If you are looking at the Cocker Spaniel breed, you will likely want to know about their typical temperament. Besides, you may have young family members or even an experience with a dog of this breed. But are they generally aggressive? Is there anything you need to be aware of? I spent some time researching the breed and their tendencies to find out!
So, are Cocker Spaniels aggressive? Cocker Spaniels are generally not aggressive dogs, instead, they are typically affectionate, playful, and friendly in temperament. Although, just with any dog, there are certain factors that can cause aggression. This includes fear, boredom, and a lack of early socialization. While rare, some Cocker Spaniels have a behavioral disorder known as ‘Cocker rage syndrome’ or ‘sudden onset aggression.’
It’s important to specify here, that Cocker rage syndrome is not common and is instead the exception rather than the norm.
Research and studies have also shown that it is much more likely in male show breeds, and those in solid colors (such as black and golden). And, what’s more, it appears to occur in English Cocker spaniels specifically.
Consider that the AKC (American Kernel Club) recognizes the Cocker Spaniel (American) and English Cocker spaniel as two separate, and distinct breeds.
So, while Cocker rage syndrome is certainly something to be aware of, it is not something that most owners will ever face or experience.
Instead, Cocker spaniels are generally regarded for having a sweet, loving temperament.
Let us now take a closer look at the typical temperament of the Cocker spaniel, before turning to those similarly related questions you may have; is this breed known for biting, what can cause aggressive displays, etc.
We will then look at how you can prevent aggression if you did decide to take on this dog.
So, be sure to keep on reading to get all the information you may well very need!
Typical Cocker Spaniel Temperament
Cocker Spaniels are typically polite, attentive, friendly, affectionate, and playful in temperament. All fantastic traits you would want to see in a breed.
This breed is known for showing devotion to its family and responds well to obedience training, especially when praise and rewards are involved.
On the downside, Cocker Spaniels can be timid, submissive, and reserved.
These dogs need to receive adequate socialization and independence training from a young age.
Persistent affection, excessive timidity, and submissiveness can result in an overly clingy dog that wants too much attention.
But you do need to strike a balance.
These dogs are therefore prone to separation anxiety and will need a certain level of companionship to remain truly happy and content.
So, if you are serious about this dog you do need to be prepared; you will never be able to leave them alone and left to their own devices for more than a few hours at a time.
They generally express their loneliness and unhappiness through destructive behaviors; such as chewing and barking – so it will become quite evident.
It is generally advised, that if you have a job that requires you to be out and to work all day, you make other arrangements. Or at least have someone who can give this dog the attention it needs.
Otherwise, the Cocker Spaniel is unlikely to be the right breed for you.
It’s also important to be aware that Cocker Spaniels are easily rattled and can bark at any new sound and sight, so you will need to proactively correct them to ensure this kind of behavior does not get out of control.
Nevertheless, with the right training and care, they make excellent companions. What’s more, these dogs are conveniently sized and are suited to many different living spaces.
Are Cocker Spaniels Known For Biting?
Cocker Spaniels have been known for biting, although this is often in poorly bred dogs of the breed and those who have not received adequate training.
So long as you purchase a Cocker spaniel from a reputable breeder, with a good genetic lineage and raise them properly, biting should not be a concern.
That being said, Cocker Spaniels are known for exploring the world through their mouths. Especially when young.
For instance, if they were to feel overly stressed or excited, you could expect to receive a nip.
This is why it is so important that you teach this behavior out of them while they are a young age.
Prevention is critical, and with persistence and in time, this is a behavior that can be stopped in this breed.
Even if your Cocker spaniel was to take this kind of behavior into adult life; it can be still be stopped.
However, it may be more challenging to teach and you may even need professional intervention to support your efforts.
How To Stop Cocker Spaniels From Biting
Training a Cocker spaniel to note involves a combination of technique, timing, and equipment.
So, to begin with, you will need some motivators like treats and toys to help you along the way.
There are two primary methods that you can leverage; the first is the ‘soft mouth method’ and the second is the ‘self-control method,’.
Let’s look at both methods in more detail:
Soft Mouth Method
This method teaches your puppy that biting is not to be accepted, it is not appropriate and your puppy needs to see why.
So, you’ll be demonstrating to your puppy that biting causes pain.
You therefore will need to cry or show signs of discomfort when your spaniel nips at your skin.
You can begin this by playing with your puppy, and as and when they nip – let out a high-pitched noise that indicates pain. You’ll also want to let your hand go limp.
This essentially trains your puppy to steer clear of nipping at your skin.
If your puppy persists with nipping, stop playtime altogether.
Fold your arms, turn your back and leave the room.
Your puppy will learn that biting and rough play will not be tolerated.
Once your puppy calms back down, you can begin playing once again.
Be sure to monitor your puppy for overexcitement; if you notice them getting carried away you can play with them in 15-second bursts before stopping.
The Self-Control Method
This approach is all about refocusing your spaniel’s attention – ensuring they bite elsewhere such as into a toy.
These dogs love to have an object in their mouth, so redirecting the impulse tends to work well.
With this approach, you will always want to praise your dog for picking up a toy or taking it with enthusiasm.
Some dogs respond to being petted more than others; putting their mouth towards the hand.
You can subdue this reaction by providing treats while petting; it also helps to keep your dogs mouth busy.
You’ll also want to avoid any games that promote biting, and distance yourself while playing any games such as tug of war or fetch.
Be sure to engage in frequent training sessions and teach basic commands like ‘sit’, ‘down’, and stay.
Dogs that listen to their owners are less likely to get into trouble.
Thankfully, you can take control of most situations, simply by using your voice.
Here are some do’s and don’t for either technique:
- When your puppy mouths you, respond dramatically – play act as much as you can. The the more you act up, the sooner your puppy gets the message that biting is inappropriate behavior.
- Seek professional help if these techniques do not show progress. There is little point in continuing methods which do not result in success and can make the issues worse.
- Don’t punish your dog when they misbehaves, as this will only make him more frightened of you than they may be already. If they act up, simply say “no!” firmly and withdraw your attention.
- Avoid wagging your finger in your dog’s face as this may encourage further biting – the opposite of what you hoped to achieve.
- You must react every time your dog bites, or he will never learn it’s wrong. Even if they are only light nips, don’t be brave; react each time.
What Can Make A Cocker Spaniel Aggressive?
Cocker spaniels are typically playful, loving a cuddle while equally enjoying being active.
We have seen above that this breed is quite nippy, but that should not be mistaken for aggression.
That being said, there are certain contexts where this breed can respond in such away. Let us now take a closer look at the main ones below:
Genes and Breeding Practices
The majority of instances where Cocker spaniels are aggressive is often the result of inherited characteristics.
Both genes and breeding practices have a big impact on how a dog behaves.
In fact, there are studies that confirm this.
This is why it is so important to purchase your dog from a reputable breeder, and from good stock.
Cocker spaniels are actually very sensitive and do not respond well to harsh treatment.
If an owner was to be overly physical, or attempt to punish their dog in the wrong way, it could cause growling or snapping.
Cocker spaniels typically respond in this way when in pain or afraid.
Strangers and Other Dogs
Cocker spaniels, like most other breeds, can show aggression to unfamiliar people and other dogs.
This can be the result of fear, poor communication, possessive behavior (such as protecting food or a toy), or even over territory [source].
Again not unique to this breed but of dogs in general.
Dogs who are ill or injured may respond with aggression. This is in an attempt to conceal the pain and to show that they are not vulnerable or in danger.
It is mostly an evolutionary trait, back to the days when dogs lived in social packs.
Whatever the potential cause of aggression, you need to be particularly careful with this breed.
It is easy to fail to notice the early signs of aggression due to this breed’s small size and tendency to nip.
For this reason, bad or aggressive behavior can unwittingly be reinforced by a well-meaning owner, who only means to comfort or pet a dog even though it’s behaving inappropriately.
More On Cocker Rage Syndrome
We’ve already touched upon Cocker rage syndrome is very rare, common in specific lineages, and mostly confined to the English Cocker spaniel breed.
It’s not something that the majority of Cocker spaniel owners need to worry about.
But, it does emphasize the need to:
- Purchase your dog from a reputable breed,
- Visit the vet frequently, have your dog examined and checked for health conditions such as epilepsy.
- Train your dog from a young age,
- Socialize your dog as much as possible from young age (but more eon this in the following section.)
Cocker rage is not your typical aggressive behavior, and would be observed through the following:
It is often unexpected and unexplained without cause and viscous and sudden in nature. It’s unpredictable and almost impossible to control a dog in this state.
So, just be mindful when looking at this breed, especially if you are looking at the English variant.
How To Prevent Aggression With Cocker Spaniels?
Preventing aggression in Cocker spaniels is a multifaced approach. Although, aggression can be mostly prevented through obedience training and early socialization.
Obedience Training & Early Socialization
It’s imperative to ensure your dog is exposed to early training and sufficient socialization – with other people, dogs, and contexts.
In doing so you can teach your dog what is acceptable behavior, while also building your dog’s confidence with new people, dogs, sounds, sights, and experiences.
By doing so, you are a lot less likely to upset your sensitive dog, respond in an inappropriate way, or see your dog react with fear out of nervousness.
So, between the ages of 6-20 weeks of age, you should commit to frequent exposure to as many different environments, circumstances, and contexts as you can.
Endeavor to make these experiences as positive as you can; as this helps young dogs learn that new situations are not always threatening.
Reward Calm Behaviour
You must always look to reward calm behavior, with treats, while never rewarding fearful or aggressive behavior.
At the same time, you are going to want to avoid picking up and comforting a nervous dog.
Instead, put your puppy in their crate or redirect their attention to something else and distract them.
Hire A Professional
If you adopt an older Cocker spaniel, say from a rescue and later notice aggression issues, you may need the help of a dog trainer to help with this problem.
It also comes strongly advised to speak to your vet if you notice any signs or displays of aggression, however subtle they may seem.
It’s important to rule out the possibility of illness or injury that may cause your dog to react aggressively.
In the rare but possible scenario where you were to suspect or experience an episode of rage syndrome, you will need to contact a vet at the earliest opportunity.
Sometimes treatment is available, although it does not always work and euthanasia is a possibility.
Nevertheless, what is important is that everyone remains safe at all times.
If this means putting your Cocker spaniel in a safe place temporarily, such as a crate, then so be it. Even if they do not usually bite.
If they do, you may need to consider placing a muzzle on your dog when visiting the vet or taking them out.
At least until you have taught them not to.
Cocker spaniels are generally dogs of a wonderful temperament. But, just like in many breeds, the potential for aggression is always there.
You can proactively look to reduce aggressive episodes through sufficient early socialization and obedience training while they are still young pups.
Thankfully, Cocker Spaniels are among the most intelligent dog breeds – they thrive on learning new skills and being challenged. This makes them somewhat easy to train.
If learning about Rage syndrome has you concerned; try not letting it worry you or put you off this breed.
It is rare, and getting your dog from a reputable breeder dramatically reduces the chances.
Beyond this opt for a female dog of the multi-color coat as according to studies, this is your safest bet.
In doing so, you should be getting a dog that wants to please its owners and respond positively around them.
There is a reason why this breed is so popular and loveable; they’ve earned the right to this status!
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.