By Kezia Cherian* & Cherian M J**, @casagoldcockers
The English Cocker Spaniel is a medium-sized gun dog with long ears and a happy disposition. They can be quite lively, bouncy, and exuberant due to their zest for life.
The ‘Cocker’ in their name comes from their days of hunting woodcock in England, although English Cockers have been used to hunt many other types of birds as well. The English Cocker Spaniel is described as merry and affectionate with a calm and even-tempered disposition. They are playful, trainable, and friendly towards people and other dogs. When well socialized, the English Cocker Spaniel has a merry tail-wagging nature and is sweet and gentle with everyone. Unless taught to be independent, some of them are so persistently affectionate that they become clingy and demanding of attention.
While they are merry Cockers, they are also a breed that can be manipulative due to their intelligence and the fact that they are ‘in tune’ with their owners. They need firm (clear rules and boundaries) but kind and gentle handling. Their soulful eyes and sweet demeanour can mean that they look sad and owners may be tempted to excuse any unacceptable behaviour that occasionally arises, which can result in an unruly and disobedient dog.
Here is a basic outline of my understanding of the appearance of this Breed as taught to me by many experienced and successful breeders and breed judges from India and around the world.
An English Cocker is never described as an elegant dog (oh, they are beautiful for sure). A well conformed English Cocker Spaniel is a cobby dog that is of a square appearance and also thick set throughout.
Cocker puppies are often described as Chunky (in a casual parlance), meaning they are dense and thick-bodied, and sometimes quite muscular. A puppy who is chunky is strong and built solidly. This is more like how you would define a true to type English Cocker Spaniel puppy. Chubby is plump/fat and rounded – implicating to be soft, while Chunky is heavy and well boned.
As the English Cocker puppy grows up, cobby (means shortish, thickset, stocky) becomes a better description while Chunky describes a Clumber or Sussex Spaniel better. Chunky describes mass and weight in a puppy, while cobby describes conformation in an adult Cocker Spaniel. An English Cocker Spaniel shall never be bony, at any age.
Their description could be best summarised as a Big dog in a small body.
Hygiene, Exercise and Nutrition (H.E.N)
The three important aspects of raising any dog are Hygiene, Exercise, and Nutrition (H.E.N). In the following paragraphs, I would discuss Hygiene as represented by Grooming.
The first lesson I was taught by one of my teachers, Nina Kauhanen of Kennel Northworth of Finland is that ‘Grooming is Healthcare’. Let us keep that in mind as we proceed with the rest of this article.
Nose: The nose of a dog should be moist to touch but not too wet or too dry.
Mouth: The lower jaws of these dogs have folds right below lips on either side. All their drool with possibly some remains of food that they ate and some dirt that stuck to the sticky slobber can make it quite messy. This becomes even more intense when you have unruly and unkept hair around there.
So please always make sure you clip all that hair on the jaw absolutely short. This would make it easier for cleaning around that area daily. If left unattended, moisture collects there along with remains of food and everything else and would become a good breeding ground for bacteria leading to infections and foul smell.
Teeth: There are many products available in market to clean a dog’s teeth. Teeth wipes may be the easiest to use at home. It would be important to keep a close watch on the teeth of your dogs. The teeth should be scaled in case if there is excessive plaque formation on them. It is advisable to seek help from your Veterinary Doctor in case scaling is necessary.
Bad breath is a result of bad oral hygiene, gum disease or a less than perfect gut condition. It is important to keep a regular check on the teeth and gum condition and carry on with scaling process if there is a tartar buildup on your dog’s teeth.
Eyes: Wipe the eyes with a soft tissue or cotton balls wet with water or saline. You may alternatively use eye wipes available at a pet store. This shall be something that you may do once every couple of days.
Ears: Wipe inside the ears with ear wipes, make sure you do it gently enough that you don’t damage the folds in the ear where skin is sensitive and make sure that you don’t go deep into the ear canal. I would recommend ears to be cleaned once in two weeks. Cocker spaniels have beautiful pendulous ears. It is important to keep coat on the outside of ears as well as the inside of ears clean. You would need to trim hair around the ear so that there is better air circulation and it doesn’t get matted or infected. At this point, you may also note that neck can also be cleaned up to facilitate air circulation and add to their appearance.
Legs of English Cocker Spaniels carry a fair amount of feathering. Feathering appears on their chest, underbelly, underarms (inside of the elbow) and sanitary area.
Under-arms: Trim them short as moisture collects here and there is a chance of matting and skin infection. Also, while drying your dog, make sure to dry the under-arms perfectly.
Paws: Trim hair under the paws and in middle of the pads so that mud and dirt don’t get stuck in its long hair. While you trim the feathering on front legs, you may taper it really short towards the paws. This makes maintenance and cleaning much easier.
Top-line of the dog and its jacket: Cocker spaniels can grow quite a messy coat mixed with woolly undercoat and topcoat. It might appear to be easier to clip them short to keep it in shape. However, my learning and my advice to you is that clipping your dog’s hair would result in you having to deal with it every few months throughout the life of your dog. De-shedding the undercoat would give your dog a better finish and result in very little repeat growth of the undercoat. This saves you a lot of time and effort in long run.
De-shedding your dog is important, so make sure you de-shed the entire back of your dog for a more beautiful and sustainable finish. This used to be hand stripped. However, there are excellent tools available to achieve the same results without breaking the topcoat. My favourite is Andis De-shedding tool. To be effective, while using the same, you should firmly drag it in the direction of hair growth.
Tail: Cut all the feathering on its tail as short as possible without making it look bald and trim the hair around butt so that it is easier to clean and lesser of a mess that will hold on to any poop residues on your dog.
Under the belly: Feathering on the underbelly of Cocker spaniels makes them look full. It can get quite tricky during monsoons to keep it clean. So I recommend that you may scissor it shorter along the edges and you may clip short all of the hair on the under-belly. This gives them a natural and better finished look while making it absolutely easy to maintain.
I recommend that you use a strong blow (force dryer) dryer daily to blow off any dirt and dust from the coat of your dog. You may use a slicker brush subsequently to brush the coat. Use of slicker brush, while it removes dead hair, would present a risk of breakage of hair if they are too dry. I always prefer to use a conditioning spray or brushing spray before brushing a dog. We will discuss about conditioner further under the bath section.
How do you use a conditioning spray?
Before you brush your dog, mist the coat with a conditioning spray while you lightly brush the coat. Please make sure that you do not get any of it in dog’s eyes, nose, ears or mouth. Blow-dry the dog and then brush him/her with a slicker brush.
Note: Make sure that you do it every time, especially, if your dog has a dry coat.
How do you bathe your dog?
I prepare my dogs for a bath by blowing out all the dust with a force dryer and by removing any grass or grass seeds that may be stuck in the coat with a slicker brush.
Wet the dog thoroughly with warm water and lather the shampoo into its coat thoroughly. I prefer to leave it on for about 10 minutes. I repeat the process after a full rinse although I rinse off the second application of shampoo in about 5 minutes. I use a tick and flea shampoo at this stage ensuring absolutely clean coat and skin. Conditioner is applied to the coat after rinsing off the treatment shampoo completely. Conditioner is left well lathered into the coat for about 5 minutes and washed out. Conditioning the coat is important as conditioner provides necessary moisture to the coat till natural oils on the dog’s body are replenished after the bath. Conditioner helps keep your dog’s coat soft, smooth, and strong.
You may first towel dry and then blow dry your dog immediately till it is fully dry. Lightly brush the coat while blow drying to get it straight and free of any tangles.
I typically trim all the nails of my dogs soon after a bath. Always remember to keep their nails short.
A dog’s nail consists of a hard outer shell and a soft cuticle in the centre consisting of nerves and blood vessels. The cuticle is typically referred to as the ‘quick’ of the nail. Once you are in a good position (ideally with the dog on a table), you can begin cutting the nails. Grasp your dog’s paw firmly, but without squeezing. Hold the nail clipper with your dominant hand and grasp the paw with your other hand. Line up nail clipper by placing edge of the blade upon the nail at an imaginary ‘cut line’. Squeeze the clipper in one swift deliberate motion. Avoid cutting if the dog is moving and continue until all nails are clipped. If you are unsure of yourself, please take your dog to a professional groomer or a Vet.
Basic tools that you need to groom your English cocker spaniel.
- Slicker Brush
- A pair of 7” Straight scissors with pointed tips
- A pair of 7” or 8” thinning shears
- A de-shedding tool
- Nail Clipper
- A grooming table or a table with a non-slip top.
- Dog Shampoo & conditioner (my personal choice is Bio-groom)
- A spray bottle
- A powerful Blow-dryer
Pet groom: An English Spaniel’s feathering maybe cut short (without clipping the body of the dog) to achieve a more manageable pet groom. Pay attention to the details; that is where you find the difference between being good and being great. Even if it is about grooming your dog!
*Kezia Cherian is 9 years old and has had fun playing with her English Cocker Spaniels from the age of 2. She enjoys grooming them, especially their face and paws. She wants to become a Veterinarian to treat all kinds of animals.
**Cherian M J is Co-Founder and CEO of Keynote ESOP. He has worked with various industries and companies of different scale and size. He has been an independent advisor on structuring Stock Based Compensations Plans. He started to learn grooming with his own English Cocker Spaniels guided by friends in India and well acclaimed breeders from across the globe. He feels proud that he was placed first in the pure breed category in ABK India Grooming Show 2019.