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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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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


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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

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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.

Recipe for a home made dog food, grain free or gluten free, canine nutrition, (C) perfect cocker spaniel book and advice for English cocker spaniel owners, diet, grooming, training / Natalia Ashton

Feeding your dog during self-isolation & panic buying | Part II: a home made recipe for stay-at-home hounds

Happy meals for happy dogs, that’s the way to go! Yesterday I shared a list of ingredients to prepare a home made meal for your beloved hounds. Today I am going to share a recipe for the spaniel (or any dogster) in your life to keep him healthy, satisfied and content even if you run out of dog food, have to self-isolate or simply feel like cooking him a special meal.

If you don’t have all of the ingredients, don’t worry. I’ll give you alternatives to get everything covered. The recipe itself can be found at the end of this post. But if you are a bit of a nutrition geek, keep reading the part where things get a little “science’y”.

I called this dish a “Happy meal” because the idea is to give the dog something without excessive quantities of protein to prevent hyperactivity, yet provide correct balance of proteins and carbohydrates, and most importantly – sources of amino-acid tryptophan and essential co-factor nutrients including vitamin B3, B6, B12, folic acid, iron, chromium, zinc, magnesium and Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids. Together these special ingredients will help the brain to synthesise and maintain the levels of happy hormone serotonin known for its ability to keep the dog relaxed and calm.

Turkey is the star ingredient of the meal because it’s one of the best sources of tryptophan. It is also a very good source of iron essential for the transport of oxygen between cells and tissues, nourished coat and strong immune system. We will be using the breast meat to reduce the amount of poultry fat, which would allow an addition of other sources of fatty acids to meet your dog’s daily needs and get as many benefits as possible, too.

Chicken liver makes a fantastic addition because it’s a wonderful source of retinol (or vitamin A) for strong immunity, eye, skin, bone and hormonal health, and B12 to support DNA synthesis, healthy heart and enzyme production, and also contains plenty of iron, folic acid, riboflavin, and vitamin C Liver is the “cleansing” organ, so it is important to choose organic to avoid an unnecessary overload of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides and any other toxic waste that the body had to deal with.

Liver and the added egg yolk are two sources of choline, a “brain food” that keeps it healthy by supporting the cell structure, ability to communicate with the rest of the body and may help to reduce anxiety levels. The levels of choline decline with age, so it’s important to top it up through food.

The biotin in egg yolk will support healthy coat, skin and nails without the need to use supplements because those can lead to toxicity.

Adding buckwheat helps to meet energy requirements for complex carbohydrates and fibre without the need to include regular grains, which some terrier breeds may not tolerate well due to their genetics. To our benefit, buckwheat is one of the few “faux grains” that contains substantial quantities of tryptophan as well as the necessary “transport” for the amino acid to cross the blood-brain barrier and actually reach it’s destination. It is full of folic acid, vitamin B3, manganese, calcium, zinc, chromium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium essential for the immune and nervous system. The “grain” is one of the wonderful sources of quercetin (often referred to as rutin) known to prevent and reduce allergic response and inflammation in the body, supporting heart health and reducing the risk of several cancers.

Buckwheat can be replaced with rice or oats.

Oats are used to provide both soluble and insoluble fibre as well as protein, biotin, zinc, chromium and magnesium. Oats are also high in tryptophan and are often referred to as sleep-inducing grain. Biotin will improve the coat and skin, zinc will take care of the immune system, hormones, wound healing, DNA and hundreds of enzymatic reactions throughout the body. The chromium in oats will improve the body’s resilence to stress, control blood sugar levels, reduce the risk of diabetes and heart problems and support metabolism.

Oats also work as a natural prebiotic since we are not using any in a supplementary form.

Rice is a source of carbohydrates and fibre. It also contains B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and iron.

Sweet potato is another special food packed with vitamin A (beta-carotene), vitamin B6, iron, magnesium, calcium and fibre. Besides supporting production of serotonin, the vegetable will help the dog maintain healthy eyes, skin, reproductive hormones, strong bones and reduce the risk of cancers thanks to beta-carotene

Organic cold pressed extra virgin coconut oil and cold pressed flaxseed oil will ensure that our dog gets Omega 3 as well as plenty of linoleic Omega 6 acid – the most essential fatty acid for canine health. It helps to maintain cell membranes, supports the immune and nervous system, skin and coat. Dogs cannot produce it and rely on food sources for the daily supplies.

Flaxseed oil also helps to balance the essential fatty acids ALA (alphalenoleic acid) and LA (linoleic acid) which is essential when the dogs are fed poultry-based meals.

Fats are also important for proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

Next come a few special ingredients that are only needed in minute quantities to make a big difference to the dog’s well-being.

Unlike green tomatoes and tomato plants that are known to be toxic, fully ripe tomatoes without seeds do not only add beta-carotene, biotin, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin K, vitamin C, molybdenum, calcium, magnesium and iron, but also lycopene – a cancer-fighting anti-oxidant and zeaxanthin – another anti-oxidant essential for supporting healthy vision in ageing dogs.

Blueberries are a source of antioxidants, vitamins A, group B, C, and K, and minerals calcium, magnesium, zinc and potassium. They will support healthy heart, strong bones and  healthy digestive and nervous system.

Yoghurt will add a serenity-boosting tryptophan, vitamin A, folate, and vitamin C, choline, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. But above else, yoghurt will supply beneficial bacteria to support healthy digestive tract and strong immune system.

Manuka honey is added to the food as a source of 80 trace minerals and for it’s anti-bacterial properties. It also helps to prevent stress-reduced colitis in anxious and agitated dogs.

Seaweed is used for it’s ability to support adrenal and pituitary glands responsible for stress-handling. The nutritionally dense food is a source of calcium, iron and magnesium essential for bone health and muscle contractions.

No recipe would be complete without calcium and for this reason we are steering clear of processed bone meal or potentially gut-irritating supplements, and turning our attention to green lipped mussels or egg shell powder. The mussels will add more anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats into the diet, and most importantly, plenty of chondroitin and calcium to support healthy bones and reduce the risk of arthritis. The egg shell powder is a great back-up option.

Use the “superfoods” when the meal is cooled and ready to serve to preserve their unique properties that can be destroyed by heat.

The recipe below contains ingredients to prepare a meal to feed a healthy 10-kg dog for a day. If your dog has been neutered, reduce the quantities by 10 per cent. If your dog is very active or lives in a multiple dog household, increase the quantities by 5 per cent. Choose organic whenever possible.

HAPPY MEAL for happy hounds (feeds a 10kg adult dog for a day)


80g turkey breast mince (or replace with 70g skinless chicken or 70g lean beef or 2 eggs or 160g white fish)

30g chicken liver, finely chopped

1 small egg

100g dry buckwheat (or replace with 90g rice, dry weight, 110g dry oats or 130g sweet potato, raw weight or 80g dry pasta)

70g raw sweet potato (or replace with 70g raw butternut squash or 70g raw pumpkin)

1 tsp passata (made with 100% tomatoes, free from ascorbic acid, salt or other ingredients) (or replace with 1 tsp chopped small tomato, skin and seeds removed or tinned tomatoes made with 100% tomatoes, no salt, spices or additive)

20 blueberries, fresh or frozen (optional)

1/4 tsp cold pressed raw virgin coconut oil

3g or 1/3 tsp cold-pressed flaxseed oil (or replace with 1/3 tsp hempseed oil if you use beef as a main ingredient)

1 scoop green lipped mussels powder (we use Riaflex Green Lipped Mussel Powder) (or replace with approx. 1/2 tsp egg shell powder (read how to make it and calculate precise quantities for your dog in my previous post)

1/4 tsp dried nori flakes (we use Clear spring Japanese Green Nori seaweed sprinkle) or Plaque Off seaweed powder

1/4 tsp raw honey (manuka honey or any raw honey of your choice)

1 tsp plain natural yoghurt (cows, goats, sheep or buffalo)

1/4 tsp chopped parsley (optional, do not use if your dog is pregnant)


  1. Cook the buckwheat (or rice) at a ratio of 1 part of grain and 2 parts of filtered water.  Oats need to be cooked at a ratio of 1 part grain and 4 parts of water (or use packet instruction). Leave to cool. (If you are using sweet potato or squash – bake it in skin or steam to preserve nutrients as much as possible. Cook pasta as per packaging instructions)
  2. Wash the sweet potato, pierce with a fork, put on a baking tray and bake in the oven at 180C fan until soft. Leave to cool, then scoop the flesh into a bowl.
    Sweet potato, pumpkin or butternut squash can also be peeled and steamed instead. 
  3. Put the turkey and liver in a pan, cover with water and cook on medium heat until ready. Cool, preserve the stock. Chop the meat finely.
  4. Hard-boil the egg (or eggs, if you are using them as a main protein source), allow to cool. Peel and chop. Use the shells to make the egg shell powder.
  5. In a large bowl combine buckwheat, sweet potato, turkey, liver, egg, tomatoes, blueberries, oils, and honey, and mix well. Add a little stock to make it sticky, if you like.
  6. Keep in an air tight container.
  7. When ready to serve, divide into two meals.
  8. Just before serving, add yoghurt, calcium source from one of the options above, parsley (if using), yoghurt and seaweed powder.


Photo credit: photo by Maria Kovaleva (C) / Shutterstock

Tottering by Annie Tempest / covid19 panic shopping / dog food / how to feed your dog when you are self-isolating / home made dog diet food recipe / published on Perfect cocker spaniel pet blog / advice and tips for English cocker spaniel owners / canine nutrition tips / (C) Natalia Ashton

Feeding your dog during self-isolation & panic buying | Part I

Who would have thought that we will have to discuss this subject? Just a few weeks ago everything seemed fine, shops were full, commercial dog food was available in abundance and everyone could get on with life as nature intended.

Alas, things changed in a blink of an eye. I had to buy a little extra for us from what was still available. Then proceeded to get more food for the boys. Ironically, I always have good supplies of their food because I don’t like the idea of running out (and facing their quizzical facial impressions at breakfast time!) This time I decided to get a little more, just to cover a couple of extra weeks. Suddenly, there was very little available. I got shivers running down my spine. Panic-googled. Found the food. Stocked up and felt my blood pressure and breathing returning to normal.

But I couldn’t stopped thinking about people who may have to self-isolate or simply shopped “as usual” and couldn’t get supplies for their pups. So I decided to write a couple of posts to help.  Today we will talk about safe and nutritious food ingredients that can be found in our fridge and pantry, or bought during with the rest of the groceries. Tomorrow I will share a recipe for a home made dog food, which should help you get by for a few days or even weeks without putting your dog at risk.

The idea is to give your dog a recipe that will provide the basic nutrients including protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals from the sources that are 100%. You may need to consult a vet if you have a puppy or a dog who has been unwell or diagnosed with a health condition because their diet will be slightly different and need to be customised further and based on each individual dog.


Poultry (chicken, turkey – free-range or organic if possible) – source of essential amino acids including calming tryptophan, vitamins A, D, B3, B5, B12, folate, choline, minerals potassium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, small quantities of essential fats. Always choose lean meat and remove the skin. Unless your dog requires a special prescription diet, the dark meat (i.e. skinless thighs) that is often more budget-friendly, is absolutely fine. So don’t think your cocker will need to eat breast meat as a rule.

Meat (beef, lamb, venison – grass-fed is possible) – source of essential amino acids, vitamins B3, B12, minerals including iron, zinc, choline, and phosphorus. Grass-fed meat will also be a good source of vitamin E. Meat, especially venison, is a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Always choose extra lean meats and remove any visible fat. If your dog is on prescription diet, do not use red meats unless it was agreed with your vet.

Eggs (free-range or organic if possible) – ideal source of protein, source of vitamins A, D, B2, B5, B12, biotin, selenium, manganese, phosphorus, and iodine.Raw egg whites contain avidin that prevents absorption of biotin. Always cook them before feeding to your dog.

Liver (chicken or lamb, free-range, grass-fed or organic if possible) if your dog can eat it without problems. It’s a very condensed source of nutrients including iron, vitamins A, D,  and group B, and thus should only be fed in very small quantities, never – as a main protein source of the dog’s diet and only to dogs without underlying or diagnosed health problems unless discussed with a vet.

Fish (cod, sardines, salmon, trout, herring) – dogs need more fish in comparison to meat. Bear this in mind when planning their diet. Fish is a great source of protein, one of the best sources of vitamins B12 and D, B6, minerals phosphorus, iodine and choline, and essential fatty acids.

However be careful with oily fish – the oils do have benefits, but any fatty fish can increase the risk of pancreatitis. Too much of Omegas can lead to inflammation instead of benefits and cause vitamin E deficiency. Fish may also contain heavy metals or pesticide residue.

Fish must always be cooked because it contains an enzyme called thiaminase that affects absorption of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and some fish can contain a parasite Neorickettsia helmonthoeca, which can lead to potentially fatal poisoning.

Do not feed dogs any tinned fish containing salt and/or spices.


Grains (rice, buckwheat, oats) – grains work as a source of B vitamins, vitamin K, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Buckwheat, which is a seed, not a grain as such, is one of the best sources of rutin, zeaxanthin and lutein. Oats provide biotin, magnesium, molybdenum and phosphorus. Beside their nutritional brilliance, grains work as the most straightforward and simple way to add both soluble and insoluble fibre to your dogs diet and ensure that his digestive tract and anal glands remain healthy.

Sweet potato – a wonderful vegetable source of fibre, vitamin A, group B vitamins, vitamins C and K, copper, manganese and zinc. You can replace sweet potato with butternut squash or pumpkin, which keep longer. You can also buy frozen chopped squash cubes. They will last for months in the freezer.

You can use one of the sources for the carbohydrate part of the meal, combine them 50/50 or do 2 parts of rice and 1 part of sweet potato.

If you run out of absolutely everything above, your dog can have plain pasta. It’s not ideal but it will work for a few days.


Hempseed, flaxseed or sunflower oil (cold pressed) – a source of ALA, alpha-linoleic acid, the most important fatty acids for dogs. Hempseed and sunflower oil are to be used for dogs fed a meat-based diet, whilst flaxseed creates the right balance of fatty acids in diets based on chicken and eggs.

Coconut oil (extra virgin, cold-pressed) – another great source of linoleic acid, this oil is also a source of lauric acid known for its antibacterial properties.

Delicious additions:

You will have everything covered with the basic ingredients, but the foods below will add extra goodness to any meal. They fall into 10% of less of the total daily diet for your pooch. Really, choose a couple per day and rotate every other day.

Eggs shells – as a source of calcium when you can’t get commercial dog food with added vitamins and minerals. Collect eggs shells, clean and dry them, remove the inner membrane, spread on a shallow tray and bake at 150C for 5-8 minutes. Allow to cool and grind into a powder using a coffee grinder. Store in an air tight container. If egg powder is not for you, use a supplemental form of calcium such as Riaflex made of green lipped mussels. A dog needs about 50mg of calcium per 1 kg of body weight or about 1mg of calcium per 1 calorie, which means that an average adult cocker needs about 700mg of calcium daily. 1g of egg shell provides 400mg.

Yoghurt (natural, organic, no added flavour, sugars, preservatives or sugar substitutes such as xylitol) – yoghurt will add beneficial bacteria and calcium. Most dogs can tolerate up to 1tbsp of yoghurt without any issues.

Blueberries (fresh or frozen – here goes your supply for blueberry muffins) or cranberries – it is safe to give 2 berries per 1 kilo of dog’s body weight. More can cause diarrhoea.

Passata – choose sieved (seed free) passata made of 100% tomatoes, without added salt, citric acid, sugar and spices. 1 tsp per day for an adult cocker is enough. Do not confused with unripe tomatoes or any parts of the tomato plant that are toxic to dogs.

Carrots – 1-2 thin slices, cooked or raw.

Cucumbers – 1-2 thin slices, raw, but seeds removed.

Nori or seaweed – 1/4 tsp per day.

Apples – 1-2 thin slices per day, seeds must be removed.

Honey (raw honey or whenever possible, raw manuka honey) – extra minerals, plus it’s antibacterial and antiviral.

Also a word of warning for those feeding raw. Whilst I do not advocate it for English cockers, I understand that is your choice and I respect that. Just be careful if you have to store extra quantities of raw meals because they may not keep well for long periods of time. Take extra precautions when handling it, too, especially when you are not well because your immune system will be susceptible to bacteria and viruses. Consider cold pressed food option whenever possible.

If you would like to learn more about canine nutrition for English cocker spaniels, you will find all the information in my book, Perfect cocker spaniel

Image credit: with a big Thank you to wonderful Annie Tempest / Tottering by Gently / for allowing me to use this fabulous cartoon 


how to choose best natural treats and training treats for puppies and dogs / puppy tips and advice / first published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog (C)

Collagen dog chews. Are they really a safer alternative to rawhide?

Have you heard of the new dog chews that were introduced recently? Marketed as “natural collagen chews” and a “safe alternative to rawhide”, they sounded too good to be true, so the sceptic in me got really curious.

According to the manufacturers, the “chewllagen” treats are made from “corium”, a part of the skin that consists of collagen and this is what makes the new chews different and safe compared to the typical rawhide.

It does sound really wonderful, promising, convincing and science’y for anyone not particularly concerned with the anatomy of the skin. However, being a nutritionist and a kind of dog mum who likes to get to the bottom of everything that goes into my dog’s mouth, I did think of the physiology part, and that’s when my inner sceptic got partially confused and partially frustrated.

Naturally all mammals have a very similar skin structure. The top layer may be different depending on the species and environment (for example, an alligator skin will certainly be different from the rabbit’s or pheasant, and the latter will, indeed, will look different compared to the human skin), but the layers of the skin and their primarily functions will be very much alike.

All skins can be divided into two main layers – the epidermis (also known as epithelium) or the outer layer, and the dermis (or corium) the thicker layer that lies underneath the epidermis.

The epidermis portion of the skin is very thin yet strong. It forms a barrier between the body and the environmental dangers including pathogens, chemicals and UV rays. It also supports natural detoxification and protects internal organs, muscles, nerves and blood vessels from injuries.

The corium, or epidermis, is a much thicker structure made primarily from collagen that gives the skin strength and flexibility.

The epidermis and dermis are separated from each other by a coloured and textured membrane known as a “glassy layer”.

During the leather manufacturing process the layer of epidermis is removed completely to expose the texture of the glassy layer attached to the dermis following by another phase that deals with hair follicles, glands and colour variations as well as a treatment that kills fungi, bacteria, yeast and other forms of life through the process called putrefaction. To achieve this, all hides must go through several stages that may include soaking in water, acetic acid and glycerine, alcohol processing, freezing, and using chemicals such as lime, sulphides, ammonia, aspartic, hydrochloric and butyric acids, mercuric chloride, lead acetate, and various salts (The Principles of Leather Manufacture by H.R. Procter & The Manufacture of Leather by Hugh Garner Bennett).

If the “glassy layer” is also stripped, the hides look like a white porous sheet that cannot be used for leather-making, but can be further processed and reconstituted to make, you guessed it, rawhide chews!

As a result, any raw hide chew may contain traces of chemicals, possible toxins, bacteria and pathogens. Some can also be treated with flavours and enhances. However, all raw hides are still natural, can be digested (the study that tested various dog treats concluded that all raw hides have a digestibility between 14.2 and 99.5), are a source of protein or, if I am to be precise, collagen, and free from gluten, artificial flavours and ingredients. The raw hides are said to be made from “the deeper layer of the skin”.

They can be dangerous because some dogs would struggle to fully digest the tissue, while others may be sensitive to the chemical compounds used in leather manufacturing. A typical raw hide also adds too much protein to the dogs diet, somost puppies will likely have diarrhoea as a result. Another problem with excessive protein intake in puppies is the potential rapid growth, which can cause skeletal problems in the future. Additionally, any dog may end up with an obstruction after swallowing a large chunk of the treat.

Now we have the new option. The collagen chew. The “all natural”, “high in protein”, “collagen-rich”, “digestible”, “free from grains, gluten and artificial ingredients” perfection made from “the bottom layer of the skin called corium”. In the small print, we are asked to supervise the dog whilst he is playing with the chew and, when the treat  “becomes softened and stretched” (which is also very typical characteristic of a natural raw hide chew) – cut this part off  before the dog can have the rest back. The new chew is manufactured by the same companies that produce the raw hide treats.

Correct me if I am wrong, but if we compare the notes from the basic skin anatomy I’ve talked about in the beginning of this post and the brief description of leather and hide manufacturing in the middle of my story, corium is the only layer of the skin that can be used for both the raw hides and the collagen chews. Same layer marketed under different name because it happens to have three interchangeable versions (the commonly used “deeper layer” or “hide” is just a synonym for “the derma”, “the corium”, or “the cutis”). There are simply no other layers in the skin that are high in collagen and can be rolled into a cigar or doughnut shape unless, of course, some company will take the bones and congestive tissues and reconstitute them into powder, sheets and the final product.

Which makes the new collagen chew identical to the old raw hide and leaves me feeling like the boy from the Emperor’s New Clothes tale.

I would be very happy to be incorrect, but for now I would prefer to remain very sceptical about the new option and stick with carrots and home made biscuits for my pups instead.

What do you think? Would you consider these chews as a treat for your dog?