Ultimate Guide to Cocker Spaniels

Dogs are great animals and companions, both as pets and, for some breeds, as working creatures.

There are a great many breeds of dogs that make suitable and well rounded pets and this includes the spaniel breeds.

Any dog can make for a suitable companion and most are trainable with some variances in intelligence and ability however.

Popular animals, Cocker Spaniels are one of my favourite breeds and I am fortunate to live with two male Cockers – Boris and Nimrod. They are very different in some ways and very similar in others – a bit like people.

It’s always a good idea to do some research before making a commitment, particularly when its something like a dog.

This guide to Cocker Spaniels will give you the information that you need to decide whether a Cocker Spaniel is the dog for you.

Table of Contents

What’s the difference between a working Cocker Spaniel and a Show Cocker Spaniel?

There are several differences between a working Cocker Spaniel and a show Cocker Spaniel these are mainly in the areas of appearance and ability.

A working spaniel generally, has been bred from working parents and, for generations, there will be working relatives within the dog’s pedigree. This working heritage will provide the spaniel with the working instinct that is needed for good working ability with the capacity for training as a gundog.

Working Cocker Spaniels are often smaller, compact and powerful dogs with a body size and shape that is distinctly smaller than show Cockers. 

Show Cocker Spaniels originate from the same historical ancestors as working Cocker Spaniels but that is where the similarity ends.

For generations show Cockers have been bred for looks and appearance, as opposed to ability, thus a show Cocker will likely be a pretty dog that conforms to ‘breed standards’ for show dogs, but, it’s working ability and it’s capacity for training could be questionable.

Show Cocker Spaniels tend to be longer in leg than working Cockers, they normally have much longer ears, their coats and feathering are normally very long.

It is also fair to say that through breeding for looks there are spaniels that have inherent health problems and deficiencies within the show type, as breeders have been less focussed on dog condition than on health and genetic problems.

Whether you opt for a working Cocker or a show Cocker Spaniel is your decision. Both types make good companions but, if your intention is a dog with working ability, then you should always opt for a spaniel that has been bred from working parents.

Show Cocker Spaniel

ultimate guide to cocker spaniels

How big is a Working Cocker Spaniel?

Working Cocker Spaniels are small to medium sized dogs that are compact but incredibly powerful and active for their size.

Fit and very energetic, working Cocker Spaniels are competent swimmers, jumpers and hunters and possess scenting ability that is remarkable which, when all combined provide a capacity for days and days of work which, at times, appears tireless.

A working Cocker Spaniel is generally short in leg, powerful in the shoulders, short ears that do not dangle down like show Cockers and short feathering on his legs.

Working Cocker Spaniels

working cocker spaniel

Do Working Cockers calm down?

Working Cocker Spaniels are bred for long days outside, finding and often retrieving game. They are fit and energetic dogs and need plenty of exercise and stimulation through training and purpose.

Like all spaniels, working Cockers will run and run and enjoy walks and similar adventures, they enjoy going out, chasing their noses, free running and other high energy exercise.

Working Cockers do calm down, normally after a long walk or a training session a working spaniel can be found asleep, resting and getting ready for the next walk or playtime.

Naturally, as a spaniel gets older, he will become calmer, taking more rest periods and won’t be able to walk for as far, but he’ll still enjoy going out regularly and, you can expect a working Cocker Spaniel to have large energy levels for many years.

He’ll probably start to slow down when he gets to 9 or 10 years old.

Are Working Cockers hyper?

Compared to other breeds of dogs it could be said that working cockers appear to be hyper. However, hyper is probably not the best way to describe a working Cocker.

All spaniel breeds can appear hyperactive when they are compared to other breeds of dogs but it’s important not to confuse the dog’s energy and intelligence levels with hyper behavor.

If you look after a working Cocker properly and understand that he is a dog with high levels of energy then you’ll appreciate him for his ability, rather than be frustrated in him.

You should channel his energy through games and training, Cocker Spaniels love to play, go on walks and their levels of intelligence provide the opportunity for training, either for working, tricks or just to help him to become a good, well behaved dog.

Are Male or Female Working Cockers better?

Many potential Cocker Spaniel owners struggle to decide whether they should get a male or female Cocker Spaniel and they wonder which is better.

I have owned both male and female spaniels and I can say that there really is very little difference in their behavor.

Male spaniels tend to ‘mark’ their territory frequently, and will do this when out on walks etc, whereas females do not have this tendency.

Both sexes can be dominant or biddable, but, honestly, dominance in Cocker Spaniels is not really something that I have had issues with. If you bring your puppy up with some expectations of standards and follow some basic training then either sex of spaniel will make a good dog.

In the working arena I’ve seen many female spaniels that could outpace and outperform their male counterparts and I have owned female spaniels that were excellent working dogs.

Boris and Nimrod, my two male Cockers, are soft, biddable dogs, they have the occasional dog disagreement, but, overall they are pleasant companions, good workers and great pets.

Do Working Cocker Spaniels make good pets?

Yes. Working Cocker spaniels do make good pets as long as you understand a few things.

A working spaniel has been bred from working gundog parents and, as such, his instincts will drive him  to work for a living.

You may not wish to work a spaniel but, if you are choosing to get a working Cocker spaniel as a pet, then you need to be able to and be prepared to give your dog some purpose in his life.

He will certainly need to have some training, which he will enjoy, both physically and mentally. He will find this challenging and this will help to satisfy his instinct for work.

There are many things that you can do to make life with a working Cocker spaniel more interesting both for you and him.

You could work him, of course, as a gundog.

You might wish to take him running or involve him in some other forms of dog sports.

If you have children then you involve them in aspects of your spaniel’s training.

Whatever you do, working Cockers do make good pets, but, you need to keep them busy and find ways for them to burn their energy and use their brains.

guide to cocker spaniels

How do you groom a Working Cocker Spaniel?

Grooming a working Cocker Spaniel is an important task that you should be careful to undertake regularly. When you groom your dog it gives you the opportunity to check him over for any injuries, lumps, bumps or other issues that you might not otherwise notice.

Regular grooming also helps to remove any matted hair and tangles.

Your spaniel will enjoy grooming and this exercise also reinforces a bond between you and your dog. Grooming should be a pleasurable experience for both of you and won’t take too long to perform.

You can use any brush to groom a spaniel but, ideally you might like to get a purpose made dog grooming brush.

The type of brush that I use for my spaniels is a double sided, bamboo brush that has two types of brush heads – the dogs love it as it enhances blood flow to the skin and it removes dead hair easily and painlessly. 

The AtEase Accents Double Sided brush is what I use and they are available on Amazon – you can check them out via this link.

Always check your Cocker Spaniel over after you have been out with him, particularly if you have been working. 

Pay particular attention to his eyes, ears, around his face and his legs and paws.

Are Cocker Spaniels easy to train?

Cocker Spaniels are easy to train. Most modern Cockers are bright, lively dogs that enjoy the input and challenge of training.

The ease of training differs between the working cocker and the show cocker with working cocker spaniels being more adept at the challenges faced and possessing more natural ability and talent.

If you are going to train a Cocker spaniel then there are some excellent spaniel training books that are available for purchase online and I’ve reviewed some of them with my recommendations. 

You can read my reviews on spaniel training books via this link.

I’d recommend that you follow a gundog training program for your Cocker spaniel – this will challenge him while appealing to his natural spaniel instincts. You will both enjoy it and, as a spaniel owner, you will get a lot from it too.

You can get some basic spaniel training tips at this post.

You’ll also have a well behaved dog that you can take out anywhere.

Can Working Cocker Spaniels be left alone?

Cocker spaniels, like all dogs are pack animals. Your spaniel sees his human family as his pack and he likes to be with them. The pack means security, health and protection.

When your Cocker spaniel is left alone, it is likely, that he will miss you and he may fret or get worried. If your dog lives in the house then this is more likely than a spaniel that lives in a kennel.

You can leave a working Cocker spaniel alone, but you should keep these periods to as little as possible.

Not for any real specific needs of the Cocker, but, quite simply, dogs want to be with you and, when they are alone for long periods of time it isn’t great for them.

Where do Cocker Spaniels Originate?

It is thought that all spaniels originally came from Spain – the name Spaniel suggest so and writings from the 14th century talk of dogs from Spain used for hunting with hawks.

Cocker spaniels were originally from England and were bred as hunting or shooting dogs, for use on formal shoots or walked up shooting occasions.

The breed specialised in hunting the Woodcock, a ground based, small game bird.

Hence the name ‘Cocker Spaniel‘.

When Cocker spaniels were introduced to America, they were also used to hunt Woodcock, but they were bred to a different standard.

As such, the American Cocker spaniel and the English Cocker spaniel are now two similar but different breeds, and in both the USA and England the American Cocker and the English Cocker are now, in fact, considered to be different breeds.

How smart is a Cocker Spaniel?

Cocker spaniels are smart dogs. Bred for hunting and very trainable, most Cockers, like all spaniels, display intelligence and ability which is far beyond the capacity of many other dog breeds.

Out of 137 dog breeds the English Cocker spaniel ranked 18th in intelligence levels with the American Cocker spaniel just slightly less at 20th.

This places both breeds of dogs within the ‘excellent working dog’ class along with the English Springer spaniel.

Having owned both the English Springer spaniel and the English Cocker spaniel I can vouch for the intelligence of both breeds and their capacity for training.

Do Cocker Spaniels eat a lot?

As medium sized dogs Cocker spaniels have a reasonable appetite and generally only need one or two meals daily.

However, all dogs, like people are different and some dogs will need more food than others. Working Cockers, that are out daily, will need more food than a spaniel which is less active, a growing  spaniel will need feeding more times during the day.

The type of food that you feed a Cocker spaniel can affect his daily intake and a good quality dog food will go a lot further than something inferior.

It pays to invest in your spaniel’s diet, getting the best food that you can afford.

If you feed dry food then vary it at times, mix wet food in and always make sure that there is plenty of fresh water available.

You can read my article on feeding a Cocker spaniel at this link.

Do Cocker Spaniels like to play fetch?

Absolutely. Cocker spaniels love to play fetch and will retrieve most things to hand.

Boris and Nimrod are both good retrievers and they love to fetch dummies and tennis balls when we are out training.

At our home, if you leave your shoes around, then, when you return they will not be where you left them. They will have been carried off by one of the dogs. This often results in a search of the house, dog beds etc in efforts to find them.  If we are in a rush then this can be tricky.

As gundogs, it is a natural instinct for a Cocker spaniel to pick things up and carry them around. As working dogs we have encouraged them to pick up game and then bring it to us – retrieving.

There are many things that you can use with your spaniel to play fetch. Balls are always good as they roll along and the dog looks at this as a good chase.

Canvas dummies, such as this one, are my favorite as they are soft and easy on the dog’s mouth and they hold scent well for a spaniel to find.

You can also use rolled up socks and anything else that your dog enjoys to fetch.

Are Cocker Spaniels high energy dogs?

Yes. Cocker spaniels are high energy dogs that can keep going on and on and on.  

The breed will suit anyone with an active lifestyle and, if you enjoy the outdoor life, walking for example, then a Cocker spaniel can make an ideal companion and pet. 

As working dogs Cocker spaniels need plenty of exercise and you should be able to dedicate at least an hour daily of free running exercise to your Cocker as a minimum.

He’ll also play in his ‘free time’ and a selection of toys is always a good idea.

Do Cocker Spaniels like to cuddle?

Boris and Nimrod, my two Cocker spaniels enjoy cuddles.

This may be a surprise given that they are working dogs, but, most dogs, they enjoy a bit of pampering and cuddles.

Many people say that you shouldn’t pet a working dog, but I disagree. Working dogs, like almost any other dog can soak up affection and this type of interaction between owners and dogs, in my view, can cement and enhance the bond between the dog and owner.

If you are looking for an active dog, that will make a good pet, fun companion, that enjoys cuddles, then a Cocker spaniel might be the dog for you.

Do Cocker Spaniels shed?

Most dogs shed hair and Cocker spaniels are no exception to this. Living with two Cockers involves cleaning dog hairs up frequently as they lose hair.

Shedding can be minimised by frequent grooming, using a good dog brush like this one from Amazon, and the occasional visit to the dog grooming parlour.