The Evolution of American Cocker Spaniel Breeding Standards

As the American Cocker Spaniel continues to be a beloved and popular breed of dog, many may wonder about the history and evolution of its breeding standards. From its early beginnings in the US to the controversies surrounding color standards, to the modern changes in health concerns and breed recognition, the journey of the American Cocker Spaniel has been a fascinating one. In this article, we delve into the intricacies and details surrounding the development and evolution of the American Cocker Spaniel breeding standards, while also exploring future directions for the breed.

The Early Years

The Early Years
As with most dog breeds, the history of American Cocker Spaniels goes back hundreds of years. The early years of the breed were marked by a long journey of evolution, breeding challenges, and controversies that shaped the breed’s standards. The American Cocker Spaniel we know today is a product of these early times of experimentation and innovation that brought significant changes to the breed. In this section, we’ll delve into the early history of the American Cocker Spaniel, its origin, breeding standards, and color controversies that marked this long journey. To understand the breed’s present and future, it’s essential to look back at its rich history. Let’s explore together!

Beginnings in the US

The American Cocker Spaniel breed traces its origins back to the early 18th century, where it was developed in the United States as a hunting dog. The breed was created by crossing English Cocker Spaniels with other breeds such as the American Water Spaniels, which gave the Cocker Spaniel its characteristic strong hunting skills.

The breed became increasingly popular in the United States in the early 20th century, and by the 1920s, it had become one of the most popular dog breeds in the country. The breeding of the American Cocker Spaniel became more selective, with breeders focusing on dogs that had desirable traits such as a smaller size and a well-defined head.

The American Cocker Spaniel was not only used for hunting, but also became a favorite among dog show enthusiasts. In 1873, the first American Cocker Spaniel was shown at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, where it was classified as a “spaniel – Cocker.” It was recognized as its own breed in 1946 by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

The breed’s popularity continued to grow, and during World War II, American soldiers would take Cocker Spaniels with them as companions. Cocker Spaniels became so beloved in the US that they were even featured in the famous Disney movie Lady and the Tramp.

Today, the American Cocker Spaniel remains a beloved breed in the United States and around the world, known for its loyalty, intelligence, and friendly nature. However, some controversy exists as to whether the American and English Cocker Spaniels are actually separate breeds, or simply varieties of the same breed.

If you want to learn more about the origin and early history of American Cocker Spaniel breeding standards, check out our article discussing American Cocker Spaniel History.

Breed Standards

Breed standards are the cornerstone of purebred dogs like the American Cocker Spaniel. These standards are a set of written guidelines that dictate how a purebred dog should look, move, and behave. The first written breed standard for the American Cocker Spaniel was published in 1881 by the American Spaniel Club, which had been founded just one year before.

The breed standard describes the ideal Cocker Spaniel in great detail, from their size and overall appearance to the texture and color of their coat. American Cocker Spaniel breed standard recognizes two types of Cocker Spaniel – the Black and the Any Solid Color Other Than Black. The Black is the most popular, while the ASCOB or Any Solid Color Other Than Black, is a more recent iteration with a wider variety of coat colors.

According to the breed standard, the American Cocker Spaniel is a small to medium-sized dog with a sturdy and compact build. They should have a rounded head with a pronounced stop, which puts emphasis on their full brown eyes that shine with intelligence. Their ears are long and pendulous, and set low on the head giving them the distinctive look they are known for.

The standard also dictates that the American Cocker Spaniel should have a well-proportioned body which is slightly longer than its height. Their silky coat, which is a defining characteristic of the breed, should be trimmed regularly to maintain proper shape and contour.

The overall appearance of the American Cocker Spaniel outlined in the breed standard is one of grace, athleticism, and beauty. Breeders, judges, and enthusiasts alike often refer to the breed standard as the “blueprint” of the breed, and use it to compare and evaluate individual dogs in order to maintain and improve the breed’s characteristics.

For a more in-depth look at the history of the American Cocker Spaniel and its origins, follow this link. If you are interested in the role of American Cocker Spaniels during World War II, check out this article.

Color Controversies

During the early years of American Cocker Spaniel breeding standards, the colors of the breed caused a great deal of controversy. Some breeders were in favor of only breeding and showing specific colors, while others believed that all colors should be allowed. These color controversies eventually led to the formation of the Cocker Spaniel Club of America in the 1880s. The club’s color committee worked to narrow down the range of acceptable colors to black, parti-color, and ASCOB (any solid color other than black).

However, even with the establishment of these color standards, there were still disputes among breeders. In the early 1900s, breeders were breeding their dogs for extreme variation in coat color, resulting in dogs that had markings that were too large or colors that were too diluted. This led to the AKC issuing specific breed standards, including color standards, that all registered American Cocker Spaniels must conform to in order to be eligible for dog shows.

One of the most controversial Cocker Spaniel colors was buff, a pale yellowish or pinkish-gold color. Buff Cocker Spaniels became popular in the late 1800s, but many breeders felt that they lacked the striking appearance of other colors like black or parti-color. As more people began breeding buff Cocker Spaniels, the controversy only grew. Eventually, the AKC recognized buff as an acceptable color in the standard, but it remains a point of debate among breeders to this day.

The color controversies of the past have influenced the breeding standards of American Cocker Spaniels today. Breeders must be careful to adhere to the AKC’s breed standards for coat color and patterns in order to maintain the integrity of the breed. However, there are still some breeders who continue to experiment with new colors, such as merle, which is not recognized in the AKC’s breed standard. This experimentation leads to further debates about what colors should be considered acceptable for the breed.

It’s interesting to note that the American Cocker Spaniel was originally bred as a hunting dog, but the focus on appearance and color standards has led to a shift away from their original purpose. However, there are still breeders who focus on preserving the hunting instincts of the American Cocker Spaniel, which can be seen in the field trials that are held to test their hunting abilities. By maintaining a balance between appearance and function, breeders can ensure that the American Cocker Spaniel remains a versatile and beloved breed for years to come.


Modern Changes

Modern Changes
As society evolved, so did the standards for breeding American Cocker Spaniels. Over the years, there have been numerous changes made to the breed standards, recognition by the AKC, and health concerns. These changes have led to improvements and challenges alike. In this section, we will explore the modern changes in American Cocker Spaniel breeding standards and how they have impacted the breed. So, grab a cup of coffee and let’s dive right in!

Recognition by AKC

In the early 1900s, the American Cocker Spaniel started gaining popularity in the United States, and in 1946, it was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The AKC is a leading organization for purebred dog breeders in the US, and their recognition of the American Cocker Spaniel was a significant milestone in the breed’s history.

AKC Standards: The AKC has specific standards that must be met for a breed to be recognized, and once recognized, these standards must be adhered to by breeders. For the American Cocker Spaniel, the AKC standards outline specific requirements for the dog’s appearance, temperament, and behavior. These standards help to ensure that the breed is of high quality and stays true to its origins.

Breed Advancements: Recognition by the AKC opened up many opportunities for breed advancement, including new breeding programs and training resources. The AKC facilitated breeding programs that sought to improve the breed by selecting dogs with desirable traits for breeding. This helped to preserve the breed’s genetic diversity and allowed for continued evolution within the breed.

Controversies: With recognition came increased scrutiny, and some concerns were raised about the breed standards. Some breeders disagreed with certain aspects of the standards, such as the preferred coat length, which led to disagreements within the breeding community. Additionally, some believed that the AKC standards placed too much emphasis on appearance, leading to overbreeding and health problems.

AKC Governance: Despite some controversies, recognition by the AKC helped to solidify the American Cocker Spaniel’s place in the US as a beloved breed. The AKC provides governance over the breed’s standards and ensures that breeders adhere to these standards. This has led to improved health outcomes for the breed, as breeders are held accountable for the breeding practices they employ.

Recognition by the AKC was a pivotal moment in the evolution of American Cocker Spaniel breeding standards. While it has led to some controversies, overall, it has provided a framework for breed advancement and governance that has helped to maintain the breed’s quality and health.

Breed Club Standards

Breed club standards play a crucial role in shaping the American Cocker Spaniel breed. These standards are set by the American Spaniel Club and act as a blueprint for breeders to produce healthy and high-quality dogs.

The Standards
The American Spaniel Club has rigorous standards for breeding American Cocker Spaniels. These standards include physical characteristics such as weight, height, and coat type. Additionally, the temperament and behavior of the breed are key factors in the standards set by the club. Breeders who follow these standards ensure that the dogs they produce will have a consistent look and feel, making them instantly recognizable as American Cocker Spaniels.

Breeding high-quality American Cocker Spaniels that fulfill club standards can be challenging. One issue breeders may face is balancing looks and health. Some breeders may prioritize certain physical features over the health and well-being of the dog. This can lead to an increase in health issues such as hip dysplasia, eye problems, and hearing loss. By adhering to breed club standards, breeders can mitigate these issues and produce healthier dogs.

The American Spaniel Club takes the enforcement of breed standards very seriously. They have a committee dedicated to enforcing these standards and ensuring that breeders comply. They may inspect breeding facilities, examine dogs, and revoke breeding rights if they find inconsistencies.

The American Spaniel Club and other breed clubs are constantly updating and improving breed standards. They collaborate with veterinarians and geneticists to stay up-to-date on the latest research and ensure that the breed remains healthy and strong. This can lead to new guidelines for breeding and testing procedures that will better ensure the well-being of future generations of American Cocker Spaniels.

Breed club standards for American Cocker Spaniels are an essential component of responsible breeding. By adhering to these standards, breeders can produce healthier and consistent dogs that conform to the breed’s distinct look and temperament. Breed clubs continuously examine and improve these standards as part of their commitment to the health and long-term viability of the American Cocker Spaniel breed.

Health Concerns

The American Cocker Spaniel is a beautiful breed, but like many purebred dogs, they are prone to certain health issues. As breeders worked to refine the physical traits of the Cocker Spaniel, these health concerns have become more prevalent in the breed. Here are some of the health concerns that have developed over the years:

  • Ear Infections: The Cocker Spaniel’s long, floppy ears are adorable, but they can also lead to frequent ear infections. This is because the ears trap moisture and debris, which creates a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast. Regular ear cleaning and grooming can help prevent infections, but some Cockers may need regular medical attention to manage ear infections.
  • Eye Problems: Cockers are also prone to a number of eye problems, including cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal dysplasia. These conditions can cause vision loss and even blindness in severe cases. Regular eye exams and genetic testing can help diagnose these issues, and some may be treated with surgery or medication.
  • Orthopedic Issues: American Cocker Spaniels are also predisposed to a number of orthopedic issues, including hip dysplasia and patellar luxation (a condition where the kneecap pops out of place). These conditions can cause pain, lameness, and difficulty getting around. Responsible breeders will screen their dogs for these conditions and work to minimize the risk of passing them on to future generations.
  • Other Health Concerns: In addition to the above issues, Cockers may also be prone to obesity, allergies, and certain cancers. As with any breed, it’s important to work with a reputable breeder who prioritizes the health and well-being of their dogs.

In recent years, many breeders and breed clubs have taken steps to address these health concerns. Some have implemented mandatory health screening requirements for breeding dogs, while others have been working to develop healthier breed standards that prioritize health over appearance. As always, it’s important to do your research and work with a reputable breeder who takes a responsible approach to breeding American Cocker Spaniels.

Future Directions

As the American Cocker Spaniel breed continues to evolve, it is essential to consider the future directions of their breeding standards. With various health concerns and changing breed club standards, breeders are faced with perplexing decisions. In this section, we will explore the potential directions that Cocker Spaniel breeding may take in the upcoming years. It is crucial to examine the latest trends and shifts in the breed’s needs to make informed decisions that ultimately benefit the dogs and the breeders. So, let us dive into the future possibilities of American Cocker Spaniel breeding.

Looking Ahead in Breeding Standards

As the American Cocker Spaniel breed continues to evolve, breeders are sure to take new approaches to breeding standards to ensure that the breed remains not only aesthetically pleasing but also healthy and functional. Looking ahead, here are some ways that breeding standards for the American Cocker Spaniel may evolve:

  • Emphasis on health: In recent years, there has been an increased focus on breeding for health in dogs, and this trend is likely to continue. Breeders may begin to place even greater emphasis on health in their breeding programs, with a focus on reducing the incidence of common health conditions such as ear infections, eye problems, and hip dysplasia.
  • Encouraging diversity: To combat the potential health problems associated with limited gene pools, breeders may begin to incorporate more genetic diversity into their breeding programs. This may involve introducing new bloodlines or outcrossing to related breeds, such as the English Cocker Spaniel.
  • Appearance changes: Despite the American Cocker Spaniel’s iconic appearance, breeders may experiment with new coat colors, textures, and overall appearance to create fresh new looks in the breed while still adhering to breed standards. Strong emphasis will still need to be placed on maintaining both the breed’s physical appearance and its working ability.
  • Behavioral traits: While breeders have traditionally focused more on physical traits than behavioral traits, breeders may begin to emphasize specific personality traits such as temperament, trainability and appropriate instinctual behavior. This could help owners find American Cocker Spaniels that fit better with their lifestyle, family and work situations.

It’s important to note that any changes to breeding standards must be made carefully and thoughtfully. Breeders will need to maintain a delicate balance between preserving the American Cocker Spaniel breed’s iconic appearance and meeting the evolving needs of owners and the breed’s changing environment. As new techniques, equipment and understanding of the breed emerge, breeders will have to adjust their standards to remain current, always keeping the best interests of the breed in focus.


After exploring the evolution of American Cocker Spaniel breeding standards, it’s clear that there have been many changes over the years. The breed has come a long way since its early days in the US, and while there have been controversies and health concerns, it’s notable that breed enthusiasts and organizations have worked hard to address these issues.

Looking back: It’s fascinating to see how the breed standards have changed since the inception of the breed. While there have been controversies over color preference, it’s heartening to know that breed enthusiasts have been willing to revise and refine breed standards over time. This dedication to the betterment of the breed is a positive sign for the future.

Looking forward: The American Cocker Spaniel continues to be a highly popular breed, and it’s important for breed clubs and organizations to continue to focus on issues like health and temperament. With advances in genetic testing and a greater understanding of breed-specific health issues, there is much potential for continued progress.

The bottom line: The evolution of American Cocker Spaniel breeding standards is an ongoing process, and we can expect to see more changes in the future as breed enthusiasts and organizations work together to improve the breed. With its unique personality and beauty, the American Cocker Spaniel holds a special place in the dog world, and it’s exciting to think of what the future holds for this beloved breed.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are American Cocker Spaniels?

American Cocker Spaniels are a breed of dog known for their long ears and gentle, friendly demeanor. They are popular as family pets and are often used as therapy dogs.

How did American Cocker Spaniels come to the US?

American Cocker Spaniels are a breed of dog that originated in Spain. They were brought to the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by American hunters who were looking for a dog that could hunt and retrieve game birds.

What were the early breeding standards for American Cocker Spaniels?

The early breeding standards for American Cocker Spaniels were focused on producing a dog that was both a good hunter and a good family pet. Breeders looked for dogs that were gentle, friendly, and easy to train, as well as those that had a good nose and could retrieve game birds.

What were the color controversies surrounding American Cocker Spaniels?

There were a number of color controversies surrounding American Cocker Spaniels in the early years of the breed. Breeders disagreed on what colors were acceptable for the breed, and there were even accusations of breeding dogs that were not purebred.

When were American Cocker Spaniels officially recognized by the AKC?

American Cocker Spaniels were officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1946.

What are some breed club standards for American Cocker Spaniels?

Breed club standards for American Cocker Spaniels typically include requirements for the dog’s coat, size, and temperament. They also often specify that the dog must be free from certain health issues.

What are some common health issues that American Cocker Spaniels are prone to?

American Cocker Spaniels are prone to a number of health issues, including ear infections, allergies, and hip dysplasia. They may also be more prone to certain eye disorders, such as cataracts and glaucoma.

What are breeders doing to address health concerns in American Cocker Spaniels?

Breeders of American Cocker Spaniels are taking steps to address health concerns in the breed by focusing on producing dogs that are free from certain health issues, such as hip dysplasia and eye disorders. They may also be using genetic testing to identify dogs that are carriers for certain genetic conditions.

What changes can we expect to see in American Cocker Spaniel breeding standards in the future?

Future changes to American Cocker Spaniel breeding standards may include a greater focus on producing dogs that are free from certain health issues, as well as a continued emphasis on producing dogs that are both good hunters and good family pets.

Are American Cocker Spaniels good family pets?

Yes, American Cocker Spaniels are known for their gentle, friendly demeanor and are often used as family pets. They are good with children and other pets, and are often trained as therapy dogs due to their calm and affectionate nature.


Britta Thygesen

Britta Thygesen

A passionate dog owner and a full-time certified dog trainer. Aspires to make DogCareHacks a go-to place for all the doggo info. Shares personal experience and professional knowledge.

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