Spaniels, earlier referred to as “Spanyells,” have been around for centuries. This is a large and diverse group of dogs, dating back to the 14th century or perhaps even earlier. Spaniels of all types historically have been bred to hunt, either on land or on water, or sometimes on both. The American Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the recognized Spaniel breeds and also is the smallest member of the Kennel Club’s Gundog Group.
American Cockers, and English Cockers, were bred specifically to flush and retrieve game birds. In fact, their name probably comes from the “woodcock,” which is a bird that they apparently are especially proficient at hunting.
During the 1800s, English Cocker Spaniels were imported to the USA and Canada in quite some numbers by bird-hunting enthusiasts, who valued their exceptional skills at flushing and retrieving woodcock, pheasant and grouse.
English Cockers were accepted for show competition in England in 1883, and were given breed status in England’s Kennel Club Stud Books in 1892.
In the early to mid-1900s, the American Cockers began to diverge from their English counterparts. American breeders interested in showing Cocker Spaniels competitively in the conformation ring began breeding them down in size, which also made them especially suitable as family pets.
The Cocker Spaniel soon became the most popular purebred dog in America.
Hunting enthusiasts resisted the trend towards breeding petite Cockers. In 1935, they formed a separate breed club for the traditional English Cocker Spaniels, called the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America, which remains today as the parent club for that breed in the United States. The AKC formally recognized the English Cocker Spaniel as a breed distinct from the American Cocker Spaniel in 1946.
The enormous popularity of the American Cocker Spaniel had its benefits for the breed but also brought some unwelcome consequences. Commercial puppy mills and other unscrupulous “breeders” began breeding Cockers indiscriminately, without attention to the health, temperament or well-being of the parents or their puppies. Fortunately, responsible fanciers of the American Cocker Spaniel intervened and continued promoting high-quality examples of their beloved breed.
Today’s American Cockers by and large are the endearing, energetic, affectionate companions that made them among the most popular of all purebred dogs.
The American Cocker Spaniel has an average life expectancy of between 12 and 15 years.
Breed health concerns may include
- autoimmune hemolytic anaemia
- cherry eye
- progressive retinal atrophy
- corneal ulceration
- keratoconjunctivitis sicca
- ear infections
- hip dysplasia
- elbow dysplasia
- patellar luxation
- patent ductus arteriosus
- pulmonic stenosis
- dilated cardiomyopathy
- intervertebral disc disease
- epilepsy and an assortment of dermatological (skin) disorders