Something So Endearing About a Cocker Spaniel

Show Cocker Spaniel Toby is a beautiful boyThere really is something so endearing about a Cocker Spaniel!

Cockers haven’t been put on this earth to be ignored.

My own Cocker, Pickle, is totally different to Toby in that he’s not a guarder, but he, too, can be a handful. He is a working Cocker and keeps himself, and me, busy. He is the smallest of my dogs but more trouble than my three other dogs put together.

Pickle keeps me on my toes!

Toby is a Show Cocker and a beautiful boy.

His start in life wasn’t ideal in that he was hand-reared along with his siblings. The downside of this is that he hasn’t been taught by his mother when his teeth hurt as usually happens when suckling. If she feels puppy’s teeth, mum gets up and walks away. Puppy learns about teeth because his food supply disappears.

Toby guards people, places, locations, himself.

Their problem with Toby is that he guards things in that he ‘possesses’ them. They are HIS resources; ‘Stay away’. He guards places also, various private bolt-holes in the house where he takes his ‘trophies’. These are places like under the coffee table beside his lady owner (whom he also guards).

The Cocker Spaniel may also guard food while he is eating, he guards chews and bones, he guards his own personal space and he will guard toys. He does quite a lot of growling that they are now immune to – but growling has a purpose, it’s a warning.

Recently Toby bit someone who approached something he was guarding and who ignored his growling.

Toby chooses.

Toby gets what he wants, when he wants. He chooses when he comes in at night, he chooses where he sleeps. Toby chooses when he eats. He chooses when he gets touched. He chooses when he should play ball (but the ball has to be wrestled off him). His demands are nearly always immediately met.

Food is always available and their own food is shared. Nothing has to be earned. If £50 notes were showered on you, would you want to work for two pounds? Their attention is given freely, every time he demands it. How relevant does he find his loving humans when they want his attention?

I asked the man to call Toby to him. Toby just looked at him! (Toby now expected the man to repeat the request and put in a lot of effort). I said to the man, “Toby’s had his opportunity and lost it. Leave him”.

I must say, I can’t imagine any of my dogs growling at me. This isn’t because they are any different from Toby or other dogs I go to. It’ s because I never have used physical force but rewards instead. I mostly save giving them treats for when they do something I like. They are always willing. I am relevant. I hold the ‘cards’.

We control the resources, not the dog

Here is a quote from Jordan Rothman, ‘To control your dog, control what motivates your dog: food, toys, belly rubs, attention, access to other dogs etc.’

I introduced Toby to clicker training. It took a while for him to catch on to the notion of having to EARN food (cheese). Once he got it, he was 100% attention, poised to work for me. It was lovely to see and shows what is possible. He was a focused and happy dog; all I was teaching him as a starter was to look me in the eye, to give me his full attention.

Loving a dog to bits is a bit of a two-edged sword. Indulging a dog’s every whim is actually not good for him. It’s no different than with one’s children.

Loose Lead Walking – a Game?

Show Cocker Field Cocker mixI have just been to a much more straightforward case though one that could take a while for the desired result to be achieved. Beautiful Archie – a mix of Field and Show Cocker Spaniel – has seldom needed to be walked on lead as they live in a country area and he never runs off. Now his young lady wishes to take him on holiday with her and needs him to be walking on lead without nearly strangling himself.

Teaching a dog who is used to being on lead, albeit pulling, is a different story to teaching a dog, who over five years has always free-lanced and had freedom to run and sniff where he wants, to accept the restraints of a lead .

Loose lead walking, therefore, needs to be less about ‘training’ than about learning a new game to play. It involves the young lady motivating her dog to walk beside her because he wants to and not because he’s being restrained, even when she is in competition with the normally freely available environment.

At home she can encourage him to anticipate what she wants of him without using commands. If she stops and waits, what does she want? If he usually sits before food, she can wait for him to work it out for himself. If he jumps at the door before she opens it, she can step back and wait for him to work it out. So, if the lead goes tight and she stops – he will know he has to work something out for himself.

It’s a bit like learning to drive a car, it will take plenty of practice. While the lady gets confident with the technique the dog will learn the rules of the game. These rules are simple really: No Go if the lead tightens, the lady decides The Moves – which direction they go in, and Bonus (food reward) for walking nicely or for coming back to her side.

Very short sessions are best, in non-stimulating environments and after he has been exercised, finishing while he’s doing well and before boredom or silliness sets in. She should engage with him and use food – making it as much fun as possible. The lead needs to be long enough to allow him choice and some freedom and the type of harness is very important. (‘No Pull’ harnesses are all about forcing the dog not to pull, and that’s the opposite to what we want).

When loose lead walking is established the lady can add walking to ‘heel’ beside her as a sort of training trick for use only when needed in towns and near to traffic.

I’m sure with time and patience she will be able to take her happy, lively and friendly dog on holiday to places where dogs must be kept on lead.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Archie, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Confused Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Autumn


I went to see five Cocker Spaniels – all females of the show breed and none of them spayed.  Everything was ticking along along nicely in the household until Autumn who joined the group about twenty-one months ago reached her first birthday. She then went for one of the other dogs.



Since then she has become increasingly unpredictable and aggressive to Lexus, the eldest, in particular. Things have reached the point where Lexus lives upstairs, and for much of the time Autumn is separate from the other three also. Their lady owner is on tenterhooks all the time.

Then very unfortunately to my mind, they enlisted the help of a dog trainer who encouraged spraying water at her, shaking a bottle of stones at her, shouting at her, intimidation and domination. Already more sensitive than the other dogs, Autumn is now really nervous. So worried is her owner, that every time Autumn goes near another dog, sniffs her or even stares, she shouts LEAVE or sprays her with water. I can’t see how this will do anything except teach Autumn to associate the other dogs with scary stuff and make her much worse.

Lexus is scared of Autumn


She has not actually done damage except to a human hand separating two dogs – yet. Lexus is mild and scared of Autumn, but Autumn’s other victim, Miami, a much more confident and independent dog than Lexus, will stand up for herself.

So far as they can tell, there has never been any conflict when humans weren’t about – mostly the lady, which gives a clue as to where the stress comes from. She is stressed, Autumn is stressed. The lady admits that she spoilt Autumn more than the others as a puppy and now, on the advice of this trainer, she is more or less ignoring her all the time. This must be very confusing. Ignoring demands for attention is one thing,  but that doesn’t mean the dog should have no interaction or love – only that it should be under your terms and not hers. Giving the dogs attention whenever they jump up or bark for it is one thing, and calling them over when you decide is quite another.

There needs to be some healthy relationship building between the lady and Autumn founded on calm trust, positive reinforcement, not punishment.  The lady is extremely worried and loves all her dogs dearly. She has done everything she possibly can that she knows of, she has hired a trainer and she has read books.  I find it amazing that there is still such a lot of nonsense going around when, if things are looked at from the dog’s point of view, with patience the solution can be gentle, encouraging and logical.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.