Do Cockers Make Good Family Dogs?

Cocker Spaniels do make good family dogs, especially if they've been socialized and trained from being a puppy. However some Cockers can be sensitive and may need gentle handling, but in any case (as with all dog breeds) it's a good idea to set up some firm ground rules for the kids to follow.

Good Dogs For Children?

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

Children playing with a golden cocker spaniel, lying on the grass, picket fence in the background.Look at our new puppy, isn't he gorgeous?

Please allow me to explain.

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

We also know that they love being outdoors, but are equally happy inside; languishing on the rug in winter sunshine, curled up on our laps, playing with our children, or simply dozing by the fire.

We've trained our dogs so we know that they're willing and intelligent, making them very easy to train, and it's this train-ability that helps them to become good family dogs.

They adore being with their family.

In fact, they feel a need to be involved in everything the family does. They don't like being left home alone. Unfortunately, this means that some can suffer from separation anxiety if left on their own for too long.

Their wonderful temperament makes the Cocker Spaniel one of the best family dogs you could hope to live with!

So, yes, Cocker Spaniels do make good family dogs, but this statement comes with a very strong 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 quite sensitive and shy away from harsh treatment or handling.

If they're not treated gently and kindly, Cocker Spaniels can become quite aggressive and judging from the amount of e-mails I receive from owners concerned about their Cocker's aggression, I know this to be true.

Many owners can't understand why their Cockers suddenly become aggressive.

They sometimes overlook that fact that children can be rough, especially in play or when they get excited, and it's often just too much for a young puppy to handle. That's when the trouble begins.

The puppy may try to warn off the children by growling, but because a growling puppy is often considered cute, the pup's growl is frequently ignored. However, a growl is a warning that a bite is likely to follow and should always be taken very seriously!

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

If the puppy learns that aggressive behaviour can get him what he wants, he'll continue to use this behaviour to get his own way in many other situations....and so the aggression continues and 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 total relationship 'melt-down' 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.

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

Unfortunately, these poor misunderstood animals are no longer viewed as good family dogs and often end up in Cocker Spaniel rescue centres because their owners can no longer handle them.

Sadly, many of these so called 'aggressive' Cockers are also put to sleep.

It's such a shame really as the majority of occurrences of canine aggression (in Cockers or any other breed of dog) could have been easily prevented in the first place simply 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; a condition which does exist in the Cocker Spaniel breed, but happily, is very rarely seen.

Follow the link if you'd like more information and an explanation of how to know if your dog suffers from Cocker Rage Syndrome.

Helping Puppies To Grow Into Good Family Dogs

I firmly believe you can help your puppy grow into the best family dog ever, but you have to decide to do this even before you buy your puppy. Let me explain...

Choose A Good Breeder

Black and tan cocker spaniel adult dog, sitting against a white background.A gorgeous example of a black and tan Cocker Spaniel
  • The second is to find a good Cocker Spaniel breeder!

Yes, I know I've said it twice...because it really is important! 

A good breeder will give a great deal of thought to selecting which dogs to breed from, but more importantly, they will have started the all-essential socialization process long before your puppy is ready to leave for his new home.

A process which should be continued immediately you get home. (See below for more on puppy socialization.)

  • Make sure you choose a puppy with a good temperament, the best to suit you and your family, especially if this is your first every puppy.

You can learn how to do this here or your breeder can help you choose.

Never Buy From Puppy Farms!

Beware of Cocker Spaniels bred in puppy farms (also known as puppy mills), or sold in pet stores, as their animals are often inbred which can result in aggressive behaviour in dogs as well as unnecessary health problems.

Inbred puppies can result in nervous, jittery, snappy, high-maintenance dogs which will prove very difficult to manage and train, particularly for a novice owner - not exactly what you'd call good family dogs and certainly not the sort of dog you'd want around your children!

Early Socialization Can Encourage Good Temperament

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

Socialization is the process of acclimatising a puppy to his environment; humans, animals, everyday noises and new situations so that he's comfortable with all manner of encounters and situations.

It's said that the 'socialization window' closes at 12 weeks and although it's possible to socialize after that time, it will prove much more 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 often nervous about their surroundings. They can become easily over-excited and anxious and they're 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 and will allow that great Cocker Spaniel 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 where your dog is rewarded with a treat, praise, or both, for getting it right. You're not only rewarding your dog, but you're reinforcing his good behaviour; you're letting him know that he's doing exactly what you want him to do.

It's best not to rush your puppy's training; take your time, be patient and he'll get it right.

Cockers are so very keen to please and will try hard to do what you want, but it can sometimes take a little longer for them to learn exactly what it is that 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

Don't ever let your puppy get away with bad behaviour, otherwise he'll 'learn' to behave badly, and badly behaved pets don't make good family dogs.

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

You need to help your dog to understand the type of behaviour you want from him and that means rewarding his good behaviour and 'discipline' him when he's '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). 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 you're training or disciplining your puppy, if you're too rough with him (and he's a sensitive puppy) he may become defensive aggressive; he may growl, snarl, bark, snap, or bite.

Fear aggression can cause a total relationship 'melt-down' between you and your dog so take it easy; be patient and gentle with your Cocker puppy, but don't let him get away with being naughty.

Cocker Spaniels + Children: A Good Combination?

Some owners believe that 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 both to learn and grow up together.

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

Another important factor is that there must be a set of firm ground-rules for the kids to follow, for example, the children:

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

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

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

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

  • mustn't bother the puppy when he's eating his food, aside from being bad manners, it can cause dog food aggression;

  • must not shout or scream at their puppy;

  • 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 very important that young children are supervised around a young puppy until you are confident that you can trust both to be safe with each other.

In the unlikely event of your Cocker Spaniel becoming aggressive with your children, here is a link to an excellent article written by Ron Hines DVM PhD, entitled '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 breed of dog into a home with young children. It's simple common sense.

Cocker Spaniels do make good family dogs so long as they're trained well and treated with respect by all members of the family and the above-mentioned ground rules are followed by all, particularly the children!

Treat your Cocker with kindness and understanding, be gentle with him, but discipline him when necessary to teach him what you consider good and 'bad' behaviour 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
2. Hugo Felix at
3. Isselee at
4. Michha at
5. Yurchyk at
6. Lisa F Young at