The animated film "Lady and the Tramp" helped make the Cocker Spaniel famous. After all, what mortal could resist the charming image of Lady (the Cocker Spaniel) dining on spaghetti with plucky Tramp?
Still, this endearing breed relied on more than its celebrity status to become one of the United States most popular companions. Known for her lengthy ears, expressive face and beautiful coat, the Cocker Spaniel is a small sweetheart that originated in Spain and was bred as a hunter. This breed was mentioned as far back as the 14th century and was imported to America about the time the Mayflower landed. By 1921, the Cocker Spaniel had an honored place at many a hearth -- the same year it took home Westminster Kennel Club's Best in Show for the first time. Today, the Cocker Spaniel remains a favorite friend of active families.
Thinking of adopting one? Here are five things you should know first.
5: They're a Best Friend
If you're looking for an extra shadow, the Cocker Spaniel is up for the job! These fun-loving loyalists who typically grow no larger than 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) want nothing more than to follow you around. So don't expect a Cocker Spaniel to lie on the rug while life goes on.
This breed enjoys being part of a human family and is easily adaptable, two great reasons why adopting a Cocker Spaniel often works out so well. They're eager to bond and willing to please, and thrive when they can spend plenty of time with family members of any age. Cocker Spaniels can even be socialized to get along well with other pets that would normally trigger their prey drive, such as cats.
4: They Have a Few Health Problems
Overall, Cocker Spaniels are physically sound pets. You can expect your Cocker Spaniel to live 12 to 15 years, but health problems may occur in later years. With advanced age, your Cocker Spaniel will be prone to heart, liver or kidney failure, as well as cancer. Although rare, younger dogs are sometimes affected by inherited conditions, such as progressive retinal atrophy. This genetic disease can crop up when Cockers hit the five-year mark and causes them to become blind. Other troubling genetic maladies include cataracts (which require expensive surgical correction), fatal kidney failure and hip dysplasia.
Cocker Spaniels are susceptible to food allergies. So if your new friend has itchy ears and feet, diet may be to blame. To get to the root of the problem, feed simple meals of one starch and one protein (ask your veterinarian where to find specialized foods). Then slowly add one new food every two months until the culprit is revealed. Some of the most common offenders are beef, chicken, corn, wheat, soy, milk and eggs.
3: They Need Regular Grooming
Cocker Spaniels, as least the ones you see most often in photographs or at dog shows, are sporting relatively recent hair cuts. This diligent trimming depicts a style known as the American Cocker Spaniel Show Cut, and features a fringe of silky hair that hangs like a skirt along their sides, as well as from their ears. It's a beautiful look, but also helpful because it keeps their thick coat from becoming matted.
If you're looking for a lower-maintenance style for your Cocker Spaniel, ask the groomer to trim your her hair to the same short length all over. It's called a "puppy cut" (regardless of your dog's age); this style helps your canine friend keep cool in hot weather and cuts the amount of daily time you'll spend with a doggie comb in hand. Of course, most of us love our Cocker's trademark floppy ears and opt to keep the hair long on the ears -- no matter how closely she's trimmed everywhere else.
2: They're Easily Trained
It's no wonder a Cocker Spaniel is well-suited for work as a therapy dog. She's gentle and loving, and an equally sensitive and beautiful friend. But this multi-talented companion also can be trained for agility courses, advanced obedience and field work, which means exhibiting the natural skills she'd use if you were hunting together. In fact, Cocker Spaniels are very good at paying attention and learning to follow commands -- it's one of their many charms.
All Cocker Spaniel training requires time, patience and repetition, but no task more so than potty-training. As with any high-energy breed, Cocker Spaniels are a bit notorious for making their mark (so to speak) indoors and need plenty of positive reinforcement to get the hang of doing their business outside.
1: They Need Lots of Exercise
The Cocker Spaniel may be a charming lap warmer, but you must not forget she's a hunter at heart. A Cocker Spaniel is an energetic, intelligent dog who needs mental and physical exercise every day.
Puppies 6 months and younger are still developing and shouldn't play to the point of exhaustion -- a short walk should get them acclimated to the outside world and offer plenty of things to think about. An adult Cocker Spaniel, however, requires a 30 minute walk twice a day, as well as free time to play in a fenced area outdoors. She'll also enjoy tracking and retrieving a ball or flying disc.
Exercise will help keep your Cocker Spaniel at a healthy weight. She loves to snack and is prone to putting on the pounds if not exercised regularly. The most important thing about her activity is that she have it; without it, she may become a crabby companion as likely to snap her teeth as offer a nuzzle.