Routines and Expectations – Successfully Parenting your new Cocker Spaniel

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

Setting and Meeting Expectations

To be a successful puppy parent, you need to set expectations and boundaries for your Cocker Spaniel.

Dogs are creatures of habit and thrive when they have a routine. Creating a schedule also makes it easier to potty train your puppy.

Set your puppy up for potty training success with regular meals, walks, and a bedtime routine.

Cocker spaniel hugging
Photo Courtesy – Kelly Johnson

Do not give your Cocker Spaniel puppy free run of your house. Decide whether you will allow your dog on the furniture, including your bed. Then make that rule clear from the beginning.

Start training your puppy immediately. Focus first on potty training and walking on a leash.

The challenge for you as a dog owner will be to set appropriate expectations. Too many owners expect their dogs to master new tasks instantly.

Remember, your Cocker Spaniel puppy is a baby. It’s perfectly reasonable for a puppy to have a few accidents and to struggle to master new challenges.

Patience and repetition are critical. The good news is Cocker Spaniels are easy to train because they are smart dogs who want to please their people.

The dogs also are good listeners, which helps with training, says Elena Sicurello of Tsunami Cockers in Pennsylvania.

The breed has a sweet, sensitive nature. Yelling at your Cocker Spaniel puppy can make him nervous or anxious.

You need to be firm, but you will be more effective if you use a calm “no-nonsense” tone.

If your puppy does something you don’t want him to do, Jacqueline Makoujy of Max Cockers in New Jersey recommends using a sharp “NO!” command.

“On the other hand, if the puppy is doing something you approve of, you should praise and reward that good behavior.”

Using positive reinforcement—either praise or treats—will help your puppy develop into a calm, confident dog.

Crate Training

Although crate-training is one of the best ways to potty train your puppy, the crate also can be used for bedtime and to create a safe space for your Cocker Spaniel.

The crate, or den, is a place where your dog can sleep or just find solitude. It’s also a secure place where your dog can stay when you are away from home or unable to watch him.

Start by getting the right size. The crate should only be big enough for the dog to sit, stand up, turn around, and lie down. If it’s too big, it gives the puppy space to potty in it. If it’s too small, the dog may feel trapped.

Too many owners buy a crate that will accommodate the dog when fully grown. If you don’t want to buy more than one, get a crate with partitions so you can adjust it as your puppy grows.

To successfully crate-train your dog:

  1. Tire your puppy out with a walk or playtime before you put him in the crate.
  2. Make the crate comfortable. Be sure it has lots of ventilation and then make it cozy with washable bedding and a few toys.
  3. Reward your puppy with praise and a treat for going in the crate.
  4. Never use the crate for punishment. If your puppy associates the crate with being punished or ignored, he will avoid going into it. If you need to contain your puppy when you are home but need time to complete other tasks, consider using a puppy pen.
  5. Don’t keep the puppy in the crate for prolonged periods. Puppies under three months should not be confined for more than three hours.

There are three types of crates: plastic, fabric on a collapsible frame, and metal. Each offers advantages. The plastic crates are excellent for traveling with your dog either by car or plane. Fabric crates are easy to move and store. Metal crates give dogs a greater sense of freedom but tend to be bulky and take up more space.

Crates are available in a variety of sizes and can be purchased at most pet supply stores.

For many dogs, a crate is like a baby’s crib; something they need when they are young. But for other dogs, the crate becomes a safe space they can use throughout their lives.

Creating a Bedtime Routine

Creating a bedtime routine for your puppy might make you feel like you’re Goldilocks.

Cocker spaniel parti color
Photo Courtesy – Kason Smith

You want to exercise your puppy before bed, but you don’t want to get the dog so wound up he can’t sleep.

Make sure your puppy is adequately hydrated, but don’t give him too much water, or he will need multiple potty breaks during the night.

If your puppy is hungry, he won’t sleep well. But if your puppy eats too close to bedtime, that also can require potty breaks.

In general, feed your puppy his last meal of the day three to four hours before bed. After he eats, take a nice long walk.

Before bed, take your dog outside again. This may just be a trip to the backyard or a short walk around the block. The primary goal is to give your puppy another chance to go potty.

Put your dog in his crate in a quiet, dark place. If your puppy can see or hear you, don’t be surprised if he wants to be with you.

Experiment. Find the tricks that work best for you and your puppy. Just remember, your puppy likely will not be able to sleep through the night in the beginning. Most puppies can’t sleep through the night until they are about four months old.

Stop Inappropriate Chewing

Most puppies chew because they are teething. But others chew because they are bored or anxious.

Teething puppies need safe chew toys. Hard rubber or plastic toys from companies like Nylabone and Kong are good options. If your puppy is an aggressive chewer, pick up any pieces that break off toys to eliminate a choking hazard.

Ice cubes or chips also can help soothe teething puppies.

Never let your puppy chew on furniture, doorframes, shoes, or other household items. Puppies need to learn that they can gnaw only on their toys.

If you catch your puppy chewing something he shouldn’t, tell him “No.“

Then give him one of his chew toys. Most dogs learn this lesson quickly. If you have children who leave their toys on the floor, your puppy likely will have trouble understanding those toys are off limits.

If your puppy continues to chew things he shouldn’t, you may need to use a deterrent like bitter apple spray. Your dog will hate the taste and stop chewing.

Be sure to provide plenty of dog-safe chew toys and encourage your dog to use them.

Some dogs will enjoy having chew toys their whole lives. Others will outgrow the need to chew.

But if your dog is more than eight months old and still chews things he shouldn’t, you may have an anxious chewer.

Dogs become anxious for a variety of reasons, and chewing is a common way dogs try to soothe themselves.

Don’t punish a dog for inappropriate chewing. Instead, make sure the dog has appropriate chew toys and limit access to items they shouldn’t chew.

Then you need to address your dog’s anxiety.

First, be sure your dog gets enough exercise. A tired dog is a good dog.

Then, provide a safe place away from inappropriate chewing temptations. Using your dog’s crate is an excellent option to break this bad habit.

Stop Growling and Barking

Puppies and dogs bark and growl to communicate. Often, either a growl or a bark serves as a timely warning. You don’t want to eliminate that behavior altogether, but you do want to control it.

For example, it can be helpful when your dog barks to alert you that someone is approaching your front door. But it’s annoying if your dog barks hysterically for 15 minutes when the UPS truck drives past your house without stopping.

When your puppy growls because he’s tired or he feels threatened, you need to recognize that as a warning sign. Most dogs will growl before they snap or bite. Don’t push your puppy or dog beyond his limits. On the other hand, you need to make sure your puppy understands that growling doesn’t guarantee he will get his way.

If your dog growls when you approach while he is eating, respect his need for a little space. Or if your dog growls while playing with your children, that likely is a sign the game is getting too rough, and everyone needs to calm down. You may need to separate them and let the puppy rest.

But you can’t allow your dog to growl if he has something he shouldn’t or if he wants to pick up food or another item that fell to the floor. This isn’t a game of finders-keepers.

Golden Cocker spaniel
Photo Courtesy – Roxanne Greene

If the item is on the floor, put your foot over it and give your dog a “No” or “Leave it” command. If your dog has something he shouldn’t have whether it’s food, an ornament from the Christmas tree, or one of your shoes, don’t let him growl at you and keep it. Give your dog a “No” or “Drop it” command. Because the dog already has the prize, you may need to coax him to drop it by offering a treat in exchange.

When your puppy first starts barking, pay attention to why he is making noise. If it’s rare or only as a warning, you may not need to do anything.

But if your dog barks with little provocation, you need to quickly stop the behavior with a “No,” “Stop,” or a “No bark” command.

Never yell at a barking dog. If you do, the dog thinks you are joining in, and that will encourage the behavior. Instead, calmly give the “No bark” command.

Do not reward the dog for inappropriate barking. If you try to distract him with a toy or treat, you may inadvertently encourage your dog to bark for attention.

Instead, give your dog a command to stop barking. Once the dog is quiet, then you can reward him with a treat. It’s a subtle distinction, but you want to make sure the dog understands why you are giving him a reward.

Your challenge as a dog owner is not to let barking become an ingrained habit. Yes, it’s cute when puppies first find their voice and start barking. But it’s essential for them to understand when it’s appropriate to bark.

When a stranger comes to your home and the puppy barks, praise the puppy for the warning before giving a command to stop. When he stops, praise him and give a treat or toy as a reward.

If the dog continues to bark, try distracting him with a “Sit” or “Down” command. Once you have his attention, again give a “No bark” command. When the dog is quiet, give him praise and a reward.

Be consistent. Don’t ignore barking one day and then try to correct it the next. Try always to use the same command to stop the barking. Dogs want to please their people; they just need to know what to do.

If you start early with no-barking commands, most dogs will understand what’s expected.

Cocker spaniel grass
Photo Courtesy – Emma Holden

Some dogs, however, struggle, and they will continue to bark incessantly. In that case, you may need to try other methods to get the dog’s attention. You can use a small squirt bottle filled with water or a soda can loaded with pennies. When the dog starts barking, quickly shake the can or squirt the dog two or three times. When you have your dog’s attention, give a no-barking command.

If your dog barks incessantly when left alone, that’s most likely a sign the dog is bored. Give the dog chew toys or interactive toys to keep him occupied. A Kong toy with peanut butter or other treats inside or a puzzle toy with hidden treats can keep most dogs busy for hours.

You also may need to find a spot where your dog can stay away from windows or other distractions.

It’s also crucial to make sure your dog gets adequate exercise every day. A tired dog is a good dog.

In extreme barking cases, you may have to explore other methods to stop barking. Some owners use a machine that emits a high-pitched ultrasonic tone when the dog barks that only the dog can hear. Most dogs quickly learn there’s no annoying noise if they are quiet.

Others use a collar that emits a burst of citronella spray when the dog barks. Again, the dog quickly learns that barking triggers the annoying spray.

And some owners will turn to a training collar that uses vibration or slight shock to stop the dog’s behavior. Using a shock collar should be a last resort.

Aversion training can harm your relationship with your dog. You want your dog to respond to your commands because he wants to please you, not because he fears you.

Prevent Begging

Don’t let your Cocker Spaniel puppy develop a begging habit.

Never feed your puppy from your table or give him food anytime you are eating. Dogs can be hard to resist, especially when they look up at you with their big sad eyes.

But be firm, says Elena Sicurello of Tsunami Cockers in Pennsylvania. “It’s not easy to say NO to those eyes.”

Begging is a natural instinct. When puppies are hungry, they will fuss, and their mothers feed them. When they start competing with hungry siblings at food bowls, they will cry or whine if they aren’t fast enough to get food.

Puppies quickly learn if they look sad or cry, they will get food. Don’t let them manipulate you.

Your puppy needs to understand he eats from his own food bowls.

That’s not to say you can’t give your dog occasional people-food treats. You can. Just don’t do it at your table during your meals.

If you resist, your dog will stop whining at your table. Just don’t be surprised if the dog decides to camp out near the chair of the messiest eater.

To help reduce the urge to beg, feed your dog before you eat. A hungry dog is more likely to plead.

You also need to announce (and enforce) your no-feeding rule to any guests. It’s typical for someone else to come into your house and want to sneak your dog food.

Usually, guests do it because they want the dog to like them. They don’t need to do that. A good belly rub or a few behind-the-ear scratches are enough to win your dog over. If they insist on feeding your dog, let them give one of your approved treats—away from the table. Even better, have your guest give your dog a “Sit” command and only give the treat when the dog sits.

Feeding the dog from the table only encourages a begging habit. And not only is begging poor manners, but it also can lead to more assertive or even aggressive behavior. If a guest is willing to feed a dog, it’s not too hard for a dog to decide to take the next step and try to steal food from the guest’s plate.

If your dog won’t stop begging or if your guests won’t respect your rules, you may have to keep the dog out of the dining room. After everyone is finished eating, you can allow the dog to clean up anything that might have dropped on the floor.

If you want to feed your dog any leftovers, and don’t make that a habit, wait until after you’ve finished eating. Then you can deposit a few tasty green beans or a sliver of lean meat in your dog’s dish.

Doing so teaches the dog that being patient sometimes brings rewards. But if your dog begs while you are eating, don’t give him anything.

Don’t feel guilty. You know you are buying the right food to meet your dog’s needs. He doesn’t need extras.

Giving him people food should be a rare treat. In fact, before you provide him with anything extra, make him work for it. Run through a few commands. Make your dog sit or stay. Don’t put food into the dog’s bowl until after he’s completed the task.

Prevent Jumping

Puppies are cute, energetic balls of energy. When they see you, they may naturally be inclined to jump to capture your attention.

Don’t let them. Acknowledge your puppy, but don’t touch him until he sits.

Cocker spaniel leash
Photo Courtesy – Steph Beamond

While a cute puppy bumping against your legs won’t cause a problem, the situation changes quickly when your dog is fully grown. The behavior can turn dangerous if the dog jumps on a child or someone who is unsteady on their feet.

When your puppy jumps, give a “Sit” command. If the dog ignores the order and continues jumping, turn your back and don’t make eye contact.

Your dog will learn quickly that you or guests only pay attention when the dog is calm. Once your puppy settles down, praise the dog and provide a treat.

Encourage good behavior by always being consistent.

Don’t let your puppy jump one day and then tell the dog no the next. Don’t let your puppy jump on you or on guests. You especially don’t want to allow an outgoing puppy to jump on strangers.

Reward your puppy for staying calm. Lean down and pet him.

Or better yet, sit down on the floor and let the puppy crawl into your lap. That shows the puppy you’re happy to see them too.

Prevent Digging

Most dogs are diggers. It’s a natural instinct. They used to bury leftover food to save it for later. Then they would dig it back up when they got hungry.

Dogs from hot or wet climates also learned that digging holes could keep them cool or dry.

They also discovered that creating a den was the best way to stay warm in cold climates and protect the pack from predators.

Humans helped develop the trait, too. Hunters encouraged dogs to dig to flush out prey.

The good news is Cocker Spaniels weren’t bred to dig.

But they can start digging if they are bored or anxious. You don’t want your dog to destroy your yard. And if you have a fence, you especially don’t want your puppy to try to dig a hole where he could eventually wiggle out underneath.

Don’t leave your puppy unsupervised in the yard. If you put him out, stay and play with them. Don’t leave him outside in bad weather.

If your dog starts to dig, give him a “No” or a “Stop” command. Then divert his attention with a quick game of fetch, or take him for a walk.

If your dog continues to dig, you may need to take stronger action. Because dogs are creatures of habit, consider burying your dog’s poop in one of his favorite digging spots. A nasty surprise may help break the habit.

But the wisest course of action is not to leave your dog unsupervised. If you are keeping a watchful eye, your pup will be much less inclined to indulge in a bad habit.

Prevent Running Away

Sometimes dogs get out. They dash through an open door when you’re signing for a package. Or someone leaves a gate open.

If you see your dog slip out, call him back with a “Come” command.

Before you leave your dog in the backyard, make sure any gates are closed, and there aren’t any breaks in the fence or holes the dog can slip through. And don’t leave your unsupervised dog outside for extended periods. Even the best-behaved dog may turn a little naughty when left alone for too long.

If your dog does slip out, your best defense is to have previously made sure your dog has tags or a collar with both the dog’s name and your name and phone number.

If you regularly walk in your neighborhood, your dog should know the way back home.

Also, if you’re a regular walker, your neighbors know your dog and will be more likely to help him get back home. Or they will call you to let you know your pup is on the loose.

Cocker Spaniels that are left alone for too long can become bored and will want to explore outside their yards.

That’s why it’s a good idea to get your dog microchipped and to keep your contact information up-to-date.

That way, if your dog escapes and is picked up by animal control or is taken to the vet, the microchip provides another way to let people know how to contact you to help get your dog home.

If you have a dog who repeatedly runs off, you might want to consider adding a GPS tracker to his collar. That way you will have real-time information to help you track him down.

Prepare to Leave Your Dog Home Alone

Leaving your Cocker Spaniel puppy home alone for the first time can be traumatic for both of you.

Always remember to exercise your dog before you leave. Either take a brisk walk or play a game that will help tire your puppy out.

Make sure you have set up a safe space for your puppy. Using a crate is an ideal way to keep your puppy safely confined when you will be away.

If possible, start by leaving your puppy alone for a few minutes to an hour. Put your puppy in the crate and leave. Don’t make a big fuss about going. Doing so can only make the dog nervous.

When you come home, immediately take the puppy out of the crate and outside to potty. Praise the puppy lavishly for being good while you are away.

Use the one-hour to one-month rule. If your puppy is three months old, don’t leave him in his crate for more than three hours. After six to eight months, most puppies are like adult dogs and can wait to potty for six to eight hours.

When your puppy is young, if you won’t be able to get the dog out of the crate every two to three hours, you may need to enlist the help of a stay-at-home neighbor or hire a professional dog walker.

If that’s not an option or if it’s too expensive, consider placing your puppy’s crate in a small room with a tile or vinyl floor like a bathroom or mudroom. Leave the crate door open, but let the puppy have the opportunity to get out if needed. You could put puppy pads on the floor so your dog can go potty. Just know this can delay or disrupt potty training. If at all possible, you should keep your dog in the crate with regular intervals out for potty and exercise.

When your dog is older and trained, you also could consider installing a doggy door to let him go outside when necessary. Just be sure your yard is secure and that your dog will behave both inside and out.

If you’re worried about your dog when you’re away from home, you have several options to keep an eye on your pet.

Some home security systems have camera systems that let you watch when you’re away.

Another option to consider is purchasing a pet camera that connects with an app on your phone. Some of these systems also let you talk to your dog or dispense treats.

Reduce/Eliminate Separation Anxiety

Because dogs are pack animals, they usually don’t like to be left alone. For Cocker Spaniels, that issue often is magnified because the dogs bond quickly with their owners. Cockers love to be with their people and don’t enjoy being alone.

Recognize the signs of separation anxiety. Dogs that are nervous or fearful about being left alone commonly will:

  1. Bark or howl
  2. Dig
  3. Chew
  4. Pace
  5. Shred paper
  6. Try to escape to find their people.

In extreme cases, you can medicate your dog to ease separation anxiety, but consider that the last resort. Instead, try other options, including:

  1. Give your dog a Kong or other toy filled with peanut butter mixed with his food or other favorite treats. Pulling the food out of the toy will keep your dog occupied, so he doesn’t have time to think about being alone.
  2. Puzzle toys or interactive feeders. Like the Kong, these tools use food to motivate and reward your dog. He will use his powerful noses to sniff out the treats or figure out how to get to the food.
  3. Chew toys. Safe, durable chew toys will help keep your dog occupied. Rotate the toys you leave out to reduce the risk your dog will get bored.
  4. Increase exercise. If you usually take your dog on a two-mile walk before you leave, extend it to three miles.
  5. Focus on training. Try obedience or agility classes and, in addition to your weekly sessions, add daily training sessions to your dog’s routine. Adding 15 minutes of one-on-one training time before you leave each day not only will help tire out your dog, but it also will help build up your dog’s self-confidence.
  6. Use sound. Leave the TV or radio on to give your dog some background noise. Music also can soothe your dog but pick your tunes carefully. Because dogs hear at a higher frequency, the kind of music you enjoy may be stressful for your pup. Consider playing classical music or music made especially for dogs. Simple melodies with fewer instruments tend to be more soothing. White-noise machines also can help your dog relax. Consider playing sounds like a gentle rain, waves, or a light breeze.
  7. Keep departures and arrivals calm. Don’t make a big fuss about leaving or returning. Make your dog see it’s just part of the daily routine. If your dog barks, whines, or cries when you go, return and give the dog a quick “No” command. Then give the dog a toy or a treat and leave again.
  8. Get a companion. Consider getting another dog. You also could consider adding a cat or a bird. Dogs often will bond with them too.
  9. Use a dog walker. Hire someone to take your dog out during the day. If possible, go on the first walk, and then use the same person. Make sure your dog is comfortable with the dog walker. You don’t want to make the situation worse by bringing in someone who makes your dog nervous.
  10. Shake up your routine. Just like our dogs, we’re creatures of habit. If your dog senses you are getting ready to leave, that can make them nervous. If you usually eat breakfast and then take a shower, flip your routine. Or put on your coat and rather than walk out the door, sit down and look at a magazine. Then get up and walk out the door without saying anything to your dog. When your dog sees you aren’t going through your usual routine, he may relax and be less anxious.
  11. Try doggy day care. Break up your dog’s routine and take him to day care once or twice a week. That will give your dog a chance to interact with other pups. It also should tire him out.

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