Over the last few years cocker spaniels have rocketed in popularity as family pets and just looking at that face above you can see why!
There were 38,910 cocker spaniels registered with the kennel club in the UK last year alone and this doesn’t include the thousands of unregistered litters and cocker cross breeds. For the first half of 2022 we are up to 13,242 registered pups which will no doubt be more than 25k but the years end.
These are numbers that are only surpassed by the ever-popular Labrador and the new UK favourite the French Bulldog (who consequently there were over 54k of registered last year!!)
So why the rise in popularity in Cocker Spaniels?
I believe that social media is to blame as many influencers and celebs have these dogs and people decide that they want one too without truly researching the breed and possible health problems etc.
This is where part of the problem begins as people only see the cute cuddly photo and reels of these cockers on their insta feed and never any of the training or not so great bit that go with it.
In the first half of this year Spaniel Aid Rescue had 552 dogs surrendered, 72.4% of those dogs were Cocker Spaniels or Cocker spaniel crosses. That is approx. 400 cockers or cocker crosses in 6 months. Now whilst that doesn’t seem a lot when you compare it to the numbers registered, this is just one rescue out of hundreds across the UK all experiencing the same thing.
Worryingly the most common question I see asked on the cocker spaniel facebook groups is “Can some tell me whether my cocker is working type or show”
It always astounds me that people don’t know! Would you buy a car without knowing it was petrol or diesel – of course not you wouldn’t be able to make an informed decision if it was right for you. But sadly when it comes to buying pups people don’t do the research of what their cute ball of fur will turn into which is why we are seeing so many rehomed. Many of these rehomed dogs come with issues such as resource guarding/separation anxiety/reactiveness/bite history many of which may have been prevented if people had known more about the breed and what training is required.
OK I will get off my soap box and let’s talk about what a Cocker spaniel is.
What is a Cocker Spaniel?
Broadly speaking there are two breeds of Cocker Spaniel – the English Cocker Spaniel and the American Cocker Spaniel.
Despite there being American Cocker spaniels in the UK they are nowhere near as prolific as the English breed.
The English Cocker Spaniel can be split further into two types – the working cocker spaniel and the show type (breed standard) cocker spaniel. Despite being the same breed the show and working types couldn’t be more different. This is a result of years of selective breeding the working cocker is a high drive active little dog bred to be on the go and occupied with working. Whereas the show cocker has been selectively bred to fit the breed standard as laid out by the kennel club.
The breed standard of the Cocker Spaniel describes them as
“Merry nature with ever-wagging tail shows a typical bustling movement, particularly when following scent, fearless of heavy cover.”Kennel Club breed standard
This has only been extenuated in the working lines of the breed.
Cockers were originally bred to hunt and flush birds out of the undergrowth that the larger breeds couldn’t fit into. This remains a strong natural instinct in the breed today so owners shouldn’t be surprised that without correct training their cocker is 2 fields away fulfilling its natural desires of finding and chasing.
So, what about cross breeds?
Over the last decade “designer” breeds such as cockapoos have been increasingly popular but generally new owners are hit with the same issues despite their new pup looking like a teddy bear.
Not only have you got the drive and active nature of the cocker spaniel but also similar drive from the poodle side which were originally bred as hunting dogs in Germany.
Of course, when we breed two different breeds together, we cannot pick and choose which traits from each we want, and they may inherit undesirable traits from both sides.
These cross breeds need the same training and stimulation as their smoother coated pure-bred relatives in order for them to be well balanced family pets.
Do Cocker Spaniels make good pets?
I guess the short answer is if you are a first-time dog owner that there are more suitable breeds you could have. That said if you have done sufficient research on the breed and have the support of a knowledgeable dog trainer to help you with proper training then, yes they can make great pets and are generally very loving and loyal if you train them.
What is important when it comes to training your cocker spaniel? For me the most important thing to teach any pup, but particularly cocker spaniels when they come home is how to settle and learn to relax on their own and around people.
This is a vital part of the early training that is often missed or not done quite right which is why people end up with spaniels that can’t settle or be left alone and in extreme cases develop separation anxiety.
Teaching a solid leave is another necessity, as once your young pup gains confidence out and about and starts exploring the world you will be beginning to try and instil self-control over its natural instincts. A leave paired with a great recall will mean you have far greater control of your otherwise wayward pup. These behaviours need to be built slowly to ensure they are proofed in lots of different locations.
Another top tip I give to new owners is to keep them close. Build up an invisible bubble around you when out and about so your pup stays within 10-15m maximum, if you need a long line to enforce this whilst learning then do so. Remember our pups learn through repartition but if they are ranging far away and having fun hunting in bushes alone this is what they will do more of and you may find your commands start to lose their effect because the pup finds more fun away from you.
Which leads to my second to last point. These are clever little dogs with super strong hunting instincts so use that to your advantage and keep them engaged with you when out and about, hide tennis balls and hunt them with your pup and build value around you and not in the next field. A good trainer will be able to help you with more ways you can keep your pup engaged.
The final thing I want to mention is that there has been a big increase in resource guarding in the breed and I believe this is because we are seeing them more and more in family homes where the sharing foundations have been confused.
Pups explore their worlds with their mouths so will pick up most things available to them – another in built instinct to carry things around. The natural reaction of most owner is to grab these items from the pups mouth so they don’t damage the item or don’t swallow it. If we repeat this over time the pup is likely to run off with the resulting in a chase and battle to get the item back. This can ultimately lead to pups resource guarding items as they think everything will be stolen from them. The best way to combat this is keep valuable and dangerous items out of the pups reach whilst they are learning and if they do pick anything up to never chase them and instead encourage the pup to you by getting nice and low with open body language and give the pup a real fuss for coming over. Do not attempt to take the item until you have made a fuss of the pup. As soon as your pup releases the item to you praise and reward this behaviour so it’s the exchange that becomes valuable. (don’t be tempted to get the treats out to try and bribe your pup before they release the item, this rarely works long term)
Grooming needs will vary between what type of Cocker you get. Show cockers tend to be longer haired and will potentially require clipping to maintain their coats easier. That said some working cockers can also be incredibly hair and require the same.
They will all need their ears brushing regularly to prevent matting. Also their feet should be trimmed regularly to avoid matts and avoid things like grass seeds lurking and causing harm by penetrating the skin.
Ensuring all of this is done from a young age takes time and patience but ensures you have a dog that is well behaved when it comes to general care.
Still want a Cocker Spaniel?
Do you have enough time to train your pup as they grow up? The first year will need consistent training to ensure you have a well-behaved dog.
Are your children old enough to understand rules around a new puppy?
Do you go out to work? Is there someone that can drop in to ensure your pup is let out for toilet breaks etc? Can you afford this?
Assuming you have done further research about the breed and decided what type of cocker is right for you then comes finding the right pup.
DO NOT RUSH IN TO BUYING THE FIRST PUP YOU SEE! all pups are cute so it can be hard to walk away even if you think you should.
So, what to look for.
Ideally, I would look for a Kennel Club registered pup whose parents have been fully health tested (more can be found out about this on the kennel club website)
Make sure when you visit the pups you meet mum and make sure she is good health and is a nice natured dog. Be warned that unscrupulous breeders will sometimes tell you a different dog is the mother, so check she is with the pups and that the bitch’s teats look like she’s recently been feeding pups. (they will be enlarged and slightly distended)
Sometimes working cocker spaniels will have their tails docked as pups – this is to ensure their tails don’t become injured when working in heavy cover. There are strict laws around the docking of pups and they must be done no later than 5 days old by a vet. If the docking is done legally there should be docking certificates which you would get a copy of if you purchased a pup. Pups must also be microchipped before leaving the breeder.
A good breeder will talk to prospective owners to see if they think you could offer a suitable home.
What to learn more about how to train your cocker?
We will soon be releasing our online bespoke cocker training program – Cocker Club – sign up to the mail list to be first to hear about the release and receive a discount.
Cockers can make amazing and rewarding pets and working companions, but it is important to understand what they were bred to do in order to best understand their drives and how best to train them.