Are Cocker Spaniels Smart?

May 30, 2022

Yes! Cocker Spaniels are definitely smart dogs. They are known for being easy to train and quick at picking up on new skills or tricks, especially if there is food involved.

Dog intelligence is measured in a few ways and Cocker Spaniels score pretty high across the board. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons that make Cocker Spaniels such great family pets.

There are three main areas we should consider when it comes to assessing how smart Cockers are. This includes instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and canine psychologist Stanley Coren's dog intelligence rankings.

In Cohen's rating both American and English Cockers did very well. As they are both separate breeds they have been ranked individually. The American Cocker Spaniel came in 23rd place and the English Cocker Spaniel came in 20th.

This rating places the both spaniels in the excellent working dogs category just missing the top bright category. Spaniel breeds in general performed pretty well.

In this article we will get into how smart Cocker Spaniels are and which factors determine their intellect.

How is Dog Intelligence Measured?

As previously mentioned there are a three ways canine intelligence is measured. Each looks at a different aspect of measuring a how smart a dog is.

This includes:

  • Stanley Coren's criteria
  • Adaptive intelligence
  • Instinctive intelligence

Many feel that the adaptive and instinctive components to the intelligence of a dog are more important.

Scoring well across all three categories makes for a well-rounded dog who is easily trained, can learn from past experiences, and brings a few strong traits from their hunting history.

Look out toys!

Let's dig into each area in more depth.

Stanley Coren's Dog Intelligence Criteria

This criteria was born from research from Stanley Coren and focuses on two characteristics to measure how sharp a dog is.

The factors which are measured are obedience and work intelligence. To put it plainly this means:

  • How quick a dog can learn a new command
  • What percentage of the time they will obey it on the first time

Both American and English Cocker Spaniels scored very well taking 23rd and 20th, respectively. This high placement cements their place as very clever dogs.

As an English cocker owner its nice to see this breed take the lead!

The research found Cocker Spaniels could learn a new command in as few as 5 to 15 repetitions and very impressively obey a known command on the first try 85% of the time.

Score for other dogs varied quite widely but the Cocker Spaniel hold a strong position in the pack. Impressive stats!

To get high quality data for this research Stanley enlisted the help of 199 obedience trial judges from the American Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club. It's also worth noting that the research didn't include and mixed breed dogs or any which had fewer than 100 responses excluding less popular breeds.

In total 133 breeds were included in the research so 20th and 23rd are very respectable placements.

Instinctive Intelligence

Next up is instinctive intelligence. This area of dog smarts is hard wired into Cocker Spaniels. Historically dogs have been bred for specific purposes all meant to help humans.

This could be a herding dogs like the Border Collie, a guard dogs like the German Shepherd, or a hunting breed like the Cocker Spaniel is. Each of these breeds have specific abilities.

For Cocker Spaniels who were initially bred as bird hunters this means a high prey drive and a sharp sense of smell. Even though you will they are most commonly seen as family dogs they are still hunters at heart.

This also means you will need to ensure a Cocker Spaniel has ample physical and mental stimulation to scratch this itch. Many find a hyper Cocker Spaniel if they don't deal with it.

Want to see this in action at home? Show your dog a toy and hide it your house then let your dog go find it. You will see your dog light up with excitement instantly as the hunt begins.

Adaptive Intelligence

This aspect of a cocker spaniels intelligence measures their ability to learn on their own directly from their own experiences and surroundings. A dog with high adaptive intelligence will have good problem solving skills and social awareness.

The level of adaptive intelligence a dog has will vary widely as it is partly experience-based, even amongst the same breed.

Cocker Spaniels vs the Average Dog Breed

At this point its clear to see Cocker Spaniels are highly intelligent dogs. In fact, going by the data we have they are two thirds sharper than the average dog. Quite a big difference.

Taking the data from Cohen's study the average dog takes being taught an action 25-40 times before they learn a new behaviour and obey the command the first time on average 50% of the time. This shows Cocker Spaniels are 70% more obedient.


So, are Cocker Spaniels Smart? Yes, this dog breed are intelligent and perform very well across all areas canine intelligence are measured across.

They even score 20th and 23rd in Stanley Coren's study out of 133 dog breeds. The English Cocker Spaniel dogs did come out of top here but both dog breeds performed very well considering the number of breeds in the study.

Not that there are a lack of reasons cocker spaniels are one of the most popular dog breeds. This is just another reason to consider getting a Cocker Spaniel in your family is a great idea.

As one of the most intelligent dogs a Cocker Spaniel will make training easy. From obedience training to teaching your dog a few tricks, nothing to hard work with this bright dog.

Allan  Noble
Hi, my name is Allan! I am the owner of Spaniel Advisor and I've got over seven years experience of owning Spaniels.  
I hope this article was helpful for you! 
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