We’ve been around spaniels for many years both with and without children and they are great, friendly and energetic dogs, ideal for family life and great around children.
If you have a family and are considering getting a spaniel, then it’s highly likely that you’ll be wondering are Cocker spaniels good family dogs? Yes, they are. If you can provide them with a few basics and a loving home then a Cocker spaniel is the ideal dog for a family, with or without children.
Are Cocker spaniels good with children?
Before we answer this question it would be wise to say that any dog can be dangerous and that you should never leave young children alone with a dog, despite how much you trust the animal and that all dogs, regardless of breed, have the potential to bite.
We’ve owned various breeds of spaniels for many years, including Cocker spaniels. Cockers are gentle, loveable dogs that are very friendly and keen to please and enjoy their lives with you.
They love being outside, playing but they also enjoy being curled up in front of a lit fire, or playing with children or each other.
Our dogs are well trained and have been very well socialised. We’ve taken them to many different places where they have had the chance to meet different people and other dogs and animals, and this has helped them to become well rounded, responsible doggy citizens.
We try to involve the dogs in as much as we can. When we go out for shopping, they’ll often come along for a ride to the supermarket in the car, where they’ll wait with one of the humans.
They’ll ‘help’ with gardening, DIY and other ‘tasks’, in fact gardening often involves them digging while we cut the grass and tidy up.
Cockers love being with their human family and they love to play games with children.
In our view they are one of the best breeds that you could choose as a family dog.
But, there are things that you do need to consider before you go ahead and get a Cocker spaniel.
Spaniels are good family dogs if looked after properly
Cockers are good family dogs that are very gentle and kind but they can also be very sensitive and do not like harsh treatment or environments.
If Cockers are treated harshly or unkindly, then they are likely to become defensive, protecting themselves by what is misunderstood as aggressive behaviour, biting, barking and other symptoms.
Often owners confuse this behaviour for aggression and it is due to them missing the signs that the dog has displayed.
Rough play can become too much for some puppies, who can quickly become tired or frightened and, at first the puppy will signal with growls or lip curls that he has had enough, or he may try to go somewhere else to get away.
If the roughness continues then the puppy could nip or bite, it’s his natural progression from a warning ( growl, lip curl, moving somewhere else) and, if that doesn’t work then he could bite as his warnings have been ignored.
This is not behaviour that is restricted to Cockers, all dog breeds behave like this – it’s just that as Cockers are very sensitive animals, they could be ‘pressured’ into this more quickly than another breed.
If you take the time to understand your dog and watch for the signals, but more importantly, treat him properly, then you will avoid and minimise any problems.
Many inexperienced owners mistake this type of behaviour as aggression and are unable to help the dog or deal with the problem.
It isn’t that the dog is aggressive, it’s that the owners are failing to understand the dog and the things that are upsetting the poor animal. The end result is often a dog that is wrongly labelled as aggressive.
The reason that I am sharing this information is to try and help you to understand that Cocker ownership is a two way process.
You need to work with your dog and learn about how he thinks, how he sees the world, because, to be sure, he sees it very differently from you.
What is a vacuum cleaner to you, is an upright monster with a long nose that makes horrible noises and smells – to a dog.
The ‘type’ of ‘aggression’ that we’ve outlined here, caused by being frightened, is often called Cocker Rage.
This doing the Cocker serious discredit as biting, when frightened, is hardly rage, it’s a defence reaction.
It just shows that you need to learn as much about your dog as possible, through reading, talking to owners and, if you are not able or prepared to learn, then you should re-consider whether a Cocker, or a dog in general, is the right choice for your family.
How to help a puppy to be a good family dog
Bringing a puppy up is not a difficult job, provided you are willing to learn and work with your puppy, put a few ground rules in for family members, particularly children and be consistent, then you’ll be well on your way.
Use a good breeder
You should always do your homework to help you to find a good Cocker spaniel breeder. Speak to other owners, try to get a recommendation, if you do struggle then call and speak to breed societies to ask for their advice.
Responsible breeders will have puppies to improve the breed. They will not breed from animals that have behavioural or physical defects, and this is the type of breeder that you need to seek out.
A puppy that has been well bred has had the best start in life and will be with a breeder that has taken care of his needs as a youngster, to minimise the risks of future problems as he grows up.
See our article here about choosing a spaniel puppy.
Socialise the puppy
Just as with children, it is important for your puppy to experience as much of life as is safely possible when he is young.
Take him to different places as soon as it is safe to do so, let him meet different people, different animals, to experience different sounds, smells, sights.
Help him to enjoy and experience life and you’ll help him to grow into a well rounded, confident and calm adult dog which will, in turn, help him to be a responsible and affectionate family member.
Basic training is important
You may have no intention of working your Cocker spaniel or of entering any form of dog competitions, but this does not mean that you should skip basic training.
It is important to teach your dog some basic commands so that you can be confident that he will be well behaved and under control when you takehim out.
Basic spaniel training is not difficult and you’ll find some guidance in this training article that we have written, and you and your dog will enjoy it, and you’ll both learn a great deal about each other when you do it.
Cockers are really biddable dogs that love to please and you’ll find that with short, regular training sessions, your dog’s intelligence will quickly shine, they are a very clever breed.
If he makes a mistake, remember that he is just a dog, be patient and kind, and he’ll get there.
Be firm but kind
Cockers are like children, at times they will ‘push their luck’ and ‘try it on’. You will, at times, need to be firm.
Due to their sensitive nature a firm telling off, in the form of ‘No’ is often enough.
You should never embark on a campaign of physical punishment with a Cocker, or any dog for that matter, he will learn nothing and, in the case of a sensitive dog, you’ll scare him.
To anyone who believes in physically punishing a dog I’d say to them to get a Rottweiler and try to punish it ( I’m not encouraging this but if you did then you would be straight in the dog’s corner – and I wonder how many fingers you would have left).
Physical punishment of dogs is unnecessary and, in the case of Rottweilers, not recommended.
Do Cocker spaniels go well with children?
Yes. Cocker spaniels and children can and do get along fine. Cockers are playful, loyal dogs that love children.
There must be some ground rules in place, however – for the children and they must understand that:
- the dog is not a toy
- that they must always be gentle with him and look after him as he is a living, breathing animal
- they must always leave him alone when he is eating his meals
- they should not disturb him when he is asleep
- they never get into his bed – that is his safe place that is only for him
- they must never, ever smack or hit him
- they must never shout at him or frighten him
The dog must also understand that the children are higher in the pecking order than he is, and the best way to achieve this is to simply involve the children with the dog’s training ( under adult supervision of course).
If you are consistent with the words that you use for your commands and the children use these as well, then your spaniel will quickly get the idea that when the children ask him to do something, he must do it.
It is also worth while educating the children so that they understand that sometimes the dog will be tired and he will not want to play and he will just want to rest and be quiet.
For older children you may be able to get them books that can help them to learn more about dogs and how they think and learn.
Having a spaniel should be fun for everyone and is a great way to learn and understand the world as seen through the eyes of our four legged friends.
Do Cocker spaniels get on with cats?
If you have a cat around then you’ll need to make sure that the introductions between cat and dog are managed carefully.
Spaniels of all breeds will happily get on with cats, it may just take a little while for them to sort out the pecking order.
Always make sure that the cat has some means of escaping from the dog as, normally, the cat will run and the dog will chase it.
It’s natural and so long as the cat can get away they will, eventually become good friends.
Conclusion - Are Cocker spaniels good family dogs?
I have the advantage of having been around dogs all of my life, and I’ve grown up around them.
Cocker spaniels are great family dogs if you, as the human, are prepared to put some work in to look after, care and learn about them.
Dogs are incredible animals and are very clever and adaptable. Many people confuse a dog’s ways and, as obvious as it may seem not, they view a dog as some sort of mini human that should understand everything that it is told.
If you are prepared to allow your Cocker to be a dog and you take the time and effort to learn about him, accommodate his needs and educate the family so that they know how to look after him, and you do some training, then, yes a Cocker spaniel is a good family dog.
They are one of the best in my view and if you do get a Cocker and you look after him, then you’ll have an affectionate, intelligent and loyal family member and companion for many years to come.