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CHOOSING THE RIGHT COCKER

Obviously I love Cockers and believe them to be wonderful family companions.   However, I also know they are not the right pet for every family.  There are several factors that need to be considered by anyone that is thinking of purchasing a Cocker.  Please be sure you are aware of the following points before you purchase or adopt a Cocker Spaniel.  Hopefully this will help you avoid taking home a dog that is not right for your family.

COSTS:

While you may or may not spend a lot of money to purchase your pet, the expenses will only continue to add up after you get the dog home.  While Cockers, as a breed, are not exceptionally expensive to care for over other breeds, they do require some care that, say a short-coated breed, would not need.  Are you prepared for the additional expenses that are necessary to properly care for a Cocker Spaniel?

  • Initial Expenses - crate, bowls, harness/collar, leash, toys, shampoo, ear drying powder, ear cleaner/treatment, brush, comb, dog food, treats, dog house, kennel enclosure if you don't have a fenced yard, doggy door, pet deposit for renters, etc., etc. ($100-$800).

  • Routine Health Care

    • If you purchased a puppy, the puppy will need shots and worming or worm screening every 3-4 weeks until 16-20 weeks of age ($50-$100 per veterinary visit). 

    • Any dog will need monthly flea/tick/heartworm preventative - puppies should be started at about 4 months of age.  Generally sold in 6 month supply for ($40-$80).

    • Every dog will need a yearly veterinary check-up, shots and any diagnostic or preventive care suggested by your veterinarian - teeth cleaning, heartworm check, worm check, etc.  Basic yearly exams with necessary medications and tests will run $100-$300.

  • Recurring Expenses:

    • Dog Food - $15-$20 every 2-3 weeks depending on the size of the bag.

    • Grooming - $10-$40 per week/bi-monthly/monthly.  Professional grooming (haircut) is necessary every 2-4 weeks for puppies and every 4-6 weeks or MORE often for adults with coat.  Bathing/brushing is necessary weekly or every other week for most any Cocker.  Additional charges often apply if the dog is matted or has parasites.  (Some or all of this may be done at home.)

    • Replacement toys/treats - $15/month.  Dog toys should be replaced as worn or chewed and puppy toys should be replaced for the same reasons and as age or chewing aggressiveness dictate.

  • Miscellaneous Expenses:

    • If your schedule and living arrangements do not permit you to attend to your dogs needs for relieving itself or for exercise, then it will be necessary for you to hire someone that can do this for you. 

      • Dog walker: $5 - $15 per visit. 

      • Doggy Day-Care: $15 - $25 per day.

    • If you travel regularly or have an emergency and cannot take the dog, you will need to hire someone to care for the dog in your absence.  Cockers are generally $5-$20 a day to board at a kennel facility or your veterinarian.  Pet sitters that come to your home for a specified number of visits per day may charge $10-$30 a day.  Rates will vary according to whether the person is staying in the home or visiting for a specified number of times per day.

  • Training - All dogs need a minimum basic obedience course and puppies should have a puppy kindergarten course as well.  $45-$100 per course.  Each course is generally one night a week for 8 weeks.

  • Emergency Care -  puppies especially are prone to accidents, ingestion of foreign objects, poisoning, illnesses and other situations that may require emergency or other types of care.  Adult dogs can suffer from the same as well as additional age specific injuries or illnesses.  Emergency fees can be astronomical for serious conditions.   Buying from a good breeder that does health testing can HELP minimize the chances of some diseases and illnesses, but there are NO guarantees that a specific dog will never develop a serious health condition.  Emergency or other care could be $100 to several thousand dollars.  (Many emergency clinics will not treat an animal without at least half of the expected bill being paid UP FRONT!  Not only that, veterinary clinics can refuse treatment if you are unable to pay!)

You should prepare for the purchase of a dog by planning for all of the expenses above.  Being prepared for emergencies could save you the heartache of having to put a beloved pet to sleep because you didn't have sufficient funds to pay for necessary veterinary care. 

GROOMING:

Although I addressed the expense of this portion of caring for a Cocker in the area above, there is still some personal involvement that will be required of you.  If the dog only goes to the groomers once a month and is kept in reasonably full coat, it will need to be brushed, combed and bathed about once a week by a family member.  Depending on your dog's coat and hygiene habits, it might be necessary to do this more often.  (Full coated show dogs generally get brushed every day or every other day and are bathed weekly.)   If you do not brush and bathe your dog regularly, it will develop mats in the hair that pull on the skin and can cause pain, sores and infection

You can minimize the amount of grooming a Cocker will need by clipping the dog's feathers (leg and side coat) short, or at least shorter, but it will still need to be trimmed regularly and will most likely require some amount of brushing every week. 

You can minimize your grooming expense by learning to trim the dog yourself.  However, you will likely need someone to help show you how to groom the dog the first few times AND you will need to invest $200-$400 in grooming equipment to do the job properly. 

Are you willing to commit to having a groomer do all or part of your dog's grooming if you are unable to do so?

TRAINING:

No dog is born knowing what it should or shouldn't do.  Everything you want your dog to do (or not to do!) must be taught and consistently reinforced by you.  Training is not a one shot deal nor is it over with quickly.  Every minute of every day is a training experience for your dog.  Your actions (or lack of action) will dictate whether your dog is a pleasant companion or a trial and burden for your family and neighbors.

  • All dogs should have a basic obedience course and puppies should go through a puppy kindergarten as well.  This will require you to go to class one night a week for about 8 weeks per course and then the exercises must be practiced at home daily.

  • Additionally, all dogs should be taught "manners" - house-training, crate-training, not jumping on people/children/furniture, no barking/biting/growling.

  • Cockers should be socialized with as many people as possible.  This means taking them to the pet store, walking at the park,  to friends and family homes when appropriate and introducing them to strangers as often as possible at home. 

Are you willing to commit to training and socializing a Cocker so that it will be a happy, self-confident companion and family member?

STABILITY:

All dogs deserve a lifetime home, but far too many end up abandoned, neglected and abused.  Have you honestly considered your family's situation and what the long-term (10-15 year) impact of dog ownership will mean?

  •  If you rent, have you considered the cost of deposits, not only now but if you should have to move?  Most rental properties will not return pet deposits, so if you have to move, you will lose the money put up as a deposit on your current home and you would have to come up with adequate funds for deposits on a new rental home.  Additionally, rental properties that allow pets are hard to find and many have size or weight restrictions.  Pet restrictions can also be changed by the landlord.  You could suddenly face having to move or get rid of your pet!

  • Are you purchasing a pet because the children want one and have promised to care for it?  Children are very convincing in their desire to get and care for a new pet and honestly think they will do so.  Unfortunately, this rarely happens.  Nine times out of ten, 100% of the responsibility for the animal's care will fall to the parents.   Are you prepared to take on all of the responsibility for the dog's lifetime?

  • If the dog is for the children, will they be leaving for college in a few years?  Will you be retiring soon?  Will you want to travel after the children are gone or after retirement?  Will the dog suddenly be a burden when there are other things you would like to do? 

  • Will you be having children soon?  Having a full-time job and children to care for can be more than enough to keep anyone busy.  Will you still be able to give the dog a reasonable amount of attention as your family grows? 

COMPATIBILITY:

Cockers are not exceptionally demanding, but they do require a certain level of commitment as regards spending time with and giving attention to the dog.  They are very social animals and need to spend time with their human pack members every day.   As a whole, this breed does not do well as outside pets.  If your schedule and commitments make it unlikely that you can spend some portion of the day with a dog, then a Cocker may not be the right pet for you.

  • If you are considering purchasing a puppy, have you considered the fact that staying late at work, going out with friends after work or getting away for the weekend may not be as easy as it used to be?  Are you prepared to hire someone to walk your dog if your schedule doesn't permit you to go home at lunch to let a small puppy out?    How will you house-train the dog or teach the dog how to behave in the house if you work long hours and are rarely home?

  • If you are looking into the purchase of an older dog, many of the concerns above will still apply.  You will still have to train an older dog to your schedule and what is and is not his to play with/chew in the new house.   An older dog may be able to stay by itself (crated) for longer periods of time without relieving itself, but they will still require training to learn when, how and where you expect them to go potty, play and rest.  Every home is different and each person expects different behaviors from a dog, so be aware that a dog that has been trained to someone else's expectations, may not fulfill your own until after you have spent considerable time on training.  

  • There can be a fairly large difference in the personalities of Cockers.   Some are very active and love having a job (obedience, hunting, agility) while others just enjoy following you around the house and laying at your side or at your feet.  Most are fairly dependent on their people and will want to be with whoever happens to be home.   Be sure that you have realistically evaluated the personality that you would like to have in a dog and that you have discussed this with your chosen breeder.

  • While you do not generally have to entertain a Cocker every minute you are with the dog (a kind word and loving pat will endear you to the dog and are adequate reward for following at your heels all day!), the important fact to remember with this breed is that they will want to be with you or another family member as much as possible.   If you would enjoy a dog that follows you around the house, wants to be with you while you're outside working in the yard and that otherwise adores and worships you, then a Cocker may be what you are looking for in a companion. 

COCKERS and CHILDREN:

Most Cockers are great, all-around family pets and will love children that live in the house or that come to visit.  Keep in mind however, that dogs who do not live with children must be properly socialized and trained to interact with children.  Additionally, all children should be supervised when interacting with a dog and children in the home must be taught to respect the dog and to "play nice".   Children that are not properly supervised and/or that do not interact correctly with a dog may contribute to a dog becoming fearful, aggressive or otherwise out-of-control when around children.

If you are purchasing a dog that will be around children:

  • Purchase a crate/kennel immediately so that you have a safe place to isolate the dog away from the children.

    • Puppies need frequent naps.  The crate provides a safe, quiet location for the puppy to nap or just to get away from the commotion of active children.  This is also a good place for the puppy when there are guests that may overwhelm a new puppy or when you have work or repair men going in and out of the house.
  • Check out my  READING MATERIALS  page for recommended books to help you train your dog to deal with children.
  • Supervise all playtimes with the puppy and your children.
  • Teach your children to respect the dog.  Children, especially very young children, often view animals as just another toy.  Proper handling and care of animals must be taught by parents. 
  • Do not purchase a pet with the expectation that your children will care for the animal.  While children have good intentions and honestly believe they will be actively involved in a dog's day to day care, they often lose interest and/or they are too involved with sports, hobbies and school work to be counted on to provide the majority of an animal's care.  (They also tend to grow up and move away, leaving the dog at home with Mom and Dad!) 

Parents must always assume that the care of any animal will be their responsibility, and since that care may involve 12-15 years of effort, please consider all of the responsibility that pet ownership entails before buying a puppy. 

AGE and GENDER:

When purchasing a dog, be realistic in evaluating the time and effort it will take to train that dog to be a well-behaved, trustworthy companion.  Very few puppies are entirely trustworthy (chewing, house-training) in less than 6 months.  Most will need to be supervised closely (by an adult, not children!) during all playtimes in the house for 6 months to a year.  The dog will need to be crated for all other periods of time when it is not supervised.  This training period is the same no matter the age of the dog that you are purchasing.  ANY newly acquired dog will need to be crated or leashed at all times after you bring it home. 

The initial training period will vary with each dog.  A new owners commitment to the training and their consistency in training the dog daily will also impact how long it takes for a puppy to be trustworthy in the house.  Please do not get a puppy with the mistaken impression that you can spend a couple of weeks or even a month on intensive training and the dog will magically understand everything you expect of it.   This will not happen!   Your dog will not be trained until it has been taught EVERYTHING you do and do not want it to do. 

Did you catch the "catch" in that last sentence?   Many people fail to understand that only 25% of your initial training is about teaching a dog to do certain things or exhibit certain behaviors.  The other 75% is about training the dog what it is NOT supposed to do!   This can only be achieved with experience and correction.  Your dog will not be trained until it has been corrected multiple times for chewing on clothing, slippers, shoes, fingers, toes, furniture, plants, toys, carpets, walls; for eliminating in the living room, the dining room, the bedroom, the kitchen; for eating toilet paper, newspaper, the trash, underwear, socks, rocks, toys; for jumping on people, children, the sofa, the coffee table, the new flower bed, the old flower bed, your bed, etc., etc, etc.   If you do not have the time or patience to deal with training a dog, maybe you should re-evaluate your decision to purchase a pet at this time.

  • While an older puppy or dog may have some of the above training already, be realistic in your expectations of an older dog.  Any older puppy or dog in a new home should be crated when unsupervised and tethered to an adult by a 4-6 foot leash when out of its crate.  Remember that an older dog will be testing its limits in a new home, with new owners and training will be just as important as it is with a young puppy. 

    • Do not expect the training of an older puppy or adult dog to be any less time-consuming than that of a young puppy.   You cannot cut corners with an older puppy's training and expect to have good results.  An older puppy or adult dog will still need to be taken outside on a leash - not thrown out the door on its own.  It will need constant supervision in the house - ALWAYS tethered to an adult family member, NEVER let loose to explore.  Like a young puppy, an older dog will also need constant correction/praise/reward training sessions to teach manners and acceptable household behaviors.

SEX and COLOR:

In all honesty, there is very little difference between a spayed female and a neutered male pet.  There may be a slight size difference in an average female versus an average male (since most females are 1/2 to 1 inch shorter than a male), but some males can be smaller than a particular female, so this is not always the case.  As for temperament and personality, males and females can both be sweet and loving, adventurous and mischievous or dominant and aggressive.   It depends on each dog's individual personality. 

The following are some general observations on differences between the sexes:

  • MALE DOGS - with my Cockers, I believe the boys are often easier to train (although they may be more easily distracted) and they are more laid-back and less moody than some of the girls.  Many exhibit more of a fun-loving, eager-to-please temperament and they are less stubborn than the females (whatever makes you happy is fine since a disagreement would require an unnecessary expenditure of energy!).   Males will often be more dependent - attentive, loyal and devoted - and are less likely to get their nose out of joint over changes in the home - new spouse, new pets, etc.

  • FEMALE DOGS - can be more stubborn over training issues (convince me to do it your way!) although they tend to stay more focused during training as they just want to get it over with.  They may be more independent than a male - attention is acceptable on their terms, when they are ready and willing and until they have had enough; not necessarily at your whim.  Females can also be more territorial and moody, especially as they get older, even with other pets. 

Unfortunately, many prospective buyers insist on purchasing a female puppy because they believe, or have been told, that a male dog may exhibit problem behaviors.   What these buyers fail to understand is that female dogs can, and often do, exhibit the dominant, "alpha" behaviors that they are trying to avoid.  The fact of the matter is, in a pack situation, there is an alpha male AND an alpha  female.  The alpha female of a canine pack is just as likely as the alpha male to assert her authority with dominant behavior.  In domestic dogs (pets), these behaviors may be seen in any dog (male or female) that is not properly trained.  Dominant behavior may include:

  • Urine marking - small amounts of urine are released to "mark" territory or to claim ownership of an item.

  • "Humping" - a behavior that is done to show dominance and which is not a sexual act.

  • Aggressiveness - physical threats or assaults on strangers (protecting the pack, territory, possessions) or on weaker pack members to establish the right to mate, to claim prime sleeping quarters and to be the first of the pack to eat. 

Improper/inadequate training of any dog results in a lack of respect for humans.  A dog that does not respect humans will not trust its owners to lead the pack (provide food, shelter, protection, etc.).  If there is no clearly defined, respected pack leader, your dog, be it male or female, may believe it is necessary to challenge you and take over as the leader of the pack!  (Even a relatively submissive dog may exhibit dominant/challenging behaviors if he/she does not have confidence in and respect for humans.) 

Purchasing a female dog does not automatically mean that you are getting a docile, sweet-tempered little baby.  If you happen to purchase a dominant female puppy and/or if you do not train a female puppy correctly, you may end up dealing with behavioral issues.  Regardless of the sex of the puppy you choose to purchase, you will need to take the time to properly train and socialize the dog if you do not want to have problems down the road. 

Proper training includes enrolling the puppy in a puppy kindergarten class, following this with a basic obedience class and reinforcing this training throughout the dog's lifetime.   Basically, you must step up to the plate, take control of the dog and be the "alpha" pack leader.  (This applies to all adults in the household.)  You must train the dog to stay in a lower position within the pack and you must insist on obedience and respect.  If you do not do these things, your dog, whether male or female, may feel the need to take charge as he/she matures.  (You'll know you're in trouble and being challenged if you find yourself being growled or snapped at when you try to shoo the dog off the bed or the couch; or if your previously house-trained dog suddenly feels free to urine mark in the house, on the furniture, on your shoes or even on you!   Other warning signs may include you finding your leg being humped every time you sit down and guests coming into the home being challenged for daring to invade the dog's space!)

My point in discussing the differences between the sexes is not to influence your decision one way or another about which sex of puppy is best for your family.  I am merely hoping to illustrate that male AND female dogs can be perfect pets.  Hopefully this information will help potential owners overcome unfounded sex-based prejudices and this will clear the way for potential buyers to choose the right puppy for their particular situation. 

As I stated above, males and females often exhibit remarkably similar behavior.  Each dog is unique, no matter the color or sex of the dog, and with the appropriate training and socialization males and females both make excellent companions and pets.  The best advice I can give for choosing a puppy for your family is to explain to your breeder what you are looking for in a pet, what your household schedule is like and what your expectations for your pet will be.  Then listen to your breeder's evaluation of each puppy and let her help you choose the dog that most closely fits your family's lifestyle, activity level and behavioral expectations.  Keep in mind that to get your "perfect" dog, you may have to throw out some preconceived notions of which sex or color is "right".  Remember, your perfect companion may be hiding in an unexpected package! 

*Not getting a dominant male dog neutered or a dominant female dog spayed can increase the chances that this type of dog will want to "mark" territory.  (This behavior is not really a house-training issue.)  Urine marking is a sign of a dominance issue and this is tied to a lack of strong leadership and training from the human "pack" leaders.  In addition to marking territory, males who have not been neutered will have more of a desire to roam, will be attracted to females that are "in season" and will be likely to feel the need to defend their territory.  Females that are not spayed will have a heat cycle twice a year during which they will have a bloody discharge that may stain carpets, furniture, clothing and bedding.  They often become moody before, during and after this time and they are likely to feel the need to roam, seeking a mate.  Males will flock to an in season female and may dig under or climb over fences to get to her. 

GENDER IN MULTIPLE DOG HOUSEHOLDS:

For homes with multiple dogs, or wanting multiple dogs, two males will generally get along well whether intact or altered.  (Remember that neighborhood or wandering females that are in season could cause an aggression problem between 2 intact males.)  In households where there are male and female dogs, a female will usually be the dominant, highest ranked member of the pack.  A male and female should get along quite well in a 2-dog home.   If you choose to add a third dog to a 2-dog home (1 male + 1 female) it would probably be best to get another male. 

If you are looking to add another dog to your household and you already own a female, be aware that two female dogs in the same household may constantly vie for the alpha dog position and may have repeated conflicts.  I would recommend adding a male dog to household that already has a female.

My recommendations above are generalizations.  As stated elsewhere in this article, each dog is different (as is each home), so choosing a new puppy for your multiple dog household will have to be based on your knowledge of your existing pets and your ability to train and supervise a new puppy.

INFLUENCING TEMPERAMENT:

While some part of a dog's personality and temperament are inherited, owners and breeders can and do influence the temperament of their dogs.  Unfortunately, if an owner or breeder inadvertently encourages and/or rewards the wrong behaviors, a docile, sweet tempered dog can become a dominant, vicious dog.  Buying your puppy from a knowledgeable, reputable breeder can help you avoid behavioral problems in a number of ways. 

A knowledgeable breeder will:

  • Properly socialize her puppies.

  • Encourage and reward non-dominant, non-aggressive behavior in her puppies and adult dogs.

  • Not allow children or visitors to intimidate young puppies or engage in activities that encourage or reward inappropriate behavior.

  • Help you learn to properly train your puppy/dog.

Owners and breeders should be aware of and avoid a simple, common mistake that may contribute to some males exhibiting dominant behaviors.  This is the sub-conscious gender bias of breeders and owners.   As with human children, males and females are many times treated differently from birth.  This can lead to different behaviors being exhibited by the different sexes.  Breeders and owners may unconsciously encourage and reward male puppies for being rough and tumble, independent and/or aggressive (reinforcing dominant, alpha dog tendencies) while female puppies are more often encouraged and rewarded for exhibiting sweet and docile behaviors (reinforcing submissive and non-dominant tendencies). 

Examples of human/dog interaction that may encourage dominant behavior can include:

  • Play which allows the dog to "compete" with or challenge humans (such as tug-of-war games).

  • Allowing "rough" human/dog play with biting/growling.  

  • Allowing or encouraging a puppy/dog to bark at humans or other animals.

  • Allowing or encouraging a puppy/dog to guard or protect food or possessions.

Remember that while it may be "cute" for a 5 lb puppy to bark or growl, it won't be cute when the dog does this as an adult!  It especially won't be cute when that adult dog is challenged and he bites you, your child or the neighbor. Allowing, encouraging or rewarding aggressive behavior at any age will "teach" the dog that he can be dominant and aggressive. This "training" could impact the dog's personality and behavior for the rest of his life.  Breeders and owners should NEVER allow puppies to play rough or encourage barking, growling or biting.

COLOR:

One of the most wonderful things about the Cocker Spaniel breed is its rainbow of colors!  Cockers come in shades of buff (from the lightest cream to the deepest red), solid black or brown, black or brown with tan points and white with black, brown or buff/red spots (parti-colors).   Black and brown parti-colors may also have tan points and are called tri-colors.  In addition to the colors described above, Cockers may also be black, brown or buff/red (solid or parti) with a roan, sable or merle marking pattern.  (Some of these patterns may also include tan points.) 

(Check out my Cocker Colors page for detailed information on Cocker colors.)

ENERGY LEVEL:

Most Cockers require a moderate amount of exercise.  However, each dog is an individual and one dog may require more or less physical activity than another.  Some Cockers need little more than a regular adventure in the backyard, while others may need to be actively involved in the regular training schedule necessary to compete in "doggy sports" (obedience, agility, field trials). 

  • Before choosing a particular puppy to take home, talk to your breeder about your family's household schedule, the time you will be able to devote to a pet's exercise requirements and the differences in each puppy's personality, temperament and activity level. 

  • Be prepared to provide your puppy with walks in the neighborhood, playing fetch in the yard and other regular physical activities.

  • A young puppy should also be enrolled and participate in a Puppy Kindergarten class (socialization + training) and should complete a regular obedience class after 6 months of age.

 Providing your dog with appropriate exercise can prevent health and behavioral problems and will help your dog bond with your family. 

If you have any questions or would like more information,
please
E-Mail Me  Thanks,

Cindy

 

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