The American Cocker Spaniel is one of the most popular dogs in the US, but in Europe it (still) remains an insider’s tip for anyone looking for a friendly four-legged companion with the special charm of a (former) hunter.
Weighing around 12kg and up to 38cm in height, the American Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the Spaniels. Its body is strong and compact with long lop ears and a round head compared to the English Cocker Spaniel. Another different characteristic to English Spaniels is that the American Spaniel has much more abundant fur. The American Cocker Spaniel’s fur is short and wispy, whilst it is of medium length on the ears, stomach, chest and backs of the legs. These elegant dogs have different fur colours: mono-colour Spaniels are black, chocolate brown, red or cream-coloured in different base tones. Multicoloured American Cocker Spaniels can be white with red, cream, brown or chocolate brown markings. There are also grey Spaniels where the white is infused with dark hairs.
Very British ancestors
The American Cocker Spaniel was originally a variation on the English Cocker Spaniel. There is doubt about the origin of the breed. The only thing that’s clear is that American dog lovers used Cocker Spaniels from Europe for breeding at some point and developed their own type further and further, which was considered an independent breed around 1930 at the latest. In 1940, the American Cocker Spaniel gained its own standard and the FCI recognised it as an autonomous breed in 1951. In contrast to its British ancestors, the objective of breeding American Cocker Spaniels was never to produce potent hunting dogs. The focus was in fact on appearance and suitability as a family and companion dog. The “Ami” was one of the most popular dogs in its country of origin around the middle of the 20th century. At this time, a female American Cocker Spaniel conquered the silver screen worldwide and became a famous young star: the enchanting Lady from the Walt Disney cartoon “Lady and the Tramp”. The American Cocker Spaniel is still frequently found in its homeland to this day, but rarely in Europe in comparison.
Totally likeable: lovable character
These cheerful whirlwinds make straightforward companions for many dog lovers. They are very sociable, open and intelligent and highly suitably as family dogs able to form close friendships with children. Since they are very people-focused, they should live in close contact to their caregiver. Although American Cocker Spaniels are vigilant, they are not loud and do not show aggression. They shouldn’t be deployed as watchdogs though, because they are genuinely very open and friendly towards strangers. If you wish to live with an American Cocker Spaniel, only the still-present hunting instinct can prove challenging under certain circumstances.
Training for lovable learners
Training these clever dogs is easy to master for well-informed first-time owners too. American Cocker Spaniels are smart, enthusiastic and love to learn. Consistency is of course important, but if you can’t resist your dog’s big wide eyes, this doesn’t mean that you have to start from scratch, since this breed doesn’t wish to usurp the leadership role. Always remain on the ball, but don’t be overly strict: these dogs look cuddly but still possess their ancestors’ hunting instinct, so retain their independence and sometimes show their stubborn side. Regarding the hunting instinct, only well-trained American Cocker Spaniels can run off the lead – ideally begin training your dog to come back as early as possible. Consistency is essential here to allow you to enjoy relaxed walks with your companion. In any case, attending puppy play sessions and training at a dog school prove helpful.
This breed is highly robust. In order for this to remain so, breeders have their charges examined for hip dysplasia, as well as the ocular diseases progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and grey star. PRA can even be excluded from the breeding process via genetic tests. Every now and then, some “Amis” have motley merle-coloured fur, though you would be best off not purchasing these puppies, since this colouration is linked to a mutation within the breed that is accompanied by an increased risk of ocular and ear disorders. A healthy American Cocker Spaniel reaches an average age of around 12 years, but can of course live longer.
Healthy diet for American Cocker Spaniels
Treat your American Cocker Spaniel to a healthy and canine-appropriate diet, which forms the basis of its wellbeing. Give it a dog food predominantly consisting of meat. Meat should be at the top of the ingredients list – in contrast, there should ideally be no grain whatsoever. This applies both for wet and dry food. Weigh your adult American Cocker Spaniel regularly to check whether it has lost or gained weight, and adapt its diet accordingly if required. Tackle excess weight at an early stage, since there are numerous health risks involved. Calculate treats as part of the daily intake and focus on healthy snacks like dried chew products that satisfy your dog’s urge to chew or special dental care treats. In addition, drinking water should always be available to your dog.
Let’s go outside!
American Cocker Spaniels love having a two-legged companion for walks. The hunting instinct is still in their blood, so as family dogs too they prefer being outdoors for long periods whatever the weather. They love water and typically for Spaniels, take advantage of every opportunity to go swimming. Look around for safe, suitable bathing areas, as well as activities that are fun for you and your dog to do together and that prove intellectually stimulating at the same time. A keen nose can be put to good use with man-trailing, for instance.
Attractive thanks to good grooming
The fur is very long and time-consuming to groom in comparison to other Spaniels. Unfortunately this results in it being sheared regularly, which is a real shame. You should ideally brush your American Cocker Spaniel daily in order to avoid felting. A pleasant side-effect is that daily brushing strengthens the connection between you and your companion. Make a start in the puppy phase so that your dog gets used to it. A professional trim is also required every few weeks. You’re best off taking advice from your breeder or a dog groomer who can show you how this is done – it’s often difficult to rectify an incorrect trim. The long ears, which tend to get inflamed, and the eyes also require regular attention and if necessary should be cleaned with a special eye and ear cleanser for dogs. If you are uncertain about this, it would be best to get the vet or breeder to show you how it’s applied. The same applies for your Spaniel’s claws: in particular older, less active dogs and those that often walk on soft forest soil tend to have claws that are too long. There is a risk of injury if they snag. If necessary, cut the claws with scissors or clippers. Some dog owners don’t just opt for dental care snacks, but also regularly clean their dog’s teeth with a toothpaste and toothbrush especially for dogs. This is definitely worthwhile, because keeping the teeth clean is the best protection from tartar and the numerous ailments that result as a consequence. If this is an option for you, get your dog used to this daily ritual for white teeth when it is still a puppy.
Is an American Cocker Spaniel right for me?
The American Cocker Spaniel is the ideal dog for people who like to spend time outdoors with their dog. Despite its striking appearance and incredibly affectionate, friendly nature, it is no lapdog. If you’re aware of this before the dog enters your home, you will gain a friend for life. The American Cocker Spaniel fits in well with families and gets along incredibly well with children of all ages. It can also make a wonderful companion for singletons – though make sure that this people-focused dog doesn’t have to spend too much time alone, since it loves being in your company. The “Ami” is suitable for first-time dog owners, since training is easy to master if its passion for hunting is taken into account. These dogs are suitable for living in apartments, but like all dogs, they like secured gardens where they can sniff away to their heart’s content. If you’re looking for a watchdog, the American Cocker Spaniel is not the right choice. It can live in harmony with cats, especially if it has been accustomed to them from an early age. However, you should never leave smaller pets alone with these former hunters and even if they are supervised, you should ensure that smaller pets do not get stressed by the dog’s presence. An American Cocker Spaniel doesn’t just require time for exercise and play, but for daily grooming too – be aware of this beforehand, because only people who enjoy grooming should opt for one of these dogs. Consider too that long-haired dogs bring more dirt into your home than those with short fur. If it’s really important to you that your home is always spotless, stressful times await.
Considerations before the move
Are you certain that the American Cocker Spaniel breed is a perfect fit for you and your circumstances? Then you should give some further consideration to future life with a dog before one enters your home. Check whether anyone in your family is allergic to animal hair and consider who will take care of the dog when you are sick or wish to go on holiday. Top tip: nowadays there is no problem to go to most travel destinations with a dog – how about a hiking holiday with overnight stays in one of the now ever-increasing number of dog-friendly hotels? Bear in mind the costs too: there are ongoing costs along with the purchase price and basic equipment. These include high-quality food, dog tax and liability insurance, as well as veterinary appointments for check-ups and vaccination boosters or deworming. Plan for your dog to move into your home during a period when you have free time at the beginning in particular – take annual leave if you are in employment. Make sure the start of your life together is tranquil: of course a puppy is exciting, but it should settle in first before lots of friends and relatives come to visit.
Where do I find my American Cocker Spaniel?
This dog’s history takes us to the New World and back again. There are now numerous American Cocker Spaniels in many European countries, but the English Cocker Spaniel is much more common.
Find out about the differences if you’re interested in the breed – it may seem easier to opt for the British version at first glance, but they are generally even bigger hunters. Spaniel clubs can advise you on this matter and provide breeder contacts. If you wish to make a puppy a member of your family, you should absolutely go to a responsible breeder, since this is the only place where you will have the best chances of ending up with a healthy, true-to-type and genuine American Cocker Spaniel. Ideally visit the puppies at the breeder’s home so you can form an image of their surroundings and the parent animals – they should all appear calm and in good health. The breeder should happily be available to provide answers regarding their dogs, healthcare provision, breeding objectives and the breed in general. Ideally consider beforehand what matters to you so you don’t lose track when cuddling cute puppies. It’s a good sign if the breeder too asks you some questions about your circumstances and experience with dogs – after all, they want to find out what you can offer their charges.
It could be difficult with the American Cocker Spaniel if you’re looking for an adult dog, because the breed is not commonly found. A more promising approach is to look for Spaniels in general at local animal shelters or actual Spaniel associations and to potentially be open to hybrids.
We wish you lots of joy with your thoroughly likable American Cocker Spaniel!
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