Do Cockers Make Good Family Dogs?

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

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 great 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 friendly biddable little dogs.

We also know that they love being outdoors but are 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.

We know that Cocker Spaniels are gentle, willing and intelligent and are easy to train. It's this gentle temperament and train-ability that helps Cocker Spaniels 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 Cockers can suffer from separation anxiety if they're left alone for too long.

Their loving 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 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 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 number 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 the 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 attempt 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 relationship 'melt-down' between you and your Cocker Spaniel unless you can regain his trust.

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

It's such a shame really because most instances of aggression in dogs 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.

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!

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 viewed as good family dogs and often end up in Cocker Spaniel rescue centres because their owners can no longer handle them.

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 because most instances of aggression in dogs 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 that does exist in the Cocker Spaniel breed, but happily, is very rarely seen.

You can find more information and an explanation of how to know if your dog suffers from 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

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.

    You must continue with this socialization immediately after you get your puppy 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 puppy.

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

Never Buy From Puppy Farms!

Beware of Cocker Spaniel puppies bred in 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 - 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 prove very difficult to manage and train, especially for an inexperienced owner. 

Early Socialization Can Encourage Good Temperament

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

Socializing your puppy is the process of getting your puppy used to his new environment, humans, animals, and everyday noises so that he's comfortable with all manner of encounters and new situations.

It's said that the 'socialization window' closes at 12 weeks, and 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 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. It will ensure that the Cocker Spaniel's great temperament will 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.

Not only are you rewarding your dog, but you are reinforcing your dog's good behaviour. You're letting your puppy know that he's doing just 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.

Cocker Spaniels are always keen to please their owners and will try hard to do as you ask. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a little longer for them 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 communicate to your puppy that you are unhappy with his behaviour, he will continue to behave in that way. 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, and that 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). 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 your relationship with your puppy to suffer, so take it easy; be patient and gentle with your 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 factor is that there must be a set of firm ground rules for the kids to follow, for example, 

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 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 dog breed into a home with young children. It's simply common sense.

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