Creating a First-week Plan for Your new Cocker Spaniel and Why It’s Important

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

The first week at your home will be crucial for both you and your Cocker Spaniel puppy as you begin to bond. It’s a good idea to create a plan, so you remember to stay on track.

Establishing a routine will help your puppy adapt to life without Mom and littermates. It also will help you with potty training and establishing a sleep routine.

Cocker spaniel parti color
Photo Courtesy – Monica Summers

At the top of your list: Schedule your puppy’s first vet appointment. You can even do that before you bring your puppy home. Your breeder may set a requirement that you need to see a vet within the first week. Once you’ve seen the vet and started puppy vaccinations, you can plan trips out to socialize your puppy.

Next, establish a sleeping area for your puppy. In the beginning, you may want to put your puppy’s crate in or near your bedroom. You likely will need to get up at least once or twice a night during the first few weeks to get your puppy outside for a potty break.

Before you pick your puppy up, if your breeder agrees, take a blanket, towel, or T-shirt to them that they can put it in with the puppy and their littermates. That way, you can bring the smell of the puppy’s family home with you. Put the item in your puppy’s crate. Smelling those familiar scents should help soothe him.

Establish a feeding schedule. Most puppies need to eat four times a day. Get recommendations for what to feed your puppy from the breeder or your veterinarian.

For optimal potty training, plan to take the puppy outside 30 to 40 minutes after eating or drinking. You can combine this with short walks to help your puppy get used to walking on a leash.

The Ride Home

Car safety is crucial.

Do not drive while holding your puppy on your lap. This is dangerous for both of you. Not only is the puppy a distraction, but in the unfortunate event you crash, the dog could fly out of your arms and face catastrophic injuries.

Again, think of your dog like you would a baby. Babies are safest in their car seats in the backseat.

The same is true for puppies or dogs. Put your dog in his crate and secure it to the backseat with a seatbelt.

If you don’t want to haul the crate, you have several options.

  1. Get a doggy car seat.
  2. Use a safety belt or tether that links your dog’s harness to a seatbelt. Never attach a safety belt or tether to the dog’s collar. Sudden stops could easily choke your dog or injure the dog’s neck.
  3. In addition to securing your dog, you also can use a car seat cover to make the ride more comfortable for your dog. The covers also help contain shedding.

The First Night Home

Do not be surprised if there’s a lot of whining and crying the first night—actually the first few nights. Moving to your house is a significant change for your Cocker Spaniel puppy or dog.

If the puppy is coming from a breeder, he is used to sleeping with his littermates and mother. If he’s been staying at a shelter or rescue, chances are good he was kenneled with other dogs.

The first night sleeping alone can be traumatic. Compare it to your first sleepover at a friend’s house or going away to summer camp. Only it’s even harder for your puppy because he doesn’t understand what’s happening.

Your puppy will likely feel anxious, so it’s essential to do everything you can to make him feel loved.

Create a bedtime routine starting on the first night.

  1. Don’t let your puppy eat or drink anything within three or four hours of bedtime.
  2. Take your puppy for a walk shortly before bedtime. In addition to giving your puppy a last potty break, you will also help tire him out.
  3. If you’re planning to brush your puppy’s teeth, start the first night. Most puppies and dogs hate having their teeth cleaned, but do it anyway. Good oral hygiene helps keep breath fresh and reduces other health risks.
  4. Brush your puppy’s coat. Unlike teeth brushing, most dogs love having their coats brushed. It’s a great way to avoid tangles in a Cocker Spaniel’s hair, and it’s an excellent nonfood reward after brushing their teeth. It’s also important to get your puppy used to being handled. Touch the dog’s face, ears, paws, and tail.
  5. Put the dog in the crate. Be sure to include the blanket, towel, or T-shirt that smells like the puppy’s littermates. That little touch from his old home should help soothe your puppy.

Again, don’t be surprised if there’s a lot of whining and crying. Recognize the difference between whining and the signal that your puppy needs to go outside.

Cocker spaniel being rubbed
Photo Courtesy – Teryn Gibbs

Stay strong when he cries. Leave him in his crate, and he will eventually calm down.

Don’t give in and bring your puppy into your bed. The puppy could easily be hurt if you roll over on him during the night. You also run a big bed-wetting (or pooping) risk.

Remember the early scenes of Lady and the Tramp, when the Darlings try to introduce the puppy to her new dog bed in the kitchen. After Lady repeatedly tries to sneak out of the kitchen, her master blocks the door. Soon, however, he weakens after hearing her pitiful cries and carries her up to the bedroom. He deposits her on the bed with the stern warning that it’s only for that night. That fades to the next scene where a fully grown Lady still sleeps at the foot of the bed.

If you want to sleep with your dog, that’s absolutely your choice, but it’s a good idea to start off by having your puppy sleep in their crate.

Just remember, for the first few nights, you’ll likely need to get up at least once or twice to take the puppy out. Most puppies can’t sleep through the night without a potty break until they are 14 to 16 weeks old.

Choosing a Vet

If you need to find a veterinarian for your Cocker Spaniel puppy, start by asking friends and coworkers for recommendations. Most people are more than willing to share the names of vets they feel provide excellent care.

If you don’t have any recommendations, start doing some research. Some things to consider:

  1. Is the clinic a member of a professional organization like the American Veterinary Medical Association or the American Animal Hospital Association?
  2. How far is the clinic from your home? This may be critical if your dog is injured or becomes ill.
  3. Does the vet make house calls or offer emergency vet services during off hours? If not, is the clinic affiliated with one that does?
  4. Does the clinic offer any specialized care? For example, does the vet have experience working with Cocker Spaniels?
  5. If possible, visit the clinic before your first visit. Does the staff seem welcoming and calm? Do they have areas that separate dogs from cats or even from other dogs?
  6. During an exam, watch the vet and staff. Do they work well together? Do they seem interested in your pet? Do they try to make both of you feel welcome? Does the vet take time to answer your questions and address your concerns?

If you don’t think your dog is getting the care it needs, or if you think the vet isn’t answering your questions, don’t be shy about changing vets. You want to make sure you provide your pup with the best possible care. Transferring medical records is easy.

What to Expect at First Visit

If possible, try to schedule your puppy’s first visit for early in the morning. If you arrive soon after the clinic opens, there will be fewer people there, and that should reduce your puppy’s stress.

Cocker spaniel resting
Photo Courtesy – Ana Marija Dimkovska

At your puppy’s first vet visit, your dog will get a thorough exam. That exam will include weighing your puppy and examining the dog’s heart rate and breathing. The vet also will check your dog’s ears, eyes, teeth, and gums.

Your vet also will start your puppy’s vaccinations. The AKC recommends your puppy get vaccines for distemper, measles, and parainfluenza during its first appointment.

Be sure to bring any paperwork from the breeder or shelter about any deworming or other treatment the dog or puppy has received.

Feel free to ask your vet any questions you have about your puppy’s care.

And if the vet offers your dog a treat, accept. You want this first visit to go well, so your puppy understands trips to the vet are a good thing. There’s nothing worse than trying to take a sick or injured dog to the vet’s office if he’s afraid to go there.

Signing up for Puppy Classes

Many trainers recommend waiting until puppies are 12- to 16-weeks old to begin training.

Start by signing your dog up for a positive-reinforcement puppy kindergarten class. Those classes will focus on basic obedience commands and usually provide opportunities for puppies to socialize with each other and their owners.

Cocker Spaniel Playing with a ball
Photo Credit: Danél van Rooyen

Before you start taking classes, you can work with your puppy at home. The lessons should be short and simple. Don’t try to combine multiple activities into a lesson. Focus on one at a time.

For example, teach your puppy to control his bite. Puppies want to chew when they start teething. Don’t let him bite you. Your puppy’s littermate would yelp if bitten too hard. You need to make a similar noise. Pull your hand away if your puppy tries to bite. Then say, “Oww” or “Stop.” If the puppy bites again, make the noise and leave the room. Stay away for up to a minute. You may have to repeat this lesson a few times, but eventually, your puppy will learn that you won’t play if he bites.

It’s also good to get your dog used to walking on a leash from the first day. To reduce the risk that your puppy could injure his neck or throat, use a harness that instead hooks to the puppy’s back. Using a harness also makes it less likely your dog will try to pull on the leash. Avoid retractable leashes and use a six-foot leash made of nylon or leather.

Just remember, puppies have short attention spans. It’s always a good idea to mix training lessons with playtime. Be generous with your praise and keep plenty of treats handy to reward good behavior.

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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