Bathing, Brushing, and Trimming: Tips for Cocker Spaniel Grooming Success

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels" by Sara Hansen. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Sara Hansen

Cocker Spaniel-Specific Grooming Needs

Cocker Spaniels are beautiful dogs, but their long silky ears and soft coats require serious grooming. Keeping your Cocker Spaniel looking his best will require an investment or your time or an investment of your money to take your pup to the groomer regularly.

Even if you plan to take your dog to the groomer, you’ll need to clean your dog’s ears and eyes regularly. You also need to be prepared to brush your Cocker Spaniel’s coat daily.

“There’s nothing sadder than a matted Cocker Spaniel,” says Elena Sicurello of Tsunami Cockers in Pennsylvania.

Cocker spaniel groomingThe good news is that with regular grooming, Cocker Spaniels don’t shed much.

Because Cocker Spaniels require regular grooming, it’s vital to get your puppy used to the process early.

Jacqueline Makoujy of Max Cockers in New Jersey recommends bathing and brushing your puppy from the time you bring him home. “Bathe and blow dry your puppy at least every two weeks,” she says. “Even though your dog won’t have mats in their hair at that age, it’s necessary to get them accustomed to the grooming process early.”

She also suggests using a mobile groomer if possible, so you can start your dog’s grooming regimen before your dog has been fully vaccinated.

“It’s unfair to expect an eight-month-old Cocker to accept the sounds of a clipper or hair dryer if they have never been exposed to that noise in the past,” she says.

Lynn Confetti-Ledbetter of East County American Cocker Spaniels in California recommends finding a groomer both you and your dog feel comfortable with.

“Watch your Cocker. The dog will show you whether or not the groomer is someone your dog wants to be around.,” she says. “If your dog does not like the groomer, neither should you.”

Bathing and Brushing

Because you’ll need to brush your Cocker Spaniel’s coat daily, invest in both a professional-quality dog comb and a slicker brush.

Get a metal comb with medium to fine spacing. The comb will allow you to remove any loose hair and find any knots or snarls in the dog’s coat. If you find a knot, don’t pull on it with the comb or brush. Instead, use your fingers to loosen it, then follow with the comb.

Cocker spaniel bathing
Photo Courtesy – Loan Uong

Finish with a slicker brush, which usually has a square head filled with closely spaced, fine-wire bristles.

Judie Posner of Encore Cockers in Florida recommends brushing your dog before bathing.

“If you have a knot, it will get tighter when it gets wet,” she says.

Use a gentle, high-quality dog shampoo and be sure always to rinse at least twice to make sure you remove all shampoo. Cocker Spaniels tend to have sensitive skin, and soap residue causes irritation.

Be sure to dry your dog’s coat with a blow dryer on a low setting. Remember, the dogs have sensitive skin and heat also causes irritation.

Nail Trimming

Since most dogs dislike having their nails cut, it’s critical to handle your puppy’s feet, so he gets used to someone touching them.

Even if you never plan to cut your dog’s nails, touch your puppy’s paws regularly. Pick each one up and hold it for a few seconds. Run a finger along the pads. Doing this will make it easier for someone else—the groomer, the vet or a vet tech—to touch your dog’s feet.

Your dog will need to have his nails trimmed about once a month. If you walk on concrete or asphalt, that will help file your dog’s nails, but it will never eliminate the need to trim them.

“If you can hear a dog’s nails on the floor as they walk, the nails are too long,” says Jacqueline Makoujy of Max Cockers in New Jersey.

Cocker spaniel nail clippingIf you’re taking your Cocker Spaniel to a groomer, you can include the nail trim for an additional fee.

Before you try cutting your dog’s nails at home, get clippers and styptic powder to stop any bleeding if you cut the nail too short and clip the nail’s quick.

Get the dog used to the clippers before you try to cut his nails. Hold the clippers near your dog’s feet. Provide praise and treats. Next, squeeze the clippers, so they make noise. Again, give the dog praise and treats. Do this a few times before you try to cut your dog’s nails.

The first time you trim your dog’s nails, you might want just to do one foot. That will help both you and the dog get used to the process. Just remember to trim the rest of the nails later.

Hold the trimmer in your palm and use your fingers to squeeze the moveable parts. You need to hold your dog’s paw so you can cut the nail from underneath. That will let you see the quick or pink part of the nail, so you don’t cut it too much and cause bleeding.

It’s much harder to cut the nails when dogs have dark nails that hide the quick. Make several small cuts so you can avoid the quick. The dead area of the nail appears whitish as you cut it. The closer you get to the quick, the darker the nail gets.

If you cut the quick, apply the styptic power to stop the bleeding.

Some dog owners file their dogs’ nails after clipping them, but if you go for regular walks, the surfaces will naturally help smooth the nails.

Teeth Brushing

Dogs, like people, need to have their teeth brushed. Failing to keep your dog’s teeth clean can cause dental disease, tooth loss, and other infections.

Start when your puppy is young and brush your dog’s teeth every day. At the least, you should brush two or three times each week. Many vets also recommend professional teeth cleaning annually.

You’ll need to buy specially formulated toothpaste for dogs. Most of them come packaged with a two-headed toothbrush and a finger cap that you can use to clean your dog’s teeth and massage his gums. The two-headed brush allows you to use the size head that best suits your pup’s mouth.

Before you brush for the first time, massage your dog’s lips, teeth, and gums using slow circular motions for a few seconds. You want him to be OK with you sticking your hand in or close to his mouth.

Once your dog is comfortable with the massage, let your pet taste the toothpaste. Put a small amount on your finger. While beef- or chicken-flavored toothpaste doesn’t appeal to you, chances are good your dog will like the taste.

Next, add the toothpaste to the brush or finger cap and clean your dog’s teeth and gums using the same slow circular motion. Talk to your dog in a calm, reassuring voice. It should take you about a minute to brush your dog’s teeth.

When you’re done, praise your dog and give him a reward like a belly rub or some behind- the-ear scratches. Avoid using treats as a reward for teeth cleaning.

After all, you wouldn’t give your child a cookie for brushing their teeth.

If your dog resists teeth brushing, you also can help keep his teeth clean with dental chews, supplements, sprays, and wipes.

Cleaning Ears

Cocker spaniel parti coloredThe Cocker Spaniel’s beautiful long silky ears are prone to infection. The ears trap heat and moist air in the ear canal, which creates a breeding ground for germs.

Check your Cocker Spaniel’s ears weekly. The ear’s interior should be a healthy pink. Check for signs of wax buildup or infection. Dog-ear infections often are yeast infections that have a strong odor.

David Landry of Cajun Cockers Inc. in Louisiana recommends trimming the hair inside your dog’s ears.

“Those long floppy ears trap heat,” he says. “If the hair is long, the ear canal cannot get good ear flow. That will cause wax buildup and the ear will be wet or damp all the time, causing ear infections.”

Both puppies and older dogs are more likely to experience ear infections. Wax builds up in Cocker Spaniel puppies’ ears as their ear canals develop. Their immune systems also have not fully developed, which makes them more susceptible to infections. As dogs age, their immune systems also weaken, again making them more susceptible to infections.

To prevent ear infections in Cocker Spaniels, keep your dog’s ears clean and dry. This can be challenging because the breed’s long ears occasionally touch the ground.

They also will drag their ears through their food and water bowls. You can prevent that from happening by feeding your dog from small containers or by using a snood to hold back your dog’s ears when he eats or drinks.

If you notice ear wax buildup, you need to remove it. You’ll need a gentle, pH-balanced ear cleaning solution. Consult with your vet to find the best option.

To clean your Cocker Spaniel’s ears, squeeze a few drops of cleaning solution into the ear. Rub the base of the dog’s ear for about a minute. Before you stop massaging, hold a paper towel to the dog’s ear. When you stop rubbing, the dog most likely will shake his head.

Wipe the inside of the dog’s ear with a soft cotton ball to remove wax, dirt, and the cleaning solution. Finish by making sure your dog’s ears are dry.

Cleaning Eyes

Cocker Spaniels require at least weekly care to prevent stains from forming around their eyes. For some dogs with light-colored coats, you may need to wipe the area around the eyes daily.

Cleaning around the eyes also helps prevent bacterial infections from developing. This is critical since bacterial infections can lead to more severe eye conditions like cherry eye, which requires surgery to correct.

Cocker Spaniels are genetically predisposed to cherry eye, which happens when the gland behind the dog’s third eyelid slips out. When that happens, it will appear as a pink or red lump in the inner corner of your dog’s eye. Surgery is the only option to fix cherry eye.

Take your dog to the vet immediately if you see redness or discolored discharge.

Clean the area around your Cocker Spaniel’s eyes with a sterile saline solution or pet eyewash. Squirt the solution on a cotton ball and wipe the area around the eye to remove the dried tears and any other debris.

To prevent spreading any possible infections, use a different cotton ball for each eye and wipe from the inner corner out. Take your time and be gentle. The inner corner of the eye is where most tearstains form.

Talk to your groomer or vet about trimming away any hairs that could get into the eye and irritate them.

If you bathe your dog, be careful to avoid splashing the eyes with either soap or water.

In addition to cherry eye, Cocker Spaniels also have trouble with their eyelids rolling inward against the eye, glaucoma, and cataracts. Be sure your vet checks your dog’s eyes during every visit.

Know When to Use a Professional Groomer


Cocker spaniel clipping
Photo Courtesy – Loan Uong

If you aren’t confident in your skills, it most likely makes sense to take your Cocker Spaniel to the groomer.


Their coats are beautiful but require regular maintenance. In addition to brushing and bathing, the dogs need to get the coats cut or trimmed about every six weeks.

There are three popular haircuts for Cocker Spaniels: the puppy cut, the princess cut, and the catwalk cut.

Puppy haircut: Most Cocker Spaniels have the puppy cut because it requires the least maintenance. Keeping your dog’s hair short makes it easier to brush and helps prevent snarls or knots. Keeping the hair short also helps keep the dog cooler during summer’s heat.

Princess haircut: The traditional, classic Cocker Spaniel haircut is rare because it’s hard to maintain. In this cut, the dog’s hair flows to the floor. Owners with dogs using this haircut have the option of straightening the dog’s hair when they blow it dry or leaving it curly.

Catwalk haircut: Similar to the traditional haircut, this style should be done by a groomer. The hair is cut in layers to create a cascading effect. Like the traditional cut, this requires more maintenance.

Whether you opt for a puppy cut or prefer to leave your dog’s hair longer, David Landry of Cajun Cockers Inc. in Louisiana recommends keeping the hair on your dog’s stomach short to help prevent tangles.

“Cutting the belly is very important as hair tends to mat up and can be very unpleasant for the cocker,” he says.

Working with a groomer also will allow you to defer to an expert for nail trimming

To read more from "The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels" by Sara Hansen, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below:

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