Are English cocker spaniel aggressive? Research and science-supported evidence of cocker spaniel behaviour / Rage syndrome / Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog, breed & puppy guide (C) Natalia Ashton

Can English cocker spaniels be aggressive? Let’s talk about biting, growling & the rage syndrome

Can an English cocker spaniel be aggressive? Of course! But does it mean that a sweet puppy you just picked up is going to viciously attack you at every given opportunity? Not at all.

Let me put it simply.

Any dog, absolutely any dog, cocker or not, can react. Just like any living being, you and me included. We have our off-days and moments when something or somebody scares, frustrates or annoys us. Do we just “smile and wave”? No, we don’t. Which makes us pretty similar to dogs. Yet, dogs are still kinder, I’d say. They bite without breaking hearts. Humans, on the other hand, can come up with all sorts of cruel outcomes.

So let’s focus on our dogs and English cockers today and discuss the subject of sudden and no so sudden aggression these dogs can exhibit.

First of all, the forever hot topic that I simply must include in this post – the Rage Syndrome.

Cockers are said to be one of the breeds know to have a tendency for this trait. In short, the affected dog is said to suddenly become aggressive towards his owners, bite hard without warning, often have a change in facial expression and eyes, and then stop as if falling out of some uncontrollable state. It has never really been scientifically proven, but solids (reds and golden cockers, in particular) were said to suffer from it.

There were a few studies that looked at aggression in English cocker spaniels, however.

The one from 1996 was conducted by the Kennel Club and involved two thousand ECS owners chosen at random. The 1008 responded (and 932 were found to be suitable) by completing a questionnaire that included information about age, gender, neuter status, and coat colour. The owners were also asked to use a 1-5 scale to indicate whether or not their dogs ever showed aggression towards various stimuli including…

… aggression towards other dogs (1)

… aggression towards strangers approaching the dog (2)

… aggression towards visitors (3)

… aggression towards people approaching the owner when out and about (4)

… aggression towards children in the household (5)

… aggression towards other dogs in the household (6)

… aggression towards owner showing attention to other person or animal (7)

… aggression towards the owner or family member (8)

… aggression when disciplined (9)

… aggression when reached for or handled (10)

… aggression in restricted spaces (11)

… aggression at meal times / defending food (12)

… aggression without apparent reason (13)

The results of the researched showed that…

… solid cockers showed aggression in 2-13 situations and red/golden spaniels were more likely to be aggressive in situations 1, 4, 5, 7-13 compared to black cockers;

… males were more likely to react when with other dogs, towards their owner, when disciplined and when reached for or handled;

… females were more likely to become aggressive towards other dogs in the household, and neutered females were more likely to become aggressive towards children in the household;

While “the rage syndrome” was one of the main reasons for the research, the study could not determine whether or not it truly existed or was just a combination of genetic and neuroendocrine factors. It did however highlight two very important points:

… “neutering was not found to be useful as a preventative measure for aggression”


… aggression was always a result of a stimulus.

Even though the paper did not describe nor specify any conditions the dogs were raised and housed, whether or not they were socialised and trained, if they were free or lead- or barrier -constrained when meeting strangers or other dogs, and how the children approached these dogs or what kind of “discipline” was used, it made it absolutely clear – none of these English cocker spaniels acted out of nothing

To explain my scepticism towards the missing information situation by situation from 1 to 12, I need to mention that dogs naturally

… (1) may feel growly towards other dogs, especially when the other dog approaches in a certain manner, the cocker is restrained and have no means of avoiding the situation, or the cocker is suffering from fear-related reactivity;

… (2) do not enjoy being approached by strangers, especially when strangers start reaching out trying to touch the dog – it is the dog who should be allowed to approach a stranger if and when he is comfortable to do so, not the other way around;

… (3) see visitors as intruders unless this habit is eliminated through positive training during puppy socialisation weeks;

… (4) are suspicious of strangers approaching the dog’s owner unless the dogs are properly socialised or counter-conditioned out of the “habit”; They may also feel uneasy about anyone moving at unsteady pace (think, drunk people, for example) or carrying objects;

… (5) do not attack children unless provoked through acts of affection (which can be annoying and frustrating for the dog unless he is fully awake and prepared for it), high pitched noises, fast movement and running (dogs see these as an invitation to chase and catch), actions that dogs simply wouldn’t tolerate (think how many parents would insist of taking a photo of the dog next to a child or a child hugging the dog or, worse, sitting or lying on top of the dog) – several studies (1, 2, 3) ) concluded that young children, especially boys, were likely to be bitten by dogs, but none of them had details on the causes of the bites as those were never discussed with the families;

… (6) take time to accept other dogs in their household, especially when one dog is older than the other or they are of the same gender, or one of the dogs suffers from illnesses that leaves him in pain or discomfort, so unless the owner knows how to introduce and manage these dogs, they can end up fighting;

… (7) feel insecure (especially at young age) when the owner shows affection towards other animals or dogs, however cockers can be jealous at times and react;

… (8) avoid getting into any situation when they’d attact the owner, so there are a lot of reasons that may push the dog over the threshold – and these were not mentioned here; according to another study, cockers often showed “impulse aggression towards owners”, which can often be a result of spoiling the dog and allowing him to do anything he pleases instead of teaching him respectful behaviour (with Deference protocol as a reference source); a 2017 study highlighted that “spayed/neutered dogs were more aggressive towards owner”; and one more study showed that “nurture also influenced whether or not a dog was aggressive; the variance due to the sire heritability of aggression was only 0.2 (20%) whereas that due to the dam was 0.46 (46%) indicating a maternal-environmental effect”;

… (9) will not growl when disciplined unless the type of “discipline” involves a form of punishment, the dog learnt to associate the “discipline” with unpleasant outcomes or the dog is reactive as a result of fear or stress brough up by “discipline” methods, incorrect training, lack of socialisation, owner’s own emotional state, improper diet, pain, discomfort etc.;

… (10) do not like being “reached for” – it is the unwritten rule that you do not approach a dog, but let the dog approach you; additionally, dogs who are reactive, fearful, in pain, or startled when approached (say, they are losing hearing or were asleep when approached) are likely to snap, too;

… (11) like to have enough room for moving around (that’s why dogs find it extremely odd and stressful to walk at heel down a busy crowded street); a form of enclosure, barrier or anything that prevents their ability to escape danger should it be necessary, raises the dog’s stress levels and likely to lead to reactivity and “aggressive behaviour”;

… (12) do not share food or treats they are currently enjoying; they can be trained to know that there’s no harm at having your hand touch their bowl during dinner or spitting the horrible looking  piece of street junk, but unless a dog is coached properly, with kindness and patience, from the very beginning, he will snap trying to protect his “treasure”.

But as long as it’s getting (for which I apologise – and would be happy to buy you a coffee should we ever meet to browse the blog together), this story is not going to be complete without a few further studies.

A fabulous 1997 study published in VetRecord by British Veterinary Association analysed behaviour of 285 owners of purebred English cockers to reveal that “the owners of high aggression dogs were significantly more likely to be tense, emotionally less stable, shy and undisciplined than owners of low aggression dogs” and owners of “low” aggression dogs were older and had strong bond with their cockers (Podberscek & Serpell, 1997), which we can now explain even more when combined with recent research about dogs mimicking their owners stress hormone levels and another peer-reviewed study that discussed impulsive aggression, “a trait more common in ECSs” and low levels of serotonin in dogs that exhibited such a behaviour.

Two more pieces of research that worth a mention is a 2010 study that looked into brain structure and development of aggressive and non-aggressive dogs (the cockers fell into the non-aggressive group) and another study from 2010 that looked into several genes found in ECSs to see if there is a link between canine aggression and dopamine- and serotonin-related genes defined previously. They discovered that four of the genes of the aggressive dogs had distorted haplotypes when compared to non-aggressive dogs.

And since I’ve already mentioned that neutered dogs were not essentially well-behaved following their surgery, look into the studies on neutering showing undesirable behavioural changes, increased aggression towards other dogs in castrated dogs, and owner-directed aggression in neutered springer spaniels.

Additionally, diet and environment play a vital role in developing of behaviour, too, and should not be overlooked. In fact, I think that, after genetics, diet is the most vital element since the body develops from and depends on the nutrients, so the deficiency or excess of some can make a huge impact on the behaviour.

How can you ensure that your cocker spaniel is not the aggressive type? Well, in reality, you cannot have an insurance for that… Instead you can…

… get a puppy from the KC-assured breeder;

… see puppy parents;

… see the way a puppy behaves;

…  feed your spaniel a balanced complete diet;

… socialise and train your dog;

… protect your young puppy from excessive exposure to emotional and physical stimuli, positive or negative, and allow him plenty of rest;

… teach young children how to handle a puppy correctly;

… don’t neuter your dog to “fix” his behaviour;

… train using positive methods, not devices or punishment;

… be calm no matter what or as much as possible;

… love your dog unconditionally.

Image credit: Katrin B. from Pixabay

Reasons why dog like to dig so much / Canine behaviour explained / Perfect cocker spaniel, dog blog and book guide to English cockers and puppy guide, grooming, diet, nutrition, training / (C) Natalia Ashton

Seven reasons why spaniels like to dig so much

Once in a while we get to share our lives with a dog who loves to dig. In fact, most of them do. It’s just some seem to be obsessed while others tend to grow out of the habit after escaping adolescence.

So why do they do it? Why some pups treat our garden as their play ground while others act in the manner of the obsessed treasure hunters?

Here are a few reasons to explain their behaviour – and help you solve the puzzle if your cocker is particularly keen on remodelling the lawn and flower beds like they are going out of fashion.


Puppies will dig because it’s fun and as a part of their learning and exploring development. You can desensitise them by using the area for playing, training and other activities that take the pup’s mind away from excessive digging. Puppy-proofing the garden can also help.

Prey drive

Cocker may leave the proper hunting for terriers, but they do love and can sniff out and hear any form of life crawling in the grass or soil. And some dogs will do their best to find out exactly what those creatures are by digging them out. Desensitising the pooch, using the area to play “find food” and scatter feeding (by throwing kibble on the grass for your dog to find), and reducing the unwanted guests whenever possible are the best solutions.


Dogs may dig when they are either tired and frustrated or don’t get enough mental and physical stimulation during a day. Re-think and plan your routine. Giving your dog enough time to run and explore, adding a few training sessions and using food puzzle toys and interactive games should help.


Dogs who suffer with fears (for example, a fear of loud noises, thunderstorm or fireworks) or severe separation anxiety may try to dig their way out of the confined area.

If this is the case, find out the reasons for your dog’s fears and work out a plan to support him. You can find some tips on separation anxiety and helping a dog get through the fireworks season on the blog, but consulting a behaviourist can be extremely useful.

Hot weather

Have you noticed how much cooler the soil or sand inside a hole is? This is precisely the reason why a dog may dig a cosy nest on a hot day. It’s their version of a cool mat! Avoid the problem by providing plenty of shady spots, cool mats and damp towels for your dog to use instead of digging holes.

The bone collector

Some dogs may dig a hole to hide items that are either particularly precious to them or to save something for a rainy day. The least destructive, this habit can be stopped by supervising your dog, distracting him with toys or cues, or keeping him out of the garden while he is playing with chews or toys he’s likely to turn into… let’s call them… preserves.

Nature calls

Pregnant bitches may dig to create a safe nest and the boys may dig spots near fences if they can smell a female in heat. The most effective way is to keep your dog under supervision when at home, and on a lead during walks.

Help them with kindness and love, and avoid any deterrents (chemical, electrical or noise-producing) that may stop the dog from digging, but only as a result of fear. Trust me, hugs and fun are much more effective!


Photo credit: ktphotography from Pixabay

Important rules, law, regulations every dog owner needs to know in the UK / Animal welfare act, lucys law, five freedoms for animals, nuisance barking / Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog (C) Natalia Ashton

Playing by the rules

Once upon a time we lived in a little development inhabited by lovely people. Except one. Not that he hated dogs per se, I think he simply needed anger management classes. He occasionally barked at people and eventually got to yell at me, too. On that occasion Coop spotted a friend of mine he was fond of… So the boy expressed his undying love through woofing.

She didn’t mind, I wasn’t insanely happy about it, but the sun was shining and we were about to have lunch, so a little noise was as ordinary as the life itself. The pup turned the sound off as soon as we greeted the girl and started a conversation.

Sadly, we got interrupted by a screaming man running towards me, cursing and saying how much he wished both my dog and I were dead. To his disappointment it wasn’t the case, so he proceeded to threaten me with reporting us to the council.

Long story short, he didn’t. More over it turned out that the source of the noise he found annoying came from a different household entirely. As in “two streets away” kind of entirely.

Even tough it wasn’t our fault, I returned home shaking. The incident happened a few short months after we lost Oscar and I was still a recovering mess of heartache and tears. The prospect of somebody reporting Coop and potentially losing him was frightening.

So I got onto the council website and realised that the threats were completely senseless. Soon after we moved away leaving all the negativity behind.

However, this particular event made me really look into dog laws in the UK. There aren’t many (hey, result – this blog post is not going to take a lifetime to read!), but I think it is very important to know and follow them.

FIVE FREEDOMS or the Animal Welfare Law

All UK dog parents are legally obliged to ensure that they take care of their dog’s welfare needs.

Often refereed to as “Five Freedoms” these are based on 2006 Animal Welfare Act (Section 9) and include:

… providing a suitable environment

… feeding wholesome and appropriate diet

… ensuring that the dog is able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns

… housing the dog with, or apart from, other animals

… ensuring that the is free from pain, injury, disease, and suffering

Dog owners who fail these can be prosecuted and face either a prison sentence for up to 6 months or a fine of up to £20000.


A failure to meet the above rules or intentionally hurting a dog can lead to prosecution for up to 6 months or a fine of up to £20000.


Under the Control of Dogs Order 1992, all dogs visiting public places must wear a collar with a name and address of the owner (plus a non-mandatory telephone number), either on the collar or on an attached tag.

The rule does not apply to dogs registered with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association; any dogs used in emergency rescue work or on official duties by a member of HM Armed Forces, HM Customs and Excise or the police; any dog while being used for driving or tending cattle or sheep; any dog used for the capture or destruction of vermin; any dog used for sporting purposes; any pack of hounds.


It is a legal requirement for all dog owners to have their dogs microchipped and registered with a database by the time the puppies are eight weeks of age. The breeders need to register themselves as the first puppy keepers. It is new owners responsibility to update the database information once they collected the puppy from the breeder.


The practice of tail docking was seised in 2007 under the Docking of Working Dogs Tails (England) Regulations 2007 and Docking of Working Dogs Tails (Wales) Regulations 2007. These come with exceptions for working dogs (which must be proven) and certain breeds. The tail can also be docked for medical reason. However, show cocker spaniels born in the UK always keep their tails as nature intended.


At the moment these are technically allowed in England, but are banned in Wales. Even though the agreement to ban them in England hasn’t been achieved yet despite numerous campaigns and efforts, it goes without saying that these devices cause nothing but pain and fear in dogs and as such should be seeing as animal cruelty.


It is our responsibility as dog parents to ensure that the dog behaves in public including public places, your own house and garden, your neighbours house or garden or any private places that do not belong to you, and does not create a situation when he either injures a person or makes somebody worried that he might injure them.

Additionally, the dog should be prevented from attacking somebody’s animal (dog or otherwise) or making the owner of an animal thing they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog from attacking their animal.

The penalty is either an unlimited fine or imprisonment for up to 6 months or both. An injury to an assistance dog may increase the sentence to up to 3 years with an additional fine.

If the other side and parties believe that the dog is dangerously out of control, he may be destroyed and you may not be allowed to ever have a dog in the future.

If the dog injured a person his owner may be sent to prison for up to 5 years, face a fine or both. Using the dog to deliberately injure somebody can be charged with “malicious wounding”.

If the dog kills somebody, his owner will be sentenced for up to 14 years or get an unlimited fine.

If the dog causes damage to any form of property that does not belong to you, you may be liable to cover the costs under the Animals Act 1971. Most pet insurances have this clause included.

Additionally, under the Highway Code the dogs must not be let out on the road on his own. All dogs must be kept on a short lead when walking on the pavement, road or path shared with cyclists or horse riders.


It is forbidden for the dog to worry or chase livestock, flush game birds, or disturb wild life on one’s land. If the farmer believes that your dog is creating a stressful situation or can potentially injure his animals, he is allowed to kill the dog.

However, the laws that protect public rights of way including public footpath and bridleways, do not impose any rules about how dog owners should behave whilst on the path/bridleway. There is also no legal requirement for dogs to be on a lead or under control in sensitive situations or near the live stock. But the rules only protect the walkers if the dog owners and their dogs stick to the legally approved path or route. If the dog runs into the field or land off the public path, he can fall into the Dogs and Livestock part of the Dogs in Public Places Law.

The dogs should also be kept on a lead of no more than 2m in length when near the live stock, farm animals or ground-nesting birds between 1 March and 31 July each year. There is no definition to the distance between the dog and the livestock and there is no criminal offence for those dog owners who break the rules, however, those owners may be temporarily denied the right to walk in these areas.


Under the Dogs (Fouling on Land) Act 1996 and The Clean Neighbourhoods & Environment Act 2005 any person in charge of a dog in public areas must clean up after his pet. A failure to do so can make the person guilty of offence of subject to a fine.

The Act does not apply to land used for agriculture, woodlands, marshland, moor or heath, urban common land, and carriage way where the speed limit is over 40 miles per hour.

Even though there is no law to cover this, it is important that anyone cleans after their dog when walking in the country side and farmland, especially during the lambing and cattling season. The dog faeces contain certain neosporosis and sarcocytosis that can lead to abortions in cattle and death in sheep if the animals come in contact with faeces though grass, feed, water or bedding.

Some councils can now issue a fine of up to £100 if they can prove that you did not carry spare poo bags when walking your dog even if you have one in your hand but it’s already filled with poop. No spare bag – you get fined. The rule only applies to certain areas. If in doubt, check your local council’s website for additional information.


Even though you are extremely unlikely to meet Lupo, the cocker, or any other Royal pooch when out and about, it is considered an offence for your own cocker to consummate a relationship with a pet from the royal house unless you have their permission to do so. If your dog has a secret affair without notifying you first, you will be fined.


Under the Highway Code if you travel with a dog in your car, he must not be nuisance or distraction to the driver in any way during the journey.

The dog should be suitable restrained with a seat belt harness, pet carrier, crate or dog guard or any other appropriate way whilst you are driving to prevent injuries to themselves, the driver or passengers, if the car stops quickly.

Having an unrestrained dog in the vehicle may result in a fine of up to £2500.


Dogs bark because they need to communicate but don’t speak human. I bet they’d speak English to express their thoughts if they could, but alas, woofing is the only option.

Most barking is considered natural and not a Statutory Nuisance, so there is no need to be concerned unless the barking “unreasonably and sensationally interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises or injure health or become likely to injure health” meaning that…

… the barking continues for long periods of time;

… the barking is frequent and excessive;

… the dogs bark very early in the morning or late at night, i.e. between 23:00 and 7:00

The dog and his owner can be reported to the council under Environmental Protection Act 1990, however the confirmation process can take weeks and months to collect the evidence including a barking diary.


It’s a heartbreaking topic to mention, but if you are in the UK, you cannot lay your dog to rest anyone but your own home. The house and land must be owned by you, not rented. You also need to have a confirmation from your vet proving that your dog is not hazardous to human health.


Lucy’s Law was introduced in April 2020 to ban third party puppy sales, such as puppy farms and puppy shops, in England. It means that anyone looking for a puppy should only get one from a reputable breeder who is able to show the puppies interacting with their mum at their place of birth.

The breeder must obtain and be able to show a breeding license from the local council. A failure to do so may lead to an unlimited fine or prison sentence. It is always best to walk away and look some place else if something does not feel right.

This law is not enforced in Wales.


Photo credit: image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay