Both the English and American Cocker Spaniel had identical histories up until around the 1930’s, at which time American breeders of the English type began to institute significant changes among their English Cocker Spaniels. The breeders wanted to change the traditional standards of English Cocker Spaniel that American fanciers did not agree with. The desire of the American breeders led to a new type of Spaniel, the result being an “Americanized” variety of the English Cocker Spaniel breed. The American Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the AKC recognized Sporting dogs. For more information about the early development of this breed please visit the history section of the article on the English Cocker Spaniel.
Both the English and American Cocker Spaniel had identical histories up until around the 1930’s, at which time American breeders of the English type began to institute significant changes among their English Cocker Spaniels. The breeders wanted to change the traditional standards of English Cocker Spaniel that American fanciers did not agree with. The desire of the American breeders led to a new type of Spaniel, the result being an “Americanized” variety of the English Cocker Spaniel breed. The American Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the AKC recognized Sporting dogs.
In 1878, the first America Cocker Spaniel was registered with the AKC. He was a liver and white Spaniel named Captain. The American Cocker Spaniel Club was first formed in 1881, and later became the American Spaniel Club (ASC). The ASC is the oldest breed club for dogs in the United States. They came together originally to establish breed standards in order to separate the American Cocker Spaniel for all other land Spaniel breeds. Their task, not completed until 1905, would take the better part of 20 years to accomplish. Originally bred as hunting dogs, the increased popularity of the American Cocker Spaniel caused a change in the standards, to conform more to the show standards and desired attributes, such as a smaller size and longer coat. The father of the American Cocker Spaniel, Obo II, “differed greatly from the modern breed, being only 10 inches (25cm) tall and with a long body, but was considered to be an excellent dog of that era and became a popular sire.”
The American Cocker Spaniel may have descended from the same ancestors as the English Cocker Spaniel, but the breed was quickly developing its own unique breeding standards. The American Cocker Spaniel, like its cousin the English Cocker Spaniel began traveling abroad with its human companions. Back in England, the American Cocker was not yet recognized as its own breed.
Aramingo Argonaught was the first American Cocker Spaniel to be registered with the UK Kennel Club. Before he was allowed to be shown, judges had to confirm that he was an American Cocker Spaniel, and not of the English variety. Until the 1960’s, the American Cocker Spaniel was shown under the “rare breeds” category.
Although not yet a recognized breed in the UK, the American Cocker Spaniel boasts a Best in Show win at Westminster on four occasions. 1921 saw the first win with a Cocker called Midkiff Seductive. My Own Brucie won Best in Show twice, once in 1940 and again in 1941, making him the world’s most photographed dog in history. His 1940 win went hand in hand with the American Cocker Spaniel being the most popular dog breed in America. In 1970, the American Cocker Spaniel was finally recognized as separate from the English Cocker Spaniel by the UK Kennel Club. Once they became a recognized breed, show enrollment increased dramatically. Being bred to the show standards, the American Cocker Spaniel is no longer ideal as a field or working breed.
Throughout the United States’ Presidential history, the American Cocker Spaniel has been a loyal companion, with such Presidents as Richard Nixon, Rutherford B. Hayes, Harry Truman, and Bill Clinton being tied to the American Cocker Spaniel breed.
While a general appearance description for all Cocker Spaniels is given previously in this article, the American Cocker Spaniel fits this overall description, but has its own unique physical characteristics. “The American (Cocker Spaniel) variety became smaller and more beautiful while the English version grew rangier and stronger. Indeed, English Cocker Spaniels more closely resemble their Springer Spaniel ancestors. “
The American Cocker Spaniel stands 13.5 to 15.5 inches at the withers, and weighing 24 to 30 lbs on average. Female American Cocker Spaniels will be slightly shorter and weigh a bit less than the males. The American Cocker Spaniel is distinctly recognizable by their rounded, dome shaped heads and square lips, with long, low set ears, silky fur, short muzzle, and very clearly pronounced eyebrows; “a more dramatic down-slope of the top line, and a longer, silkier, more dense coat of hair.” The American Cocker Spaniel has large, dark eye; they are round in shape. The American Cocker Spaniel is known as a medium sized dog with long silky hair that is feathered on its legs and abdomen. The coloring of the American Cocker Spaniel’s coat differs little from its English cousin. The coat comes in a range of colors: including the black and tan, solid color variety, and parti-colored. In addition to these color schemes, the American Cocker Spaniel has one unique to its breed and unrecognized by the AKC; this coat is called Merle patterned. The Roan pattern is rare among the American Cocker, and the common buff colors in their coat is little seen in their English cousin.
Like his English cousin, the American Cocker Spaniel is a “Merry” little fellow. The American Cocker Spaniel, if properly socialized, will display this same active, playful, intelligent, and sweet personality previously of the English Cocker Spaniel. “The American Cocker Spaniel breed standard defines the ideal dog of the breed as being ‘equable in temperament with no suggestion of timidity’”. They, like the English Cocker Spaniel, do best when with people and exercised regularly, and can be easily upset and stressed by rough treatment and handling. When properly socialized at a young age, the American Cocker Spaniel can be well behaved with people, and other animals.
Because of their good nature, the American Cocker Spaniel became a much desired pet for families. This demand for puppies led to almost devastating breeding practices by puppy mills, backyard breeders, and unscrupulous dealers who saw the dog as only a means to make money. The result of the unprincipled breedings was a change in the temperament and the introduction of health problems that did not exist before. The American Cocker Spaniel’s personality underwent dramatic changes, and in some cases, became unpredictable. Because so many people wanted a cocker, many breeders bred without considering the background or suitability of the sire and dam. The result was (American Cocker Spaniel’s) with poor temperament and many inherited health defects. The nervous tendencies of the breed discussed earlier became more obvious and more common in the American Cocker Spaniel. More recently, breeders are adhering to proper breeding standards for the American Cocker Spaniel, and the breed is getting back its previously sweet and predictable temperament.
For their breed category and size, the American Cocker Spaniel has a relatively short lifespan; on average living to only 10 or 11 years of age. Like his English cousin, the American Cocker Spaniel’s most common cause of death is cancer, followed by old age.
The majority of health issues tend to revolve around their ears and eyes; things like ear infections, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cataracts, and glaucoma commonly affect the American Cocker Spaniel.
Other conditions that have been reported in the breed include: