still have the ability to do the work the breed was originally bred for, they have adapted to fill wider roles including enormously popular companion animals, show dogs, PAT dogs, Hearing Dogs for the Deaf etc.

This popularity has been maintained for many years now & shows no sign of abating. The Cocker’s size (not too small, not too big) & it’s friendly nature accounts for this popularity, plus the fact that it’s a breed that is seen in a wide variety of attractive colours, from the solids (e.g. black, red/gold, black & tan) to the particolours (e.g. blue roan, black & white, orange roan etc)


This is a happy little dog with ever-wagging tail, a dog that is full of joie de vivre & enthusiasm for life, a dog that always wants to be involved in what the family is doing! This is not a breed for people who prefer dogs with a more aloof, independent nature – strange as it may seem to Cocker enthusiasts, some people find the Cocker’s continual bonhomie irritating!

The Cocker is bright & quick to learn but on occasion can be stubborn. Some breeds might respond to the command “jump” with a “yes, master, how high?”

A Cocker will sometimes respond with “why?” followed by “oh, if you insist!” That’s not to say that this is a difficult breed to train – but training must be consistent & commenced early & owners must accept that the breed will not easily achieve the high levels of obedience that can be attained with say, a Border Collie. Owners will also have to accept that occasional bouts of selective deafness will occur when their Cocker is off lead & catches the scent of something particularly interesting!

Note on “Cocker Rage”

There has been some adverse publicity in recent years over a condition known as “Rage Syndrome” (a disorder typified by bouts of unprovoked aggression), which is occasionally seen in the breed (& more often in the solid colours). At the present time, the causes of Rage are not known for sure though many theories have been put forward, some more likely than others. It is important to stress that this condition is comparatively rare (bearing in mind the vast numbers of Cockers bred each year) & that temperament problems of various kinds are occasionally seen in all the colours, most often in puppies bought from commercial breeders/puppy farmers. It pays for would-be owners to do their homework & only buy a puppy from reputable, specialist breeders.

Coat Care

The Cocker is high maintenance as far as coat care is concerned. This is a longhaired breed which will need regular, thorough grooming & some professional trimming at least every 8 weeks when adult (though some owners do learn to do this themselves). This is not the breed for someone who has neither the time nor inclination for grooming or for someone who is excessively house proud as Cockers do shed hair from time to time & frequently come back from walks with muddy feet & assorted pieces of vegetation attached to their feathering (this is a breed that likes to sniff about under hedges & in the undergrowth).

NB Neutered Cockers often grow excessively thick, woolly coats that need more frequent grooming & clipping (hand stripping the coat in the traditional manner is not possible on neutered Cockers)


Like all breeds with floppy, pendulous ears, the Cocker does occasionally suffer from ear trouble such as excess wax or bacterial infections. Owners can minimise the chances of this happening by cleaning the ears on a regular basis & making sure there is no excess hair blocking the entrance to the ear canal


The Cocker is a busy, active breed & will happily walk for miles when fully mature, but this does not mean that a 5 mile hike is expected every day! The Cocker is very adaptable & will be quite content with a couple of shorter walks a day. Care must be taken not to let a Cocker get overweight – many have very keen appetites & are prone to weight gain, especially after neutering. If this happens, more exercise & less food are the orders of the day!

Hereditary Problems

A few hereditary problems are occasionally seen in the Cocker, as with most other breeds. These include FN (Familial Nephropathy, a kidney disease which affects young Cockers but is now thankfully rare) and PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy, an eye disease which leads to blindness & is seen more often in particolours). There is also some Hip Dysplasia, more in the solids than the other colours. Would-be owners should make sure they only buy from breeders who eye-test and/or hip score their dogs.

© Jane Simmonds