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American cocker spaniel

Breed overview

  • Breed group — Sporting group (American Kennel Club)
  • Height — 13.5-14.5 inches
  • Weight — 20-30 pounds
  • Coat length & texture —Long and silky
  • Coat color — The breed’s long, silky coats can come in many colors, including black, black and tan, and brown roan. Roan and white markings are acceptable.
  • Exercise needs — High
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — Moderately vocal
  • Life span — 10-14 years
  • Temperament — Cheerful
  • Hypoallergenic — No
  • Origin — United States

American cocker spaniel fun facts 

  • American cocker spaniels are small — relatively speaking. At 13.5 to 14.5 inches, the cocker spaniel is the smallest spaniel in the AKC’s sporting group.
  • The American cocker spaniel has had several runs as the most popular dog breed. The breed ranked No.1 on the AKC list from the late-1930s to the 1950s and during the mid-1980s. The Labrador retriever has been ranked No. 1 since 1991, and the American cocker spaniel was No. 29 in 2021.
  • Cocker spaniels have famous fans — and are famous. Oprah and the Nixon family are some of the famous names who have kept cocker spaniels. And millions have an affinity for the most iconic American cocker spaniel — Lady from Lady and the Tramp.
Black American cocker spaniel

American cocker spaniel temperament and characteristics 

The American cocker spaniel has a loving, joyful personality that has made them popular companions in many homes. They’re fairly playful and adaptable, so expect wagging tails, snuggles, and a readiness to play fetch.

Their pleasant demeanor makes the American cocker spaniel a favorite first pet in homes with small children. This breed typically gets along well with other dogs. Many American cocker spaniels would welcome having another dog in the home as a playmate. The breed is also typically feline-friendly.

American cocker spaniels are moderately vocal, but also typically warm up to strangers quickly. If you approve, it’s a safe bet your American cocker will, too.

These dogs have medium mental and physical stimulation needs. Regular walks, play sessions, and snuggles are needed, but American cocker spaniels also understand if you have errands to run. They’ll nap while you check items off your to-do list — but expect their tails to wag when you return.

American cocker spaniels are usually great with other kids and pets, but ensuring everyone is on board with a new family member is always a good idea. Shelters and breeders will arrange meet-and-greets with families, and other dogs and can provide insights into a specific pet’s tolerance of cats.

Common American cocker spaniel health problems

American cocker spaniels typically live 10 to 14 years and can have happy, healthy lives. But, the breed is susceptible to some health problems. No one wants to think about their dog being sick or in pain, but knowing about these common problems will allow you to get your pet prompt care.

  • Otitis externa. Otis externa is a fancy name for an ear infection, and the cocker spaniels’ long ears make them more susceptible to this issue. Common symptoms include ear pain or more ear scratching and discharge.
  • Hip dysplasia. Clear discomfort during walks and lameness in the hind legs are typical signs of this hip joint condition.
  • Von Willebrand Disease. This disease is hereditary and causes an abnormality that affects the blood’s ability to clot, leading to excessive bleeding.
  • Thyroid issues. Dogs like the American cocker spaniel are more susceptible to hypothyroidism , where the thyroid doesn’t respond or produce enough hormones. Common symptoms include changes in energy and weight.

Cost of caring for American cocker spaniels

American cocker spaniels, like all pets, have needs that cost money. Depending on their age, they’ll need regular vet check-ups, typically once or twice per year.

However, you’ll have higher costs if your American cocker spaniel develops a health issue. Ear infections can typically be treated with prescription topical and oral medications. You’ll typically pay between $100 to $250 or more for a veterinary exam, diagnostic testing, and treatment. Hip dysplasia symptoms may be manageable with diet and exercise. Surgery can cost $3,000 or more per hip, depending on the vet and where you live.

There is no cure for von Willebrand Disease, but it can be managed. Severe bleeding will require blood transfusions , which can cost between $100 to $300 per unit. The total, including hospital stay, will typically be $1,000 or more. Medications to manage thyroid conditions can cost between $20 to $50 per month.

Health insurance can help lower out-of-pocket expenses. Pet parents who sign their dogs up early will receive the greatest benefits. Other ways to reduce costs include making a budget and a pet savings account.

American cocker spaniel puppy

History of the American cocker spaniel 

The AKC registered the American cocker spaniel simply as “cocker spaniel” in 1946. But overseas, the breed goes by the name “American cocker spaniel” to differentiate these dogs from other, separate breeds, notably the English cocker spaniel.

The spaniel breed type actually dates back much further and probably developed in Spain — hence the name “spaniel.” Until around the 19th century, European and British spaniels were informally classified as land or water spaniels. However, dog shows became more popular in the 19th century, so breeders got more specific. In North America, the cocker spaniel split into two separate breeds: American and English. English cockers are taller and longer. The English and Canadian kennel clubs solidified the distinction by registering the two as separate breeds in 1940, and the AKC did the same in 1946.

One black cocker, a show dog named Brucie, helped elevate the breed when he won back-to-back Best in Show awards in 1940 and ‘41  at Westminster. Lady in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp was also a cocker. In a speech on campaign reimbursements, then-Vice Presidential nominee Richard Nixon vowed to keep his cocker spaniel, Checkers. It’s gone down in history as the “Checkers speech,” and overall, contributed to the breed’s mass popularity in the 1950s.

In fact, the breed was the top dog on the American Kennel Club’s list of most popular breeds during the decade. Though the American cocker spaniel was most recently No. 30 on the list, they are still beloved by those whose laps they inhabit.

Caring for your American cocker spaniel

It can feel like your to-do list expanded by four feet once you bring home an American cocker spaniel — or any new pet for that matter. Caring for a new puppy is rewarding but takes time and effort. You’ll have to make your first trip to the vet, where you’ll get more information on scheduling your dog’s vaccinations. If you’re bringing home an American cocker spaniel as a puppy, you’ll want advice on preparing for teething.

American cocker spaniels are sweet but can be a bit mischievous — puppy-proofing your home keeps them safe.

Not on your to-do list: Losing your new dog, but it’s best to be prepared just in case. FidoAlert provides a free Fido ID and tag so you have peace of mind. Here are some other basics that are specific to the American cocker spaniel.


As a sporting breed, the American cocker spaniel needs their share of exercise, but they don’t require an on-the-go lifestyle. Regular walks and playtime will keep your pet happy and engaged.

Cocker spaniels are typically down for several types of activities. Fetch is a classic, but these pets enjoy agility courses. You can set up a DIY obstacle course in your backyard. Many American cocker spaniels love engaging in water play and other dog sports. Flyball or throwing a ball in a shallow lake can keep them physically and mentally engaged. Just be sure to clean those long ears post-swim — it’ll help protect them from infection.

American cocker spaniels generally do well in each season. Be sure to keep your active American cocker spaniel well-hydrated with a full bowl of fresh water, particularly in warm weather.

American cocker spaniel walk on the beach


The American cocker spaniel has a naturally long, silky coat that requires frequent professional grooming. Missed sessions are not advised and can lead to tangles and matting. A professional-quality metal comb with fine and medium spacing between teeth is a must-have — a groomer will have it. If you hit a knot or tangle, don’t brush through it. Pick it apart, beginning at the tips. Be careful around the ears because the skin at the edges is thin, and brushing too roughly can pierce it.

Once you’re done with the metal comb, you may consider using a gentle, slicker brush to finish up.

Regular bathing with a dog shampoo is also a must. Rinse thoroughly to get it all out and prevent irritation. Regular ear cleanings, including after all baths and water play sessions, is essential to reducing ear infection risk.

Frequent nail trimming and daily teeth brushing will also keep your American cocker spaniel looking and feeling their best.

The American cocker spaniel is not hypoallergenic. Truthfully, no breed is. Allergic reactions happen because of proteins found in a pup’s dander, hair, and saliva. Breeds that are labeled hypoallergenic shed less and therefore have a smaller effect on people with dog allergies.

Diet and nutrition

Healthy American cocker spaniels do well on standard dog food with an AAFCO label, which signifies it’s been evaluated for quality and nutrition. Most foods have different formulations for age groups, so keep that in mind when choosing. An American cocker spaniel’s diet should consist of 90% dog food and 10% low-calorie treats. Your vet can help you customize this ratio based on your dog’s weight and health.

The veterinarian is also your best resource for food portioning. Generally, older puppies and adult American cocker spaniels require two daily meals. A 25-lb. neutered dog typically requires about 693 calories per day .

Training your American cocker spaniel

American cocker spaniels are fairly intelligent and eager to please. They are generally easy to train. The breed, like all dogs, benefits from training at a young age. However, if you’ve adopted an older American cocker spaniel, take comfort in knowing that the cliche about being able to teach an old dog new tricks is generally true.

Training should be a positive experience for you and your American cocker spaniel. Positive reinforcement like treats and praise is more effective than yelling and crating for punishment, the Humane Society stresses. Short, simple commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “come” are easier to follow than a long-winded lecture. Consistency is key. If you have children or partners in the home, ensure everyone uses the same commands and positive reinforcement.

American cocker spaniel training

Breeds similar to the American cocker spaniel 

Not quite sure that an American cocker spaniel is for you? Perhaps you’d prefer a dog with a short or medium-length coat. Or, maybe you are sure the American cocker spaniel is the best breed for your family. Still, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Labrador retriever. These dogs have short, thick coats and similarly friendly personalities. Though you may need fewer trips to the groomer, Labs require tons of exercise and make great jogging companions.
  • Lagotto romagnolo. This breed is less common but has a joyful, playful personality. The Lagotto romagnolo also enjoys dog sports.
  • Boykin spaniel. The Boykin spaniel is another sporting breed with a friendly demeanor. They’re eager to please and engage in outdoor fun.

Frequently asked questions

Do American cocker spaniels bark a lot?

American cocker spaniels are moderately vocal. Expect them to let you know if someone is at the door. They’re generally very friendly toward strangers and other pets once they’re all indoors together.

Are American cocker spaniels high maintenance?

American cocker spaniels are loving dogs, but that long, silky coat requires tons of grooming with a professional-grade brush. Expect to be on a first-name basis with your groomer. They’re also prone to health problems, such as a higher chance than most other breeds of developing ear infections.

What is the difference between a cocker spaniel and an American cocker spaniel?

American cocker spaniels are a type of cocker spaniel. They are a separate breed from their English cousins, who are taller.

What are the pros and cons of pet cocker spaniels?

American cocker spaniels are friendly, loving, and generally get along well with small children, other pets, and strangers. On the other hand, they require more grooming, and are more susceptible to specific health conditions than other breeds.

What color is the American cocker spaniel?

American cocker spaniels come in several colors, including black, black and tan, and brown roan.

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