Fred, chocolate & tan english cocker spaniel / Perfect cocker spaniel blog & book / dog reactivity, dog behaviour / (C) Natalia Ashton

There is a power in the name

This morning Fred lost it a bit. He did “the growlie” during our walk and it wasn’t pretty. I brought them home, locked myself in a spare room, and had a little cry. It took me a couple of minutes. Then I came out and hugged them, one by one, feeling Fred’s little body really pushing into my chest because his love is so deep and strong, he can hardly contain it within…

And that’s the truth of life. It’s full of ups and downs. It is far from perfect. Even through my dogs really are perfect. Imperfectly perfect for perfection as such does not exist, but I could not think of my boys otherwise.

I am not unrealistic. I am most definitely not oblivious. I simply love my little cockers – and dogs. Mine, yours, everyone’s. For no other reason than dogs really being worth of all the love we can give them.

The whole story of Fred, his birth, his first few weeks, a terrible event that happened when he was 8 months old – all these factors instilled his little brain with reactivity. I was aware of it, I saw the signs. I knew it was either me, someone able to live with it, manage it, dissolve it in time… or somebody who would mistake his emotional bursts for his personality based on a single behaviour… And dealt with it in a way many people do, unfortunately… That wasn’t the life I wanted Fred to live. So I committed to make him happy no matter what.

I worked very hard to help him. And he really is happy. Most of the time. He really is a genius and we achieved so much together. But on a rare occasion the ignition occurs in his brain and Fred becomes my “Damien”. You know, the “Omen” boy.

Every time, for a moment there, I feel defeated… frustrated… upset… I feel that I failed him because I am his world. So I have a moment to myself, then come out and hug my sweet little bum-wagging warrior while he is covering me with kisses.

I may even call him “my darling beastie”… And then we carry on living.

Because this blip, a hiccup, is not something that defines my boy. It can define the situation. It can define a sudden trigger. It can even define my own behaviour. But as far as Fred goes, his response is simply a basic response, an act brought up by chemical reactions and triggers in his little body.

I wanted to share this today because just an hour after we got home, I saw somebody who lives with a reactive dog, also a cocker. And since this occasion was one of many, I needed to address it here and now.

The dog in question became reactive whenever he was approached by strange dogs. One of the most typical situations, really. When you know what reactivity is. Unfortunately this dog’s owner did nothing. She didn’t consult a trainer, read books, study to understand the specifics of this behaviour. Instead she decided that the dog was simply angry, stubborn, lost cause and an absolute pain to walk with…

I tried to explain to her that the boy is reactive and his barking and pulling on the lead stem from fear and anxiety because he is simply trying to deal with something that scares the hell out of him. I tried to direct her to the books and suggested consulting a trainer. “He is just a little sh&t” she replied instead… And it was the name tag that really affected me. “Please stop…” I told her. “Your dog is begging for help, not judgement…” She responded with a sentence that should be censored if printed… The woman already made her choice.

She put a label on her dog’s behaviour and thus she defined him. She made up her mind. And she tuned her brain into thinking that that poor dog was a “bad dog”, an “aggressive dog”, the kind that could do with a “snip”… or a “kick up his bottom”… The dog as sensitive as a typical cocker who was simply trying to communicate his emotions, was now perceived as something he was not.

Sadly, this is more common that you’d dare to imagine. Go to any dog forum or social media and you will see that very “little sh$” label sprinkled around like confetti.

Many find it funny. Others – use it to start a conversation that essentially comes to the point that their dogs are unruly monsters. Worst, and what these people may not realise, it fuels their mind and the perception of people who meet their dogs into thinking that these spaniels really are terrible…

Our brain is a funny thing. If you continously tell it that something is really good and lovely, it will eventually melt in adoration towards that object of positivity. On the other hand, if you constantly drip-feed your mind with negativity towards something or someone, the thoughts will eventually mirror the perception.

If your dog is reactive or exhibits a behaviour that seem puzzling, do not label him “bad” Think about it. Dig into the causes. Ask somebody who understands and can help you.

And in the meantime remind yourself that a certain behaviour never defines your dog as a being. It’s just an emotion, a form of anxiety, a response to the unknown, or inability to address the situation in a way that doesn’t set the soul on fire. It is a sign that something needs attention.

You would not refer to a person with anxiety in any rude way. In fact, most people would feel sorry, try to help and provide comfort. Reactive dogs are no different. They need help, solace and lots and lots of love.

“There is the power in the name…” So sacred and significant that some cultures still choose them as a sign of destiny or never say the names out loud… Think about it next time you are about to refer to your dog as “sh&t” or hear somebody who does. It says very little about the dog – but it does say a lot about his owner. And that’s the thought I am going to leave you with today.


Image credit: Fred photographed by me

Cooper as a pup hiding from heatwave, red sable English cocker spaniel puppy / UK Heatwave in England | How to keep dog cool and safe during hot weather, heatwave, summer | Signs of heatstroke in dogs and overheating | Ways, tips & advice to protect English cocker spaniel from summer heat | Perfect cocker spaniel breed and puppy tips, advice, training, health, grooming & diet | Pet Blog (C) Natalia Ashton

Helping dogs to breeze through heatwave

Writing about heatwave tips on a hot spring morning… “Groundbreaking”, I know. Though I’d rather talk about it than don’t. For the love of dogs.

The early morning walks are back! We are out at 6am balancing on the edge of the heatwave like a bunch of newbie surfers… The bodies are almost there, but the minds are still hollow, unconscious, slowly letting go of the vivid dreams from a night before. It’s not easy but that’s the only way to enjoy the air before it’s sucked into the hot vacuum.

Luckily, Cooper is an early bird and takes great pride of waking me up on time. Coop, like a true aesthete, never misses sunrises unless, of course, he had a late night and requires an extra hour in bed… The boy puts great value into his beauty sleep. Almost as much as he does into his diet, grooming and fun. I think if I followed Cooper’s life rules I’d look like a top model. A short one, mind you, but a proper head-to-toe model.

Alas, here we are… Eyes barely opened, walking through a sleepy village on an autopilot… We get a good hour of joy from this and I feel content knowing that the boys will be set for the day.

Even though my lot don’t seem to be particularly bothered by very hot weather, I still prefer to be sensible to protect them in every way I can.

UK Heatwave in England | How to keep dog cool and safe during hot weather, heatwave, summer | Signs of heatstroke in dogs and overheating | Ways, tips & advice to protect English cocker spaniel from summer heat | Perfect cocker spaniel breed and puppy tips, advice, training, health, grooming & diet | Pet Blog (C) Natalia Ashton

We walk very early in the morning and late at night to avoid the heat and humidity. Midday walks are an absolute no-no because any form of activity can cause heatstroke.

Dogs can easily burn paws on hot pavements, so walking on grass is much safer. You can also do a hand test – place your hand on the pavement with the back of the hand against the surface. Hold for 5 seconds. If you feel the heat or burn, stay home.

We carry water with us at all times. The weather changes to rapidly, it’s easy to be caught off guard in a middle of nowhere with the dogs needing a drink. If necessary, water can also be used to wet their tummies and paws to prevent overheating.

The pups have an easy access to drinking water 24/7. I leave a bowl in every room and also have one for the porch (which I always take indoor in the evening, so the slugs don’t accidentally crawl in)

UK Heatwave in England | How to keep dog cool and safe during hot weather, heatwave, summer | Signs of heatstroke in dogs and overheating | Ways, tips & advice to protect English cocker spaniel from summer heat | Perfect cocker spaniel breed and puppy tips, advice, training, health, grooming & diet | Pet Blog (C) Natalia Ashton

Windows are opened all day to create a flow of air and keep the floors cool. We are lucky to have stone floors that can get borderline cold even on a hot day. If your floor is warm, you can use damp towels, cooling pads or cooling mats to give a dog a spot to chill.

Pups have a shady spot in the garden and plenty of dens indoors to avoid direct sun, but I never rely on them to decide when to get back indoors. Coop, if given a chance, would probably sunbathe for hours, and Fred would stick around because he mimics Cooper in everything.

We are the “stay at home” kind of folks, but if you choose to drive, please remember to have all windows opened, plenty of water for the dog and only go ahead with any journey if your dog is cool and comfortable. It’s also worth checking if the places you are planning to visit are definitely dog-friendly.


If you take your dog for a swim, stick with cooler times of the day, watch out for blue green algae in lakes and ponds, don’t let your dog drink salty water if you are at the seaside and rinse his coat and paws thoroughly upon return.

Never ever leave your dog in the car. Please do not rely on air con and windows. It can get extremely hot within minutes regardless of what you do putting your dog at risk of heatstroke.

Remember that heatstroke can happen quickly, so it is important to know the signs including…

… heavy panting & breathing difficulties

… excessive drooling & thick saliva

… bright red tongue & mucus membranes

… drowsiness, and loss of coordination

… vomiting

… bloody diarrhoea

… collapse & coma

The risk of heatstroke is higher for dogs who are overweight, suffer from seizures, heart or lung disease, or have to wear a muzzle.

It is an emergency situation, so you need to contact your vet immediately. At the same time you need to help your dog by moving him to a well-ventilated space, away from sun and heat; spraying him with cool or room temperature (never cold!) water and wetting his paws and growing area and allowing the water to evaporate. If he can drink, give him cool water. Never use cold and ice-cold water or ice!

Once his temperature drops to 39C, dry the dog to prevent further cooling and hypothermia and take him to the vets for further treatment unless the vet already advised you on a course of action.

There are also a few other important things you need to be aware of when the temperatures soar and the sun is out. Some are more obvious than the others, but I’ll give you a full list, just in case.


Dark coloured dogs are likely to get hot quicker.

Dogs do not produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. They don’t need to stay outside in the sun for a “top up” – their intake comes from the food bowl.

Dogs with light brown or pink nose can get a sun burn. It’s best to keep these pooches away from the direct sun, and use coconut oil and shea butter nose balms because these oils provide some natural SPF and are completely safe if licked.

Dogs cannot sweat efficiently because paws are the only place they have sweat glands. That is why it takes them longer to cool down.

Grooming is essential and can help to keep your spaniel cool, but remember that properly groomed double coat is much more effective at controlling the natural temperature mechanism than the coat that has been clipped, especially if it’s been clipped on several occasions. When the cocker is hand stripped the natural top coat gives some protection from UV rays, reflects the light off the surface of the body and keeps the skin cool. If the dog is clipped, the top coat and undercoat fluff end up in a mixture of hairs that stops the air reaching the skin, traps the heat and is no longer effective against sun burn.


Ice cubes are ok for some dogs, but since they can be a choking hazard and can potentially cause tooth injuries (we are talking about cockers here, these guys can get into all sorts of trouble!), you need to supervise your dog while he is enjoying them.

Ice cubes and ice cold water must never be given to a dog who is suffering from heatstroke. Cold water and ice can cause rapid narrowing of the blood vessels affecting the natural cooling mechanism and trapping the heat inside the body leading to organ failure and coma.

Hose pipe water game may be fun as long as your dog doesn’t swallow too much water. If he does, it can affect electrolyte levels (the balance of sodium and potassium in the body) and cause hyponatremia or water intoxication. The condition can affect several organs and body system and be fatal if left untreated.

Artificial grass looks very smart, but it can get almost as hot as tarmac. A study conducted in 2007-2008 concluded that some types of synthetic grass can heat up to 75C during heatwave! Bear this in mind if your dog normally like to relax in the garden and keep him away from the synthetic lawn.


Now we’ve got everything covered, it’s time to have some fun and make happy memories. Because heatwaves never really last long in England, but memories will be with us forever.


Image credit: Cooper photographed by me as pup hiding in a shade during his very first heatwave, Fabian Steinmetz, kian2018, Goran Horvat, Tobias Heine, DerWeg, Henrikas Mackevicius

How to protect and puppy proof christmas tree from dog / Perfect cocker spaniel pet blog / English cocker spaniel book, puppy advice, tips, cocker grooming, hand strip, diet, training tips, cocker spaniel puppies / (C) Natalia Ashton

Q & A | How to protect the Christmas tree from my cocker spaniel puppy?

This was one of the most popular questions I had to answer since the beginning of December, so I thought we need to have a proper conversation about puppy-proofing the Christmas tree.

Christmas trees and cocker spaniels can live in utter harmony most of the time. Admittedly, we never had to worry even though my boys have always been inquisitive about things. Thankfully, Christmas trees were never on their list of objects to explore. I guess they thought that it was just another piece of furniture that we chose to add to the house decor.

On the other hand, and after I was asked the question, there were things that I’ve always done on subconscious level or perhaps because I tried to perceive the tree from the dog’s point of view – and it helped me to avoid any disasters.

And this is why I made the list to document my actions in one place…

Put the tree in a room that your dog won’t be able to access if you have to leave him on his own. Putting a puppy playpen around the tree may stop some cockers, but many dogs will just force their way through any barriers because the prize is way too good to ignore!

Fake it! Choose an artificial tree over the real thing. Just think how tempting a fir tree would be for your pup who lives to sniff and chew! Boys may even mark it… because it’s exactly the same as the  “message boards” they use outside!

Additionally, fir needles contain oils that can irritate the mouth and digestive tract and cause drooling, vomiting and upset stomach. Your cocker cannot digest any needles he swallows, which can lead to additional digestive issues and even stomach punctures. If your dog walks over them, the needles (especially old and dry ones) can cause anything from a mild irritation from the prick to an injury.

Another thing to bear in mind when it comes to the real trees is the water – it can become stale, contain chemicals and oils from the tree and “special solutions” such as pesticides, preservatives and aspirin, which are toxic to dogs.

On the other hand, an artificial tree is not that fragrant even from the canine prespective and is relatively safe unless your pooch chooses to pull the entire arrangement down for the fun of it.

Talking of the latter… Give your dog some time to get used to the tree. Put it up, make sure it’s sturdy and then leave the tree without any decorations for a couple of days. Do not attract your dog’s attention to the tree when installing it. Do not ask him to come and look at branches or sniff it. As soon as you begin to fuss over “the new thing”, it will become something enchanting for your cocker.

Inspect your artificial tree for loose needles and brittle brunches. Some materials can become fragile with age and if they fall off and get swallowed by your dog, the pieces of plastic or metal can be harmful.

Decorations need to be chosen wisely, especially if your cocker is still young. When my boys were puppies I made sure to avoid putting any bubbles onto the bottom brunches and always picked plastic, metal, paper, fabric and unbreakable “glass” decorations if they were within my boys’ reach. They never tried to steal them – it’s was my cautious paranoia that made me do it.

Some dogs do find baubles interesting: the toys move at the slightest draft, they are reflective and sparkling, the pup can often pick the changes in light when staring at them, and they look like his favourite balls… begging to be stolen and thrown around!

The only way you can decide how to avoid any potential disasters is to put a few baubles on the tree and observe your cocker carefully from nearby. If he shows too much attention, reconsider the decor. If his curiosity is mainly to do with the novelty of the object, use the “leave” word and make him forget about the tree decor completely by playing together or doing some training in the “tree vicinity”.

Also most definitely avoid tinsels unless your spaniel is completely oblivious and indifferent to the festivities. Tinsel can cause digestive blockages and injuries when swallowed, so it’s best not to use it.

Make sure that the tree lights are off if you cannot supervise your dog and the tree and there’s a slight chance that he may bite into the cable.

Last but not least are the edible decorations. Chocolate “baubles” and “stars” are toxic to dogs. Spicy cookies can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, and some may contain toxic raisins. Dried fruits may also upset digestion. And just imagine what any normal dog would do if you embellished the tree with any dog biscuits and treats… He is not going to just camp under the branches, that’s for sure.


For more useful tips on having the most wonderful peaceful Christmas with your cocker spaniel read my Dog friendly Christmas check list post.


Photo credit: image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay