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There are two distinct types of cocker spaniels recognized by the American Kennel Club: the English Cocker Spaniel and the American Cocker Spaniel. Both breeds are the smallest of all the sporting dogs and descend from Spanish spaniels bred in England during the 14th century.

The American Cocker is a direct descendent of the English Cocker, and was first recognized as a separate breed in 1924 by the American Kennel Club. Brought to the United States in the early 1900's, this breed's distinguishing features include its rounded head and broad, square jaws. The American Cocker is a short, stocky dog, standing at just 14-15 inches in height and weighing 22-30 pounds. Its coat is flat or wavy and usually black and white or liver colored.

Slightly larger than it's American cousin, the English Cocker Spaniel has been a popular hunting dog in Europe since the 19th century. The English Cocker is slightly larger, standing at 15-17 inches and weighing 26-35 pounds. The English cocker's coat is silky and medium in length, and its head is flat on top, as opposed to the rounded, dome look of the American Cocker.

Both cocker breeds have slightly round, dark brown eyes and long, floppy, wide ears. A cocker's coat is soft, flat or wavy and can be either solid colored or variegated. AKC standard accepted colors include black, reddish brown, buff and black and white. The cocker's ears, chest, abdomen and legs are all well feathered when groomed properly.

The English Cocker Spaniel is an active, happy sporting dog. He has boundless energy and his gait is powerful and agile. The English Cocker is known for their intense hunting stature, which allows them to cover ground quickly and penetrate dense cover to retrieve game. The English Cocker is also an enthusiastic dog, happy to be at work or play, wagging their tail often.

The American Cocker is an eager, happy dog, capable of being both a family pet and avid hunter. American Cockers love to flush (drive prey) and retrieve game, even from water. This breed is also very active and eager to please.

Both breeds can live and function well in a variety of settings. The cocker adapts to city or country life, as long as proper exercise is provided daily.

Well-bred cockers are subject to few genetic abnormalities or diseases, though retinal atrophy (a disease that causes blindness), hemophilia, hip dysplasia and cataracts do sometimes run in blood lines. Look for a puppy whose parents have been cleared of these diseases.

Due to their long, heavy ears, cockers are prone to chronic ear infections. Frequent cleaning will help to prevent and treat infections. For especially long eared cockers, ear leathers prohibit air circulation that would ease in drying the ear canal and prevent moisture bacteria from forming. Tying ears back periodically to encourage circulation is advised in these cases.

The cocker's long coat also gives way to the probability of skin infections. Regular bathing and monitoring of skin condition makes this problem easy to treat.

Cocker owners will need to dedicate time to grooming the soft, silky, long coat of their pet. Since cockers are active dogs that love to run in deep wilderness, they frequently pick up a variety of seed heads and shrubs that can cause the coat to tangle and mat. Cockers should be brushed frequently and bathed monthly to promote their healthy coat. Regular trimming and haircuts is also advised.

Both breeds make excellent pet choices. Cockers are quick to learn and eager to please. Cockers have a high intelligence level, but are slow to correct mistakes, so obedience training is usually recommended to foster good behavior. The Cocker Spaniel is a social dog who enjoys interacting with both other animals and people. Fiercly obedient and loyal, this dog makes an excellent pal for small or large families.