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Brushing and Combing Your Cocker Spaniel


Regular brushing of your dog's coat is important for several reasons.  To start with, proper brushing will result in healthier, more manageable hair and hair that is easier to style and care for.  Of course, regular brushing will also help keep the coat from tangling and getting matted and removes dead coat.  In addition to the above benefits, brushing also helps stimulate coat growth and helps to clean the hair, hair follicles and skin by removing dirt, scale and excess oils. Brushing also helps massage the skin and stimulates the release of sebum, a beneficial coat oil, from the base of the dog's hair follicles.   Sebum is released in response to the gentle pull of the hair when brushing and is then distributed down the hair shaft by the brushing action. Sebum coats, protects, moisturizes and lubricates the hair shafts and helps produce healthier, more flexible hair with a bright sheen.

As the above information makes clear, if you want your dog to have a full, healthy, shiny coat, you will need to brush the dog regularly.  However, to prevent damage to the coat and skin and to prevent excessive hair loss, it's important that you use the correct equipment and techniques when brushing your dog.  The following information will help you choose the right equipment to brush your dog, will help you teach your dog to let you brush his coat properly and will help you care for your dog's coat no matter how much or how little coat he may have!  


You need to begin by teaching your new puppy to lay quietly and allow you to brush and comb her. You need to start this training before she has a full coat of hair so that she gets used to letting you handle her legs, feet, ears, etc. To do this you can lay the puppy in your lap while sitting in a chair; or you can lay the puppy on the floor between your legs while sitting on the floor; or you can stand and use a table or counter with a towel or mat laid on it. If you plan to do most of your puppy's grooming and trimming yourself, it may be worthwhile to invest in a grooming table with an arm that can be used for this training as well as trimming.

The first few times you do this exercise you will only ask the puppy to lay quietly on her side while you rub and touch her. You will gradually work up to picking up her legs and running a brush and comb over them. You must insist that she lay still through this and allow you to use the brush and comb on her. Be patient but firm and keep your sessions short until she understands what you are asking her to do. Your puppy will come to love this quality time if you train her properly and use your equipment correctly.


Initially you will want to use a pin brush, a small, soft slicker brush and a fine tooth comb to work on your puppy. I recommend Chris Christensen and #1 All Systems grooming tools. These brands are more expensive than what you will find at Wal-Mart, but they should also last for the life of your pet.  Quality grooming tools will help maintain and protect your dogs coat and skin health, so please invest in quality products. Take my word for it, quality DOES count!!


Pin Brush

Pin Brush



Master Grooming Tools Aluminum Finishing Comb 10 InchResco 600 Series Combs


As your dog gets more coat, you may need to add a stiffer-bristle slicker brush, an undercoat rake and a mat splitter.   However, these tools are ONLY for PET coats.   If you intend to show your dog, you would only want to use the pin brush, the soft slicker and the comb.  The stiffer slicker brush and undercoat rake are more likely to break coat off and/or to pull out excessive coat when you are brushing and the mat splitter will cut a certain amount of coat, so you don't want to use these on show coats. 

I prefer to use the single blade mat splitter when brushing as it does less damage to the coat and doesn't pull as harshly on the dog.  Multi blade splitters can be used to help remove tangles and can help thin a dog's coat if you would like less bulk.


Universal (stiff) Slicker


Mat Splitter


Oscar Frank Small Universal Slicker Brush with Curved Back

Rake w/Rotating Stainless 1 1/8 In Teeth Black

Original Mat Comb


If you doubt my statement that quality equipment makes a difference, I urge you to compare brands.  The simplest way to evaluate the difference in brush and comb quality is to go to a Wal-Mart or PetsMart store and find their cheap metal combs and pin brushes.    Use one of their combs and pin brushes to "comb" and "brush" your arm.   Stroke the comb and brush down your arm repeatedly just as you would use them on your dog (the comb on one arm and the brush on the other).  Be sure to use the same amount of pressure you usually use when grooming your dog.  Notice the way your skin is now scratched, irritated and may appear flaky.  Remember that when you brush your dog, you may go over the same area quite a number of times.   Look at the irritation on your arm and think about how irritating that cheap equipment must be when you're brushing tangles out of your dog!!

Now, find a store or dog show where my recommended brushes are available.  Find some samples of these combs and brushes and using the same amount of pressure, brush and comb your arms.   The difference in quality should be readily apparent.  These quality brushes and combs are not nearly as damaging and irritating to the skin. This is because the more expensive "quality" equipment is polished and manufactured to not pull and damage the coat or skin. 

(If you're really interested in seeing just how much different the equipment is, find a way to examine the different brands of grooming equipment under a magnifying glass. When magnified, you'll see the metal pins of cheap grooming equipment are actually quite ragged and dangerous looking!  You'll have no doubt left that cheap equipment really can damage your dog's coat and cause skin irritation.)



How often you have to brush and comb your dog will depend on many factors.  The amount of coat, the coat texture, the dog's living conditions, the dog's health, the amount of exercise and the place(s) where the dog is  exercised can all affect the number of times per week your dog must be brushed.  A minimum is about once a week and this is generally done before or after every bath.  (You should never brush an excessively dirty dog before its bath or try to remove tangles from the groin area that have sticky urine residue.  Brushing these areas before the bath will only break the coat.)

If your dog has excessive coat or the texture is such that it mats easily, you may find it necessary to brush your dog more often.  You may also need to brush your dog more often if she is the "outdoorsy" type.  Dogs that like to run in the yard or that you take to the lake or park will pick up debris in their coat that can lead to matting.  These dogs will need more frequent brushing than the dog that stays indoors 99% of the time.

If you bathed your dog and know there were some tangles left in the coat, the best time to remove these is just after her bath when she is still  damp.  These minor tangles and other mats in the really dirty spots will come out easier after they are washed and conditioned and before they are dry.  (I keep a spray bottle of anti-static coat conditioner handy in case the coat begins to get too dry - The Stuff, Crown Royale, Ice on Ice, #1 All Systems Fabulous Grooming Spray.)


If you are consistently finding mats in your dog's coat, you may need to increase the frequency of your brushing sessions. You may also need to work on your brushing technique. Many people have a problem working the brush and comb through the entire coat to the skin level. Tangles may end up getting left at the skin level and these can quickly become unmanageable mats.  Especially if the dog is getting bathed with tangles in the hair or you are having wet weather and the dog gets damp regularly from going outside.  To avoid this problem, follow these instructions:

  • Start your brushing session with the dog lying quietly on her side, legs facing you.

  • Separate the coat in one area (say at the shoulder of one front leg), so that you can see the skin.

  • Mist this area with a good coat conditioner.

  • With the slicker brush, brush the coat BACKWARDS in small sections.

  • Work your way down and around the entire leg to the toes, misting with conditioner as necessary and always making sure you can see the skin before moving on.

  • If you find a tangle, pull it apart gently with your fingers and then continue brushing.

  • Once you have finished with the brush, go back and follow the same instructions using a fine tooth comb.

  • Be sure to get between the toes and deep into the "armpit" with the comb to be sure you got all of the tangles in these hard to reach areas.

If you have done your job correctly, you now have one leg completely brushed out.  And only three more legs, 2 ears and the rest of the body to go!  I know it sounds like this is complicated and is going to take forever, but once you get the hang of it, it goes quickly. 

Be sure as you move over the dog that you brush/comb under the front legs (in the "armpit" and chest area), between the toes and rear legs and on both the inside and outside of the ears.  These particular areas can be more prone to matting as your puppy gets older and has more coat.  She will need you to pay special attention in these areas so she doesn't get severely tangled. 


There are a few secrets that can help you get your dog brushed out correctly.  The first is that when using the slicker brush, you must apply pressure to pick up the hair and pull it though the teeth. This is what separates any tangles.  Keep in mind that you will have to apply more pressure when brushing through thick sections of the dog's coat, when removing mats or when the dog has debris trapped in the coat.  HOWEVER, you must always be careful when using any grooming equipment on your dog.  Applying too much pressure to brushes, rakes and combs can scratch the dog's skin.  You must brush the hair down TO the skin, but not the skin itself.  The slicker brush especially can really scratch the dog (causing skin sores) and if you continuously scratch the dog, she is going to learn to hate being groomed.  

The other slicker-brushing secret is to LISTEN to the noise the slicker makes as it goes through the hair.  It will make a "scratching" sound where there are tangles.  This will let you know what areas need more attention.  Again, be careful when repeatedly going over the same area as this can lead to skin irritation if the brush is right on the skin. 

If you find significant mats as you brush and blow dry your dog, it may be advisable to work a little while and then continue on and come back to the tough spots after finishing the rest of dog.  Once you have gone over the entire dog and know where the problem tangles are, go back to the beginning and start working through the first mat.  Take each tangle in turn.  As you start back on the tangled sections, begin by checking for dampness.  Spray the tangle with coat conditioner if it is too dry.   Begin breaking up the tangle by holding it away from the dog and trying to pull the hair apart gently with your fingers.  After loosening the hair this way, brush lightly with the soft slicker brush.  Do the same with the next tangle and the next until you have worked your way around the dog again.  Do this as many times as it takes to get the tangles brushed and combed through.  Don't worry about how many times you have to go around the dog.  Each session will help loosen the tangles and before you know it, the mats will be gone!  (Keep in mind that you don't want the mats to dry into the coat.  Try not to take a break until all of the tangles have been brushed through.)


If you find mats in your dog's coat, you may or may not be able to brush them out.  Mats that are left unattended for a period of time may become so tangled or be so close to the skin that they need to be cut or shaved off.  Sometimes you or a professional groomer can use a mat splitter to help break up mats, but these razor blade pieces of equipment can be hard to use in certain areas and can be dangerous to use if you are not familiar with the proper way to use them.  Mat splitters are only useful if the mats are not tight all the way to the skin or overly large.  While mat splitting may help you get mats out of your dog's coat, you need to realize that if your dog is badly matted, using a mat splitter will not make brushing out the mats an easy or painless experience for the dog. 

As a Cocker owner, you must understand that brushing out large areas of matting or brushing out mats that are in sensitive locations, is ALWAYS very painful to the dog.  If you tried to brush the dog at home and couldn't get the mats out without hurting the dog, don't take the dog to the groomer's thinking that they can magically solve your problem.  Groomers are not magicians.  If you insist on having the mats brushed out of your dog, the groomer will most likely do so.  However, it won't be done painlessly.  They will not intentionally hurt the dog, but the only way to remove those mats is to apply a brush and comb with elbow grease and time.  This WILL pull the dog's hair, may irritate the skin and is very uncomfortable for the dog. 

If you, the dog's owner and care-giver, do not spend the necessary time to keep your Cocker's coat in good condition, it's not fair to punish the dog for your lack of attention.  Brushing large matted areas out of your dog's coat at home or insisting  that a groomer brush the dog out is not acceptable.  "It will look funny" is not an excuse for abusing your dog!   You must either prevent your dog from becoming badly matted or be prepared for the consequences!


You can reduce the amount of brushing your dog requires and help keep her from getting mats by being creative when trimming her coat.  There are many options besides the basic "Cocker" cut when trimming your dog.  During hot weather a lot of people clip their Cocker's coats shorter.  You can shave off all of the coat if you don't mind the "Beagle" look or, if you want the "Cocker" look but less hair, you can do the regular Cocker cut and then hand scissor her legs and side coat to a shorter length.  Another option that I really like is to do a "belly" clip. This is where you start from the "armpits" and shave all the way down the belly through the genital area, leaving coat on the legs and a thin line of coat down the sides.  This greatly reduces the amount of coat care required but the dog still appears to be in full coat.  You can also do this when you hand-scissor the legs for extra relief.  Dogs love the "belly" clip as they can lay down with their bare belly on a cool surface when they're hot! (For information on different clips and clip modifications, check out my CLIPS & SERVICES page.)

Another trick for preventing tangles is to use a silicone coat spray after bathing.  I use Show Sheen horse spray.  This product helps repel dust, dirt and stains (urine in the groin areas) and makes combing out yard trash much easier.   After bathing, simply mist the coat and brush through.  (You will need to lay the dog on her side and pick up each leg to spray into the chest and armpit areas and to get the insides of the legs.)  Use sparingly!  A little goes a long way.

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Copyright Sandcastle Kennels 2004

Last revised: January 10, 2006