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Words of Advice

  Before You Groom


   If you purchase or already own a Cocker Spaniel, there is probably going to be a certain amount of grooming that you will have to do.  This may include a limited amount of brushing and bathing or may encompass more extensive procedures such as hair clipping and nail trimming.  The only way for a Cocker owner to avoid grooming completely is to set your Cocker up with a standing weekly appointment with a professional groomer.  Since most people are willing to tackle some portion of their Cocker's grooming needs, let's figure out what you will be facing and how you can handle this responsibility.

   Before you decide to embark on a career of Cocker grooming, let me offer you the following words of wisdom:  Full-fledged dog grooming (brushing, bathing, clipping, trimming nails, cleaning ears and teeth) is not for the weak-willed or anyone that is not willing to "get down and dirty"!  My point here is not to discourage anyone from trying to do all of their own grooming but to try to give you a realistic look at what doing so entails.  Grooming your dog can be a rewarding experience, can save you a tremendous amount of money over the life of your pet and is a way to spend additional time with your dog.  However, it takes a considerable commitment on your part to see the job through. 

   The first point you need to understand is that, at least initially, grooming your dog will be a lot like dealing with a "terrible two toddler".  They dog isn't necessarily going to gently submit to bathing, having his face shaved or getting his nails trimmed.  But just like you have to make your two year old human child take a bath, clean his ears, shampoo his hair, trim his fingernails and behave in church, you must teach your dog that he has to let you brush, bathe and groom him.    This takes time and effort.  It won't happen overnight and it won't happen at all if you don't make a consistent effort to work with the dog. 

    Training your dog is the key to successful grooming.  If your dog is not trained properly, you will not be able to do a thorough grooming job.  Over time, this can create health problems for your dog.  Incomplete grooming can lead to skin and/or ear infections if mats and tangles aren’t removed from the coat.  These same problems can occur if the dog's ears aren't properly cleaned, if the dog is not cleaned all the way to the skin, all over the body when bathed or if you fail to rinse all of the shampoo when bathing.  The dog can also develop foot problems if you aren’t able to trim the dog’s nails so that they don’t constantly impact the floor when the dog walks.  As you can see, if you decide to tackle your Cocker's grooming needs, you must be prepared to learn how to do this job correctly.


   Whether you are looking to starting with your puppy's first bath or clipping or are making your first attempt to do your older dog’s grooming, remember that this is a job that takes lots and lots of  PATIENCE.   You should also understand that you will probably not do everything correctly or quickly anytime in the near future.  If you’re overly concerned about your dog looking “perfect”, you may want to have the breeder or a groomer help you “touch-up” the rough spots after you do the grooming.  I would also recommend having the breeder or a professional groomer “set” the clipping pattern for you so that you have a guide to follow when clipping the dog.  If you have decided to do this work yourself, try not to worry overly about clipping mistakes.  The wonderful thing about hair is that it grows back!

    Remember to remain calm and speak with an encouraging voice.  Every minute of time spent with your dog is a learning experience, so you need to be sure that you are teaching the dog to remain calm and relaxed and not to be frightened or to become stressed or nervous during grooming sessions.  To help with this, keep your grooming sessions short for puppies and do your best to not get frustrated or angry.  It's extremely important that you try to make every grooming experience as pleasant as possible for your pet.  You don’t want your best friend (the dog) to run and hide under the bed every time you break out the grooming equipment! 

    The old saying "Begin as you mean to go on" is a good philosophy to keep in mind regarding your dog's grooming. Even though a puppy may not have a significant amount of coat or require tremendous amounts of grooming immediately, your puppy WILL require a significant amount of grooming as he gets older.  Working with your puppy to teach him to allow you to handle his face, feet, toenails, ears and teeth (from the moment he comes home) will help you teach him to allow you to groom him without a fuss. 

   Start and maintain a regular grooming schedule as soon as you bring your new puppy home.   Puppies should have received several baths and at least their first haircut from the breeder, so your puppy should be reasonably used to being handled by the time you take him home.  During your playtime with the puppy, take a few minutes to handle the feet, face and ears.  Use a soft slicker and/or comb to lightly go over the puppy.  Lift the lips and check the teeth.  Ask the puppy to let you hold a foot for a few seconds while he holds still.  Gently feel between the foot pads and around the toenails.   These exercises will help get your puppy used to you handling him and will help him learn to trust you.   You can also do the same exercises with an older dog so that he learns to submit to you handling him.


   While grooming sessions should not be unpleasant for you or your dog, remember that you have a job to do and you are training your dog every time you interact with him.   DO NOT let your dog or puppy decide that he will not allow you to perform a portion of what needs to be done to successfully groom him.  It is not acceptable to have to chase your dog around the grooming table to brush him, shave his face or trim his nails!

   No dog is going to think that every part of grooming is fun or necessary, but you cannot allow your dog to make the decisions about what will be done to him.  You must be in charge and the dog must defer to your authority.  This does not mean that you should resort to physical punishment or that you should be inflexible, but it does mean that you may have to be persistent and creative in devising ways to accomplish what needs to done!

    Don’t take a “do or die” stance unless you absolutely have to do so, but do make every effort to finish what you start.  A little secret to keep in mind is that working with confidence and authority when you handle your dog will go a long way towards convincing him that he must behave.  If you act hesitant, do not hold him firmly or if you speak in an apologetic way, your dog will view this as weakness.  If your dog perceives you as being weak or afraid, he will NOT submit to you!  

   Use a firm, encouraging voice and a confident, strong grip when working on your dog.  If you are confident and authoritative, it will help your dog feel more secure and this will allow him to let you take charge.  If your dog does the wrong thing, correct him with a firm “No!” and do not baby him, love on him or say things like “Oh, I’m sorry!” or “You poor baby!”  Be sure to positively reward good behavior by telling the dog "Good boy!" while he's holding still and letting you work on him.  It can also help to keep your puppy calm if you just babble nonsense while you're working on him.   (I sound like an idiot in the kennel while I'm grooming puppies as I keep up a one sided conversation with the dog on the table!)

   Do not encourage your dog to play or allow your dog to wiggle and squirm constantly during grooming sessions.  For puppies, you can take breaks to reward and play in-between portions of his grooming, but while you’re working, do your best to stay focused on getting the job done.  Your dog is never too young or too old to learn to stand or sit still when you ask him to do so…….AS LONG AS you remember to be realistic about how long you can ask a dog to stay in one position! 

   When grooming your dog, you must make a conscious effort to only reward correct behavior.  If your dog pulls away, growls, snaps or whines about a certain part of his grooming, and you continually stop what you're doing, the dog will "learn" that he can make you stop and that he doesn't have to submit to your wishes or to being groomed.  That is not acceptable.  While you don’t want to traumatize a frightened dog or push an  aggressive dog into an outright knock-down-drag-out fight (as this could lead to you being bitten), you also don’t want to encourage a stubborn, uncooperative dog to think that you’ll give up if he resists or makes a scene.  This means you cannot quit working on the dog just because he doesn’t like it.  

   If your dog begins to fight while you're grooming him, you need to try to go back to the same spot and work on that area until he quits fighting.   If he’s making a big fuss about a particular area, this may mean that you just hold the clippers at or near the sensitive location until he quits fighting; or it may mean that you actually proceed with clipping the hair; or you may have to slowly work your way back to the sensitive area.  The point is to not stop working on the dog until he has stopped fighting.   You can’t let the dog intimidate you into quitting or you might as well put your grooming equipment away and call a professional groomer! 

   Remember that there is no “right” way to accomplish the grooming of your dog.  If you know your dog has a problem with a specific aspect of his grooming routine, try to go slowly when working on that portion of his beauty treatment.  You may need to do a portion of the work, proceed to another area and then go back to finish the part that he doesn’t like or that you are having a problem with.  If your dog is particularly sensitive about a certain area, you may have to do this several times to finish that area.  Or you may need to take a break and let yourself and the dog relax before proceeding.   Or maybe you can try a different approach, technique or a different type of equipment to see if there’s another way to accomplish what you are trying to do.  Be extra gentle and supportive if your dog has a “sensitive” area, but do insist on getting the job done. 


   Puppies may really put on a show when you start grooming them and it may help the first few times to have someone else available to help you hold the puppy while you groom.  Just remember that you are not “abusing” the dog, no matter how much he may cry or whine or give you the sad eye treatment!  Regular grooming is essential to your Cocker’s health and he must get used to having this done regularly.  Remember that problem behaviors can many times be avoided by training and working with your puppy regularly from an early age.  

     If your dog is not cooperating and refuses to settle down and let you groom him, you should check to see that there is nothing wrong with your equipment or grooming technique.  Clipper blades can heat rapidly (to the point they may burn the dog) and dull blades can pull the hair instead of clipping it.  Either of these problems could make the dog uncomfortable and could cause him to fight you.  It’s also possible to scratch a dog’s skin with a slicker brush, comb or rake if you apply too much pressure or go over the same spot repeatedly.    Health issues (skin or ear infections, hip dysplasia, parasites) might be causing the dog discomfort when you groom him and could lead to your dog being uncooperative during grooming.  Additionally, burrs, splinters, stick-tites or other "trash" caught in the coat can irritate or poke the dog during grooming and might explain uncooperative behavior. 

   For problem dogs that just will NOT let you work on a certain area, try to gain their trust by working your way up to the sensitive procedure or area.  In other words, get as close as you can to your dog’s sensitive area WITHOUT him fighting.  STOP!  Reward and praise the dog.   Quit for the day.  Try again the next day.  Try to clip 2 more hairs today than you did yesterday.  STOP!  Reward and praise the dog.   Quit for the day.  Continue in this way until your dog will allow you to groom the area. 

   If all else fails and you cannot get your dog groomed despite your best efforts, speak with your veterinarian about getting a mild tranquilizer to calm the dog during grooming sessions.  THIS IS A LAST RESORT!  Giving medication, especially sedatives, can be dangerous.  DO NOT use medication to replace training!


   A general guideline for clipping Cockers is every 2-4 weeks for puppies under one year of age and every 4-8 weeks for adult Cockers.  The amount of time your dog can go between clips will vary depending on how he is clipped, what type and length of coat he has, the time of year (weather conditions), how much coat care you do in-between clippings and it can also be influenced by health issues such as skin and/or ear infections.   How much time your dog spends outside and where your dog spends time outside (at the lake, running through fields) can also have a bearing on how long your dog can go between haircuts.   For a picture guide on clipping and other information on grooming your Cocker Spaniel, check out my  Grooming  page. 

   When you first start to do your own grooming, I would recommend grooming weekly or every other week.  This will help you maintain your clipper pattern in the correct location as the dog won't get overgrown and the pattern won't be as hard to follow.  This can also help train the dog's topknot, back and side coat to lay flat.  This will make grooming easier for you too.  Once you're more confident in what you're doing, you can go longer between clips if you prefer.

    How often your Cocker must be bathed will depend on most of the same factors as clipping.  On average you should count on completely brushing and bathing your Cocker about once a week.  Some indoor dogs that don't spend a lot of time outdoors may be able to go longer than this, but most dogs will benefit from weekly bathing.  Obviously you may have to do an extra bath now and then if you take your dog to the lake, hiking, if he gets fleas or other parasites or if he decides to play outside in the mud instead of coming right back in from doing his business!   For more specific information on how to bathe your dog, go to my Bathing  page.

   The decision on how often your dog needs to be brushed will vary according to the same factors listed above for clipping.  You may have to brush the dog as often as every day if he carries a full, heavy show coat and/or if he spends a significant portion of time outside.   If the dog's coat is kept clipped short and he doesn't accumulate debris or mats, you may only need to brush the dog when he is bathed.  If your dog is not extremely dirty or tangled you should brush him before he is bathed.  If the dog is really dirty and/or tangled, you should wait to brush him until after he is bathed and conditioned.  You can check out my Brushing page for more information on brushing your Cocker.

   Cleaning ears and clipping nails must be included in a home grooming routine.  Ears should be cleaned weekly, generally as you're finishing the bath, using a good drying powder or other drying agent.  You can get more information on ear problems, treating and cleaning ears on my  Ear Care  page.  I usually clip nails just prior to bathing.  More information on nail clipping can be found on my  Toenails  page.

   With a little time and effort, you and your dog will learn to get through your grooming sessions with a minimum of fuss.  While grooming may never be anybody’s idea of fun, it is a way to spend time with your dog and will help keep him happy and healthy in the long run.  Doing your dog’s grooming yourself can save you a lot of money over the life of your pet and you’ll never have to worry about whether your dog is treated well by a groomer. 

   Good luck to those of you brave enough to tackle your dog’s grooming and for those of you that can’t do it yourself, please be sure to carefully investigate the location where you plan to have your dog groomed.    


If you have any questions or would like more information about our Cocker Spaniels,
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Copyright © Sandcastle Kennels 2004

Last revised: December 29, 2005