If you are considering an American Vs English Cocker Spaniel, there are many notable differences between the two. Despite sharing a spaniel legacy, the breeds differ in size, head, coat, temperament, and health.
“American and English Cocker Spaniels were simply known as ‘Cocker Spaniels’ when they were first brought to North America in the late 1800s,” according to Vicky Umpleby, champion breeder and handler of Nonnies Cockers. “The dogs bred here (in the states) took on a slightly different look than those originally from Europe.”
Some breeding dogs returned to the British Isles, but most American breeders focused on small, solid-colored Cockers blended with smaller Field Spaniels. English Cocker Spaniels (ECS) and American Cocker Spaniels (ACS) include ‘active, merry sporting dogs’ in the American Kennel Club’s breed standards.
The ACS was first recognized as a breed by the AKC in 1878, while the ECS wasn’t recognized as a breed by the AKC until 1948.
Here are the distinct factors that make the English Cocker different from his American counterpart, if they make good family, and health concerns of which to be aware.
American Vs English Cocker Spaniel Differences
Despite their similar names, English and American Cockers are not the same dog. Each has been bred for different purposes despite both belonging to the AKC’s Sporting group.
Origins and History
The earliest reference to Spaniels is by Edmund DeLangley in his Mayster of the Game in 1370. Later, in the highly lauded book, The Illustrated Book of the Dog, Vero Shaw indicates the Cocker Spaniel derived from the King Charles Spaniel.
Most canine scholars agree Spaniels originated in medieval Spain and traveled to England, Canada, and the United States. As Spaniels traveled, the breed evolved into Springers, Field Spaniels, Clumber Spaniels, Water Spaniels, English Toy Spaniels, and eventually, the American and English Cocker Spaniel.
England’s Kennel Club first recognized the Cocker Spaniel as a breed separate from other Spaniels in 1883. In 1936, the American Spaniel Club separated Cockers into English and American. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the AKC recognized the separation.
The English Cocker was originally bred as a hunting dog to flush, retrieve, and upland game birds. Interestingly, in the 1600s, Spaniels were split into water and land breeds. American Cockers were originally bred to hunt birds, particularly hunting the woodcock, hence their name.
Fun fact: It is believed Cocker Spaniels came to North America with the pilgrims. The American Spaniel Club, of which I am a member, is America’s oldest dog breed club, created in 1881.
Size and Appearance
The American Cocker Spaniel is the smallest AKC’s Sporting group member. Vicky Umpleby says American Cocker females are to be about 14 inches at the withers, and 15 inches for males. The withers are the highest point of the dog’s shoulder blades.
Female English Cockers stand 15 inches at the withers, with boys around 16 inches. It gets pretty technical when it comes to showing a dog and adhering to the breed standard.
According to the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America, “Proper conformation and substance should be considered more important than weight alone.”
Speaking of weight, the most desirable weight for male ECS is 28 to 34 pounds, and female 26 to 32 pounds. American Cocker Spaniel weight range is between 25 and 30 pounds for males and 20 to 25 pounds for females.
Umpleby reports the most distinctive ways ECS and ACS differ are in head, coat, and size.
“The English Cocker heads are much different from Americans looking more like a setter than an American Cocker,” she shares. “The head of the English is bigger with the muzzle and skull both considerably longer than that of an American.”
An ECS muzzle is equal in length to the skull with full, tight, and slightly oval eyes whereas the ACS has a shorter muzzle, a rounded skull, and a deep chisel under her almond-shaped eyes.
She says the American Cocker skull is also more domed, with a distinct stop between the eyes where the top of the muzzle meets the skull. American Cockers often have bigger, rounder eyes. The ears of both ECS and ACS are the same – long and well-covered with hair.
The ACS tends to be slightly longer than tall as opposed to the ECS, who is taller with more height than length, giving him a more squared shape. According to the American Spaniel Club, “The American Cocker Spaniel has a sturdy, compact body and a cleanly chiseled and refined head, with the overall dog in complete balance and of ideal size.”
Fun fact: When someone says “Cocker Spaniel,” they are most likely referring to an American Cocker Spaniel.
Coat Amount and Type
American Cocker Spaniel Coat
As an American Cocker Spaniel mom of 30+ years, I can attest to the coarse and thick nature of the Cocker coat. American Cocker coats tend to have more feathering. Cocker Spaniel groomer, breeder, and handler Marlene Ness, says ACS do not shed to the degree of Huskies or Labradors, but the breed must be brushed regularly to get the dead hair out.
Umpleby says the American Cocker coat consists of the following qualities:
- Thick coat that grows everywhere
- On the legs, the coat grows equally in the front, sides, back, and on the feet
- More hair grows on the heads, faces, ears, neck, throat, chest, back, and belly
English Cocker Spaniel Coat
The English Cocker Spaniel coat is:
- Not as thick or profuse as American Cockers
- Leg furnishings normally grow in a pattern more similar to a Setter with a fringe of hair mostly at the back of the front legs
- Some hair on the front and sides of the back legs, feet, and hocks
- The belly coat can grow long on some ECS but not as thick on an ACS (most grow only an inch or two on the belly)
- Muzzles do not grow as much hair as the ACS
Both ACS and ECS come in many of the same colors. The English Cocker parti-colors are marked, ticked, or roan with white combined with black, liver, or shades of red. Solid ECS colors include black, liver, and shades or red.
“While blue roan is the most common color by far for English cockers in North America, blue roan in American Cockers is rarely seen with buffs, blacks, black and white and red and whites being much more prevalent,” Umpleby shares.
In the show ring, American Cockers are presented as ASCOB (any solid color other than black), Black, and Parit-Color (two or more solid colors, one of which must be white.)
Umpleby has seen American Cockers in many colors including tri, black and tan, blue roan and tan, orange roans, reds, chocolate (also called liver), chocolate and tan, sables, and sables and whites.
“A color that is never acceptable in either breed is merle, which can be linked to several health problems,” she admits.
Read our article about the Cocker Spaniel merle controversy for more information.
“A roan, by definition, is a color pattern,” according to Erika Swanson of Legend Cockers. “There are three main colors of dogs – buff, brown, and black; everything else is just a layer of color added in.”
Read more in our article about roan Cocker Spaniels.
Temperament and Personality
By breed standard, the ECS is alive with energy; his gait is powerful and frictionless, capable both of covering ground effortlessly and penetrating dense cover to flush and retrieve game. His enthusiasm in the field and the incessant action of his tail while at work indicate how much he enjoys the hunting for which he was bred.
The ACS, by breed standard is a dog capable of considerable speed, combined with great endurance. Above all, he must be free and merry, sound, well balanced throughout and in action show a keen inclination to work. A dog well balanced in all parts is more desirable than a dog with strongly contrasting good points and faults.
Umpleby’s experience with Cockers began in 1969, and she started breeding them in 1980. She’s bred, owned, and handled over 90 champions in both breeds, with many top winners in the United States and Canada. She says their personalities are very similar.
“As for temperaments, my experience has been that both breeds are equally sweet-natured, affectionate, fun-loving, and intelligent – both breeds are great with children, other dogs, and pets.”
Trainability and Intelligence
English and American Cockers are very smart breeds. Cockers act like puppies into adulthood and beyond. My 14-year-old ACS, Brandy Noel, had puppy energy and enthusiasm into her golden years.
American Cockers are eager to please their owners, so a gentle, loving, positive reinforcement approach is best. They are a sensitive breed that does not respond well to yelling or anything other than proper, positive training.
In 1994, Stanley Coren, PhD, published The Intelligence of Dogs. The book explains the differences and nuances in intelligence by dog breed. He sent evaluation requests to American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club obedience trial judges.
Of the 199 responses based on working and obedience intelligence, the English Cocker placed in spot 18, with the American Cocker in 20th place. Both are considered excellent working dogs that obeyed the first command 85 percent of the time or better. Both ECS and ACS could learn a new command (e.g., sit, stay, etc) in as few as 5 to 15 repetitions.
Both types of Cockers were at least two tiers smarter than other dogs, which is very high. The Cocker’s adaptive intelligence, or what he can learn on his own, is high as well. Cockers watch what their owners do with great intensity and will often mirror that behavior.
Both breeds are problem solvers, so many excel in trick titles, agility, flyball, nose work, rally, and more.
Cockers are easy to train, love being active, want to be with their pack, and respond to kindness and consistency.
Fun fact: My second Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, traveled the country and loved to learn new things. In his lifetime, Dexter received his Canine Good Citizen, the AKC Novice Trick Dog title, and the AKC Intermediate Trick Dog title, he was a Brand Ambassador and a National Dog Show Therapy Dog Ambassador Team Member.
Exercise and Activity Requirements
The amount of exercise English Cockers and American Cockers need depends on their age, general health, physical fitness level, and veterinarian clearance. All dogs need some form of physical and mental stimulation daily.
A healthy adult English or American Cocker Spaniel needs at least an hour of exercise daily. This includes walks, play sessions, swimming or other joint-friendly activities, and mind enrichment. It doesn’t have to be a solid hour all at once, but the more time you can spend with your Cocker, the better.
Cocker Spaniel puppies have different activity and exercise requirements. Here are 100 things you can do with your Cocker puppy in 100 days.
Most Cocker Spaniel growth plates (soft, developing cartilage) don’t close until the dog reaches one year of age. At this point, growth plates will no longer appear on x-rays. For this reason, you should not over-exercise Cocker puppies and limit their jumping until plates are closed.
ECS were bred to hunt, and they love to stay active and be outside on walks and hikes. ACS were bred to flush and also for companionship. They, too, need physical, mental, and social interaction. Your veterinarian can direct you on the type and amount of exercise your Cocker needs.
Fun Fact: Cockers, like people, are unique individuals. If your Cocker doesn’t care for long walks, find activities he likes. Embrace the differences.
Cocker Spaniel Lifespan
When you read lifespan averages, that’s exactly what they are – averages. Many healthy, well-bred English Cockers live to between 12 and 14 years. The average American Cocker Spaniel lifespan is between 10 and 14 years.
I’ve known hundreds of Cockers who lived to 15 years old (my first Cocker) and into very golden years. My friend Colleen O’Fallon Toledo proudly raised two American Cockers who lived to their 18th birthday.
English Cocker Spaniels are touted as having a slightly longer life span than the American Cocker Spaniel of 12-14 years on average, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Here are some secrets from people whose dogs lived long lives.
Cocker Spaniel Health
I’ve written dozens of posts about Cocker Spaniel health because the breed has unique health issues. I’ve often explained to prospective Cocker parents that the ACS is not a beginner’s breed.
Cockers are prone to ear issues, eye issues, skin problems, autoimmune diseases, lumps and bumps, and a few other conditions listed in the chart below.
American Cocker Spaniels seem to represent a higher than average number of dogs diagnosed with immune system disorders including IMHA (immune-mediated hemolytic anemia) and IMT (immune-mediated thrombocytopenia), the latter which my current Cocker, Dexter, survived. There are many theories as to why Cockers have more immune disorders and some say they are simply prone. In my case, a tick caused my Cocker’s IMT.
The English Cocker Spaniel, like the American Cocker, is overrepresented with progressive retinal atrophy, IMHA, ear infections, juvenile-onset renal failure, thyroid issues, and hearing loss.
“I switched to English Cockers in 1994 for several reasons,” Diane Wyatt admits. “One was health concerns due to my American Cockers having major health issues, including two I lost to autoimmune diseases and one with thyroid and major allergy problems. Unfortunately, these problems do occur in both breeds, but the English Cockers I’ve had have been far healthier overall.”
Fun fact: Cockers are notorious foodies. Many will act as if they never had a meal even when they just finished their dinner. Keep a close eye on their weight and discuss any changes in their appetite with your veterinarian.
Here’s how I helped my Cocker Spaniel lose weight.
Grooming and Maintenance
Diane Keller Wyatt has owned both English Cockers and American Cockers since 1976, and all of them have been show-quality, bench-bred dogs purchased from responsible breeders. She prefers English Cockers over American.
“The main reason for switching breeds was the coat factor,” Wyatt says. “American Cockers are bred to have a huge amount of coat, which is a lot to care for. It doesn’t matter much if you groom your dog and keep it clipped down. If you pay for professional grooming, it can be expensive. I groom my dogs and keep them in a show clip, so it makes a difference. English Cockers are less work to groom and so much less work to brush and maintain between grooming. I love the classic look of their heads and the fact that they have cleanly groomed feet, even in show coats, which makes them easier to keep clean. I groom several American Cockers for clients, which always reminds me why I prefer to live with the English Cocker.”
Vicky Umpleby says there isn’t as much time required to maintain an English Cocker Spaniel’s coat but advises brushing them once or twice a week to keep them in good shape.
“The English Cocker should ideally have trims every 8 to 10 weeks to keep them tidy, including their ears, head and throat, neck and back,” she says. “Scissoring on their feet and legs will keep them neat as well.”
American Cocker Spaniels with a longer coat require daily brushing and weekly baths. Umpleby says this can be difficult for an average pet parent who doesn’t show their Cocker. Matting of the coat can occur in a few days if not brushed or groomed properly.
A ‘puppy cut’ is can be done, which leaves an inch or so of hair on the legs, ears, and belly. I prefer this cut on my own, ACS, and it helps me to see if he has any ticks or fleas more easily.
“Often we see American Cockers get so matted that groomers have no choice but to shave their coat down,” Umpleby shares. “Anyone interested in an American Cocker Spaniel must consider coat length and should be prepared to care for it.”
Pet parents can take their Cocker Spaniel to a groomer or learn to groom their Cocker Spaniel at home as I do. Here’s how to find a good Cocker Spaniel groomer.
Fun fact: While Cocker Spaniels are not a hypoallergenic breed, there is no such thing as a dog that is 100 percent hypoallergenic.
Suitability for Families and Children
Cockers tend to make good family pets and do well with children if they are bred and raised properly. Some Cockers (English and American) can be shy and do not enjoy being bothered and poked at by children.
Teach children how to behave around dogs. I’ve seen innocent Cockers be surrendered to a shelter because they were ‘biters’ or ‘snapped’ at a child. Many times, it wasn’t the Cocker’s fault. Cockers do not enjoy having their tails tugged, hit, slapped, harassed, or yelled at.
Kids can be rough with Cockers if not taught how to properly play with and treat them. There are ways to prevent kids from being bit by a dog, too.
Puppies and adult Cockers may growl to tell someone they don’t want to engage in a certain behavior. A growl is a warning. Sleeping dogs should be left alone. You never want to make your Cocker aggressive. Constant harassment and improper handling may contribute to an unhappy, aggressive Cocker.
Invest in a Cocker if you are willing to invest in training for everyone in the family.
Popularity and Availability
The American Cocker Spaniel was the number one dog in the American Kennel Club’s annual rankings from the late 1930s to the 1950s. It regained popularity in the mid 1980s as well.
The breed developed a reputation for being snappy due mostly to the overproduction of poor quality Cockers, including from puppy mills and unscrupulous backyard breeders.
In its 2022 list of most popular (registered) dog breeds, the English Cocker Spaniel holds the 40th position with the American Cocker at 29. As of this writing, the American Kennel Club recognizes 200.
Finding a reputable Cocker Spaniel breeder is completely possible. You can find a reputable Cocker Spaniel breeder and know what questions to ask by reading our post on the topic:
If your heart is set on rescuing a Cocker Spaniel, we have a list of Cocker Spaniel rescue groups and questions to ask.
“If you’re interested in owning an English Cocker, you should be aware that they are more difficult to find than American Cockers,” says Diane Wyatt. “The breed is less common and in fairly high demand so it’s best to start early to meet breeders and develop relationships to find a quality puppy. Very few English Cockers are found in shelters or local rescues, so that’s not an easy option. You can find a list of Member Clubs with breeder contacts and a section for Health & Rescue with contact information on the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America website.
Celebrities with Cocker Spaniels
Some celebrities who have shared life with Cocker Spaniels include:
- Oprah Winfrey
- Kate Middleton
- Naomi Watts
- George Clooney
- Marilyn Monroe
- Elton John
- Shirley Temple
- Lucille Ball
- President John F. Kennedy
- Lauren Bacall
- Rudolph Valentino
- Charlize Theron
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the differences between English Cocker Spaniels and American Cocker Spaniels.
American Cockers tend to be more high-strung while English Cockers are more reserved and laid back. Both breeds love to play.
Attend a local dog show or the Westminster Kennel Club annual dog show. You can meet breeders face to face, ask questions, and see the Spaniels.
It is believed the American Cocker Spaniel originated in the USA in the late 19th century. ACS developed from the English Cocker Spaniel, who came to America by early settlers.
An American Cocker Spaniel head is rounder and has a shorter muzzle whereas the English Cocker head is more elongated with a longer muzzle.
American Cocker Spaniel Pictures
English Cocker Spaniel Pictures
Which Breed is Right For You: American Vs English Cocker Spaniel
Vicki Umpleby: People often ask me which of the 2 breeds I prefer, and honestly I love them both equally. When choosing one breed over the other I find many people chose the breed they had as a child So for most people in Canada and the USA that would normally be an American cocker.
For people from Europe, that would be an English where they are one of the most popular breeds and American Cockers are rarely seen. English cockers are not a very common breed here, there are so many more Americans. But when choosing between an American or an English Cocker, it often simply comes down to personal preference as to the look that you prefer. But no matter which breed you decide to go with, you will always be blessed to have a cocker spaniel in your life!
Diane Keller Wyatt: In reality, the two breeds are very similar in temperament and behavior. I consider both to be wonderful pets and generally easy to live with.
My dogs of both breeds have been sweet, affectionate, smart, easy to train, playful, good retrievers, and great travelers. My preference for the English Cocker is mostly based on the ease of coat maintenance and grooming. It’s a strong enough preference that I plan to always have English Cockers, though I still love the American Cockers.
Carol Bryant: I gravitate toward American Cocker Spaniels. Their personalities are larger than the size of their bodies. I love their personalities, ‘wigglebutts’, and the fact that they will go from mud splashing to cuddling and trails to couch potatoes all in one day. I’ve been through rescue and breeders and love the breed with my heart and soul.
More Information on American Vs English Cocker Spaniels
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