How To Breed Cocker Spaniels

How To Breed Cocker Spaniels

This article will give you a definitive understanding of how to breed Cocker Spaniels and what all to keep in mind before getting one home.

Cocker Spaniels are friendly dogs. Cute and adorable to say the least. Yet, they come with their share of issues. For one, they hate being left alone and need someone to play with at all times. Oh, and they shed a lot, too!

But the good news is that these dogs are simply the best family dogs when it comes to spreading love and affection. Originally, the breed is a gun dog or a working dog and is believed to have been around for 500 years now.

Background of Cocker Spaniels

The origin of Cocker Spaniels, the ones we see now, is believed to be England. They had come to Britain, perhaps during Caesar’s invasion. The original breeds, Spaniels, are believed to have come from Spain – given their nomenclature. But there isn’t any definitive proof of it.

The Cocker Spaniel is thus believed to be of two spaniel types:

  1. the English Spaniel, and
  2. the American Spaniel.

Originally, Spaniels were hunting dogs while Cockers were small, toy-type dogs. Cocker Spaniels could refer to a mix between the two or could simply be a new variety of spaniels. There is no definitive answer to that.

Ancestry

Believe it or not, years and years ago, cocker spaniels were divided into land spaniels and water spaniels (now extinct).

The water spaniels were used to retrieve birds that fell into water bodies after being shot down. The original spaniels, that happened to be around almost 500 years ago, were very different from the ones we see today. The breed we know as Cocker Spaniels today only came to exist around the mid-nineteenth century. The older version of Cocker Spaniels was believed to be a lineage of gun dogs, meaning, they would be taken into the forest to help chase the game towards their master’s gun.

Their parent breed is the Spaniels are believed to be originally from Spain, but there is no definitive proof. The origin of Spaniels itself has two varying theories, one which believes that they belonged to a Roman-British origin and another that indicates a long lost connection with the Chinese Pekinese dog.

With so many theories doing the rounds, it would be safe to say that the origins of the Cocker Spaniel are unknown. However, we do know that the parent breed Spaniel branched out into a lot of varieties – Welsh Springer Spaniels, Sussex Spaniels, Devonshire Cockers, and many more Cockers and Spaniels both.

Breed Variants

While the breed’s family has a lot of other similar dog breeds, the Cocker Spaniel breed offers two official varieties: the English, and the American Cocker Spaniels.

English Cocker Spaniels

English Cocker Spaniels are the original gun dogs, used for hunting. These were bred from the American Cocker Spaniel so technically, they are a variant of their American cousin. They were brought to England and remained there, so much so, that even members of the royal family of Britain have these as pets now (e.g. Kate Middleton and Prince William and their black Cocker named Lupo).

English Cocker Spaniels are sturdy, medium-sized and compact. They shed a lot but their hair grows shorter than its American variant. They have long ears and big puppy eyes. Usually, Cocker Spaniels that do not have any white markings on their solid-colored bodies are considered to be of a good pedigree.

However, this is only the norm for the dog shows. With most working Cocker Spaniels, the color does not matter as much as the actual working capacity of the dog does.

American Cocker Spaniels

American Cocker Spaniels differ greatly from English Cocker Spaniels in appearance. They have long hair and are giant fluff balls. Their ears hang down, long and low, but their nose is slightly upturned giving them a snooty face.

American Spaniels served the same purpose and are still considered sporting dogs. They are usually black or tab, but there has been a third category that was opened to classify American Cockers who were neither tan nor black. They can also have merle coats, which gives a sprinkling of a marbled effect, but these merle Cocker Spaniels are not recognized by kennel clubs.

American Cockers also tend to have rounder eyes as compared to their British counterparts and the top of their heads are domed, giving their face a slightly triangular effect. American Cockers also have very evident eyebrows that English Cockers don’t.

american vs english cocker spaniels
Visual comparison of an American Cocker Spaniel vs an English Cocker Spaniel.

Cocker Spaniels became a hit after Disney’s blockbuster The Lady and The Tramp. They’ve since, made a lot of appearances in movies as the lovable, goofy family dogs that everyone loves to snuggle and play with. Their long floppy ears and those big round puppy eyes make them all the more desirable. Cocker Spaniels are also found on a lot of ads, interestingly mostly for family and household products. This places them in a very convenient family-friendly dog zone automatically.

Appearance

Cockers Spaniels are medium-sized, furry dogs with long ears. Here’s more about the Cocker Spaniel breed in some more details.

Eyes

They have big round eyes that are usually black or dark brown. They have very well defined eyebrows, especially the American Cocker Spaniel. Unfortunately, these big round beautiful eyes are quiet prone to eye problems. A lot of a Cocker Spaniel’s health issues are of the eye.

Ears

We can’t decide if the ears are more adorable than the eyes – they are long, furry, flappy and go all the way down to the Cocker Spaniel’s neck. However, because the ears remain down, they shut the ear canal off completely. So if you are breeding Cocker Spaniels, you must note that their ears need to be checked every week for infections or dirt.

Size & Weight

A Cocker Spaniel is a mid-sized breed and thus suitable for any kind of space. They adjust well owing to their size mainly. The male Cocker Spaniels grow up to 1.5 ft on an average and the females may go slightly over 1 ft in size. The American Cocker is comparatively smaller in size and grows a little over a foot by the time they reach adulthood.

It is interesting to know that they weigh almost the same though, despite their varying sizes. Both grow to about 15 kilograms in weight.

Color

Cocker Spaniels and colors are a whole new world – with the many breed varieties of this adorable dog, there are just as many color controversies.

As such, every country conforms to its own set of rules for dog shows. Kennel clubs in the UK do not accept Cocker Spaniels in any other color but a solid one, a little smattering of white on the chest is fine, but if the color changes to white anywhere else on the body – the Cocker Spaniel is disqualified. However, the rules are a little flexible as far as the American Cocker Spaniel is concerned. They allow piebald Cockers too – dogs that are white all over, except for giant pigmented portions where the tone changes to a solid color.

Facial Structure

The US Cocker Spaniels have a snooty, upturned nose and a dome-shaped head, while the English Cocker Spaniel has a longer muzzle and no dome. The ears of both the Cockers are pretty much long, but the shape of the ears varies ever so slightly between the two.

Body Shape

The biggest and most defining factor of difference between an English Cocker Spaniel and the American Cocker Spaniel is the shape of their bodies. While they are both mid-sized dogs and weigh almost the same, they do have very, very different body shapes. While the American Cocker is bulkier, the English one is compact.

Grooming

The longer the coat, the lengthier the grooming. Therefore, a Cocker Spaniel breeder must always be aware of how much maintenance this breed needs. Owing to their long, curly hair, they need regular brushing – at least twice a day. If the hair gets matted or becomes dirty, it needs to be sorted out immediately to avoid skin rashes and infections. A monthly medicated shampoo is of great help!

Cocker Spaniels have unusually large ears that cover the ear canals, so their ears need to be cleaned out once a week or more. Apart from these, they aren’t a very fussy breed and can be a delight.

Personality and Temperament

Cocker Spaniels have a very pleasing personality, they are adorable, enthusiastic and work extremely well as family dogs. Their medium-sized built allows them to be apartment dogs too, as long as you give them their required quota of exercise. They are particularly good with kids and can be very playful – parents of toddlers and young children can particularly make good use of the Cocker Spaniel as a family pet. They can play with children endlessly, tiring them out (that’s what you want, isn’t it!).

Cocker Spaniels are sweet-tempered, intelligent and easy to train. They learn to be obedient at a young age, but they must be trained with positive reinforcement. Using harsh training methods or cruelty (e.g. e-collars) to make them abide, will mostly backfire. They love being around people – which is a pro as well as a con – because Cocker Spaniels cannot live alone. They cannot be left alone for too long and will constantly need people around them. If they don’t see the family for a long duration, they may start suffering from separation anxiety.

Exercising

Exercise – both mental and physical – is a very important aspect of this breed’s temperament. Failing to get the right amount of running about may result in an irritable dog. So whether you are a Cocker Spaniel breeder or owner, do not blame your dog for being grumpy. Maybe it is you. Cocker Spaniels need about an hour at least of running around. Look at agility training perhaps.

Apart from that, they must be kept busy through various games involving their favorite treats. The Cocker Spaniels’ need for attention makes them good, not just for families, but also as therapy dogs. They can distract their owners and put the spotlight on themselves. And of course, they’re goofy, in a funny way too! Who can say no to those big brown eyes!

Health Issues When Breeding Cocker Spaniels

Cocker Spaniels as a breed were initially very healthy with a strong immune system. They were used as sporting dogs or gun dogs, so they were used to being in the wild.

However, over some time, the lineage of these Cocker Spaniels went through much chaos and disruption. So much so, that there are all these variants of the breed across the world. The health of Cocker Spaniel’s has been compromised by the excessive poor quality breeding and inbreeding that took place, once the popularity of the breed took off. It would be safe to say, that over the years, we have managed to contaminate their gene pool to such an extent that as a whole, the Cocker suffers from many of these diseases.

Eye Problems

Some of the many eye problems in Cocker Spaniels are hereditary, while others occur due to poor hygiene and virus or dust particles in the air. Here are the various ocular conditions that a Cocker Spaniel may suffer from.

Cataracts

A lot of geriatric dogs suffer from cataract and the reason for this could either be heredity or owing to another related health condition. Cocker Spaniels, unfortunately, suffer from cataracts a lot more often because of the mixed genealogy.

The good news though, is that cataracts in dogs don’t usually require eye surgery and can be corrected with medication. But this holds only for milder versions of cataract, for others, surgery is inevitable. Only sometimes, they can suffer from a traumatic cataract that may render their vision poor. A good way to know if your dog has cataracts or not is to keep a check on their eyes after the age of six – that is when old age begins to set in, in dogs.

Any abnormality should be reported to the vet, however, be prepared for it to be a false alarm also. Some old dogs may suffer from a condition called nuclear sclerosis which imitates cataract like symptoms but is slightly worse because it damages the retina beyond repair.

Progressive Renal Atrophy

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is very common amongst Cocker Spaniels – both English and American. The reason for this could be inbreeding or excessive breeding, but the point of the matter is that it can turn into a fatal condition in no time.

PRA can often cause symptoms like night blindness or worse still – even total blindness, in dogs who are over three years of age. Breeders of Cocker Spaniels should know about these conditions and be very strict about warning adoptive families of the same.

Canine Glaucoma

Canine Glaucoma in Cocker Spaniels can also cause blindness of a permanent stature in the dogs. It is a health condition that directly affects the optic nerve and results in a loss of retinal ganglion cells.

Untreated glaucoma can cause immense pain and suffering to the dog, not to mention permanent blindness, without a cure. So it is very important that Canine Glaucoma in Cocker Spaniels should be detected and treated early. If your dog’s eye looks red or swollen or they keep rubbing it take them to a vet to get them thoroughly tested. This disease too is of a genetic predisposition.

Eye Abnormalities

When you see boogers in your dog’s eyes or watch them scratching their eyes with their sharp nailed paws, it can give you a mini-heart attack. But this is indicative of a much deeper disease. You dog could be suffering from any of the above or could even have conjunctivitis. Distichiasis is another gross and painful condition that affects Cocker Spaniels.

cocker spaniels health
Poor breeding practices have plagued the health of Cocker Spaniel breeds.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Canine Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia is a disease where the Cocker’s body attacks its blood cells by mistake, putting them in a lot of misery. Anemia refers to the loss or deficiency of red blood cells, which in dogs is the prime cause of exhaustion and many other related health issues.

Similarly, if your Cocker Spaniel looks exhausted and fatigued, starts eating dirt all of a sudden, has been showing a lack of appetite and has been losing weight like no tomorrow – get them tested. Cocker Spaniels are at special risk for Canine Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia. Their breathing becomes shallow and their pulse quickens. This type of anemia, if seen in your Cocker Spaniel, could be just a symptom of a larger more sinister health condition in your dog – like cancer or exposure to toxins. Since it is an autoimmune condition, vets won’t be able to cure it but they will surely help you control your dog’s condition.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is usually a disorder targeting large dogs, but it also affects some medium-sized dogs. Cocker Spaniels can be vastly affected by an overactive thyroid gland, which eventually leads to the shrinkage of the gland. Simple medicines to normalize the thyroid gland can help control the disorder.

For Cocker Spaniel breeders, it is important that the mating dogs get tested before the whelping. This ensures that the pups will be healthy too. Looking after a hypothyroid-suffering Cocker Spaniel isn’t easy because they will require more grooming than necessary and will also have to get their blood tested frequently.

Primary Seborrhea

Excessive grease on the coat or poor hygiene is the main cause of this disease. Since the Cocker Spaniels have a larger coat, they need frequent bathing and trimming. Failure to do so for a longish amount of time will result in the dog suffering from a condition called Primary Sebborhea, wherein the dog develops flaky scales – not unlike dandruff all over their bodies.

The disease gradually becomes more painful and gross unless treated immediately. It can cause a great deal of trauma to the pet as well. There are a few therapies and treatments to help cure this disorder, but they need to be followed to the T.

Allergies

Unfortunately, Cocker Spaniels tend to be sensitive to a lot of foreign molecules leading to many different types of allergies.

Food Allergies

If your Cocker Spaniel keeps showing distress in the form of constant vomiting, chronic ear issues, flatulence, diarrhea and even coughing or sneezing, you need to get their guts checked for food allergies.

While it is a common belief that overall all dogs cannot digest milk, there could be tons of other food products that your dog could be allergic to. The logic behind these is pretty simple. Certain foods don’t break down easily in the dog’s system as it does in ours. Which is what causes sudden nausea and constant irritability in them. As a Cocker Spaniel breeder, you must inform the adopters and often recommend hypoallergenic dog foods.

Contact Allergies

Right from plants and strange flowers to unknown people and even that book in your hand could cause the sensitive skin of a Cocker Spaniel to suffer from contact allergies. This means that something that they may have touched or brushed against had given them itchy skin, red angry bumps and more. These allergies are also spread through adverse reactions to shampoos and conditioners for their hair.

The irritants can be varied, but the symptoms are mostly similar looking, rashes, bumps, itching and even swelling. With Cocker Spaniels, you must be extra careful as the infection and allergies may hide under their thick coat.

Inhalant Allergies

Inhalant Allergies are also called atopic, which means that your Cocker Spaniel is allergic to airborne elements. The immune system of Cocker Spaniels has many flaws, as we have seen above, but the buck doesn’t stop there. Sometimes, the immune system overreacts to airborne germs or allergens, thus causing a skin reaction. Dust, pollen, molding are all to blame the same allergens that trigger asthma in humans are responsible for allergies in dogs.

Therefore, if your dog begins to scratch all over or chews or licks at its skin, they may have been allergic to something. A thorough medical analysis will help you catch hold of the allergen.

Idiopathic Epilepsy

Cocker Spaniels along with other family dogs like Labradors and Golden Retrievers are especially prone to suffering from idiopathic epilepsy. It is a condition that causes unanswered, inexplicable seizures, restlessness, anxiety and even temporary blindness, deafness amongst other neurological problems.

You must take this seriously and rush to your vet, if you suspect the slightest race of epilepsy, because the earlier the medication goes in, the better it is. A diagnosis is generally reached upon after careful evaluation of the kidneys through urine and blood samples of the dog. If your dog becomes needy or demands extra attention, it is a reason to worry. Cerebral fluid analysis and MRIS may also be done, to determine the disease.

This disease cannot be cured completely but it can be controlled through medications like phenobarbital and potassium bromide.

Hip & Elbow Dysplasia

Every dog breed suffers from this painful miserable condition called hip and elbow dysplasia. Just as the name suggests, this condition causes a displaced hip in canines. The hip joints do not fit properly into the socket, thus causing extreme pain and grief to the dog. Cocker Spaniels are no different and they too suffer from dysplasia. A limping dog or a dog that drags itself instead of lifting its rear feet is surely a hip dysplasia sufferer.

While this condition does not have an easy cure at all, it can be prevented, if diagnosed early. Look out for symptoms and attend to your dog if they seem in pain. This is the canine version of arthritis and can be controlled to a mild extent, via pain medications. Usually, Cocker Spaniels beyond the age of 5 or 6 would be most affected, but it is not unusual to see a young Cocker Spaniel affected by this horrific disorder either.

Patellar Luxation

Patellar Luxation is just a fancy medical term for a dislocated kneecap in dogs. It is mostly seen in smaller dogs, but Cocker Spaniels are one of the mid-sized breeds that suffer from this knee abnormality too. Just like we get cramps in legs, dogs with an inclination towards patellar luxation tend to get these at any time. To fix the kneecap back into its original place, inside the groove of the thighbone, they need to relax and let their legs loose for a while. If you notice a dog with its hind legs in the air, this is probably what they are doing.

The good news is that this condition rarely causes much pain in the dogs. It fixes itself within a matter of minutes also. The reasons for a dislocated kneecap are usually a trauma that the dog may have endured or because of a genetic malformation at birth. Whatever the reason is, this is one of the few self-healing disorders that your Cocker Spaniel may face. So, if you find them limping or walking at an awkward angle, let nature take its course and do not interfere.

cocker spaniels as hunting dogs
Cocker Spaniels, before being family pets, were bred as gun dogs.

How To Breed Cocker Spaniels

Breeding Cocker Spaniels is not rocket science – it is profitable and easy too because of their sweet nature and family-oriented behavior. What is crucial though to the entire breeding process is that Cockers Spaniel breeders take complete caution with the health of both, the dam and the sire. It is pertinent that their bones and blood samples should be tested to rule out any diseases or congenital conditions. Get a proper analysis done before you go ahead.

Although there will be only so much that you can stall, given the breed’s specifications, it is prone to diseases. Cocker Spaniels are good to mate once they turn around 24 months old. While they do mature a lot earlier (the males mature at around 8 months old) it is still advisable to wait until they are 2 years old at least to see how healthy they actually are once adulthood is reached.

Average Litter Size

Cocker Spaniels are midsized dogs with an average litter size of 5 puppies. It is a known fact that the smaller the breed is, the smaller is the litter size.

Survival Rate

Their gestation period lasts for about 58 days after which the litter is born. However, even at a small number of 5 puppies, not all puppies survive. There is a chance of only 3-4 pups making it through, while 1-2 puppies die either of disease or are stillborn.

Smaller and midsized dogs have a higher chance of giving birth to their litter through surgery (c-sections), owing to narrow birthing canals.

Birthing Problems

The birthing dam may be very confused as to what is happening to her, the closer she gets to deliver the puppies. She may face anxiety and may even refuse to leave your side because she doesn’t know what’s going on.

Around the time of her due date, avoid taking your Cocker Spaniel dam out in the open to defecate, because she may confuse labor movement with bowel movements and the next thing you know, puppies are coming out.

Cocker Spaniel dams may experience a sudden drop in temperature during and after the delivery. Take the help of a vet to ensure that the process is smooth. If your Cocker Spaniel dam is having long labor – it may be because a puppy is stuck on its way out, or because the birthing canal is too narrow. Enlist your vet’s services beforehand in case of such emergencies.

Pricing

Cocker Spaniel puppies go for about $700 to $2,000, depending upon the kind of breed you choose from a breeder. Working Cocker Spaniels may be sold at a higher price depending on how much training has been put into them as well as their expertise at a given job.

They are a breed for the masses and not just a niche breed, meant for a certain class of people. Which is why, the price can go lower even, but the demand will never cease. They are extremely good family dogs, fast learners and good for even those dog owners who have no experience. Which is why for a smaller ticket size too, breeding Cocker Spaniels would be profitable.

Cocker Spaniels are a breed for everyone – they’re sporty, fun, energetic, enthusiastic and make for excellent family pets. Which is why breeding Cocker Spaniels is always going to be a profitable affair, they will be in demand. Their sweet temperament and easy-going nature, make them adjustable to most types of people – so for those who think there isn’t a perfect dog for them, Cocker Spaniels are the one! As a breeder, you must convince an interested party of their versatility and their amazing adaptability.

If you love the Cocker Spaniel breed, check out this 2-hour-long documentary about them!

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