Originally bred as a hunting and gun dog, the Cocker Spaniel is one of the most intelligent dog breeds out there. Nevertheless, just like any dog, they require consistent training, right from the very beginning. In fact, their higher level of intelligence means that you may even need to put more time into training your Cocker Spaniel compared to other breeds, but the rewards for this will make the effort more than worth it.
When it comes to the different behaviors and tricks you will be teaching your Cocker Spaniel, recall is one of the most important. Cocker Spaniel can be quite headstrong and independent, so a solid recall is a must.
This is something that you can get started with as soon as you bring your Cocker Spaniel home. Begin by placing bags of treats around the house, so that you have easy access to a treat at all times. Then, every time your dog comes to you, say his name and give him a treat, along with lots of praise.
Once he seems to make the connection that coming to you means tasty treats, you can then increase the distance between the two of you and actually start calling him over. Although you need to start off by doing this in an area with no distractions, you can build on this over time, slowly practicing recall in busier, more public places too. https://positively.com/dog-behavior/basic-cues/recall-come/
Even once you think that your dog has finally mastered recall, this is a skill that you will need to continue reinforcing. A great way to expand on this is to include a hand signal too, which can really help in your dog's older years, when hearing abilities may start to decline.
Toilet training a dog can be so challenging, but, as long as you are consistent, your Cocker Spaniel should pick this up relatively quickly. However, you need to remember that this is something all dogs learn at their own pace. While some may be asking to be let outside after just a couple of days, others can take weeks, or even months, to get the hang of it.
This is often the stage at which many new owners give up on their dog, believing that their dog will never learn to go to the toilet outside. However, as mentioned above, consistency is key, and will make the process run so much faster and more smoothly.
Just like with recall, toilet training is something that you will need to begin working on as soon as you bring your Cocker Spaniel home. It is much easier to toilet train puppies, but even if you have adopted an older dog, the methods of toilet training remain the same.
Puppies cannot hold their bladder for very long, and while this does get better as they get older, they need to be taken out to the toilet every hour or so at the beginning. Each time you take your Cocker Spaniel out, either place him in a smaller, enclosed area of your garden, or take him out on a lead.
Come up with a cue word that you want to use for going to the toilet, and, while he is doing so, keep repeating this word. As soon as he is done, follow this up with a treat and plenty of praise.
While having to your Cocker Spaniel out to the toilet every hour may seem a bit much, this is what is needed in order to quickly and successfully toilet train a dog. Other times that your dog is likely to need the toilet is as soon as he wakes up, whether this be in the morning or in the middle of the day from a nap, and as soon as he is done eating. You will also likely need to wake up once or twice at night to take your puppy out to the toilet.
Of course, no matter how careful you are, accidents in the house will always happen. You need to remember not to shout or get angry at your Cocker Spaniel when this happens, as this will only make him fear you. Rather than teaching them to go to the toilet outside, you will be teaching them to continue going to the toilet in the house, only in a place where you cannot see them. When an accident happens, simply clean it up and perhaps increase the frequency at which you are taking your dog outside to the toilet.
One mistake that many new owners make is using indoor toilet pads. There is no denying that, in certain circumstances, these can be useful, but for the average new puppy, these can only make toilet training even harder. It is best to completely avoid having your Cocker Spaniel go to the toilet in the house, even if it is on a special mat. Teaching him to go to the toilet outside straight away will really cement this behavior in his head.
The use of crates, or cages, can be quite a controversial topic, as many owners do not really understand how they are used in a positive way. However, not only does a crate make the perfect little den for a Cocker Spaniel, but having a dog that likes being in a cage means that vet stays, as well as being transported for whatever reason, will be so much less traumatic.
The crate you buy should be large enough for your puppy to stand up and turn around in, but not too large, otherwise this may encourage your dog to go to the toilet in his crate. There is nothing wrong with buying an adult-sized crate from the start, but use a divider in this while your Cocker Spaniel is still small. A tighter, cosier space will make your dog feel much safer.
Crate training is actually quite easy, especially if you really take your time with this. Begin by making the crate as comfortable as possible, with soft blankets, pillows and a couple of soft toys. Many Cocker Spaniel puppies take naturally to a crate, so you may find that once you have turned it into a comfortable haven, your Cocker Spaniel will automatically choose to spend time in there.
If he does not, you can encourage him by placing him in there for naps during the day. You can also feed him his meals in his crate, and give him long-lasting treats in there. All of this will help your dog to build positive associations with the crate.
When crate training, there is one thing that you should never do, and this is to use the crate as a form of punishment. While it may be tempting to shut your puppy in there for an hour after he has been causing havoc around the house, you need your Cocker Spaniel to always see the crate as a happy and positive place.
Teaching your Cocker Spaniel to sit on command is one of the most basic tricks to accomplish, and forms a great foundation for other, more advanced, tricks.
There are a few different methods of teaching a dog to sit, but one of the easiest, and most natural ways, is as follows:
- Stand in front of your cocker spaniel with a treat in your hand
- Hold the treat in front of his nose, and then slowly raise it up over his head
- As his nose follows the treat, his rear end will automatically move towards the floor
- As soon as he sits, give him the treat, and make sure to say “sit” at the same time
This is a trick that Cocker Spaniel do pick up extremely quickly, and it is such a useful one for them to know. Make sure you keep practicing this trick, having them sit before a meal, before going outside, and before greeting visitors, as this will also help them to develop some self-control. https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/dogs/training/sit
The stay command is another basic, but important, one. Before beginning, you need to first come up with a release word that you want to use, whether this may be “okay”, “done”, or anything else.
Next, position your dog into a sit. While it is fine for your dog to be standing, it is usually easier to start this trick off with a sit. As soon as you position your dog and tell him to stay, wait for just a second or two before saying your release word. If your dog does not move, call him towards you, clap your hands, or do something else to let him know that it is now okay to move.
Once you have done this a few times, you can then begin to increase the duration at which you have your cocker spaniel hold the stay. You will be able to tell when he has really begun to associate the word “stay” with the action, and, once this happens, you can then also begin increasing the distance between you each time you say the command. http://www.akc.org/content/dog-training/articles/teaching-the-stay/
You never know when you may need to use the stay command in an emergency, so it is important for your dog to learn how to stay, even when there are multiple distractions taking place all around him. Just like with any trick that you teach, you can slowly build up the distraction level, but remember that you should always set your dog up for success, rather than failure.
There are numerous ways to teach your Cocker Spaniel how to lie down on command, and you may need to try a couple of different ones before finding the method that really works for you.
To begin with, start saying your cue word, such as “lie down”, each time your Cocker Spaniel naturally lies down on his own. Then, follow this up with praise and a treat, so long as you happen to have some on hand.
In addition to doing that, here is how you can proactively teach your cocker spaniel to lie down:
- Have your Cocker Spaniel sit in front of you
- Hold a treat in front of his nose, and then slowly lower your hand downwards, to the floor. Your Cocker Spaniel's nose should naturally follow your hand
- Once your hand reaches the floor, bring it slowly back towards you. This step needs to be done extremely slowly, as you want your Cocker Spaniel to naturally lie down as his head moves forward. As his body shifts into a lying down position, make sure that you say your cue word
- As soon as your cocker spaniel is lying down, praise and treat him
One tip when it comes to choosing a cue word is to also consider what your cue words for other commands are. Many people use “down” when they want their dog to stop jumping up, and, as you can imagine, this can then make the “lie down” command harder to grasp.
While not an essential command, sit pretty is one that is always fun to teach your Cocker Spaniel. It also has a few benefits, such as helping to build your dog's core muscles, which then helps to protect your dog's spine from injury during physical activity. https://dogmantics.com/teach-sit-pretty-for-protection-against-injury/
In a way, teaching this trick is similar to the method for teaching your dog how to lie down, except this one is in reverse.
Have your Cocker Spaniel sit in front of you, and then hold a treat in front of his nose. Slowly raise the treat above his head, so that in order to reach the treat, he has to use his muscles to push his body upwards slightly.
This may seem easy, but it can take your Cocker Spaniel up to a month to build up the muscles required to actually perform this trick. In order to help him along, provide him with some support at the beginning. You can do this by having him sit in front of the corner of a wall, so that he can lean against the wall as he rises, or have him stand in front of your legs, so that you are providing the support.
Walking to Heel
While many may disagree, walking to heel is quite an essential skill for your Cocker Spaniel to have. This should be something that he is able to do both on the lead as well as off. Again, there are numerous ways to teach this, but always try to opt for one that uses positive reinforcement, as Cocker Spaniels generally respond much better to this style of training.
Just as with every other skill and trick, begin by deciding on a cue word, whether this may be “heel”, “follow”, or anything else.
Then, in a calm environment with no distractions, and a handful of treats in your left hand, call your Cocker Spaniel to your side. Holding the treats just in front of his face, say your cue word and then take a few steps forward. Your Cocker Spaniel should, hopefully, follow you and the treats. After you have taken a couple of steps, give your dog a treat.
This then needs to be repeated multiple times, in a number of different environments, with and without a lead.
It is so important for your Cocker Spaniel to be completely focused on you when trying to teach him how to walk to heel. If his attention starts to wander, stop, ask for a sit, and then start again. After a couple of weeks, you should be able to slowly phase out the treats.
Cocker Spaniel were originally bred to be gundogs, which means that they would assist hunters in finding and retrieving game. They naturally have these abilities within them, which is why, even if you do not intend on working your dog, gundog training can still be fun to do, and provides your Cocker Spaniel with additional physical and mental challenges.
However, while you may be eager to get started, it is important to understand that you should not start gundog training your puppy until he is at least eight months old. You need to give your puppy enough time to build his own natural hunting and retrieving drive, as well as his sense of confidence. http://totallygundogs.com/what-age-should-you-start-training-your-gundog-puppy/
There is still plenty that you can do to prepare your puppy for gundog training while he is still young. All of the basic obedience training skills mentioned above are essential, and you should also teach hand signals, as well as whistle signals, for all of these.
Here are some other gundog skills that you could teach your cocker spaniel:
- Leave it
- Get back
- Get in/under – this means to take cover under bushes or a hedgerow
- Moving left or right, depending on your hand signals
- Searching in specific areas
- Jumping over obstacles
Other Points to Consider
When using positive reinforcement to train a Cocker Spaniel, you will no doubt end up going through quite a few treats. One way to ensure that you keep your dog's interest is to mix up the treats that you use. You should be using a combination of high value and low value treats.
Low value treats can include anything from a chopped carrot to pieces of your dog's usual food. On the other hand, high value treats could include anything from dried liver to roast chicken.
Training your Cocker Spaniel Should be Fun!
No matter what you may be trying to teach your Cocker Spaniel, you need to remember that training should be fun, for both you as well as your dog. Keep training sessions short, especially if your Cocker Spaniel is still a puppy, as puppies generally do have quite a short attention span.
Cocker Spaniels do learn extremely quickly, and they do actually seem to really love to learn. While there is no doubt that your Cocker Spaniel will test your patience countless times, just keep at it and be consistent, and you will find that, one day, everything you have taught your puppy will just seem to come together.