American Cocker Spaniel

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.

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 Spaniel Size

American Cocker Spaniels have an ideal size of 15 inches (38 cm) at the withers for male dogs and 14 inches for females. 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.

American Cocker Spaniel Head

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.

American Cocker Spaniel Coat

The American Cocker Spaniel is usually kept as a companion dog, since "very few are used for hunting any more". As pets and show dogs, 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
    • Buff (Most common color, looks like a very light tan usually)
    • 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.)
  • Merle (not recognized by the American Spaniel Club, meaning that breeding dogs of this color is discouraged.)
    • 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. 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.


American Cocker Spaniels 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. The most common causes of death were cancer (23%), old age (20%), cardiac (8%), and immune-mediated (8%). In 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).


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.

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