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How to train a working Cocker spaniel puppy

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Working Cocker Spaniels are intelligent, adaptable dogs that make ideal pets, companions and working animals.

For anyone looking at getting a Cocker I would say that’s a great choice providing you take time to learn how to train your spaniel.

Training a working Cocker spaniel puppy is well within the ability of anyone, as long as you take your time and try to think dog at every stage. As a breed they enjoy the mental and physical challenges of spaniel training.

Working dogs, Cocker Spaniels in particular, tend to be high energy dogs that need input, through training and exercise.

In this article we’ll look at the basics so that you have an idea of how to train a working Cocker spaniel puppy, which will put you on the right track.

Beginner Cocker spaniel training

Before you set off on the task of training a working Cocker spaniel puppy, it is a good idea to try to develop your understanding of him.

This is important and, if you’ve never had a dog or been around one for any length of time, then learning about your dog will help you in the long term

When dog training things are also about training the owner as much as the dog, so take time to read, learn, watch videos and improve your knowledge and skills.

There are lots of books available that can help you to get a better understanding od how dogs think and learn.

One that I recommend is called Inside of a Dog – it is available on Amazon – you can see it here.

Initial puppy training advice

Your spaniel will want to be with you and will want to please you. Remember this when doing any form of training and be positive.

The days of using force on dogs is history, and you should rarely, if ever, need to lay hands on your dog if you are consistent and try to look at the world from his perspective.

When out training, if things are not going too well, either the dog isn’t getting it, or you are feeling off the boil, then call it a day and do something else. 

We don’t need to rush when training a spaniel puppy and we can do more harm than good if we press on when things are not going well.

We’ll keep this article as straightforwards as possible with a list of what we expect from our puppy and some basic tips to get you started.

working cocker spaniel

First step in training a working Cocker spaniel puppy

We’ll assume that you have already chosen your puppy and that you have brought him home.

In the early stages your puppy will be frightened and uncomfortable at ‘moving house’.

If you think about it he has been taken away from everything that he knows and is familiar with – his mum, his brothers and sisters, the breeder, the kennel/bed etc and all of the familiar sounds and smells that he is used to.

So, you need to be patient and understanding with him. If he is a puppy then remember also that he is a baby so be kind to him.

Training Spaniels
  • Hardcover Book
  • Joe Irving (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages – 07/12/1993 (Publication Date) – Quiller Publishing (Publisher)

Cocker spaniel personality and temperament

Working Cocker spaniels are intelligent, friendly and sociable dogs.

My three Cocker spaniels are very affectionate with all family members and enjoy being around people and doing things with them.

Cocker spaniels make great pets and enjoy cuddles and lounging around, however they also love exercise and need lots of it, they are high energy dogs and love outdoor activities.

Historically Cocker spaniels are hunting dogs and, if you have a Cocker spaniel puppy then his working and hunting drive and urges will be very highly developed and he will need to use them.

Cocker spaniels can race around, dig up the garden, chase things and really enjoy life and, to a novice owner, this whizzing around could be misunderstood as hard headedness, or being tough.

The reality is very different as the majority of modern Cockers are really soft and, in some cases, almost timid.

The Cocker Spaniel: Care and Training for Home and Sport
  • Janet Menzies (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 228 Pages – 04/16/2020 (Publication Date) – Quiller Publishing Ltd (Publisher)

My Cocker Nimrod will stalk things that he’s unfamiliar with and often barks at them until he is ‘brave’ enough to approach and sniff them.

My oldest Cocker Boris jumps on my knee when there are raised voices.

Thankfully I know my dogs and have been around spaniels for a long time – it does pay to get to know their characters and the breed.

This understanding will help you when training your puppy.

Start your training early

If you start training your puppy early when he is young then your Cocker spaniel will develop into a well behaved and sociable adult dog that will embrace his more advanced training when he is older.

The training of your puppy should begin as soon as he has settled into his new home with you.

How to Train a Working Cocker Spaniel Puppy

Teaching your Cocker spaniel puppy his name

You should have chosen a name for your puppy. I agree this can be tricky.

He needs a name and he needs to know what his name is.

While he is still young is the best time to introduce him to his name. You can do this when you stroke and pet him, telling him he is a good dog, how much you love him etc etc and use his name.

When he is trotting around the house, get his attention, crouch down and call his name, get him to come running to you and make a big fuss of him.

This will help to embed the seeds of getting him to return to you when he is older.

Play with your puppy and get to know him, just as much as he needs to get to know you and the rest of the family.

Spend time with him and help him to be happy.

Housetraining a Cocker spaniel puppy

You should have little difficulty in housetraining your working Cocker Spaniel puppy if you are attentive and think about his needs and timing.

Many trainers and people in some quarters talk about and promote the use of a crate for housetraining.

Now, this might work but I’d like you to ask yourself this question.

Why would you need to confine a baby dog to a cage to stop him making a mess in your house?

There is only one logical answer to this and it is because the owner or trainer is too lazy or such a poor trainer that they don’t understand a puppy’s needs.

If someone is telling you to crate a puppy for housetraining then I would suggest that you look elsewhere for training advice.

A crate can be great for a CockersSpaniel, but never for housetraining. Prison or pee? Really?

If you are interested in getting  a crate for your Cocker spaniel puppy for sleeping or travel then you can see some great options on Amazon via this link.

Housetraining For Dummies, 2nd Edition
  • McCullough (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages – 07/19/2019 (Publication Date) – For Dummies (Publisher)

The easy way to house train a Cocker spaniel puppy

The correct way to house train your spaniel is easy and does not involve locking your puppy up in some sort of warped puppy incarceration.

When your puppy wakes up, he’ll need to go to the toilet, so, take him outside.

Wait for him to do his stuff, praise him for doing it.

Likewise, after he has had a meal, the pressure of the food will press down and he’ll ‘need to go’.

So, take him outside to ‘go to the toilet’.

Again, after the event has been successfully accomplished, praise him and let him know how happy you are that he ‘did it outside’.

Be watchful, as soon as you see him pattering around in the house, with his nose down, take him outside to ‘do it’, and always make a big fuss of him when he does.

If he has an ‘accident’ in the house, then accept responsibility for it because it’s your fault – he is just a baby.

Be consistent and before long he’ll get the idea. Locking him up in a cage is unnecessary.

Get a crate by all means – but this should be for your puppy to use as his bed and safe place, not as a prison to stop him from going to the toilet.

Look at life through your puppy’s eyes and try to understand what he needs.

The more you do this the easier it becomes and it helps for all aspects of training.

How to Train a Working Cocker Spaniel Puppy

Basic training commands for a working Cocker spaniel

As a minimum there are a few basic commands that are needed for a working cocker spaniel puppy.

These commands are:

Walking on the leash/lead

Coming back when his name is called

Sitting down when we tell him to

Retrieving a ball or dummy to hand

Stopping on the whistle

As our puppy gets older and more developed there are progressions that he needs to make to mature into a fully fledged and trained working Cocker spaniel, but, as a basic these are the things that we expect him to master while he is still a youngster.

As a beginner or novice owner of a Working Cocker these are the areas of training that I would suggest you focus upon.

You can see a more comprehensive set of commands for training a Cocker spaniel in this article.

Training your Cocker spaniel to walk on his lead

Be advised, most spaniels, of all breeds will pull while on their lead and this is true of Cockers.

The overriding instinct of all spaniel breeds is to hunt freely and chase the scent that is getting into their noses.

To be restrained and controlled on a leash is an almost alien concept for all spaniels and, if your Cocker is a working dog then that drive is even higher.

That said, it is vitally important that your dog is able to walk on a lead, for reasons of safety, both for himself and others, and for legal reasons, there are many areas where dogs are required, by law, to be on a lead.

Thankfully, lead training a Cocker spaniel is quite easy, particularly if you introduce him to the lead at an early age.

I’ve always used slip leads for my spaniels as it means that they do not need to wear a collar.

I find that collars, especially for working dogs, can be dangerous and I don’t like them.

Thankfully where I live working dogs are exempt from wearing collars – otherwise it’s a legal requirement.

I would recommend that you use a slip lead, made of rope or cord, whenever you can safely and legally do so for your Cocker spaniel, they are lightweight and comfortable for the dog.

When you first put the lead on the puppy, it’s very likely that he’ll object to it and generally jump around, pull and act like the proverbial ‘fish on a line’.

You don’t need to worry. Every spaniel that I have ever had/met has done this – it is normal.

Don’t get agitated, you’ll just make things worse, instead, gently encourage the puppy towards you, calling his name and encouraging him along.

You can do this in the safety of your home, and this is probably the best place to start.

Only do it for a few minutes and, when you take the leash off, make a great fuss of the puppy.

With regular, short periods practice with the lead, he’ll soon get the idea and will soon be walking happily while wearing it.

As he gets more confident with his leash, he’ll start to pull ahead of you. 

Some trainers will tell you that you should yank him back and shout ‘heel’ at him. We don’t want to do this to a puppy.

All you need to do is to stop, let him calm down, when he does tell him that he is a good dog, and set off again.

This time rather than letting out the whole leash, simply keep it short so that the puppy is near to you and reassure him telling him that he is a good dog.

If he persists then keeping the leash short, simply walk slightly ahead of him and use your left leg to stop him from getting past.  ( always walk your dog on your left if you are right handed – if left handed then on the right ).

How to Train a Working Cocker Spaniel Puppy

Training your Cocker spaniel puppy to come when his name is called

For a whole variety of reasons we’ll need our Cocker spaniel puppy to come when his name is called.

This is an area which many dog owners seem to struggle with and is evident in the amount of dogs that never get to run free off their leads.

If you have got your puppy used to his name and he comes when you call him in the house then you have done well and are well on the way to getting him to come when called outside.

It will be different though as there are more distractions out of doors.

This is one exercise when I would suggest that you have some form of edible reward in your pocket for him.

Take him outside, in the yard, garden and let him run free.

After a couple of minutes get his attention and call his name, crouch down, hold your arms out and call him.

If he’s good at this in the house, then, providing there is nothing too interesting around to distract him ( birds, kids, next door’s cat) then he should come running up to you.

Make a fuss of him, tell him what a good boy he is and give him a treat.

That’s it.

Always keep it short and memorable, end on a positive when he does it correctly.

Practice regularly.

Training your Cocker spaniel puppy to sit

Getting your spaniel to sit when we tell him to is an important part of his training and is something that we can start easily as soon as he has settled in to his new home with you.

I use the term ‘hup’ to get my spaniels to sit down, other people use ‘sit’ as the command.

Whichever you choose the method is the same and it’s easy.

At mealtime, take your puppy’s bowl of food and show it to him.

As he looks at you, say ‘hup’ or ‘sit’ and raise your hand, palm outwards.

At first he’ll bounce around, frustrated at not getting the food and, eventually he’ll sit down to try and work it out.

As soon as his bottom touches the floor, repeat the command with your hand out and give him his food.

From now on do this at every mealtime and, before long, he’ll sit down when you tell him to.

Getting a Cocker spaniel puppy to retrieve

Working Cocker spaniels enjoy carrying things around, whether shoes, boots, balls, toys anything.

In my house it is always interesting when trying to find shoes as either Boris or Nimrod have carried them off somewhere.

When we train a Cocker spaniel puppy to retrieve we are simply working on this desire to carry things to suit our own ends.

The trick is to make this as much fun as possible and enjoyable for your puppy.

A good item to start with is a soft sock, rolled up into a ball.

With your puppy, wave the sock around in front of him and when he shows interest throw it a short distance – this is a great thing to do inside and indoors is a great place to start.

Let him run to get the sock and pick it up. 

As soon as he does pick it up, crouch down and call his name and encourage him to come to you.

If he runs off, and there is a good chance that he might, don’t chase him, pretend to ignore him but just sit down where you are.

Eventually he will come to see what you are doing- you can gently take the sock from him telling him he is a good boy.

Practice and with time you can introduce the ‘fetch’ command as he runs to get the retrieve.

As he gets older we’ll progress onto training with cold game – you can see my article on cold game training with spaniels here.

Be consistent when training a spaniel puppy

Working Cocker Spaniels need consistency and, like all breeds of dogs, they enjoy a routine.

This is true of their training and, if possible, you should aim to try and do your training sessions at the same time daily.

This is particularly true of puppies and the more consistent that you are with a young dog the better.

It will do your puppy no harm to have days off from training and, as a puppy, you should regard this early development more as ‘good play’ than formal training and aim to keep the sessions short but fun.

The Cocker Spaniel Handbook: The Essential Guide For New & Prospective Cocker Spaniel Owners (Canine Handbooks)
  • Whitwam, Linda (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 284 Pages – 04/01/2016 (Publication Date) – CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

Always be positive when training a working Cocker spaniel

Positive attitude and rewards are the way to train your Cocker spaniel puppy and he will learn that he is rewarded when things go right.

Conversely if your spaniel misbehaves or does something wrong then we don’t reward him which makes him less likely to do it again.

You should never resort to punishments or physical recriminations if your Cocker acts up or doesn’t do as you ask – they are a sensitive breed and hard actions will destroy any good work that you have done and you will run the risk of losing the trust of your dog.

Avoid distractions when training your Cocker spaniel puppy

The golden rule whenever you are training or doing these little exercises with your puppy is just you and the dog.

If there are distractions then the puppy will be tempted to pay more attention to these than to you and you’ll struggle to complete the exercise.

Always remember that he is a baby and has a short attention span. Be aware of what is going on around you and take the time and care to minimise distractions.

How to Train a Working Cocker Spaniel Puppy

Playtime for working Cocker spaniel puppies

Playtime for your Cocker spaniel is important both when he is a puppy and when he is an older dog.

He’s a dog and dogs need to be dogs.

Cockers love anything physical, whether its going for a walk, running around the house or digging in the garden – my garden has holes all over from the efforts of two Cockers.

Let them enjoy themselves and allow them to burn off energy by playing.

Explore and do new things with your Cocker spaniel puppy

You should aim to take your Cocker spaniel puppy to lots of different places.

Experiences of pleasant things when he is young will help him to develop into a good adult dog.

Go and explore the woods, fields and moors. While you are out and about encourage him to get over little obstacles such as low dry stone walls or fallen tree branches.

Help him to explore bushes and bracken and other places that spaniels love to stick their noses into.

Have fun and help him to enjoy being a dog.

Final Words

Training a working Cocker spaniel puppy should be fun and, with a little thought and the right guidance, be within the ability of most people.

Always remember that he is a dog and, contrary to what some people say he does not understand every word that you say.

Make allowances for his doggyness and relax.

If training isn’t going too well then have a break, he won’t suffer from a rest and neither will you.

Take your time but, most of all enjoy spending time with your Cocker spaniel puppy and learn as much as you can about how he thinks and sees the world.

Train yourself in dogs and in turn you will be a much better working spaniel trainer.

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Last update on 2022-12-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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