Cockapoo

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Cockapoo

The Cockapoo is the adorable, happy, and affectionate result of a cross mating between a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle. It is almost single-handedly responsible for the current “designer dog” craze that shows no sign of abating, for it was the first intentionally created hybrid in the United States over 50 years ago. At its best, it combines the energy and vitality of the Cocker Spaniel with the intelligence and devotion of the Poodle. Like any hybrid, one can never be certain that negative traits will not also be passed down, but this is generally a reliable cross, and one that is long enough established that we can know what to expect from it with some degree of certainty.

Cockapoos are companion dogs, and need to be with their family as much as possible. They live to befriend everybody, making walks in the park very sociable events, but for the same reason, they are not guard dogs, and very rarely show any hint of aggression. As they are very gentle by nature, some can be overwhelmed by young children, but once a child is old enough to know how to approach and handle the dog correctly, the two will get along famously. The Cockapoo’s fluffy coat hardly sheds, but does need a fair amount of work to be kept in top condition. Although crossing two pedigrees does to some extent improve the health of their offspring, some of the health problems seen in the two parents breeds can also occur in the Cockapoo, and one should always take the same care when choosing a hybrid as a purebred puppy. With good care and a modicum of luck, most Cockapoos can expect a lifespan of 14–16 years.

About & History

It seems the Cockapoo was first bred in an organised fashion (as opposed to as the result of accidental matings) in the United States in the 1950s, but it was in the following decade that its popularity soared. From the outset, this appeared to many breeders an ideal cross, with complementary behavioural traits coming from both parents, as well as the low-shedding, odourless coat that could be inherited from the Poodle. Because this is not a true “breed”, at least at this point in time, early generational crossings can produce pups that are more like one or other parent, but Cockapoos do tend to be slightly more uniform in their characteristics than some other hybrids.

Although any of the Toy, Miniature, or Standard Poodle can produce a pup that is technically a Cockapoo, it is the Toy and Miniature that are almost always used for breeding with either an American or English Cocker Spaniel. As this is such a long-established cross, there are now concerted efforts in many countries to have the Cockapoo recognised as a pedigree in its own right, and several have gone so far as establishing a breed standard. With an increase in multigenerational breeding, the Cockapoo is indeed likely to become more standard in its characteristics, and Kennel Club recognition does seem likely some time in the future.

Appearance

Cockapoo Large Photo

Although the Cockapoo can clearly come in several different sizes, it is generally a small to medium, light-framed dog, weighing between 5 and 10 kg (11–22 lb), and around 20–30 cm (8–12 in) in height. It has a moderately long, soft and fluffy coat that can take three forms, depending on whether it is inherited more from one parent then the other, with a fairly straight type from the Cocker, a tight curly coat from the Poodle, or an intermediate, wavy form that represents a mix of the two.

As the coat type only becomes apparent in pups older than six weeks of age, and all three types can be found in one litter, prospective owners may wish to wait until after this point to choose their puppy. The “breed” comes in many different coat colours, both solid and patterned. These include:

  • Black
  • White
  • Cream
  • Apricot
  • Red
  • Chocolate
  • Silver
  • Roan
  • Merle

Most will display physical characteristics of both parents, and have a moderately domed skull, an obvious stop, and a muzzle that tapers slightly. The eyes are usually brown in colour, although merle dogs can have extremely light-coloured, or blue eyes. The ears are generally medium in size, wedge-shaped, and sit erect at the base while folding forward. The body shape is in proportion to the dog’s size, being lean and strong, and not excessively broad, while the limbs are reasonably well-muscled, though quite finely boned.

Character & Temperament

A well-balanced Cockapoo is an irrepressibly cheerful and friendly dog that wants to be friends with everybody it meets. This was always conceived as a companion breed, and like both of its parents, it is affectionate and very devoted to its owners, willing to work hard to please them. However, it is important to be aware of the potential for nervousness in the Cocker Spaniel, which can carry through, particularly if breeders are not being careful about their parent stock, so these positive traits should never be taken for granted.

Happy, sociable dogs are more the result of their upbringing than their genes, and like every dog, the Cockapoo needs early, positive social experiences. It is a good choice of dog for families, as it will bond with more than one person with ease, but it can be sensitive to abuse from younger children.

Trainability

Photo of Cockapoo puppy

Its combination of intelligence and eagerness to please makes the Cockapoo a willing and capable pupil. While basic obedience training can start from as young as eight weeks of age, socialisation should take priority for the critical period up to four months of age.

Socialisation classes provide a neutral venue where pups can meet other dogs and people in a controlled setting, but simply encouraging visitors to the home to speak to and pet the young pup can have a huge, and very positive, impact on its temperament as an adult.

Health

This is a long-lived and generally healthy hybrid, but like any dog, the Cockapoo is prone to certain health problems that are largely inherited from the parent breeds.

  • Entropion – Minor anatomic abnormalities affecting the eyelids can bring the skin and hair of the outer lid into contact with the delicate surface of the eye, causing discomfort and inflammation. This is usually noticed in pups from around eight weeks of age with recurrent eye infections sometimes being the most obvious sign. The problem can be alleviated by a simple corrective surgery, although this may need to be delayed in very young pups.
  • Familial Nephropathy – An inherited developmental abnormality of the kidneys that can lead to an early onset of kidney failure. This may first manifest as excessive thirst and weight loss, and is a challenging condition to treat.
  • Hip Dysplasia – All breeding dogs should be screened radiographically for this malformation of the hip joints, which is strongly inherited and can go on to affect many of their offspring, who may show signs of stiffness or lameness before six months of age.
  • Glaucoma – A painful increase in pressure within the eye that goes on to cause sight loss. This results from the developmental abnormality of goniodysgenesis, meaning that fluid is produced in the eye more quickly than it can be drained. Though the pressure can be managed with topical medications, the more humane solution to this painful disorder is often removal of the affected eye.
  • Phosphofructokinase Deficiency – Lack of an enzyme essential to many metabolic functions. This is another inherited disorder, and symptoms usually relate to rupture of fragile red blood cells. Fever, discoloured urine, and anaemia are the most common signs, which tend to be most pronounced after vigorous exercise.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy – Being a common condition in both the Cocker Spaniel and Poodle breeds, it is not surprising that this condition is also of concern in the Cockapoo. Degeneration of retinal nerve cells at the back of the eye leads to a progressive loss of vision in middle age. This is another problem for which all breeding dogs should be screened, as the condition itself is untreatable.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Cockapoo is quite an energetic dog, and certainly needs at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every day. Its preferred form of exercise can vary, with those dogs more in tune with their Cocker ancestry perhaps happier when roaming off-lead, while others will want their people by their side as much as possible. They are athletic and energetic enough to do well in competitive sports if given the chance.

Grooming

Dogs with the flatter, Cocker-type coat require relatively little maintenance, with weekly brushing sufficing to keep the coat in good condition and free of tangles. At the other extreme, those with a curled coat need daily brushing and regular clipping, and owners will almost certainly need to rely on the help of a professional groomer to keep on top of these routines. In addition, the Cockapoo’s hairy ears need to be cleaned and plucked weekly to keep them free from clumps of debris that can prevent the ear canals being aerated and allow infections to become established.

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