Fred, chocolate and tan English cocker spaniel puppy posing in a wool scarf / Perfect cocker spaniel book and dog blog / cocker puppy tips, advice, how to hand-strip cocker spaniel, cocker spaniel diet, training, best foods (C) Natalia Ashton

Fred. In a scarf.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the boys. So today is all about Fred. In a scarf.

I believe this sort of diary post isn’t something of public interest, but I love this photo so much and I will never forget how we took it.

Initially, I wanted to photograph them together. But Fred, who has never worn any fashion gear before, really wanted a portrait. I wrapped him in my scarf thinking that the boy will protest or run away to play with it.

I was wrong. Fred was a pro! I think he actually felt proud sitting and posing for me. The camera clicked and clicked and clicked, but my beautiful spaniel stayed there motionless until I was happy with the shot.

He is fabulous. Just fabulous. And I love him to bits.

 

Photo credit: Fred photographed by me

 

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

Cooper and Fred english cocker spaniels / Perfect cocker spaniel book and blog / cocker spaniel tips, advice, diet, puppy tips, cocker spaniel grooming, how to hand-strip cocker spaniel / (C) Natalia Ashton

Best Christmas presents for your cocker spaniel

If you have ever lived with a cocker, you know they are a very special kind of dogs. The pups do appreciate a touch of quality in everything they are surrounded with. And let’s admit, anything of a great quality is the sure way to put a smile on an often moody face of a cocker spaniel.

Today’s post is all about them! Our beautiful, wonderful, funny, adorable, irresistible, huggable and goofy little guys. And of course, the best gifts we could get for them this Christmas.

My guide is more of a curated boutique’y kind, but it’s only because these gifts are the best of the best – and it takes a lot of time, trial and error to discover them. Hope you’ll find something for your spaniel here.

There are hardly any cocker spaniels who would not appreciate a beautiful tennis ball – or any ball, but tennis ones are the ultimate. These balls from Barc London will please both the pooch and the human who, like me, think that a hint of a classic fluorescent yellow in the interior feels like a painful shot to the brain.

Choose among 5 beautiful shades or get the rainbow! Christmas only happens once a year.

Barc London dog tennis ball toy / best christmas presents for english cocker spaniels gift guide / perfect cocker spaniel blog (C) Natalia Ashton

Toys are a special story in our house, too. We went through so many, especially during the teething times. Then I shut down my inner Scrooge and bought a “ducky” from Fluff & Tuff. It was a gift for Fred’s first birthday. Fred is now two and the toy, even through it’s been living an outdoorsy life, is still in one piece and looks very “fluff and tuff”, too. They aren’t cheap, but they really are the best and safest soft toys for your cocker whatever the age. Make a good cushion, too.

Fluff & Tuff indestructible soft plush dog toy / best christmas presents for english cocker spaniels gift guide / perfect cocker spaniel blog (C) Natalia Ashton

Cockers love to sniff and exercise their brain, so they will appreciate a puzzle game from Nina Ottosson or a food dispensing toy.

Molly & Stitch tan leather Butter collar / best christmas presents for english cocker spaniels gift guide / perfect cocker spaniel blog (C) Natalia Ashton

New year – new collar! I’ve got these two because the tan colour should suit most coat colours. The “Butter” collar in cognac is from Austria-based Molly&Stitch and the “Gerard” is made in England for Maison le Lou.

Maison Le Lou Gerard Tan leather collar / best christmas presents for english cocker spaniels gift guide / perfect cocker spaniel blog (C) Natalia Ashton

If you are after a very special gift, give your cocker a new bed to relax after a good run. Our favourites are made by MiaCara and Hunter. Perfect for any dog without compromising on style.

Cooper relaxing in his MiaCara dog bed / best christmas presents for english cocker spaniel gift guide / Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog (c) Natalia Ashton

If you feel that your cocker may need something extra warm, give him a baby blanket made of natural wool or cotton. The natural fibres will adjust to the body temperature and be kind to the coat unlike any static polyester or fleece. I’ve got these Tartan Blanket & Co baby blankets when my boys were puppies and am currently admiring the striking one by Lillemor.

Pure wool puppy blanket / best christmas presents for english cocker spaniels gift guide / perfect cocker spaniel blog (C) Natalia Ashton

Any pampered spaniel will love the natural spa and grooming products from Dug & Bitch, the Scottish company that pups and I adore. We’ve been using and talking about their wonderful whimsical things for years and I was glad to see that now any dog parent can truly indulge their pup by getting the Ultimate Gift Set box.

Dug & Bitch natural organic grooming products for dogs and cocker spaniels / best christmas presents for english cocker spaniels gift guide / perfect cocker spaniel blog (C) Natalia Ashton

My boys have home-baked biscuits as a special treat, but if you want something ready to eat for your food-loving cocker or as a gift for one of his friends, Pooch&Mutt Christmas Dinner mini treats should hit the spot.

Pooch & Mutt christmas dinner dog treats / best christmas presents for english cocker spaniels gift guide / perfect cocker spaniel blog (C) Natalia Ashton

If you haven’t done so yet, don’t forget to check my Gift Guide for dog lovers that I shared earlier. Because you deserve a special treat, too.

And it’s worth to mention that this post has not been sponsored by any of the above mentioned companies and brands whatsoever.

Cooper, sable red cocker spaniel puppy 8 months old / best christmas presents for English cocker spaniels gift guide / Perfect cocker spaniel book and blog (C) Natalia Ashton

Photo credits: Cooper & Fred photographed by me, images c/o Barc London, Fluff & Tuff, Molly & Stitch, Maison Le Lou, Cooper photographed by me, The Tartan Blanket Co, Dug & Bitch by Fetch & Flash Photography, Pooch & Mutt,Cooper photographed by me

what to do with cocker spaniel dog when the weather is bad and rainy / indoor puzzle games for dogs ideas / puppy tips / all about English cocker spaniel training and keeping calm / Perfect cocker spaniel book and blog / (C) Natalia Ashton

Making the most of the rainy days

We got soaked this morning. Again. The weather has not been kind to us lately. It warmly gifted a glorious Sunday as if trying to justify a week worth of showers, but threw us back into wet and gloomy reality of wet paws and endless blow-dries in the early hours of Monday.

We returned from our walk looking like three seals. Not that anyone cared. Pups were happy – and I was pleased that we got out and stuck to the routine. By the time the blow-dry was over, the soft sun bounced out from the frothy clouds and things suddenly felt optimistic.

The pups settled down for a nap and I decided to write a little post about dealing with bad weather in the most productive way and ensure that your cocker spaniel is happy and satisfied.

Start your day by stepping outside. Even if it seems totally insane, do your best to have a walk in the morning. Your cocker will be grateful for every minute spent checking the neighbourhood, sniffing the grass and splashing through the puddles. Be mentally prepared for a long blow dry that will follow and if necessary, set yourself some extra time to have it done without messing up the rest of plans for the day.

Break your day into chunks and add 2-3 15-minute training sessions. Let your dog learn something new or practise the tricks he already knows.

Play the “find food” game. Hide pieces of kibble around the room (on the floor, in corners, hidden under scattered toys or towels, or left on chairs and sofa) and let your dog hunt for them.

Use brain and puzzle toys. They are created to suit different levels of difficulty, so you can get a few and swap them around. Start with level 1 to get the pup an idea of what to do, get to level 2 when he feels comfortable (and perhaps slightly bored) with the level 1 and move onto level 3 if your dog becomes an expert! Then you can alternate between all three – some can be used as feeders, others – to tire the brain and boost your dog’s confidence.

Choose between treat dispensing toys like Bob-a-Lot,  Wobbler, Turn Around or Busy Buddy, puzzle toys including Tornado Treat Toy, Puzzle Wheel, Brick Board or Dog Casino, or simply DIY by hiding treats inside empty boxes, egg containers, rolled towel. inside scrunched up wrapping paper, or even a muffin baking tin when you cover each  piece of kibble with a tennis ball.

Play the “magic” trick by hiding a piece of kibble in one of your hands and letting your dog sniff it out. Alternatively, hide the treat under three identical cups and ask your cocker find it.

Name your toys together! Pick a toy to play with your pup and remember to always name it when you hold it or throw it or ask the spaniel to find it. Eventually your dog will associate each toy with a name, so you can progress by asking him to go and get “ducky” or “teddy” from the toy basket.

Organise a pup date. Invite your dog’s best fur friend and his or her parents around for a play date. You can enjoy a conversation and a cup of tea while the pups will entertain each other.

Have a cuddle. Even the most energetic dog would enjoy a quiet moment spent next to you on a sofa. Make a cosy “nest” of blankets and pillows, choose a movie or a book and let your baby sleep on your lap.

After all, you just had a day of fun together – whatever the weather. Now it’s time to relax…

 

Photo source: Coop photographed by me

 

Natalia, Cooper & Fred, two english cocker spaniels / lessons our dogs could teach us / all about English cocker spaniels / puppy tips (c) Perfect cocker spaniel / photo by Elizabeth Clark Pinkfeet photography

Cocker spaniel habits we should adopt

I am grateful to my dogs for many things in life. I feel like they taught me a lot, helped me find my true self and even inspired my book. My spaniels are my life and I adore watching the boys every day, sharing their discoveries, little joys and moments of happy madness. Dogs have their ways of being here, creating their own world and travelling through it next to their beloved companions – us. And I think we can pick up a few habits from our beautiful cocker spaniels because it can transform our life – and the future as the time goes by, too…

Wake up with a smile. Because good vibes start with a simple stretch of a few facial muscles.

Kiss often! Kissing boosts dopamine and endorphins (for happiness), oxytocin (for emotional attachment), reduces levels of cortisol (the stress hormones), cholesterol and blood pressure, and strengthens the immune system.

Be outdoorsy! Get out early, breathe in fresh air, dip your paws feet into the morning dew and run away from hustle and bustle of reality, mobile devices and city noise. “Walking is the man’s best medicine” – sharing it with the man’s best friend is as perfect as it can get.

Eat at set times and never skip meals. It’s good for your body and your mind. Your cocker eats “on the dot”? Join his schedule and you are likely to trim your waste line, reduce blood pressure and improve blood sugar levels.

Appreciate the power of quality sleep. You may be tempted to stay up till midnight and maintain your energy levels with so much caffeine it can easily replace your blood, but deep inside you know it’s not brilliant. Look at your cocker – he gets up early, goes to bed on time and never says ‘no’ to daily naps. This is what makes them more productive, ready to embrace every day, process information much better, and look beautiful.

Don’t judge people – love them unconditionally regardless of their status or appearance.

Don’t be afraid to love with passion – “there is always some madness in love, but there is always some reason in madness…”

Life is all about simple things. Happiness is not about having an expensive collar with a gold tag, a huge pile of toys or a palace to live in. Don’t overcomplicate – instead enjoy living the life you’ve got and make the most of it.

Photo source: me and the boys photographed by wonderful Elizabeth Clark / Pink feet photography

 

Fred, my chocolate and tan English cocker spaniel living country life. Post on what to do if your cocker spaniel is hyperactive. How to deal with zoomies. Is it true that cocker spaniels are hyperactive? Tips on keeping a cocker calm - diet, exercise, training, toys. (C) First published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog / photo and words by Natalia Ashton

Zoomies are so last year – or how to deal with a hyperactive cocker spaniel

May I jump straight to the core of the issue and say that cockers are not hyperactive at all? Yes, they are full of life. Yes, they are bouncy. Yes, their bottom wags so much it must be solar-powered by fairies. Yes, they talk like no other breed. But no, they are not hyperactive as many would suggest.

Because first and foremost cocker spaniels are working dogs. And as such they have a pool of energy reserve to be used as nature intended. If the pool remains unused, overfills or gets emptied until it’s dry, we get what’s commonly known as a hypo-dog or dog with zoomies.

Neither is good, to be honest because, if we use science, the hyperactivity is lead by stress hormones. They control your pup’s response to stimuli and his ability to relax. If he under- or over-dose on emotional or physical work, the body will produce too many hormones (think, cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine) and the poor cocker will either end up sprinting about, bouncing off the walls, barking uncontrollably or even biting other dogs in a manner of a bully. Worse, the hormones control other systems in the body like the heart, digestion, reproductive system or immune response.

So we need to keep the hormones – and our pups – happy and content at all times (even though it may seriously pump our own cortisol  – but that’s a different story).

And here’s how…

Working dogs like to remain active physically. It does not however mean that you should take your cocker into the field and keep throwing the ball for him to fetch until your arm feels sore and he is out of breath and looks exhausted. It also does not necessarily mean that you must hike for miles every day.

As a flushing breed, cocker would be happy to run and chase that ball, but as any normal dog, he has a certain limit for the chase part: he chases -> the chase is over -> he settles down with his catch of the day. He does not chase and chase and chase… It simply builds up cortisol due to both frustration, inability to rest and relax and the need to constantly run. As a result the spaniel will react by becoming restless, zooming about, barking or biting.

If you like to play a game of fetch – throw the ball a few times for him to play, then play tag and pull (and he must win at the end, especially if he is still young!), allow him plenty of time to switch activity to sniffing the area (you can even throw and hide treats in the grass and trees for him to find as a part of the game!), walking calmly or settling down next to you watch the sunrise.

If you play in the garden, a chew toy to relax with will be fabulous.

The long walks are wonderful, but if once you start and do it every day, be prepared to continue them regularly (read – daily or so) because essentially you have just trained a little athlete. He will become frustrated if the walks are suddenly cut down to a stroll around the block (just like you would if you worked out daily and then had to skip or avoid gym against your will). Once you made a commitment, do your best to stick with the plan.

It’s essential to remember that the length of walks must be determined based on your puppy’s age and health. 5 minutes per month of age per walk, 2-3 times a day – not an hour-long walk at the age of 3 months. The latter will be really hard for his bones and joints.

Once your puppy is old enough, allow at least an hour a day for your walks. To let your dog to be a dog, start your day with a stroll and play (in nature it’s the time when they look for food), return home for breakfast and nap (again, it’s the “hunt -> catch -> eat -> relax” scenario). End your day with another walk, some training and, ideally, sniffing game and chew toy.

Next come the mental stimulation because physical activity alone is never enough. It may stimulate the body, but it leave the brain hungry for information, which you, as a parent, will need to provide. In fact, mental stimulation is probably more important to a dog than physical activity.

They live to learn, sniff, taste and absorb the world around them. 15 minutes of brain training can be just as tiring for a dog as an hour-long walk! Which is rather good to remember if you really cannot go out sometimes because one of you is poorly or the weather lets you down big time.

Allow your clever spaniel smell and examine things while walking. Use puzzle games at home. Scatter food in a garden or house for him to find. Use snuffle mats. Train daily (10-15 minute at a time for pleasure, not hours that may build frustration and stress).

Have a schedule for walks, meals, games, training and travel. Dogs do have tiny clock inside their brain and it never fails. If you skip or postpone any of their favourite activities, they’ll stress out.

Give your beautiful pooch plenty of time to relax and sleep. Do not disturb him. This is when the brain relaxes and recovers. If you skip this step, your dog is likely to react by zooming about by 9 o’clock at night.

Chewing and licking are two other activities that relax any pup. Use chew toys, healthy chews, lickimats and stuffed toys.

Use massage and ttouch technique. You can learn it and DIY. One of the simplest things is to massage your dog’s ears in long gentle strokes, from the central point (ear canal) outwards.

Play music. It may seem like a silly idea, but dogs react differently to different tunes. Mine fall asleep with Gabrielle, Sade and a few classics. You can even find the “dog friendly” music on YouTube and play it to them.

Watch his diet. High protein and carb-free diets can cause hyperactivity in dogs because they create an imbalance of nutrients and hormones that control brain response and ability to relax.

If it’s 8-9pm and your cocker, especially a puppy, starts biting, bringing you toys, pacing around, compulsively licking his paws or running like his eyes are going to pop through the back of his head, do not join in. This hyperactivity is a sign of tiredness. Leave him alone to settle down with a chew or cuddly toy (whatever he prefers) and he will soon fall asleep. Just like all babies do.

You can find more tips on raising a puppy and living with your gorgeous cocker spaniel in my book, Perfect cocker spaniel. It’s a long, but rather helpful, read. Even if I say so myself.

Photo source: Fred, my chocolate and tan boy, photographed by me

How to find English cocker spaniel puppy adverts online, buy cocker spaniel puppy online / how to find good cocker spaniel breeder / how to avoid puppy farms / first puppy tips and advice / first published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog (C)

Q&A | How to find a cocker spaniel puppy online & avoid puppy mills & puppy farms

Lets be honest, even if I tell you 100 times to look for a pup through the Kennel Club, most of you (myself included) are still going to do an online search. It’s quite normal. Internet is brilliant for finding anything. And I’m pretty sure, once you start you will end up on a popular site full of puppy ads. I did once. And I found one of my boys (and one of most wonderful breeders) there. I also came across dozens and dozens of ads that must be avoided at all costs.

The biggest problem with an ad is the fact that once you see photos, you fall in love. And once you’re in love, you cannot think straight.

This is when many people choose puppies who come without pedigrees, from non-tested parents, from parents one of which may not be a cocker, and even pups from puppy farms or stolen litters.

To help you out, I picked an ad you can trust and the one you must avoid (you can zoom on both)

How to find reputable registered breeder cocker spaniel puppy for sale online ad / how to avoid puppy farmers / good puppy advert and puppy breeders to avoid and how to spot them / puppy advice and tips / first published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog (C)

YES advert is by a kind of breeder I’d happily get a puppy from. It’s perfect in every way & gives you a peace of mind when it comes to puppy’s breeding history and health. I have included the text to give you an idea what a safe & professional ad should look like.

AVOID any ads that look like this & are from private seller, not licensed by council (current rule is that anyone producing at least one puppy for sale must obtain a license); pups are not KC registered, only one of the parents is health tested CLEAR or neither of the dogs are tested at all; dogs are described as “family pets” as the main reason to breed from them “just once”; breeder offers pedigree certificates even though pups are not KC reg; price for the pups is too low (usual cost is around £1000); dad is nowhere to be seen.

Unfortunately, the AVOID ads take about 2/3 of the site space. Be careful and think with your head when making a choice.

Photo source: image by Katrina_S from Pixabay