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American Cocker Spaniel Dog Breed

The American Cocker Spaniel is a medium size breed of dog. It is one of the Spaniel type breeds, similar to the English Cocker Spaniel, and was originally bred as a gun dog. In the United States, the breed is usually referred to as the Cocker Spaniel, while in Canada and elsewhere in theCocker Spaniel Dog Breed world, it is called the American Cocker Spaniel. The word cocker is commonly held to stem from their use to hunt woodcock in England. Although the Cocker Spaniel type originated in the United Kingdom, by the 1940s the American breed was recognized as distinct from the English breed.


The American Cocker Spaniel is a medium sized dog of normal proportions, with medium long silky fur on the body and ears, hanging down on the legs and belly (feathering). The head has a rounded look and the ears hang down (drop ears). The tail is often docked. Coat colors are described extensively in the Standard. The English Cocker Spaniel has a more rectangular head, a shorter coat, and is larger.


American Cocker Spaniels have an ideal size of 15 inches (38 cm) at the withers for male dogs, with females smaller. The breed standard states that size over 15.5 inches for males and 14.5 inches for females is a disqualification at a breed show, in order to discourage the breeding of oversize dogs.


The head of an American Cocker Spaniel makes the breed immediately recognizable, with the rounded dome of the skull, well-pronounced stop, and square lip. The drop ears are long, low set, with long silky fur, and the eyes are dark, large, and rounded.


The American Cocker Spaniel is usually kept as a companion dog, since "very few are used for hunting any more." As pets and showdogs, the breed's coat and the colors of the coat have taken on great importance, as they are very beautiful if well groomed and cared for. The coat should never be curly or have a cottony texture, but should be silky and flat, short on the head and medium length on the body, with an undercoat. Colors are divided in to categories:

  • Black, including
    • Solid black
    • Black with tan points
  • ASCOB (Any Solid Color Other than Black), defined as any color with or without tan points, and only a very small amount of white
  • Tricolor, including
    • black and white with tan points
    • black and white
    • brown and white
    • brown and white with tan points (brown tri)
    • red and white.
  • Parti-color and other colors
    • Roan (individual colored hairs mingled in with white hairs), with or without tan points
      • blue roan or black
      • orange roan or red
      • liver or chocolate roan, shades of brown
    • Sable (no longer recognized by the American Spaniel Club, meaning that breeding dogs of this color is discouraged.)
    • Merle (controversial color that is linked to various ailments; not recognized by the American Spaniel Club, and not registrable with the American Kennel Club.)

The location and size of tan points for black and ASCOB dogs is described in detail in the Standard.


Spaniels were hunting dogs brought from Spain to England, where the type was developed into a gun dog for hunting small game, especially birds, and the name Cocker was described in 1904 as having been derived from its use in hunting woodcocks.

The Cocker Spaniel was recognized as a breed in England in 1892, separating it from Springer Spaniels; until that time, Cockers and Springers would be born into the same litter, and were only separated out into the distinct types when fully grown. Another dog used in the development of the early Cockers was the English Setter, resulting in the roan coats still seen in the breed. Brought to North America in the late 1800s, the development of Cockers in England and Cockers in North America began to diverge into two different breeds, although breeding between the American Cocker Spaniel and the English Cocker Spaniel was permitted until 1946, when the stud book was closed.

The first Cocker Spaniel registered in the United States' American Kennel Club was "Captain", in 1878, and the American Spaniel Club was formed in 1881, although both the English and American varieties were very similar at that time. The Westminster Dog Show was won in 1921 by a parti-color Cocker (black and white), Ch. Midkiff Seductive.

Over time, the Cocker Spaniels in the United States became smaller than the English dogs, and, in dog shows, separate categories (called 'classes') were created in 1935 for the English variety and the American variety of Cocker Spaniel. In 1938, the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America decided to discourage breeding between the varieties, and defined the English Cocker Spaniel as those whose pedigrees included dogs that were or were eligible to have been registered with The Kennel Club (UK) before 1930. Much research of pedigrees was done by Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge and others, and in June, 1946, the English Cocker Spaniel and the American Cocker Spaniel were recognized by the American Kennel Club as separate breeds.



American Cocker Spaniels in UK and USA/Canada surveys had a median lifespan of about 10-11 years, which is on the low end of the typical range for purebred dogs, and 1-2 years less than other breeds of their size. The larger English Cocker Spaniel typically lives about a year longer than the American Cocker Spaniel. In a 2004 UK Kennel Club survey, the most common causes of death were cancer (23%), old age (20%), cardiac (8%), and immune-mediated (8%). In a 2003 USA/Canada Health Survey with a smaller sample size, the leading causes of death were cancer, hepatic disease, and immune-mediated.


American Cocker Spaniels are susceptible to a variety of maladies, particularly infections affecting their ears and, in some cases, their eyes. An unknown percentage of the breed may require medical attention. Although the number or percent of afflicted dogs is not known the following eye conditions have been identified in some members of the breed: Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), glaucoma, and cataracts. The American Spaniel Club recommends annual eye exams by a veterinary ophthalmologist for all dogs that are bred. Autoimmune problems in Cockers have also been identified in an unknown number or percent of the breed, including autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA). Ear inflammations are common in drop-eared breeds of dog. Luxating patellas and hip dysplasia have been identified in some American Cocker Spaniels. Puppy buyers should make sure that breeders have checked their sires and dams for these conditions. Dogs free of hip dysplasia can be certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).

"Rage Syndrome"

Rage Syndrome is described as when a dog attacks suddenly and savagely, without any warning and during the attack the dog often has a glazed look and appears to be unaware of its surroundings. A study in the 1990s of English Cocker Spaniels in Britain found it is more common in solid colored Cockers than in particolors and also more common in darker colored Cockers than lighter colored Cockers, being most common in solid black colored spaniels. Rage syndrome is most often associated with the English Cocker Spaniel breed, although cases have been found in other breeds. Cases are relatively rare even within the English Cocker Spaniel breed. Rage syndrome cannot be accurately predicted and can only be diagnosed by EEG or genetic testing and these tests are not conclusive. There are no studies linking 'rage syndrome' to the American Cocker Spaniel.


The American Cocker Spaniel breed standard defines the ideal dog of the breed as having an outgoing, friendly temperament. They tend to be soft dogs who do not do well with rough or harsh training. The breed ranks 20th in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, a rating that indicates good "Working or Obedience Intelligence", or trainability.


More Info on the Cocker Spaniel Dog Breed

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