Fred, my chocolate and tan cocker spaniel puppy with his organic dog toy / best toys and chews for teething puppies / first puppy advice and tips / first published on perfect cocker spaniel blog (C) Natalia Ashton

How to socialise a cocker spaniel puppy during coronavirus pandemic

Exactly a week ago I shared my thoughts about getting a puppy during coronavirus pandemic and a few valid reasons why this decision shouldn’t be taking lightly. The post was written before we were told to go into lockdown.

Next day I saw people driving off to view or collect puppies. If it wasn’t enough to make the hair on my head move, I also read about breeders posting young and unvaccinated puppies to their new owners using courier services.

After the initial shock, which as you can see, took a few days, I managed to compose myself and decided to write a few notes for the new puppy parents to help them out with the socialising part of the puppyhood.

Because “it’s going to be hard” is not even going to cut it.

It is going to be tough. Very tough. And it is likely to affect a dog’s psychology and outlook long-term, too. If you chose to bring home a young puppy during pandemic, be prepared to learn as much as you possibly can  now – and get used to the idea of possibly investing in a dog behaviourist in the future.

In my book, Perfect cocker spaniel, I outlined the monthly plan for raising a happy and healthy dog. It covers your daily activities, training, feeding, grooming and socialising. It will help you to get through this period.

However, the strict rules of the lockdown mean that a puppy will not be able to have his walks, meet other dogs or even have his vaccinations in time. It means that the vital period of socialising and brain and habit development will be affected no matter what you do.

On a positive side, there are options to make it less problematic long-term if you are ready to dedicate a chunk of your time to the puppy.

Take the puppy to your garden often. Let him walk around, sniff and explore. Use my tips on puppy-proofing the garden and make sure to learn about spring plants that are toxic to dogs. If you live in a flat, your balcony will have to be “the garden” or “outdoor space”. You need to make it secure, and then add a few things that a pup will find interesting such a safe plant, an area covered with gravel (which you will need to wash in hot water and soap first), possibly a grass patch in a box (which you can grow from scratch or buy from a safe source).

Create a play area in your house. This should be spacious and have plenty of different safe objects and toys. Cardboard boxes, empty water bottles, balls, soft and rubber toys are all great.

Dress in different types of clothes, so the puppy can learn that some people wear sunglasses, others can be in hats or gloves and so on.

Get the puppy used to household and life sounds. You can introduce him to the washing machine, hoover, tv, radio, door bell, phone etc. The street sounds including cars, bikes, alarms etc. can be recoded on your phone and played back. There are also plenty of good sound tracks on youtube including this one.

Let the puppy sit in your car with the engine off – and on, so he is prepared for travels when the time is right.

Teach the puppy basic training to build his confidence and skills. Start with these 5 things to teach a puppy as a base.

Introduce the pup to the grooming & vet examination routines through play, when you gently handle and touch him all over focusing on paws, muzzle, teeth and under his tail. You will also need to clip his dew claws and possibly even all nails if he is to stay house-bound for a while.

If your puppy is fully vaccinated and microchipped, you live in a rural area or have an access to a secure field that is not accessed by other people, wait for a few weeks for the situation to improve and then take the puppy out for short walks. Remember that a puppy should not be carried – he needs to walk on his own initiative and only as long as he feels comfortable and happy.

Image credit: Fred photographed by me

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Covid coronavirus pandemic lockdown / self-isolating tips with dogs / english cocker spaniel advice, grooming, training, mental stimulation tips / Perfect cocker spaniel book and pet blog / Cooper, Fred, Natalia Ashton (C)

Self-isolating with two dogs | Week 1

“We are always getting ready to live but never living…” Ralph Waldo Emerson

How much can things change in a blink?… Alright, this blink was a slow-motion kind of blink, but nevertheless, it felt like all the time suddenly squeezed into a short, brief moment of fear, helplessness and anxiety. Then exploded and sharply divided the entire course of life into the past and the future that will never be the same, as planned or whatever it’s going to turn out to be like… The “never make plans” joke suddenly became the new motto. At least, that’s how I felt.

And then… then I had my boys. The reason to carry on and smile. I honestly have no idea how I’d be without them.

So… we are self-isolating. The four of us. Two humans and two dogs. 24/7. It feels like we could enjoy the time together, yet the stress and the news make it ash’y and grim at times. A bit like Christmas post apocalypse.

The boys have been amazing, to be honest. I was, of course, concerned about them and the absence of walks. I took them out a couple of times, but then some cyclists stopped by too close to us and I ended up so anxious, I couldn’t breathe. At the end, I simply knew that I could manage the pups at home, and it would most likely be quite good for Fred to reduce the stimuli for a bit.

Our first week went better than I imagined. I made sure to stick to the boy’s usual schedule sans walk, which got replaced with play time and training sessions. A bit like living through days when the weather was too bad for proper walks.

We get up. Coop and Fred have their breakfast, use the garden and relax for an hour.

The walk would be next, but since we are at home, we either pop out to the garden (so grateful to have this little green space!) or stay in the living room with a garden door open for some fresh air. The hour is then dedicated to training or games. I have a few different plans for the boys, so one day we learn new tricks, next morning could be dedicated to puzzle toys or food searching games, then – calming exercises and training, and so on.

Fred usually likes to finish these sessions with a quick ball game while Coop prefers to relax on sunny spot and watch how the chocolate fury and I make complete fools of ourselves.

Then they help me with the chores, fall sleep, and I write or study until lunch.

At lunch the boys get some licki mats and garden play time.

Then we have one more training session in the afternoon. This one is usually dedicated to “faux agility” as I named it. Or we trick train.

A bit more studying, house work and writing for me – and nap time for them until dinner.

In the evening we eat, relax, watch tv. The boys have another nap. Then we do a bit of grooming and spend some time in the garden.

Come late evening, the two are usually napping next to my desk, to I can continue with my course work or spend a little time on social media and reading the news. And I watch The Durrels and some old movies… My reverie.

And then we all go to bed…

I know it’s not very eventful, but for now it’ll do… It’s safe and it keeps others safe, too.

How have you been? 


Image credit: Cooper & Fred photographed by me


How to groom, brush, clip, hand-strip English cocker spaniel / step by step guide daily grooming tips / best brushes, slicker, coat kind for cocker spaniels / nail trimming / Perfect cocker spaniel dog and pet blog and guide to the breed (C) Natalia Ashton / Fred, chocolate and tan English cocker spaniel, hand-stripped, posing near lavender @ Perfect cocker spaniel, Natalia Ashton / book & blog

How to groom an English cocker spaniel

Yesterday I was talking about a possible lockdown – and today we woke up in one. The rules are simple, but they do mean that the grooming salons are closed leaving every cocker spaniel parent without appointments.

So I am going to share a few simple tips of looking after your cocker’s coat before you can finally make it back to your groomer.

Brush your dog every day. If you have a particularly fluffy cocker – do it twice a day. You need to use a medium slicker brush (the soft slicker will not brush the rich spaniel coat properly and a very tough one can damage the silky hair). Brush in the direction of hair growth, from the top of the head, down the neck and back all the way to the tail. Then brush the sides downwards paying particular attention to the skirt (the longer layers on the body) if your dog has it. Then brush the legs making sure the brush bristles get all the way through the layers. Brush each ear, both the outer and inner side moving the brush from the top of the head to the tip of the ear, then lift the ear up and brush around the base because that’s where the matts tend to form. If your dog has a long coat and you want to make sure all the knots and matts are brushed out, you can run a comb through the skirt and feathering, all the way from the roots to the tips.

Check inside of the ears daily. Clean them weekly with a cotton pad and a few drops of your usual ear cleaning solution.

If your dog is usually hand-stripped, you can let the hair grow for now and simply brush daily without using any other tools.

If your cocker is clipped, your safest option is to get a Coat King and use it to get the excess undercoat and keep the coat free from matts. You can use the Coat King all over the body and on legs. Remember to always run it in the direction of hair growth.

Bathing your cocker is not essential unless he rolls in something horrible or goes for a swim (which is not very likely considering we are mainly at home at the moment). What is vital for you to remember is to blow dry your spaniel’s coat whenever it is wet. This will prevent matts and even skin problems due to moisture getting trapped close to the skin. Use your own hair dryer and always blow in the direction if hair growth. You can brush the dog once the hair is almost or completely dry.

Keep an eye on dew claws. The other nails should be fine, especially if you do have that daily walk. Dew claws do need to be trimmed monthly. Use nail clippers with a guard and go slowly trimming about 1mm at most holding the clippers at 45 degree angle. If your dog has light nails, you can see the quick (the bunch of nerves and blood vessels inside the nail), so cut as far as you can from that part. If the nails are black, look at the back of the nail for the dry ridge that runs through the nail. You can cut 1mm of the part that does not have it – you should end up with a nail that has white’ish end with a black centre. If you cut too short and the nail starts to bleed, use a little paste made with white flour or corn starch and a few drops of water or have some styptic powder at the ready (but do not let the dog lick it!)

Little trims may need to be done around the ear canal, paws, around the bottom and, for the fluffy cockers, in the corners of the lips (the lip folds) You can use basic straight scissors, but if you feel nervous, get a pair of small ones with rounded ends.

Groom your dog in a table that is non-slippery (rubber bath matts are good for that). If your pup is nervous, get your other half to help you by holding him and feeding treats whilst you brush.

Take it slowly. First, introduce the dog to each tool (tool -> let dog sniff it -> treat -> “good boy”) and the surface (again, lots of treats and praise) before you even start grooming him. If he gets stressed out during the process, return to the area of the body where he is happy, then casually return to the “problem” area for a second or two, then back to the “happy” area. Eventually he will learn that everything is ok. Make sure that you are calm and relaxed because dogs can sense any tension and react to your emotions.


I have a full grooming routine and more tips in my book, Perfect cocker spaniel, so if you would like to learn everything beyond the basics, get a copy. And if you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll answer as soon as possible. 


Image credit: Fred photographed by me