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American Cocker Spaniel
Other names Cocker Spaniel,Cockers
Country of origin United States of America

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 the 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.



A Buff Parti-color and an ASCOB American cocker spaniel.

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 upturned nose and the ears hang down (drop ears). The tail is often docked, though is only required for show, and is recommended for American Cocker Spaniels who hunt. Coat colors are described extensively in the Standard.[1] The English Cocker Spaniel has a more rectangular head, a shorter coat, and is larger.[2]

Height and weight

American Cocker Spaniels are on average between 13.5 to 15.5 inches (34 to 39 cm) high at the withers.[3] The breed standard states that size over 15.5 inches (39 cm) inches for males and 14.5 inches (37 cm) inches for females is a disqualification at a breed show, in order to discourage the breeding of oversize dogs.[1] Both males and females weigh approximately 11 to 15 kilograms (24 to 33 lb) when fully grown.[3]

Head and coat

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.[4]

A red merle american cocker spaniel.

The American Cocker Spaniel is usually kept as a companion dog, since "very few are used for hunting any more."[5] 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.[4] 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.[6] Colors are divided in to categories:

  • Black, including
    • Solid black
    • Black with tan points
A black and tan American Cocker Spaniel and her 2 month old pup.
  • ASCOB (Any Solid Color Other than Black), defined as any color with or without tan points, and only a very small amount of white
    • Buff (Most common color, looks like a very light tan usually.[7])
    • Brown (Chocolate)
  • Parti-color and other colors
    • 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.
    • 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 by the American Spaniel Club.)
  • Merle (not recognized by the American Spaniel Club, meaning that breeding dogs of this color is discouraged by the American Spaniel Club.)(see below for more information.)
A golden American Cocker Spaniel.
An American Cocker Spaniel has an outgoing, friendly personality.
    • Blue Merle (Also known as a black merle)
    • Blue Merle Parti
    • Blue/Black, Chocolate/Brown Merle Parti with tan points
    • Chocolate/Brown Merle Parti
    • Buff/Red Merle
    • Brown Merle (Also known as chocolate merle)

The merle gene is actually a gene that controls color. A merle dog (M) bred to a dog of any other color (X) will result in a dog of color X with dappled, lightened patches of the coat and possible blue eyes. A merle bred to another merle, however, will usually produce white, possibly deaf and blind puppies. blackandtancocker3dayswtailcropped.jpg blackandtancocker3dayswtailcropped.jpg A merle cocker spaniel can be registered but not shown. Merle is sometimes referred to as a "deadly gene", in that it causes various ailments; this is only true when breeding two merles together. [8]

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

See the article dog terminology for an explanation of terms.

Litter size and tail docking

A black and tan American Cocker Spaniel pup 4 days old with her recently docked tail.

The average litter size for the American Cocker Spaniel is 5 to 7 pups with newborn pups weighing in at between seven and nine ounces. Removal of any dewclaws, when present, and tail docking is usually done before the pup is 5 days old. Tail docking is controversial, although it is usually done on cocker spaniels to obtain what is considered a better “cocker” look and may be done painlessly when done by a vet who uses a local anesthetic. Tail docking is done on dogs used in hunting to prevent the tail from being injured and entangled by brush and thorns during hunting.[9]


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.[10]


An American Cocker Spaniel taking part in an agility competition.
An American Cocker Spaniel with its ears wrapped in preparation for a dog show.

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.[11]

According to written historical records, the first Spaniel was brought to North America aboard the "Mayflower" which sailed from Plymouth, England and landed in NewEngland in 1620 [12]. This dog was most likely very useful in hunting small game.[13] 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.[4] 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.[4]

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.[14]

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.[15]

Return to the UK

Initially in the United Kingdom there were a few American Cockers that had accompanied service personel to American bases in the 50's and 60's. In addition, several came over with embassy staff and business people returning home.[16]

The first UK Kennel Club registered American Cocker Spaniel was Aramingo Argonaught, born 17 January 1956 and bred by Herbert L. Steinberg. Two judges would have confirmed the registration as an American Cocker before it was permitted by the KC. In the late 60's they were shown as a rare breed. In 1968, the KC agreed to have the breed shown in the category "Any variety gundog other than Cocker" and stated that the American Cocker was not a variety of "Spaniel (Cocker)". There were around 100 registrations between 1966 to 1968.[16]

In 1970 the breed was given a separate register in the Kennel Club Breed Supplement, as it was previously included in "Any other variety". Registration numbers were up to 309 in 1970 following this full recognition.[16]


American Cocker Spaniels in UK and USA/Canada surveys had a median lifespan of about 10-11 years,[17] which is on the low end of the typical range for purebred dogs, and 1-2 years less than other breeds of their size.[18] The larger English Cocker Spaniel typically lives about a year longer than the American Cocker Spaniel.[17] 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%).[19] In a 2003 USA/Canada Health Survey with a smaller sample size, the leading causes of death were cancer, hepatic disease, and immune-mediated[20]


American Cocker Spaniels are susceptible to a variety of maladies, particularly infections affecting their ears and, in some cases, their eyes. 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).


Although primarily companions and pets, the hunting instincts of American Cocker Spaniels can be tested in Spaniel Hunting Tests offered by the American Kennel Club. The American Spaniel Club also offers a Working Certificate for American Cocker Spaniels.[21]


Famous American Cocker Spaniels

A black American Cocker Spaniel champion.

Cockers in science

An early experiment was done with Cocker Spaniels and Basenjis in the 1950s and 60s by John Paul Scott and John l. Fuller, investigating how behavior and individual 'personality' traits are inherited. Simple genetics were shown to regulate complex behavior in the breeds.[23]


  1. ^ a b American breed standard (breed's club of origin
  2. ^ pg 7, The English-Amreican Split
  3. ^ a b Cunliffe, Judith (2002). The Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. Parragon. p. 200. ISBN 0-75258-018-3. 
  4. ^ a b c d Clark, Anne Rogers; Andrew H. Brace (1995). The International Encyclopedia of Dogs. Howell Book House. pp. 429–431. ISBN 0-87605-624-9. [Booklist Reviews 1996 April #2 Lay summary]. 
  5. ^ United Kennel Club Standard
  6. ^ American Spaniel Club
  7. ^ A Basic Introduction To The Cocker Spaniel
  8. ^ [ Merle Information
  9. ^ Pet Library’s Cocker Spaniel Guide by Hilary Harmar, 1996, England, pages 189-193
  10. ^ The Intelligence of Dogs, by Stanley Coren, Chapter 10, pages 183-185, Free Press, 2005, ISBN 0743280873
  11. ^ The Twentieth Century Dog: Volume II, Sporting, by Herbert Compton, pg 266, Grant Richards, London, 1904
  12. ^
  13. ^ Pet Library’s Cocker Spaniel Guide by Hilary Harmar, 1996, England, pages 26-27
  14. ^ Midkiff Seductive
  15. ^ The Cocker Spaniel Handbook, by D. Caroline Coile, pages 5-10, Barron's Educational Series, 2006, ISBN 0764134590
  16. ^ a b c Quelch, John (1988). The Early Days of the American Cocker Spaniel in the United Kingdom. American Cocker Spaniel Club of Great Britain. 
  17. ^ a b Dog Longevity Web Site, Breed Data page. Compiled by K. M. Cassidy. Retrieved July 8, 2007
  18. ^ Dog Longevity Web Site, Weight and Longevity page. Compiled by K. M. Cassidy. Retrieved July 5, 2007
  19. ^ Kennel Club/British Small Animal Veterinary Association Scientific Committee. 2004. Purebred Dog Health Survey. Retrieved July 5, 2007
  20. ^ Cocker Spaniel Comprehensive Breed Health Survey, First Summary Report, December 8, 2003. The American Spaniel Club Foundation and the American Spaniel Club. Prepared by C. Thomas. Retrieved February, 2007
  21. ^ Working Certificate
  22. ^ Holly Hobbie - Meet Holly Hobbie
  23. ^ The Tangled Wing, by Melvin Konner, pgs 73 - 74, Holt, 2003, ISBN 0805072799

Further reading

External links

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