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How to Train an English Cocker Spaniel

English Cocker Spaniel lovers often use the word ‘merry’ to describe their breed. Upbeat in the field and mellow at home, this compact, silky-coated bird dog is widely admired for his delightful personality and irresistible good looks.

The English Cocker Spaniel is a compactly built sporting dog standing between 15 to 17 inches at the shoulder. The softly contoured head, with its dark, melting eyes that convey an alert and dignified expression, is framed by lush, close-lying ears. The medium-length coat, seen in a variety of striking colors and patterns, is silky to the touch. ‘Balance’ is a key word in understanding the breed: The EC is balanced in temperament, construction, and movement. Beneath the EC’s physical beauty beats the heart of a tireless, eager-to-please hunter’s helper, famous the world over for his ability to flush and retrieve gamebirds. For those who prefer more domestic pursuits, there is no more charming and agreeable household companion.

History

The breeds of the AKC Sporting Group were all developed to assist hunters of feathered game. These “sporting dogs” (also referred to as gundogs or bird dogs) are subdivided by function—that is, how they hunt. They are spaniels, pointers, setters, retrievers, and the European utility breeds. Of these, spaniels are generally considered the oldest.

The spaniel breeds of England were developed centuries ago from dogs of Spanish stock (the word “spaniel” deriving from “Spanish”). This was long before the invention of reliable hunting rifles, when bird hunters used dogs in tandem with nets, bows, and sometimes falcons.

Early authorities divided the spaniels not by breed but by type: either water spaniels or land spaniels. The land spaniels came to be subdivided by size. The larger types were the “springing spaniel” and the “field spaniel,” and the smaller, which specialized on flushing woodcock, was known as a “cocking spaniel.”

In the 19th century, the rise of dog shows, coupled with Victorian England’s mania for classification, led to designating the various spaniel types as official breeds. Thus, the English Springer Spaniel, Field Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, and on through all of today’s British spaniel breeds.

American dog fanciers of the early-20th century developed a companion-bred Cocker. It was smaller, with a more profuse coat, a shorter head, and a more domed skull, than its English cousin. Those who favored the old English hunting dog formed the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America in 1935. And in 1946, the AKC officially recognized the Cocker Spaniel (the U.S. type) and English Cocker Spaniel as separate breeds.

Quick Facts

Temperament: energetic / merry / responsive

Height: 15 to 17 inches

Weight: 26 to 34 pounds 

Life Expectancy: 10-13 years

Sporting Group

Health

Although the English Cocker is overall a healthy breed, some genetic health conditions are known to occur occasionally. These include progressive retinal atrophy, hip dysplasia, familial nephropathy, and adult onset neuropathy. A responsible breeders will have their breeding stock tested for conditions that can affect the breed. The English Cocker’s ears should be checked regularly for signs of infection, and the teeth should be brushed often, using a toothpaste designed for dogs.

Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
  • Patella Evaluation
  • Hip Evaluation
  • PRA Optigen DNA Test

Grooming

Most English Cockers have a fairly profuse coat that requires regular care, including a thorough brushing and combing at least once a week to keep the dog looking his best and to prevent the formation of mats and tangles. In addition the dog is usually trimmed every month or so in certain areas’¿around the feet, on the face, under the neck, on the underside of the ears, and under the tail. The owner can learn to use scissors, thinning shears or a stripping tool, and clippers to do an overall trim and help keep up the English Cocker’s neat appearance. The ears should be checked weekly for debris and excess wax, and the nails should be trimmed at least monthly.

Exercise

An upbeat, active sporting dog, the English Cocker Spaniel requires daily exercise for his physical and mental well-being. He will do well with activities such as long walks or hikes with his owner or playing ball in the backyard. As his hunting instincts remain strong, he should be on a leash for walks, and a fenced yard is recommended. Merry and affectionate, the English Cocker Spaniel is an excellent family companion and easy to train. Whether he is working in the field or at home lounging on the sofa, his tail rarely stops wagging

Training

With a merry, devoted disposition, the English Cocker was developed to follow instructions in the field, and the breed is still very eager to please. He is easy to train and enjoys working with his person so long as only positive methods are used. The EC will react poorly to a harsh or negative training approach; he must love and respect his person, never fear them. Early socialization is recommended to ensure a well-adjusted companion who is adaptable to a variety of situations.

Nutrition

The English Cocker should be fed a high-quality dog food appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) and activity level. Some English Cockers are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Give table scraps sparingly, if at all, especially avoiding cooked bones and foods with high fat content. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet.

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