Whenever I see a Cocker Spaniel at the dog park, it looks really adorable running around with all the long fluffy hair and lush ears flopping all over their cute faces, periodically exposing big, dreamy eyes.
Cockers are known for their cheerful disposition, being loyal companions and affectionate snugglers. But not many Cocker Spaniel owners know that there’s a slight Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality to them.
Your cocker can be all lovey-dovey in one moment and growling and snapping at your the very next. But why is this so? Even though Cocker Spaniels make great dogs, they have a tendency to growl and snap due to their strong resource guarding trait. This breed also has a behavioral disorder called the Cocker range syndrome which causes the dog to turn aggressive suddenly.
Are Cockers really aggressive dogs in disguise or are they just misunderstood in the wrong hands?
Let us find out.
The Cocker Spaniel Breed
Cockers are considered to be medium-sized dogs that can grow up to 30 pounds and stand close to 16 inches tall. There are two recognized cocker spaniel breeds. The American and English Cockers look very similar but have distinct differences too.
Originally bred to be hunting dogs, they evolved to be great family dogs too that get along well with other pets and children. If you were to spread out your cocker’s toes, you’ll notice that your dog has prominent webbed feet. This feet design allows the dog to move quickly in muddy terrain and even swim fast.
Cockers are easygoing dogs who are eager to please their owners. They are also very popular dogs due to their loving and affectionate nature.
Cocker Spaniels tend to also have a sensitive side to them which can make them nervous about things at times.
Why Is My Cocker Spaniel Getting Aggressive?
As much as we love our dogs, animals are unpredictable as they act out mainly on instincts. Having a docile family pet that can suddenly turn aggressive for no reason is something many dog owners fear most.
Here are some possible causes that can cause aggressive behavior or body language in your cocker.
Resource guarding in dogs is a fairly common behavior. Many dogs feel the need to protect items that they perceive to be theirs. This can range from their food/water bowls all the way to insignificant objects like a leaf.
According to a study conducted in 2018, it defines resource guarding as “The use of avoidance, threatening, or aggressive behaviors by a dog to retain control of food or non-food items in the presence of a person or other animal.”
Such canine aggression isn’t meant to be interpreted as the dog being selfish or possessive. But it links back to its natural instinct to survive. In the wild, dogs or wolves that guards have a better survival advantage over those that just ‘give up’.
Resource guarding isn’t just exclusive to dogs or animals. We do it too by putting up fences, locking our doors and setting up alarm systems.
Given that our dogs do not have access to such tools, they resort to growling, snapping and biting.
It is common for Cocker Spaniels to engage in resource guarding as they tend to have a very sense of “this is mine!” This dog breed can be very gentle with what’s in its mouth but will start to growl when you ask for it back.
Besides Beagles, Cockers are one of the top dog breeds that are known for their resource guarding behavior.
This behavior is further intensified with your cocker’s heritage as a gundog and hunting breed. Such dogs are trained to retrieve what the hunters shot and carry it in their mouths. Some Cocker Spaniels are also fond of hoarding stuff like their toys.
What Can I Do To Correct Such Aggressive Behavior?
When your cocker growls at you when you try to remove an object in its possession, do not try and correct the growling.
Your dog’s growling serves as a warning that it isn’t too happy about something. There are certain steps that a dog will show in the ‘aggression ladder’ before it bites and you don’t want your dog to go from being ok to biting without any sort of warning.
Dogs that are more geared towards resource guarding tend to be more anxious and sensitive in nature like Cocker Spaniels. They are just trying their darndest to hold on to what they deem to be theirs.
The correct and proper way to teach your Cocker that we have no intentions of stealing its prized possession is to convince them to exchange it for something even better.
Giving your dog a treat or its favorite toy always works well.
Do not manhandle your dog or be rough with it. Cockers are sensitive dogs and do not respond well to such a form of handling.
Check For Injury Or A Medical Condition
If your Cocker is in pain or has an unknown medical condition, it can cause your dog to growl and snap without being provoked.
You know how cranky and grumpy you can be too when you are down with a bad flu.
Your dog might be in pain or discomfort which is making it feel really irritable. An injured dog in the wild will do what it can to deter other dogs and animals from approaching by being aggressive.
A dog in such a state feels vulnerable and can be preyed on by bigger predators.
There are some medical conditions that are known to turn dogs aggressive.
- Hypothyroidism in dogs
- Metabolic disorder
- Cognitive dysfunction
Other signs that you should look out for are if your dog is limping or bleeding. Your Cocker might have injured or suffered a cut that is causing it pain.
What Can I Do to Help My Dog?
If you suspect that your dog is injured or isn’t in the best state of health, you should get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Please do not try to self-medicate your dog or try and stitch the wound especially if it’s a bad laceration.
It is best to get the vet to treat your dog to prevent any complications.
Your Dog Is In Heat
If you have a female Cocker Spaniel that is not spayed, her sudden aggression could be due to her being in a heat cycle.
A female cocker can get into her first heat cycle at the tender age of 6-8 months old. Some young dogs can have it as early as 5 months or as late as 10 months old.
Your dog goes into her heat cycle once every 6-7 months which can then last for up to 3 weeks.
One of the most significant differences that female dog owners experience during the heat cycle is a change in the dog’s behavior and temperament.
The dog can display a wide range of mood swings due to all the hormonal changes and can become unusually distant and grouchy.
What Can I Do To Help My Dog?
There is really not much to do besides trying to be more understanding of your dog’s sudden aggression. It isn’t your dog trying to hurt you, it is just the hormones speaking.
Give your dog more space to be alone and don’t force your affection onto your cocker if she isn’t feeling it. She will come around once her hormones start to settle.
If you are not a professional breeder, I would strongly advise you to get your female dog spayed. This helps to prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as other behavioral issues when your dog is in heat. Some dog owners also believe that spaying a dog helps with potty training as it can make the dog more obedient.
Given that Cocker Spaniels are such easy dogs to handle in addition to their loving personalities, this dog breed used to be high on the list of best family dogs.
Unfortunately, its popularity with potential dog owners in the past years has led to many inbred Cockers being born and sold as pets. Inbred puppies are offsprings of closely related dogs like siblings mating with each other or even parents mating with their litter.
An inbred dog has a much higher risk of having health and personality issues as it matures into an adult dog.
Even if you have a cocker who was born out of inbreeding, that doesn’t mean that your dog is a lost cause right from the start. But it does take more effort and time to get your dog properly trained which can and has be done.
If you are looking to get a Cocker Spaniel, please do your due diligence and research before committing to a puppy.
Always get your puppy from a reputable and registered Cocker Spaniel breeder. Never ever buy a puppy from backyard breeders, puppy mills or pet stores.
Reputable breeders are experienced enough to exclude undesirable and include desirable traits in their breeding strategy. This helps to ensure that their puppies for sale have a much lower risk of inheriting behavioral or health issues from the parents.
Do Cocker Spaniels Have Anger Issues?
Cockers are amazing dogs and many Cocker Spaniel owners can attest to that. However, there is a behavioral disorder exclusive to this dog breed that is known as ‘cocker rage syndrome’.
Cockers which this disorder tend to display uncontrollable aggression out of the blue without being provoked. Don’t mistake your puppy biting you as cocker rage syndrome. A puppy bites not out of canine aggression but it’s a form of exploration for the puppy.
Please don’t worry if you have a Cocker. This sort of behavior is more of an exception than the norm in this dog breed.
It is mostly seen in solid-colored cockers that are either male or show bred.
Some studies have shown that cocker rage syndrome is usually caused by a partial seizure disorder or is inherited from the parents.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a known cure for this syndrome but with proper medication and training, your dog’s sudden aggression can be much better managed.
What Age Does Cocker Rage Start?
Dr Roger Mudford who is UK’s leading animal psychologist, cockers with this syndrome usually start to exhibit such aggressive dog behavior starting from 7.5 months of age. Other animal studies claim that cocker rage syndrome can be seen as early as 3 months of age and even at 2 years old.
As a dog owner myself, I can understand that can feel both intimidating and frustrating when our dogs start to act aggressively toward us without being provoked. Please don’t be harsh or discipline your dog as that can make matters worse.
It is best to see the vet and a reputable dog trainer to try and resolve the problem. It can be done with some patience and effort.