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Cocker Spaniels and their training needs

25/04/2022 - Breed Specific Advice

Spaniels have been depicted in art and literature for around 500 years, and were originally divided into “land” and “water” spaniels. In the mid-1800s, the most specific breeds we know today began to be established. The cocker spaniel is closely related to the springer spaniel – at one time, cocker and springer pups could be found from the same litter and were differentiated by size. The smaller pups were labelled cocker spaniels and the name is believed to derive from their role hunting woodcock. 
Today, there are two common “types” or English Cocker Spaniel – field bred and show bred. Show bred cockers typically have much thicker, longer coats than their field bred counterparts. The cocker spaniel comes in a wide variety of colours, including but not limited to black, black and tan, liver or blue roan, black & white or orange & white.
Cocker spaniels today are popular household pets and remain one of the most common breeds used in the field as working gundogs. Bred primarily for “flushing” game and driving it towards the gun, cocker spaniels are known for their love of sniffing, diving into undergrowth and chasing after birds and other wildlife! Their strong work ethic and drive to sniff make them a common choice for roles at detection dogs, too.

Average Lifespan: 12-15 years
Height: 15-16 inches (38-41cm)
Weight: 29-32lbs (13-14.5kg)
Temperament: intelligent; active; resilient; cheerful

Training Needs at Different Life Stages

Puppyhood
During puppyhood, our focus should be on our pup’s socialisation and building their confidence. Socialisation is not just about exposing our dogs to lots of things, people and dogs thoughtlessly – it should be about ensuring they are not overwhelmed, have positive experiences of all these things and learn how to be calm, relaxed and confident around them. Cocker spaniels are often stoic little individuals, so it can be easy to assume that nothing phases them – we’d do well not to take this for granted, though, and continue to take care to ensure they don’t end up out of their depth and learn any unfortunate life lessons as these can quickly lead to phobias and reactivity, and be difficult to undo.

Group classes are a great place to start getting your puppy used to being around other dogs in a controlled environment and learning how to stay engaged and focused on you, as well as instilling a solid training foundation before they have a chance to learn any bad habits! Cockers are typically very environment focused dogs and can be more than a little excitable! Working in an outdoor setting with them from a young age is a great way to help manage their arousal levels and make sure they can still focus and engage with you, wherever you are.
Cockers are wonderful companions; they love to be with their humans and this is definitely a big part of their charm. As a gundog breed, they often love to carry things in their mouths and they are often little hoarders, stashing their toys like a hamster! In the right situation, both of these are endearing traits – however, it does mean our cocker pups are more prone to developing separation anxiety and resource guarding. Check out our Puppy’s First Steps course – which covers absence training, preventing resource guarding and much more – for all our tips and advice on preparing for your new puppy and getting their training started on the right foot.

Adolescence
Adolescence can be a trying time, both for us and our dogs. Our dogs are still growing and their perceptions and feelings will change as their hormone levels rise. Often, training we thought we had perfected a while ago can start to deteriorate – a reliable recall can become, well, less reliable. This is completely normal, and the best thing we can do is acknowledge this and focus on revising the foundations we worked so hard on during puppyhood.
It can be disheartening to have to pop that longline back on our dogs after months of carefree off-lead walks, but life will become a lot harder if we allow our teenage dogs to practice running off after wildlife or up to every dog they see! You will get back to those idyllic walks soon; as long as you are patient, and remember this important step!
Cocker spaniels are often incredibly environment-focused and busy dogs, and they of course LOVE to find any small animals hidden in the undergrowth! As little dopamine-addicts, these behaviours can quickly become ingrained habits for our spaniels. Now is a good time to consider a Recall Masterclass, to brush up on those vital recall skills and make sure they don’t develop any squirrel addictions!
Spaniels were bred to hunt, and it becomes very clear from watching a cocker for any length of time that they weren’t intended to do this in straight lines! This can make loose lead walking a challenging skill to train – but we promise you, it can be done. Check out our Lead Walking Masterclass to get this one locked down, so you can enjoy your walks together no matter where you are.
We also highly recommend taking up Scent Classes with your spaniel! As we know, all spaniels LOVE to sniff and they’re famously good at it. Not only will scent work be incredibly enrichment for your cocker and give them a wonderful outlet for this behaviour, it will help develop your relationship by making you a part of one of their all-time FAVOURITE things in the world. You will also be amazed at what your talented dog can achieve with some guidance to help them develop this natural skill. 

1 Year Old
This is when your troublesome teen will be reaching physical maturity and you can start to consider more physically demanding activities, such as agility. The solid training you have done over the past year will make it easy to transition into training more for fun than just for practicality – engaged dogs who can work with their human off lead are halfway to Crufts already! Learning to work together even during high-arousal activities like agility is a great way to develop your cocker’s impulse control skills. This is incredibly valuable, since we know that losing focus and getting carried away is a common spaniel problem!
You can also start refining some of the basic training you’ve been working on so far, as your dog starts to mature mentally, too. Cockers are intelligent dogs, so why not consider Advanced Classes to further your clever pup’s education and keep them busy? If you’ve already completed a scent work course, you can also consider continuing onto our advanced scent course to further develop your pup’s talents.

2+ Years Old
You’ve been a dedicated dog owner for the last 24 months, investing time and effort into their ongoing education and development – by now, you should be starting to see the result of all that hard work in the form of an engaged, well-rounded companion. Hopefully those vital foundations that we spent so much time focusing on are starting to feel less like work!
Your clever four-legged friend has dutifully learned everything you’ve imparted on them, and now it’s important that we don’t forget to reward them with continued mental enrichment. We showed them how much fun training could be and, while we may now have reached our own personal training aspirations, they deserve to continuing experiencing the joy of using their nose, brain and body to navigate the world and learn new things.
Activities such as Trick Training are great ways to keep making the most of our precious time with our four-legged friends.

OAP (7+ Years)
As our pups reach their golden years, their needs will change. It’s important we remember to adjust their physical activity to suit their health. This will be different for every dog and doesn’t necessarily mean slowing down – many dogs continue to be active until very late in their lives and it can in fact be beneficial to keep our dogs moving to stave off muscle degeneration and general loss of fitness and mobility. Pay attention to your dog’s behaviour, noting if they are less keen to head out on your longer walking route or seem a bit stiff the next day. Speak with your vet for advice if you are unsure what level of exercise is right for your dog.
Cognitive exercises like puzzle games and scent work are great ways to continue providing your dog with fun enrichment without being too physically demanding.
 

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