English Cocker Spaniel Behavior and Obedience Training Tips

Updated on August 15, 2019
Jesse Drzal profile image

I am a spaniel owner and fan of this dog breed. I aim to share stories through writing and spread my knowledge about these great dogs.

Luna, my English Cocker Spaniel in the car seat.
Luna, my English Cocker Spaniel in the car seat. | Source

A frequent member of many top dog breed lists, the English Cocker Spaniel is a popular dog worldwide. Officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1945, there are two varieties of this breed; field and show. The field spaniel is a gun dog and hunting companion and is ideal for flushing of birds, and retrieving of small game, namely woodcock.

The other variety, the show, excels in the competition ring and is often a top competitor at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, among other top events, wowing judges alike with beautiful full silky coats and a wonderful demeanor. Both varieties also shine in agility trials where the talents of the cocker are further put on showcase. This breed is also a great companion pet for the family as their temperament bodes very well with children and is highly trainable.

Understanding English Cocker Spaniel Behavior

To train your dog, it helps to try to understand their behavior. They are eager to please, love being with family members, and are a very merry, jovial dog. They are also intelligent and react to repetitive positive reinforcement training techniques, and your dog will most likely pick up your lead quickly and respond to this.

Puppies can be started right around six months old, although it is possible to start earlier. It needs to also be noted that these dogs can be sensitive, and along with other dogs, will not respond to negative training techniques and will shut down and not respond to you. Patience is a key, and your dog will eventually follow your lead. Ideally, the younger the dog, the more adaptability for training.

Your dedication to patient training is key if you perhaps have a Cocker that may be a little stubborn.

If You Want to Pay for Training Do Your Homework

If you are thinking of hiring a dog trainer, be sure to check out a fair amount of trainers in your area. Check references, past customer experiences, and have an understanding of practices and concepts used by the trainers. Also, be sure the prices being charged are fair market value for your area. While there are many professional dog training services around, the industry can be poorly, or not at all, regulated in some instances.

As with any industry, unscrupulous trainers are around that can be unqualified, so just beware. The truth is that with some practice and patience, you can start with some simple training and take your skills as far as you want, and even graduate to more advanced techniques as well. It's all up to you. Also, think of all the additional bonding you and your dog get to do.

Luna is a show breed.
Luna is a show breed. | Source

The Clicker for the Cocker

A great way to get your dog started with some nice positive reinforcement training is a clicker device. A clicker is a simple, inexpensive tool which just has a manual button that makes an audible ''click'' every time it is pressed. That's it.

While you can manually make a noise yourself, such as clicking your tongue or snapping your fingers, you will quite possibly grow tired of doing such with the repetitive nature of training, making the mechanical clicker a very convenient and necessary training product. Due to the very inexpensive cost of these, I buy a handful and keep them in all parts of the house, for those times you want to do some random training. You can also get some custom ones made with your dog's name or whatever you wish.

Treat Considerations for Training

One very important and often overlooked issue in reward-based training is which treats to use. Make sure you have a treat that interests your dog and one that they are enthusiastic about. Although Luna responds very well to small pieces of hot dogs, just remember that this breed is highly susceptible to weight gain.

There are also many commercial treat options as well, and Luna likes the smaller, softer treats as opposed to hard treats. People also use recipes and create homemade treats for training as well. Try experimenting with some different treats and settle for the healthiest option for which works best for you and your dog.

Basic training clicker example
Basic training clicker example | Source

Charging the Clicker

The very first concept of clicker training is referred to as ''charging'' the clicker. This is simply your dog recognizing the audible sound of the clicker being associated with a reward. Take a handful of treats, approximately 8–10, and click then reward the dog. Make sure to reward directly after sounding the clicker. Wait for your dog to look in another direction to see if he has the concept of the reward after the click, some dogs catch on very quickly. You must reward after every single click, that is the deal that you are now working out with your dog.

Work a minute or two at a time, several times a day, and test them to see if they understand the reward concept. Do not point the clicker at your dog, or click next to their head at first as this may scare your dog. You can muffle the clicker too if he is startled by it at first. Basically, you want to make your dog react to the sound of the clicker. Once your dog reacts to the sound of the clicker bringing forth the reward, we are ready for more training.

Also, when training, at first, be sure to choose a nice quiet environment, preferably indoors. This will keep distractions at a minimum for the dog. Clicker training has worked well with Luna and me, and there are also many other training methods and options too. Below I will share some of the training I like to do with Luna.

Sit and Stay Request

One of the very first commands your dog will learn is to sit and stay. For this, you will start using a technique called "luring," which is coaxing your dog to do a specific action via the motion of the treat. For a sit request, you will take your dogs chosen treat and simply bring it to the crown of his head, and move it back toward the tail in a straight line. It is possible to lure in an up position with a treat in hand too. It's really about whatever works for you and your dog.

Give a verbal sit command as you are doing this, and before they do the action. After the sit, immediately click and reward to reinforce the action. Timing is very key, and you must click reward while in the act of the sit, not coming out from it. Timing is crucial for all of your commands, and you and your dog will only get better with practice. Always reward your dog with a verbal good job as well, as this builds confidence too.

With the technique of luring you can now build your arsenal with more commands, such as stay, where you reward your dog for staying seated while you move back a few steps, gradually extending the distance away and time in the sit position. This is called ''shaping'' whereas it implies, you are shaping the concept for your dog. You can further use luring and click reward for come, lay down, spin, and whatever you choose.

Sometimes a dog may have a little trouble, at first, going from a sit to a down position with luring, and another technique is something called "capturing" where you catch your dog as he is doing something naturally, and reward it, such as a laying down for the down command.

Phasing Out the Clicker

Eventually, you can start to phase out the clicker after your dog is well trained, but do it gradually, and never cold turkey. Just randomly take it away little after your dog has it down pat. You can also substitute treats at this point, instead of treating every time you gradually introduce some play rewards too, such as giving a ball, chew toy or just some good old fashioned playtime.

Training With Luna

We All Have Bad Days and so Do Our Dogs

There could be a day that your dog just is not into training. Do not force the issue, and it just might be a good time to take a day off. Never try to force your dog into doing something either physically or verbally that it does not want to do. Your dog will not react to it, it will only make them shut down, and it will only leave you more frustrated. So don't do it.

Training Is Adaptable to Other Skills

The nice thing about training with your dog is the opportunity to bond. Your dog will grow to trust you even more, and once you and your dog get going on some basic concepts, you and your partner will learn to work with each other, opening the door for more advanced activities, such as some agility, or whatever you choose. The sky is the limit, as your dog's training is adaptable to all sorts of skills. It's all up to you.

Luna with Bella the cat, quite possibly plotting trouble.
Luna with Bella the cat, quite possibly plotting trouble. | Source

What Skills Do I Want Train My Cocker to Do?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2016 The Write Life


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    • profile image

      Mel Blacke 

      3 years ago

      I got my first ECS a year ago. I was stunned to find out that these big dogs in a little package are not common obedience prospects. My little gal can focus heel like nobody's business. She is very smart and trains easily, I think. Why does everyone think this breed is hard to train?

    • Ed Schofield profile image

      Ed Schofield 

      3 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Great hub. Lovely sweet dog. A heart-melter for sure.

    • bodylevive profile image


      3 years ago from Alabama, USA

      Luna is certainly beautiful, no wonder she's a show dog.

    • profile image

      Evelyn Pullen 

      4 years ago

      We took on a 4 year old Cocker spaniel she is besotted with my husband also with a ball she throws it at my husband. She is not very good with other dogs we think she was tied up to be served she has had quite a few of litters he last litter was 2014 we got her in April 2015. We were wondering how we can stop her going for other dogs


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