Cocker Spaniels are the smallest of the sporting group and of all the Spaniel breeds, so by nature they are active, energetic, family loving, wiggle-butt companions who need daily exercise and regular grooming to keep their silky coats in good shape. A healthy Cocker Spaniel loves to eat and can easily pack on the pounds if the owners are not diligent about limiting the amount of food and providing plenty of daily exercise to help them burn off the extra calories. Due to their energy levels, Cocker Spaniels make great agility dogs or running buddies. They are wonderful companions who typically bond to one member of the family more than the others. Cocker Spaniels are also sensitive souls who do best with positive reinforcement training, never punishment.
In general, a well socialized Cocker Spaniel is merry, friendly with people and other animals, outgoing, inquisitive, sensitive and playful. If not socialized well during that critical period of 3 to 5 months of age, some Cocker Spaniels can become fearful or shy as adults and have trouble with new people or animals. The fear may manifest as either extreme shyness or aggression and will take a lot of training to overcome.
Cocker Spaniels love nothing more than just being with their people no matter what the activity. They are just as happy cuddling on the couch as they are exercising or playing games. As long as they can be with you, their tails will be wagging and they will be satisfied.
If raised around children, most Cocker Spaniels grow up to be good with children of any age. If not raised around children, some Cocker Spaniels may find young children to be too much to handle as they pull tails and ears and are a little too rough when playing with the small dog. Rocky Mountain Cocker Rescue has received numerous Cocker Spaniels relinquished by their owners due to dog bites when the small child was left unsupervised and fell on the dog or played too rough. For the safety and well being of everybody involved, it is imperative to teach your child how to properly behave around a dog. It is very important for all children to understand that animals have feelings, and they don’t appreciate having objects thrown at them, getting their tails pulled, or having their bodies used as playground equipment. Any type of roughhousing with dogs should be discouraged. Family pets can quickly get fed up with these types of behaviors and respond by biting.
Cocker Spaniels are a wonderful source of loyal companionship for children — but given the right circumstances, all dogs are capable of biting. Using close supervision any time your child and dog interact, and making sure your child knows the rules go a long way toward a long and satisfying relationship for the whole family!
Cocker Spaniels are primarily driven by two things: food and toys. As an intelligent breed, Cocker Spaniels tend to learn both good and bad habits quickly, so if the dog is not doing what you want him or her to do, you can be certain that the dog is getting rewarded for the unwanted behavior in some manner.
Cocker Spaniels are very sensitive dogs, so use only positive reinforcement with lots of praise and rewards for doing the right thing. You may want to check into clicker training, which is how marine mammals are trained at Sea World. Train for short periods of time daily, maybe 10 to 15 minutes, and engage the dog in his or her favorite playtime afterwards so the dog looks forward to this time with you and will work toward rewards. Numerous books have been written on training dogs, so we will not go into details here. One author we recommend is Patricia McConnell, who has several excellent books on the market including The Other End of the Leash.
You can also find useful links on our Training Questions and Answers page.
Cocker Spaniels have silky coats that need regular brushing and grooming. Longer coats require daily brushing to remove mats and debris that the dogs pick up while outside. The AKC classifies Cocker Spaniels as part of the sporting group. As such, they love to get into tall grasses and bushes, so you can expect them to come back with leaves, stickers, thorns and other plant pieces in their fur that will require immediate removal to avoid matting of the coat. Some Cocker Spaniel coats need to be groomed every 4 to 6 weeks while others can go 8 weeks or more between professional grooming. It will depend on how fast the coat grows and how well the owner keeps the coat brushed and free of mats between visits.
The basic grooming tool you will need is a slicker brush. Be gentle and patient and the dog will learn to love being brushed. Be sure to work all the way through the fur, especially if it is long, in order to prevent matting of the undercoat. Long, silky fur needs daily brushing to stay that way. Too often we have received Cocker Spaniels into the rescue with severe mats and bad skin due to lack of basic grooming and quality food. You might want to consider keeping the coat short if you are unable to keep up with the grooming requirements. It is also important to keep the fur between the toes clipped to avoid matting which can result in foot discomfort and limping.
Care and Feeding
Coat, ears and teeth need to be cleaned regularly with Cocker Spaniels to keep them healthy. The long, pendulous ears on Cocker Spaniels are prone to ear infections if they are not cleaned on at least a weekly basis. Some Cocker Spaniels may need their ears cleaned 2-3 times per week. While playing with or brushing your Cocker Spaniel, lift the ear flap and sniff the ear. If it smells clean, it is healthy. If it has an odd smell, an infection may be present and needs to be treated with a liquid cleaner available at the vet’s office. If the infection is moderate to severe, it may need antibiotics. If left untreated, it is possible for the infection to lead to deafness, so you will need to stay on top of this for the life of the dog.
Some Cocker Spaniels have genetically bad teeth that they will lose at a young age if the teeth are not brushed daily and professionally cleaned at least annually. There are cleaners that can be squirted in their mouth or added to the water to prevent the plaque and tartar from forming on the teeth; however, their teeth still need to be brushed at least several times each week.
Sticking with a diet that is wheat free will help a great deal in reducing the number of yeast infections in the ears. High quality kibble rarely has wheat. Try searching the Internet using the keywords “grading dog food” to find numerous websites that offer a formula to grade kibble. Some sites list popular brands of dog food to make it easy to compare quality. We found another site called The Dog Food Project that debunks the formula used to grade kibble and offers practical advice and articles on dog food and nutrition that you may find helpful.
Another option is to feed raw meat and vegetables, which are part of the canine’s diet in nature. Again, search the internet using the keywords “raw diets for dogs” and read the numerous websites that offer advice, articles, recipe,s and other info on how to feed a natural diet to your dogs. You might find the Raw Feeding website helpful in learning about a raw, natural diet for your dog.
Not only is what you feed important but the quantity is just as important. Even if a Cocker Spaniel is fed highly nutritional feed, he/she can still become over weight quickly when the quantity being fed is too high. On average, a Cocker Spaniel may need approximately ½ cup of food in the morning and in the evening. This will depend on his activity level, his age, his size and his own metabolism. If he has a high metabolism he may eat more and still maintain a good weight. It is better to error on the side of caution when feeding from the start. It will be easier to put a bit of weight on your Cocker Spaniel later on if he’s too thin. If you over feed him, it is difficult to get the weight off, just like it is with humans!
Cocker Spaniels are quite athletic and still retain their original instincts for hunting small game and retrieving, so they are very interested in birds, squirrels, rabbits and other small wildlife that may cross their path and will chase them when possible. A fenced yard is an excellent idea if you plan to have your Cocker Spaniel off-leash outside. As hunting dogs, a rousing game of fetch will keep their interest and help them stay in shape if their home life is rather sedentary.
Having a fenced yard, however, is not the same as providing exercise. A fenced yard is truly nothing more than an oversized kennel. Cocker Spaniels need daily exercise in order to avoid gaining weight. They love to go for long walks or a run with their people and should receive at least 45-60 minutes of heart-pumping exercise daily in order to calm them, avoid destructive behaviors and keep them in good shape. They do well in apartments or condos as long as they have the opportunity morning and night to burn off some energy with their people. If exercised properly, they are less likely to have issues when left alone while their people are away from home.
A good rule of thumb is: If your Cocker Spaniel is over-weight, YOU aren’t getting enough exercise!
Still unsure if a Cocker Spaniel is right for you? “Is This the Right Breed For You?” is filled with fun facts about Cocker Spaniels.
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