What’s the first word that pops into your head when you think about Cocker Spaniels? We bet it’s something along the lines of cute, playful, and smart. Well, that’s all very much true. This breed is America’s sweetheart: Cockers were the most popular dogs in the country more than once! But did you know that these adorable pups were bred for hunting?
Oh, and remember the dog from the Coppertone bottle? It was a Cocker Spaniel! That’s right, and these are just some of the amazing facts that we’ll cover today. So, join us, and let’s talk about how smart these dogs are, how they succeed at international dog shows, and which celebrities prefer them as their pets. Here we go!
The 16 Facts About Cocker Spaniels
1. They Used to Be America’s #1 Favorite Dogs…Twice!
Did you know that Cocker Spaniels were the most popular breed in the States back in the 30s? They were indeed, and not only for a year or two. These dogs had been everyone’s favorites for 18 years straight, from 1936 to 1952. And many decades later, these cute pouches managed to climb back up to the pedestal. During 1983–1990, Cocker Spaniels were, once again, the number one breed in the US.
How did they become so popular, though? Mostly, this was made possible thanks to mass media. Back then, Cocker Spaniels were featured in one too many greeting cards, prints, ads, and commercial products and services. America fell in love with their loyal, friendly personalities, cute faces, and the “it” factor, hyping the breed up to become the most talked-about pet in the country.
2. They Entered the US Aboard the Mayflower
The Mayflower was an English merchant ship that brought a group of colonists to the United States in 16201. Today, we know them as the Pilgrims; back then, they were called the Saints. Mainly, the ship was transporting cargo. But humans (102 in total) weren’t the only passengers aboard that ship. The Mayflower was also a temporary home for two dogs: a Mastiff and a Cocker Spaniel.
The sea trip lasted for more than two months, and most of the passengers became seasick. But thankfully, the ship did make it to the New World (that’s what the colonists were calling America). And that’s how Cocker Spaniels made it to the US. Now, 400 years later, they are among the most cherished breeds in America.
3. AKC Classifies Them as the Smallest Sporting Breed
Cocker Spaniels are not only fast, agile, and ever-playful, but they also have enough stamina for days and can easily handle tough training tasks. Officially recognized as a sports breed, they are classified by the American Kennel Club as the smallest breed in this category. So, what’s the maximum weight for such a dog? It’s 28 pounds (25–30 pounds, if we take a broader range).
This is interesting: the main thing that separates Cocker Spaniels from the Field Spaniels is the weight. Field Spaniels come in at 35–50 pounds. They boast a heavier bone structure, too, and usually have bigger and stronger muscles. Add a shorter coat, and you’ll see that these dogs are, indeed, different. However, Cocker Spaniels live a bit longer: 12–15 years versus 11–13 years.
4. These Cute Dogs Were Bred for Hunting
Don’t let the compact size and adorable mug fool you: these dogs are great hunters! In fact, Cocker Spaniels were specifically bred for one single task, and that was hunting. Taking down a bird is no small task, but with the help of Cocker Spaniels, hunters from back in the day were successful in stalking and killing the American woodcock, also known as the timberdoodle.
It’s known as one of the greatest game birds in history, and the fact that this dog breed helped hunt it tells you a lot about the true capabilities of a Cocker Spaniel. And one more thing: the first part of the Spaniel’s name—Cocker—is inspired by this elusive birdie.
5. Cocker Spaniels Are Great Around Children
The bigger, stronger breeds might be better at guarding the property, but if you have little children in the house, that could be a problem. As a general rule, large, aggressive hounds aren’t very patient around kids. At the same time, a smaller doggo like the Cocker Spaniel will be much safer. These dogs are patient, eager to please, and tolerant.
That means you can trust them not to bark at or bite your kids when they become a bit anxious. Cocker Spaniels are affectionate, adaptive, and open by nature. Still, you will have to train and socialize the dog while it’s still a pup to make it obedient. Otherwise, it might develop destructive behaviors, turning into a bad companion for kids.
6. They Are Incredibly Dog-Friendly
On top of being harmless and protective of children, Cocker Spaniels are welcoming toward other dogs. Even if there’s a cat or two in the house, most likely, the Cocker will quickly become their new best friend. So, if you’re a parent to little kids and pets (both dogs and cats) and are a bit worried about introducing a pouch to your family, a Cocker Spaniel will be a perfect pick!
7. Cocker Spaniels Were First to Detect Cancer
Many dog breeds have the ability to detect cancer. Back in 2004, an extensive study in England proved that this was, indeed, a fact. However, no scientist can tell us exactly how they’re doing this; it’s one of the world’s great mysteries. In any case, in that study, Tangle, a gifted Cocker Spaniel, “beat” the competition with an above-average detection accuracy of 56%.
Inspired by these ground-breaking results, the scientists kept working with the dog, boosting his detection rate. Eventually, Tangle achieved an 8/10 success rate, becoming a cancer expert. More importantly, he (yes, the dog was a boy, two years old at that time) helped save lives by telling fellow doctors about cancerous cells in various blood/urine samples!
8. This Breed Inspired an Entire Shoe Line
If you thought that these adorable dogs only have two talents—hunting and healing—we’re happy to say they’re also capable of inspiring great things. For example, the Sperry Top-Sider, one of the most iconic American shoes, might’ve never been invented if not for Cocker Spaniels. Paul Sperry, the man behind it all, was a Cocker Spaniel owner, and the dog gave him the idea for the shoes.
His name was Prince, and the pouch used to run on ice all the time, yet never slipped. The secret was in the paw pads: the wave-like grooves allowed the pet to “stay afloat” instead of falling. That’s how the Sperry Top-Sider shoes came to life! The very first product under this name became available in 1935.
9. Former US President Nixon Used to Own One
Folks that still remember Richard Nixon, the 37th POTUS, might’ve also heard about the man’s pet, Checkers. While he wasn’t the only First Dog in the history of the United States, one could argue that he was the most popular one. In 1952, six weeks before the presidential election, then-senator Nixon addressed Americans on national television. Later, his statement was dubbed “Checker’s Speech”.
He used this opportunity to deny accusations of being funded by a third party during his presidential run. The Republican candidate famously said that the only gift that he received and was going to keep was a Cocker Spaniel. That’s how the pouch received international recognition. So, why Checkers, exactly? Well, it was a black-and-white dog; that’s why Nixon’s children named him that.
10. Celebrities Love These Dogs
Presidents and regular folks aren’t the only ones that find Cocker Spaniels to be amazing. The list also includes the Royal Family. Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, used to own a lovely Cocker Spaniel, Lupo; unfortunately, he died in 2020. Oprah Winfrey is another example. The superstar host is the proud parent of two Cocker Spaniels, Sadie and Solomon.
Then we have George Clooney, Brigitte Bardot, Charlize Theron, Elizabeth Taylor, the Beckhams, and Elton John. And let’s not forget about Butch, the favorite dog of a legendary illustrator, Albert Staehle. The man featured the Cocker Spaniel in 25 covers for the Saturday Evening Post. Later, Butch became the symbol of the US Navy and the AKC (American Kennel Club).
11. A Cocker Spaniel Is the Star of an Animated Classic
Disney’s animated musical hit, Lady and the Tramp, was released in 1955. The story is centered around a dog enjoying a comfortable, opulent life. However, that all changes when the pup’s owners decide to have a baby. The dog’s name is Lady, and she’s actually a Cocker Spaniel. Her cute, long ears and “aristocratic” personality made her the ideal candidate for the role.
After the original movie’s massive success, there have been quite a few remakes, adaptations, and even video games. But the story and the main character are always the same.
12. The Dog in the Coppertone Ad Is a Cocker Spaniel
Cocker Spaniels are natural people pleasers. There’s something special about them that makes us fall in love with these magical dogs. Marketing bosses in the US and around the globe figured this out decades ago and have been using Cocker Spaniels in various ads to promote their products. And arguably, the most popular example of this is the Coppertone lotion commercial.
Again, this is a relatively old story: the famous ad where a dog is pulling a little girl’s bathing suit with its teeth first saw the light of day in 1965. Back then, this picture was on most billboards across the country. It was a bit provocative, but in terms of marketing, that postcard-stylized ad is iconic. And guess what kind of a dog it was? That’s right, a Cocker Spaniel!
13. They Are the 18th Smartest Dogs on the Planet
Some breeds are savvier and more quick-witted than others—that’s a scientific fact. Now, according to various studies, Cocker Spaniels are the 18th most intelligent dogs. Border Collies sit on top of the list, with Poodles and German Shepherds taking the second and third spots. So, what does it mean for Cocker Spaniels to be among the smartest dogs? Well, they are fast learners and always eager to please.
Therefore, it will take you 5–15 exposures to teach them a new command, which is a very decent result. Next, these go-getters will follow your lead eight times out of ten. Their obedient, affectionate character makes Cocker Spaniels an even better breed. This is interesting: in UK airports, Cocker Spaniels are often used as police dogs. They’re great at sniffing out drugs, guns, and other banned goods.
14. There Are Only Two Cocker Spaniel Breeds
This might come as a surprise, but there are only two breeds of Cocker Spaniel: the American and the English breeds. There are lots of similarities between them, but they’re still two separate breeds. How do you tell them apart, then? Look at the heads! An English dog will have longer snouts and less pronounced eyebrows. The head’s shape won’t be as round as that of an American Cocker, either.
Also, some English Cocker Spaniels are slightly bigger and heavier. A quick note: according to the AKC, there are 15 different Cocker breeds, including the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, English Springer Toy Spaniel, and the Sussex Spaniel. Spaniels come from Spain (hence the name) and date back to the 1300s. Others claim that Asia is their home. In any event, today, these dogs have a truly international reach.
15. This Is the Most Successful Breed at Crufts
Crufts is a prestigious dog show from the UK. Launched in 1831, it’s just as popular as ever and is officially recognized as the largest dog show to ever exist. It’s being held by The Kennel Club, by the way. More importantly, English Cocker Spaniels are the only breed with seven BIS (Best in Show) prizes. They managed to “snatch” the first one in 1930; the second medal came a year later—in 1931.
The last time Cocker Spaniels won a Crufts show was in 1996. Mr. Herbert Summers Lloyd, the owner of the “of Ware” kennel, is responsible for six of the wins. He had three dogs in the contest, and they all scored two wins. Agility, obedience, heelwork, and flyball are the main competitions in Crufts.
16. The Floppy Ears Are Their Trademark
The Lady from the 1955 classic isn’t the only Cocker Spaniel with floppy ears. It’s one of this breed’s most recognizable features, along with the round eyes. The coat is another standout trademark: it’s smooth and silky, giving the dogs a royal touch. The coat is feathered, too, and not only on the legs (as with most dogs) but also on the tummy and the ears.
As for the colors, we have black, tan, white, brown, cream, red and white, and golden. In shows, Cocker Spaniels are classified as black, ASCOB (solid colors apart from black), and particolored. The tail is docked, while the muzzle is square. The back gradually slopes toward the tail, giving the dog a streamlined look.
Cocker Spaniels are not just another breed. They’ve been around for ages and have a strong presence in history, culture, and, of course, in our hearts. These dogs aren’t at all big, scary, or territorial. They have a playful, positive attitude and are always ready to follow your lead. But, again, there’s a lot more to these cute pups than meets the eye.
Hunters, big movie stars, and dog show champions, these smart, affectionate dogs are worth all the attention they’re getting. So, if you’re the proud parent of a Cocker Spaniel, go ahead and give it a hug, treat it with a tasty snack, and make sure to stay on schedule with your regular veterinary checks!