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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 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 can 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. CSRA has received numerous Cocker Spaniels surrendered 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.
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.