Difference Between Golden Retrievers & Cocker Spaniels

The golden retriever wins the most popular contest in the American Kennel Club, ranking No. 3 in dog registration statistics.
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If you were responding to a dating ad, you might see "naturally outgoing, handsome, active guy with long, flowing hair, looking for friendship." That description may apply to a number of guys, though there are many little things that make each one unique. The same is true for the golden retriever and cocker spaniel: a few shared traits, but many differences, including size, build, history and health concerns.

Starting With the Basics

The golden retriever and cocker spaniel have good looks in common, but that's where they part ways. The male golden retriever, standing up to 24 inches tall and weighing between 65 and 75 pounds is much larger than the male cocker spaniel, who weighs in at a mere 24 to 28 pounds at 15.5 inches tall. If you look at the dogs in profile, you'll notice the golden's profile is straighter than that of his spaniel friends, a little less pronounced as it blends into the skull. And though the golden has droopy ears, they aren't as large as the spaniel's and sit higher on his head. As his name implies, the golden retriever is golden, though he may be dark or light golden, while the cocker spaniel is a veritable rainbow, with a coat ranging from black to white, with tan, brown, red, sable, silver and more in between.

From Across the Pond

The golden retriever can thank Lord Tweedmouth, a Scottish gentleman who wanted a dog who could fight through heavy vegetation, swim strongly in cold water and be a gentle retriever. The Lord crossed a yellow wavy-coated retriever with a Tweed water spaniel -- now extinct -- to produce a litter of puppies that made promising bird dogs. Other dogs and breeds were introduced into the mix, including red setter, until the golden retriever was established in 1912. The cocker spaniel also has roots in the United Kingdom, evolving from the English cocker spaniel. The cocker spaniel made his way to America in the late 1800s and was developed to be a smaller dog to please American hunters. There are no records indicating what other dogs combined with the English cocker to make the smaller American version.

Enthusiastic Family Members

Both breeds have long been popular family dogs and it's easy to understand why: They make friendly, active companions. Though the golden retriever can be a bit more difficult to train -- his enthusiasm makes him prone to distraction -- with diligent training, both dogs are obedient and eager to please. They're also up for fun and games, happy to play a game of fetch or chase. While the cocker spaniel usually can have his exercise needs met with a pleasant walk, the golden requires physical and mental exercise to keep his energy channeled in a positive direction.

Taking Care

Even the healthiest of dogs are prone to some medical concerns. The golden retriever's major health concerns include cataracts and hip and elbow dysplasia. Minor vulnerabilities include entropion, cataracts and cardiomyopathy. The cocker spaniel's major health vulnerabilities include patellar luxation, cataracts and glaucoma. Hip dysplasia, entropion and allergies are among the breed's minor concerns. Both dogs have healthy life spans; the bigger retriever is a little shorter -- 10 to 13 years -- than the cocker, who tends to have a 12- to 15-year life expectancy. Though the golden's coat doesn't tend to mat, it should be brushed twice a week to be properly maintained; the cocker's coat should be brushed and combed two to three times a week to look its best.