Outgoing, sociable and almost uniformly happy, the American Cocker Spaniel is an extremely popular family pet. These are charming, sturdy little dogs that originally were bred to flush and retrieve birds on land. Many of them are still used for that purpose. However, their best role is that of a beloved family member. This sweet, easygoing breed loves children and usually gets along quite well with other dogs and even cats, provided that proper socialization takes place. Because American Cocker Spaniels tend to welcome friends, family and foe in the same fashion, they do not typically make good watchdogs. However, they are loyal, endearing companions that crave - and thrive on - human attention. They also are quite portable, given their modest size, which makes them great travel partners.
The American Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the Sporting Breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. Although they are not large dogs, they are energetic, active and playful. They thoroughly enjoy going on hikes, swimming and participating in other activities with their human family-members. This is a highly adaptable breed that can live quite comfortably in apartments or condominiums, as long as their owners give them enough exercise. A long, brisk daily walk is often enough for an older Cocker Spaniel. However, younger animals will need more activity, either in the form of walks, romps at the dog park, playing in the yard with other companion animals or playing fetch with their owners. American Cocker Spaniels are natural retrievers and usually are more than willing to chase a ball and bring it back for as long as their owner cares to toss it. It is important for owners of this breed to keep their dogs active and engage. A Cocker that is left to his own devices is likely to become bored and eventually destructive, as he tries to find ways to entertain himself.
American Cocker Spaniels are intelligent dogs that love to please their people and are easy to train. As with almost any breed, it is important that Cockers are socialized correctly starting at an early age. These are extremely sensitive, affectionate animals that are best trained using positive reinforcement and gentle, patient repetition of commands. Short training sessions several times a day are better than a single prolonged session. Owners should concentrate on getting their Cocker to master one basic command, before moving on to another one. Housebreaking can be difficult for this breed. Crate training usually makes potty training much easier. Flushing and retrieving birds come naturally to most American Cocker Spaniels, without the need for any advanced or specialized training. They also excel in competitive dog sports such as agility, obedience, rally, flyball, hunting tests, field trials and many others. Well-behaved Cocker Spaniels also make exceptional therapy dogs.
Because the blood of generations of hunting dogs courses through the veins of American Cocker Spaniels, they are particularly alert to the presence of birds and other small animals. As a result, owners should not let their Cocker off-leash, unless the dog is thoroughly trained in obedience and has a rock-solid recall, because he might become distracted and try to chase any nearby moving creature. Some Cocker Spaniels have a tendency to be a bit aggressive, or a bit shy. Generally, this is due to inadequate socialization at a young age. The most important period for correctly socializing this breed is when the dog is 2-5 months old. During this key time, the owner should expose the dog to lots of new people and new situations in a positive, non-threatening manner. Children must be taught to treat the dog gently and affectionately, so that he learns to trust them. When a young American Cocker Spaniel is carefully introduced to new people, places and things, he usually learns to accept them readily and becomes a happy, trusting, gentle family companion.