Do Cockers Make Good Family Dogs?

Yes, Cocker Spaniels make good family dogs, especially if they are well-trained and adequately socialized right from the start.

However, some Cockers can be sensitive little souls and prefer gentle handling, and, as with all dog breeds, it's a good idea to set up some firm ground rules for the kids to follow.

Learn how to train and socialize your pup and how the kids should behave around their new Cocker Spaniel puppy.

Good Dogs For Children?

I'm often asked if Cocker Spaniels make good family dogs. Although I firmly believe Cockers make great family dogs, my answer to this question must be a cautious 'Yes and no'.

Please allow me to explain.

As devoted Cocker owners, we know that the Cocker Spaniel temperament is very gentle and loving and that our Cockers are friendly biddable little dogs.

Children playing with a golden cocker spaniel, lying on the grass, picket fence in the background. This is a lovely photo showing how cocker spaniels make good family dogs.Look at our new puppy, isn't he gorgeous?

We also know that Cockers love being outdoors; however, they're equally happy inside: rolling on the rug in the winter sunshine, curled up on our laps, playing with our children, or simply dozing by the fire.

Cocker Spaniels are very gentle, willing, intelligent, and easy to train. It's this gentle temperament and trainability that helps Cocker Spaniels to become good family dogs.

They adore being with their family; in fact, Cocker Spaniels feel a need to be involved in everything the family does.

They don't like being left home alone. As a result, some Cockers can suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for too long.

Their loving temperament makes them one of the best family dogs you could hope to live with!

So, yes, Cocker Spaniels DO make good family dogs; however, this statement comes with a firm piece of advice, which is explained below.

Spaniels Make Good Family Dogs, If Handled Properly

Although Cockers are very gentle dogs, they can also be sensitive and shy away from harsh treatment or handling.

If Cocker Spaniels are not treated with kid gloves or handled roughly, they can become quite aggressive. This is borne out by the number of e-mails I receive from owners concerned about their Cocker's aggression.

Many owners can't understand why their Cockers suddenly become aggressive. However, they sometimes overlook that children can be rough, especially in play or when they get excited. It's often just too much for a young puppy to handle.

That's when the trouble begins.

Golden cocker spaniel head and shoulder shot, looking away from the camera. The photo is taken on a white background.I'm a good family dog!

The puppy may attempt to warn off the children by growling. Unfortunately, because a growling puppy is often considered cute, the pup's growl is frequently ignored.

However, a growl is a warning! It's a warning that a bite is likely to follow. Any growling should always be taken very seriously indeed!

A timid puppy is likely to become progressively more aggressive if children continue to play rough or are too boisterous. The puppy will progress from growling, snarling, barking, and snapping, to the final, more dangerous act of aggression, biting.

Once the puppy learns that aggressive behaviour can get him what he wants, he will use aggressive behaviour all the more. After all, it's getting him what he wants!

He will continue to use this behaviour in many different situations too.

And so the aggression continues. Your puppy's unwanted behaviour will escalate if not checked. Aggressive dogs will never make good family dogs!

This form of aggression is known as 'Fear Aggression', and it can cause a melt-down relationship between you and your Cocker Spaniel unless you can regain his trust.

Many inexperienced owners don't understand why their Cockers begin behaving aggressively and are often unable to deal with the problem.

Unfortunately, these unhappy, misunderstood animals are no longer considered good family dogs.

They often end up in Cocker Spaniel rescue centres because their owners can no longer handle them.

Sadly, many so-called 'aggressive' Cocker Spaniels are unnecessarily euthanized.

It's such a shame, really, because most instances of aggression in dogs could easily be prevented, by treating the dog gently, with kindness and respect, and by giving good solid training and (gentle) discipline.

Important Note: Unfortunately, this 'fear aggression' (and many other types of aggression in dogs) is sometimes misdiagnosed as Cocker Rage. This condition does exist in the Cocker Spaniel breed but, happily, is very rarely seen.

You can find more information and how to determine whether or not your dog is displaying Cocker Rage Syndrome here.

Helping Puppies To Grow Into Good Family Dogs

I firmly believe you can help your puppy to grow into the best family dog ever. This process should begin well before you get your puppy.

Let me explain...

Choose A Good Breeder

First, make sure you choose a responsible cocker spaniel breeder, preferably one who breeds for temperament.

Once you've contacted the breeder, here's a selection of pertinent questions you might want to ask.

Black and tan cocker spaniel adult dog, sitting against a white background.Cocker Spaniels are the best family dogs!

Once again, find a good Cocker Spaniel breeder! Yes, I know I've said it twice...because it is essential!

A good breeder will give a great deal of thought to selecting which dogs to breed from.

Once their puppies are born, the breeder will begin the all-essential socialization process long before their puppies are ready to leave for their new home.

This will give the puppies the best start in life!

Your breeder will help you to choose a puppy with a good temperament, the best to suit you and your family, especially if this is your first puppy.

You can learn more about picking a puppy here, but don't worry; as I said, your breeder can help you choose.

Never Buy From Puppy Farms!

Beware of Cocker Spaniel puppies bred on a puppy farm or sold in pet stores. These puppies are often produced from inbred dogs, resulting in highly strung, aggressive pups with avoidable health problems.

Inbred puppies are likely to be nervous, jittery, snappy, and high-maintenance. They're not really what you'd call good family dogs, and certainly not the sort of dog you'd want around your children!

Such a nervous dog will be tough to manage and train, especially for inexperienced owners.

Early Socialization Can Encourage Good Temperament

Put simply, socialization can help to produce gentle temperaments and good family dogs!

Socializing your puppy is getting your pup used to his new environment, humans, animals, and everyday noises. It will help him become comfortable with all daily encounters and new situations.

It's said that the 'socialization window' closes at 12 weeks. Although it's possible to socialize after that time, it will be difficult, and the results won't be as good.

Don't miss that window of opportunity!

Poorly socialized puppies are often confused and frightened by the simplest of situations or noises and are nervous about their surroundings.

They can become easily over-excited and anxious and are more likely to display fear-aggression and other behavioural problems later in life.

Generally, under-socialized dogs don't make good family dogs!

Socializing your puppy is vital to ensure a confident and well-behaved adult dog; it will allow your dog's beautiful temperament to shine through!

Good Training Can Help Produce Good Family Dogs

To get the best from your Cocker Spaniel, I strongly recommend that your puppy's training, wherever possible, is based on positive reinforcement.

Chocolate and white cocker spaniel puppy sitting on a path in the garden.Who wouldn't love this cute Cocker Spaniel puppy?

Positive reinforcement is when your dog is rewarded with a treat, praise, or both, for doing something you asked him to do.

You are rewarding your dog, but you're also reinforcing his good behaviour.

Cocker Spaniels are always keen to please their owners and will try hard to do as you ask, but don't rush your puppy's training. Take your time, and be patient.

Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a little longer for puppies to understand what you want from them.

If your puppy get's it wrong, be patient and loving - he'll get there when he's ready. Learn more about how to train a puppy.

Discipline Can Help Produce Good Family Dogs

Pets that don't behave well do not make good family dogs.

It's inadvisable to allow your puppy to get away with bad behaviour, no matter how cute he may be! 

A young blonde-haired girl holding an American cocker spaniel.I love my Cocker Spaniel!

If you don't let your puppy know that you are unhappy with his behaviour, he will continue behaving that way. If left, it will become habitual, and we all know how hard it is to break a habit!

You need to help your dog understand the type of behaviour you want from him, which means rewarding good behaviour and disciplining him when he's being naughty.

Discipline should never take the form of physical punishment, simply give a firm 'No' and move on. Don't dwell on it.

If your puppy continues to misbehave, ignore him, or leave the room for a couple of minutes (if it's safe to do so). Do this, and it won't be long before he learns which behaviour gets him the treats and which gets him the cold shoulder!

Once he's worked that out, guess which he'll do more of?

Whether training or disciplining your puppy, he may become defensive and aggressive if you're too rough with him. His new behaviours may include growling or snarling, barking, snapping, or biting.

Fear aggression can cause your relationship with your puppy to suffer. Take it easy; be patient and gentle with your puppy, and NEVER let him get away with being naughty.

Cocker Spaniels + Children: A Good Combination?

Some owners believe it would be irresponsible to bring an adult Cocker Spaniel into a family with young children and that it could be a recipe for disaster.

Unless the adult Cocker had previously lived in a household with children, I would be inclined to agree.

I would, however, recommend bringing a Cocker puppy into a household with young children as this will allow them to learn and grow up together.

If Cocker puppies are to become good family dogs, they must be well-trained, loved and disciplined.

Another factor is that there must be a set of firm ground rules for the kids to stick to, as follows:

A young girl cuddling her new Cocker Spaniel puppy! The photo is taken against a white background.Say hello to my sweet little puppy!
  • The children must understand that their puppy is NOT a toy!

  • They must always be gentle with their puppy, and that means no rough handling or rough play;

  • The kids must stay out of the dog's bed or crate; that should be the puppy's private sanctuary;

  • They must not disturb their dog while he's asleep. Apart from being unkind, it can be dangerous;

  • The children must not bother the puppy when he's eating his food; aside from being bad manners, it can cause dog food aggression;

  • They must not shout or scream at their puppy;

  • They must never, ever hit the dog - no matter what!

When it comes to their puppy's obedience training, the children should be involved to help them learn and understand the command words used.

Each command word should be used consistently by each member of the family.

The children should also be aware that their puppy may not always want to be handled or to play. They need to respect that and give their puppy some peace and quiet from time to time.

It's also essential that young children are supervised around a puppy until you are confident that you can trust both to be safe with each other.

In the unlikely event that your Cocker Spaniel is showing aggression towards your children, this excellent article by Ron Hines, DVM PhD, will help - What to do when your dog is aggressive with your children.

So...Do Cocker Spaniels Make Good Family Dogs?

Please don't think I'm targeting the Cocker Spaniel as an aggressive dog that shouldn't ever be placed in a family environment.

I'm not - far from it! I offer these words of caution to anyone bringing any dog breed into a home with young children. It's simply common sense.

Cocker Spaniels make good family dogs so long as they're trained well and treated with respect by all the family.

The ground rules mentioned above should be followed by all, particularly the children!

Treat your Cocker Spaniel with kindness and understanding, be gentle with him, but discipline him when necessary to teach him what you consider good and bad behaviour.

Do this, and he'll reward you with years of affection, companionship, loyalty, and happiness.

Enjoy your Cocker Spaniel!


Photo Credits for Good Family Dogs:

1. Anatoliy Samara at Fotolia.com ID 39338963 - https://stock.adobe.com/fr/images/kids-playing-with-dog/39338963
2. Hugo Felix at https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-baby-cocker-spaniel-image12691354
3. Isselee at https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-close-up-of-english-cocker-spaniel-2-years-old-image22516437
4. Michha at https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-happy-dogs-image15289854
5. Yurchyk at https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-young-girl-holding-spaniel-image19061517
6. Lisa F Young at https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-sweet-affection-image197728