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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Things to consider before you decide to get a cocker spaniel puppy during COVID19 pandemic

It’s a National Puppy Day today. The day that we would normally celebrate with smiles, cuddles with the pups we have and dreams about the ones that may join the family in the future.

Alas, this year is different. Even the sun and gleefully twittering birds can’t take away the gloom of the reality. In the words of my beloved Alexander McQueen “it’s a jungle out there”… made to feel million times worse because the enemy we are against is invisible and can strike anyone, any time.

And this is why I really wanted to share a few thoughts with those thinking about having a puppy or even rushing into having a puppy sooner than planned because the kids are off, the schools are shut and many of us are self-isolating.

Is it wise? I am not sure. So I am going to give you all the pros and cons and leave you to make your own decision.

Visiting a breeder. We are asked to follow the social distancing rule and avoid any contacts that are not essential. It will be virtually impossible to visit a breeder and puppies without coming into close contact with him or her, their family, home and, of course, potentially leaving the virus on the puppy’s coat. Even though it is unlikely to infect a puppy, the virus can be easily passed on to the person who handles the puppy next.

The only way you can protect each other is by keeping all contacts with the breeder to phone conversations, little videos and Skype. You can still see a puppy this way, the breeder can send you updates and photos. However, if you are a first time puppy parent this can put you at risk of dealing with a dishonest breeder or puppy farmer.

Veterinary treatments. Every puppy is health checked by the vet on several occasions from the moment the litter is born to the moment when they are ready to move in with their new families. Many breeders also vaccinate and microchip the pups.

Right now taking puppies to the vets can be incredibly challenging. Many veterinary practices are doing their best to keep going and stay safe, so the wise thing would be to support them by focusing on emergencies only. Not casual appointments that involve personal contacts.

Even if the breeder will not vaccinate to avoid any form of contact with the vet, you will be put into even harder position. We don’t know what it will be like in a few weeks. We really don’t know whether we are going to be locked in at homes. There is no certainty right now. The practices are already putting special measures in place. And the situation is not at its peak yet.

Not vaccinating a puppy will put him in grave danger. Not microchipping your puppy will make you liable by law.

Bringing the puppy home. As I have mentioned before, the coronavirus is sneaky and dangerous. And it takes just one person to leave the virus on a puppy’s coat to pass it onto dozens of people who may then infect several thousands! According to scientist, each person may infect as many as 59000 people in a short period of time.

You cannot disinfect a puppy. Yes, you can wash your hands every time you touch him, but it only takes one molecule of virus for everything to collapse into a nightmare.

Puppy toys and food. Ok, it is true that you can wash the toys and beds and everything you’ve got for your puppy. It is harder with the leads and collars. That is why grooming salons are already following a strict policy of leaving any dog gear outside the salon. But you can deal with these. It’s not rocker science.

On the other hand, the food is in short supply at the moment. People are struggling to get it. Deliveries take as long as two weeks. Your breeder may give you enough food to go for a couple of weeks. However, not every puppy will keep on eating that food. And some puppies may need something different yet may react to it. It can be complicated to find the right food for a pup during normal times. It will be much harder to do it now. Yet the puppy needs to eat a complete and balanced diet otherwise he will not grow into a healthy dog. Feeding home made diet during early days is not something I would recommend to anyone unless they have a degree in canine nutrition and are really tuned-in when it comes to home made diets for all life stages.

House training & physical exercise. If you have a garden, you will be fine. If you live in a flat, you will struggle.

Socialising. Puppies may be absolutely fine to start their life in the garden. You can provide plenty of enrichment and learning for them. However, walks may become complicated (or will have to be avoided if we are in lockdown). Puppy classes are cancelled by most trainers now. Nobody wants to take risks. Essentially, the puppy will be raised in a situation that is as far from ideal as you can only imagine. He may be ok. But many dogs can develop serious behavioural issues including reactivity and anxiety if they are not socialised correctly.

Training is different. The basic training can be successfully done at home. But not the socialising. It cannot be done when we have to socially isolate.

Stress. I agree, this post is not helping with reducing stress levels. I am aware of that. However, the point I am making is that most people are feeling stressed and anxious right now. Having a little puppy, suffering from lack of sleep (because puppies are like babies!), being tired, worrying about him – and what is happening around, will be even more stressful.

Dogs, as science shows, are capable of smelling our stress hormones and changing their own stress hormones to reflect it. Cocker are prone to anxiety issues. If their stress hormones are raised from the early days, the problems are likely to happen now and in the future.

It is essential for a puppy to grow in a quiet, stress-free environment. He also needs to have plenty of calm moments and lots of opportunities to sleep. Can you guarantee that your puppy will have these? Can you also guarantee that your children will be able to be quiet whilst puppy is sleeping and treating him correctly – when he is awake? Please ask yourself all these questions.

Many of us will get ill. You need to find ways to ensure that there will always be somebody to look after the puppy no matter what.

What are the cons, you may ask? Well, if you are prepared in every way, having a puppy is one of the most wonderful heart-warming experiences that can help you forget about the gloom and doom outside. But I am simply  not convinced this can outweigh all the cons right now.

How to train your dog positively, study research, tips / perfect cocker spaniel / english cocker spaniel training, grooming, advice, puppy / world kindness day blog post / (C) Natalia Ashton / dog paw in human hand photo

Having a dog without regrets

What do you write about after sharing a post dedicated to the dog you miss so very much? Honestly, I tried to sit down and string a few words together, but it simply did not work…

Then, a few days ago I came across a survey done by Sainsbury’s Pet Insurance. According to the findings over 50 per cent of Southern dog (and cat) parents did not research the breed of their puppy before getting one, and only 21 per cent spent more than a week (a week, seriously?!) to find “the right breed for their lifestyle”. Worse, every sixth pet parent had regrets of getting a dog of that specific breed.

Think how many dogs you would normally meet during a walk with your pooch? Now imagine that every sixth dog is actually a burden to the person who walks him at that very moment – and try not bleed inside your heart.

For me, my dogs are my life. And I admit, I am, by my own admission, really is all about my dogs. I live and breathe for the happiness of my boys and feel terrible if I believe they didn’t have a good enough day (by my standards). I am not perfect at all, but I do everything I can – and a little bit more. No matter what.

As somebody who spent years researching dog breeds, reading books and attending courses to learn about taking care of a puppy, I simply cannot fathom how it is even possible to decide that one is ready for a dog and knows enough about a dog after a week of “research”… And then proceed by getting a puppy – not a fluffy toy, but an actual living being who needs his human mum to help him live, learn and thrive!

I’ve seen those people. I did. And I helped a few, too. Not because I cared much for them, but because I cared too much for the little pup who ended up in a household that was totally unprepared for him or her.

Do you ever wonder why we still have the heartbreaking reality of puppy farms? This is a good example how and why these disgusting businesses flourish. Every day they offer pups to these “owners” (because I cannot even refer to these people as “parents”) who visit them to get a dog without knowing much simply because they felt like having a puppy here and now, or choose to buy a puppy in a pet shop while stoping for coffee!

These are the people who end up with a dog suffering from illnesses or psychological problems. These are the people who had every chance of giving that puppy a wonderful  life, but instead give him up as an unwanted regret.

I tried to stay “cool and content” and find reasons to justify these people’s actions. I went online looking for opinions on forums and social media looking for solid reasons of regret… The truth was painful to learn:

“I didn’t realise dogs are such a hard work…”

“I am so annoyed because I cannot travel now like I used to…”

“He is such an inconvenience…”

“He chewed my furniture and went to pee all over the house…”

“He pulls the lead so hard, I can’t walk him, so I decided to rheum…”

“Having a dog is so expensive!”

“I only realised this breed wasn’t for me after I got a puppy…”

“I live in a cream house but this dog makes it dirty and leaves hair everywhere…”

“I can’t sleep at night because he keeps crying in the other room…”

“I feel stuck with him for years now…”

There were very, very few exceptions who had regrets because they were seriously ill, injured or suffered from severe allergy. Ironically, this group of people actually did their very best to try and keep the dog no matter what.

How can I possibly stay indifferent to this situation if it shows that the nation of dog lovers is clearly lacking the three fundamental pillars of dog parenthood: knowledge, commitment and responsibility? And worse, do very little to improve on any of these?

You may notice I did not mention love… I believe it’s important but love is nothing if it does not inspire you to become a better person, a better pup parent – and learn, learn everything you can before and during your life with one of the most wonderful beings we ever managed to tame… yet forgot the obvious “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed…” from the Little Prince. But then how many of those people would even read Exupéry?

And since this wonderful author also said that “a goal without a plan is just a wish”, here are a few things everyone who dreams of having a cocker spaniel puppy should read as the essential minimum before they even launch their search for the dream dog… As the very first step to make sure that every dog is wanted… now – and forever, for the rest of his life and beyond.

Misleading facts about English cocker spaniels you need to know

How to find a perfect cocker spaniel puppy

How to find a cocker spaniel puppy online and avoid puppy farms

Why is it so important to ask a breeder about health tests before choosing a puppy?

5 good reasons to have a cocker spaniel puppy

Perfect cocker spaniel: the ultimate guide to the breed including puppy guide, tips on grooming, diet, health, training and more