Behavioral problems in cocker spaniels

Updated February 21, 2017

Cocker spaniels are one of the most popular dog breeds in the U.S. and are beloved for their docile and friendly dispositions. Like most dogs, however, untrained cocker spaniels are susceptible to several behaviour problems. However, an overwhelming majority of dog behaviour problems can be corrected by a qualified dog trainer, so contact one if you need help with your cocker spaniel. Even behaviour problems that are primarily genetic can be significantly improved with proper training.

Cocker Rage Syndrome

Cocker rage syndrome is the most severe behaviour problem to afflict cocker spaniels. Though other dog breeds may have this condition, it has a disproportionate effect on cocker spaniels and is likely the result of a genetic mutation. Dogs with this condition engage in serious, extreme aggression that is unpredictable and unprovoked. Veterinarians believe the aggression bouts may be akin to a seizure, in which electrical impulses in the dog's brain overload, causing aggression. Some pet owners have successfully treated the condition with anticonvulsants and desensitisation training. If your cocker spaniel randomly flies into aggressive episodes but otherwise behaves normally, it may have cocker rage syndrome. Contact a veterinarian.


Cocker spaniels exhibit aggression at a higher rate than many other dog breeds. In a study published in the journal of Applied Animal Behavioral Science, researchers found that 6 per cent of cocker spaniels in the study displayed aggressive behaviour toward their owners. The aggression is normally a result of fear and insufficient socialisation and is not typically genetic. The small size of cocker spaniels may cause some owners to see the aggression as insignificant because a bite from a cocker spaniel is unlikely to be fatal. Even a small bite, however, can cause substantial damage, especially to children. Most cases of fear aggression can be treated by a dog behaviourist.

Separation Anxiety

Cocker spaniels tend to be more fearful than some other dog breeds, and they also bond quickly and strongly to their owners. This sometimes causes separation anxiety, a condition in which a dog becomes destructive when the owner is not home. Crate training and frequent exercise can improve separation anxiety. Most dog trainers are equipped to deal with this condition in just a few sessions.

Excessive Barking

Cocker spaniels were originally bred as hunting dogs. This selective breeding caused a lower barking threshold, which means that many cocker spaniels bark more readily than other breeds. Some dogs bark for no apparent reason or continue barking for long periods of time after the stimulus that originally caused the barking has ended. Exercise and mental stimulation can both help eliminate excessive barking. Barking is one of the most common behavioural problems reported to dog trainers, most of whom are well-equipped to treat it.

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About the Author

Brenna Davis is a professional writer who covers parenting, pets, health and legal topics. Her articles have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines as well as on websites. She is a court-appointed special advocate and is certified in crisis counseling and child and infant nutrition. She holds degrees in developmental psychology and philosophy from Georgia State University.