Why my dog eats poop? Medical, behavioural, nutritional, diet, health reasons for coprophagia in dogs / Is it normal for dogs to eat own poop? / How to stop puppy to eat own poop? / Training, health and diet tips to stop dog eating poop / Perfect cocker spaniel pet blog and guide to English cocker spaniels, cocker spaniel grooming, health, diet, nutrition, training & puppy tips / (C) Natalia Ashton

Help! My dog eats poop! | Reasons for canine coprophagia & how to deal with it

The pup goes to the garden… He does his business nicely… You feel so proud of having such a brilliant clever dog. You victoriously pull out a poop bag like a flag celebrating your success in house training…  Then, to your shock and horror, the pup grabs his own poop and swallows it, often with a grin on his little face. And you feel like dying inside…

Sounds familiar? Too embarrassing to admit?

The thing you need to know about canine coprophagy, the proper scientific term that describes the act of dogs eating their own faeces, is that it is a lot more common than you think. If we talk numbers, between 16 to 49% (according to 2008 & 2018 studies) of dogs would eat their own poop. Quite a big number, isn’t it?

But do the numbers make it feel better, normal or acceptable? Or be a sign of concern and call for action?

After talking to many pup parents all over the world, I felt that we really need to address this subject here for both your sanity and the health of the dogs. Especially because the information available to us from both the internet and literature can not only be confusing, but often conflicting.

Let’s discuss…

Is coprophagia a normal behaviour?

No, it’s not. With an exception for bitches who care for their new born pups, dogs are not meant to eat their own excrements. The mum does it because the dogs are very clean animals and would not mess inside their nest. The puppies are not able to do much about it during their first month of life, so their mum comes to the rescue. However, as studies show, come day 32 and the puppies will try to get away from their immediate sleeping den to avoid soiling it.

Whenever you hear people (even some experts!) say that it is absolutely normal for dogs of all ages to eat their own faeces, they often base their statement on wolves behaviour, which is very different from the canine. The normal behaviour for dogs is to be interested in faeces of other species both for eating purposes or rolling in them…

What factors can lead to the development of this habit?

Behavioural environment: the dogs that share their home with other dogs seem to show the tendency of poop eating more often than the single-household pooches. The younger dogs (not necessarily puppies!) can learn this habit by watching older dogs in the same household (note that puppies do not learn poop eating from their mum simply because she looked after them as newborns). Kennelled dogs who may be anxious and dogs that were either born or spent their lives in puppy farms can also develop this habit.

Eating habits: greedy eaters (including the ones who beg for table scraps and tend to steal food off the table) are more likely to have tendency for coprophagy.

Gender: female dogs seem to be more into this habit than males. Additionally, all neutered dogs (both males and females) were more likely to be attracted to their own poop than intact dogs (42% of neutered males vs 6% of intact males and 41% of neutered females vs 7% of intact females)

Medical reasons: even though this does not get mentioned a lot, as a nutritionist I strongly suggest a thorough vet check for all dogs who develop a taste for their own faeces. First of all, the most obvious reasons would be the gut issues including bacterial imbalance, enzyme deficiencies, parasites and digestive problems. Dogs that have been on prescribed medication, antibiotics, suffer from pancreatitis, thyroid problems and diabetes, can  turn to poop eating to either replenish gut bacteria or rebalance enzyme levels, address nutritional imbalances caused by medication or illness, or in response to appetite changes.

Nutrition: poor quality diet can be one of the biggest reasons because the dog will simply seek ways to get the missing nutrients elsewhere. It does not necessarily mean that all dogs fed kibble will be malnourished and dogs fed home-made diet will get everything they need. This is all about complete and balanced recipe. From a nutritionist’s point of view I can assure you that a complete commercial dog diet is much more reliable than anything you’d make yourself.

What you can do…

Ask your vet for a thorough examination and, if possible, tests.

Be very particular about worming schedule and medicine for your dog to prevent any issues and even spread of some bacteria and parasites from the dog to the family. Stool test every 6 months would be an advantage.

Look into your dogs diet including main diet, all treats, table scraps, anything he tends to scavenge on walks, as well as his feeding schedule. Many scavengers would benefit from having 2-3 meals per day, not one.

Clean after the dog as soon as he is done. If you are worried that he may reach down for the fresh poop straight away, toss a treat in an opposite direction to encourage him to run away, giving you a chance to scoop everything up.

Teach a reliable “Leave It”.

Walk your dog on a lead for a few weeks to put you in control over the situation until you get to the bottom of it.

Ensure that your dog get enough mental stimulation and exercise through walks, puzzle games and training, and is given an opportunity to relax and rest.

What you should not do…

Experiment with various diet supplements design to put your dog off eating his poop. I am not a fan of using unproven methods that end up in dog’s body and may cause a variety of issues.

Use digestive enzymes without prior vet check and consulting your veterinarian about the choice. Digestive supplements are often recommended by holistic practitioners, however, so far the studies have shown no positive effects of such supplements on dog’s ability to digest nutritients.

Use pineapple remedy. If you choose to try it, be cautious. Adding fresh pineapple to dog’s diet is a trick many dog owners rely on. However, it has not been scientifically proven, and it can affect your dog’s digestive system due to high levels of enzyme called bromelain. On the other hand, pineapple does contain vitamins and minerals that the dog may be seeking when eating poop, so the best way is to a) have a vet check and b) try feeding your dog a very small, about a cube, amount of fresh pineapple flesh to begin with and see if it makes any difference.

Add chilli pepper to your dog’s diet, inject chilli extra into dog poop, or use any diet solutions with added capsaicin extract, an active substance found in chilli peppers.

Use physical punishment, yelling, electric collars, jars with stones, or training disks if you catch your dog in the act. Negative punishment never works! It may stop your dog from eating the poop out of fear – but it can also encourage him to seek every opportunity to indulge in this habit when and if you are not there to punish him. If a dog suffers from coprophagia due to anxiety issues, any form of negative punishment will add to this anxiety until the dog can’t take it anymore – and find some way to express it.

 

Photo credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Country dogs are happier, study finds

Country dogs are happier than their urban relatives, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Helsinki and published in Scientific Reports. The scientists looked into fearfulness (reactivity to us, the simple folks) and the factors that can have a lasting impact on this trait among dogs.

The study involved 13700 dogs aged between 2 months to 17 years old that exhibited fearfulness caused by a variety of reasons, from breeding, genetics and size to  daily activity levels, demographic and environmental elements.

Whilst many factors have already been noted previously it was the living environment that caught particular attention as yet another cause that may have an impact on reactivity.

Even through more research will be needed, it looks like the country dogs are happier and more content when compared to their city counterparts. The researches believe that this relation is not simply related to the dog’s access to nature, but may also be affected by our own stress levels (which dogs can smell and mirror) as well as density, hectic lifestyle and noises of the urban areas, amount of exercise and interactions between the pooches and their owners, and diet.

So if your spaniel is often on edge, consider taking him to the countryside as often as you can, or better still, make a big move like we did here. Admittedly, we relocated for various reasons, but one of them was definitely to make Cooper live a better and happier life. In our case, it made a big difference. That’s why this study resonated with me so much.

And I am very curious what you think about it, especially if you also escaped to the country for the love of dogs and in search of contentment. Or, perhaps, had to do the opposite and give up on rural pleasures and settle in a city instead.

 

Photo credit: me and the boys photographed by Pink Feet Photography

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Can my dog eat… strawberries?

Today I am baking scones to mark the start of the strawberry season. Tea, scones, clotted cream, fresh strawberries, sunshine and blue sky… A perfect moment for the two of us… and a little queue that will definitely be keeping an eye on me while I am cooking and prepping.

The boys do love strawberries. They know them by name and whether or not I have a box in the fridge.

CAN OUR DOGS EAT STRAWBERRIES?

The answer is YES (with a tiny “but”).

Most dogs can have strawberries and enjoy them in season to fully get the benefits of these wonderful fruits.

Strawberries are one of the best sources of vitamin C, manganese, folate, iodine, biotin, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. Something we may not even think of, but the seeds also provide a small amount of alpha-linolenic acids and Omega 3 fatty acids.

Beside their vitamin and mineral content, the berries are also packed with polyphenol antioxidants (flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignin, tannins, stilbenes) known for their anti-inflammatory properties. They are praised for supporting heart health, protecting the cells from oxidative damage and reducing the risk of cancers.

The quercetin is strawberries may also work as a natural antihistamine in dogs who suffer from allergies, particularly the seasonal ones.

Additionally, eating berries has been shown to improve memory and motor-responses associated with ageing.

And if this isn’t enough, the studies picked on the ability of strawberries to control blood sugar and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes even when the berries were combined with sugar in the same meal!

How much can you give your dog? Each of my boys has a berry per day, roughly the size of a quail egg or a whole walnut. Too much can cause an upset tummy, vomiting or diarrhoea.

I also need to mention the “but” when it comes to strawberries in canine diet. These lovely berries are a source of goitrogens, the compounds that can interfere with iodine uptake by the thyroid gland and thus affect its function. If your dog has an underactive thyroid (also known as hypothyroidism), he should not be having strawberries.

Image credit: Pezibear from Pixabay

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What is the point of training a cocker spaniel?

Once upon a time I knew a cocker spaniel. He was a wonderful guy, a perfect specimen in every way – kind, friendly, and absolutely stunning. He was also incredibly well-trained and obedient. In any dog parent’s eyes he was a dream!

And then one day we saw a different side of this perfection. We were having one of our walks, somewhat crazy, somewhat calm, and most definitely a happy “messy-hair-don-t-care” walk for the three of us to enjoy. Suddenly, that spaniel appeared out of nowhere. He was running down the street, unleashed and free. I felt worried. We were on a side of busy road. We stopped. I looked around for his owner.

Eventually he appeared, slightly red faced. He called the dog – and the dog obliged to perfection. He went over, sat nicely and waited. A scene that would have been absolutely beautiful to watch if it wasn’t for one simple fact… The boy’s body language…

As he sat there, his body got tensed, the forever wagging tail – tucked under the bottom, and the ears pinned tights against his head.

Yes, the spaniel did what was asked of him… but he did so not because it was unthinkable for him not to please his owner out of love – it was unthinkable for him not to please his owner out of fear. He was perfectly obedient, but from that moment on I wouldn’t dare let my mind think of the methods used to train that dog. Even though he was perfect in comparison to my lot, I’d be heartbroken if my boys reacted to me and our training like that.

And we do take our training seriously (well, as serious as one can do when surrounded by cocker spaniels!) Anyone who knows me, read my blog or book, is aware of the fact that we love a bit of training here. I train my dogs from puppyhood and throughout their whole life without hardly missing a day. But we train for as long as everyone is enjoying it because for me, the point of successful training is far beyond a basic response to the cue word achieved at all costs or being able to perform every single imaginable task out there.

So why do we train our dogs then?

It helps the dog to live with his human family in harmony. We are all unique and have our own ways and habits, which the dog needs to be aware of. Teaching him what’s ok and not is like teaching a little child that sticking his fingers in an electric socket or playing with matches isn’t a good idea, but putting his toys away or kissing his mum really-really is.

As far as your household is concerned, you are the one who sets the rules as long as they are safe and sensible for everyone. If you are comfortable with your dog sleeping on a sofa – so be it. If you’d rather he slept in his own bed – teach him. If you want to avoid accidents and destructions during puppyhood – prevent them by proofing the house. Not keen on your dog stealing food from the table – don’t leave it there! If you absolutely have to have your dog jumping up when you come home, it’s your decision. But if you’d rather your dog politely sat by the door – it’s another lesson to learn.

It keeps the dog safe and welcomed within the community. Teaching your spaniel recall will ensure that he won’t run away chasing birds, live stock, a little kid or a fearful dog. Asking him to walk next to you down the street means that people around you will feel comfortable. A dog who knows how to stop or come back is less likely to run under the car if he gets distracted. And any spaniel who can resist picking up garbage on the street or spit anything he did pick, won’t have a bad tummy accident or worse…

It’s a way to instil your cocker spaniel with confidence. The more your dog learns, knows, observes and experiences, the more confident he will be. Positive training doesn’t make the dog smarter (all dogs are smart, it’s a matter of perception, not comparison) – it works with his cognition, enhances his intelligence and improves problem-solving skills.

It helps your dog be more dog. Cockers are workers. These dogs need to get busy before they can eventually relax on a sofa feeling utterly satisfied. Even if they are show dogs and look like total divas. They still appreciate something more labour-intensive than a blow-dry.

It builds a human-spaniel bond. Training together creates many moments of fun (and sometimes frustration – but then they become fun, too), and helps you tune into each other’s behaviour, habits and signs that will strengthen your relationship. Throw in an endless supply of treats to please the brain all the way from the gut – and you will conquer the heart of your spaniel forever.

It makes you a better human. Training can change your priorities, unearth some feelings and traits you thought you didn’t have – and get rid of the emotional junk that’s not worth drugging around. It teaches patience. It encourages you to learn, too. It gets you to the point when you see your dog through a completely different set of spectacles – and fall in love with your pooch all over again, day after day, more and more.  You know, it turns you into a person your dog always thought you were.

 

Image credit: Me and Coop photographed by my husband once upon a time

 

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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Teenage troubles? New insights into your pup’s adolescent phase.

“The little rebel has blossomed! Every day is Independence Day!…” I wrote in my book while talking about raising a 6-month old cocker spaniel who was just about to hit the adolescent phase.

Do dogs really go through a teenage stage? They do, indeed. Right after they just got over the teething, the pups give their parents hardly any break before returning in a manner of a hormone-powered comet… or a little beastie, as I refer to mine.

The little fireball once, and now vaguely, remembered as the fluffy angel suddenly develops selective hearing and tantrums, and worst of all, seems to forget every command he learnt in the past few months.

“He is not listening to me!”

“She just run away and refused to come back and I ended up running around calling her like an idiot!”

“They seem to be doing their own thing on walks now… like I don’t exist…”

“All our training seemed to have gone down the drain!”

“How long this teenage stage last in dogs?”

Sounds familiar? I can almost see you node because it’s that “wonderful time of puppy parenthood” we all get to experience. Just like human teenagers, the young pups arrive at the adolescent phase of their life and simply can’t help but act up in a very unruly manner… Of course, it can be frustrating for both parties. The pup parents may feel that they failed as caring guardians and the pups experience such a surge of physiological and emotional changes they can barely deal with them all…

Fortunately, the rebelling phase passes relatively quickly making every parent experience the euphoria that Nietzsche perfectly summed up as “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger” once it’s over…

But despite it’s predictability and everything we already know about dogs, it is always interesting to hear new insights into canine behaviour because, in my opinion, it can help some people remain more tolerable and understanding when dealing with a growing pup and strengthen the canine-human bond when most needed.

The new study recently published by the Royal Society in the May 2020 issue of Biology Letters looked into the relationship between adolescent dogs and their human parents and came up with some very curious results.

According to the research, the dogs with stronger attachment to their owners experienced an earlier onset of the adolescent stage when compared to ones showing more independent and detached behaviour.

When it came to training, the pre-adolescent pups were happy to listen and perform commands given by their owners and trainers, however, their reaction and attention changed dramatically once they moved into the adolescent phase.

Unlike their younger self, the teenagers showed much higher odds of disobedience when given voice cues by their human parents. This was particularly obvious in dogs who experienced anxiety when separated from their owners. Yet, interestingly, the same dogs behaved a little better when working with a stranger or a trainer (which made me think of all the parents home-schooling their teenagers during the lockdown and praising teachers who seemed to be a lot more in control…). The latter didn’t depend on the skills level of the person in charge but rather the attachment between the dog and his owner.

Once the peak of adolescent stage was over (the dogs used in the study were 5, 8 and 12 months old), the level of trainability in pups improved naturally, without aids or force.

Even though the subject can and should be studied further, I see this study as a valuable reminder for all pup parents and trainers about paying particular attention and care to raising an adolescent puppy, especially a cocker spaniel puppy who is not only extra sensitive but prone to separation-related issues.

The teenage rebellion always passes, so it is up to us to guide the little cocker spaniel through this phase with positive training and a wagon-full of patience – and never base our parenting and training decisions on moments of frustration and despair.

 

Image credit: Cooper photographed by me

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Q&A | Ouch, it hurts! Or how to stop puppy biting

Do you remember the day you brought your puppy home? It’s always so sweet, isn’t it? The cuddly, silky, chunky, adorable puppy napping in his basket and carefully yet curiously sniffing his new home… But give him a few days and the little beastie is here to transform the “aww” moments into the “ouch!” ones more often then we’d ever imagined or wished for….

Puppy biting is one of the realities every dog parent has to deal with. It is a part of puppyhood. We cannot avoid it. Instead we have to face it, make it bearable and use as a starting learning point for our own benefit long-term. We also need to prevent the worst outcome that most people describe as aggression. On very positive side, it’s worth mentioning that cocker spaniels are one of the gun dog breeds that were used to flush and bring prey without killing it. As a result, these dogs are more likely to have a “soft bite” because of their genetic background, so your chances of achieving success are much higher than, say, for a parent of a terrier.

First of all, it’s important to establish the difference between puppy mouthing and puppy biting.

All puppies mouth as a part of their play with mum, siblings and anyone else who comes their way. Mouthing helps them to find their position within the family and explore the environment as a part of their learning process.

The best thing you can do is anticipate and avoid any situation when the hard mouthing or biting can happen. You need to understand your pup’s body language and pay a lot of attention to his behaviour 24/7, but once you get an idea – you will always know the how, when, what and why.

If the puppy is mouthing during a play, looking relaxed and happy, you can stroke him and immediately redirect his attention to a toy without making much fuss or encouraging a play to get puppy overexcited.

A chew or stuffed toy is a good choice because puppy can bite and lick it, which can help him relax and relieve possible teething discomfort. If your puppy is relatively calm, you can throw a ball for him to fetch – it will take his attention away from your hand, make him feel really good about learning a new command (so praise him when he brings the toy back) and relieve any possible teething discomfort by sinking his needle-sharp teeth into the trophy. Some puppies do well with soft toys or even old towers and t-shirt tied into oversized knots (big enough to be interesting and “bite’able”, but not too big or small because it needs to suit your puppy’s mouth)

If you sense a slightest tension in your pup’s body language, the puppy gets overexcited or the mouthing becomes painful, you have three options:

… hold the puppy firmly but gently, then carefully remove your hand out of his mouth with a “disappointing cue” such as “ops” or “uh-oh”. Personally, I don’t like the use of “no” because it’s a bit meaningless, and many of us end up using it way too often and pointlessly (from the dog’s point of view);

… you need to stop interacting with the pup, stand/sit still and avoid temptation to react, talk to or cuddle him;

… or you can do what his mum and other pups would – make a high pitch sound meaning that it hurts – and slowly and calmly walk away. It is important not to run away from the puppy or keep on screaming and run away in a manner of windmill with all your body parts moving and flopping around (which is what little kids often do)  because it will simply look like an irresistible game of chase, catch and bite!

You can also use the mouthing moment to let your dog know that it’s ok if your fingers are in or around his mouth. It will teach him that you can use fingers to examine his muzzle, inside and outside of his mouth, or clean teeth. It can be done as a part of a play when the puppy is in your lap, calm and content, and tries to have your finger in his mouth as a part of chill out time. It is up to you to decide when this “game” starts and ends.

Teaching your puppy the rules of mouthing and how to be gentle needs to begin from the day he first shows this behaviour. The longer you leave it, the worst it will become and the more difficult it will be to re-shape and stop. If you don’t act, the mouthing can signal the pup that it is totally ok to bite and eventually lead to serious consequences.

But puppies do bite, I hear you say. And yes, they do. The mouthing can become harder or turn into biting for several reasons.

Some puppies can use nipping and biting to seek attention or out of frustration because they aren’t getting what they want here and now. You need to stop this straight away and only react to the puppy if/when he stops, sits quietly and remains in a sitting position for a few seconds (you can build up from 5 to 30 seconds slowly). If he impolitely insists on rough play and biting because you are not paying attention or delivering treats and toys in a timely manner suggested by his royal highness – walk away calmly without saying a word.

Most puppies turn into little sharks during teething times because they really want to get those milk teeth out and because their gums really hurt. Giving him chew toys (I always choose rubber over nylon), soft unstuffed or extra strong toys, rope toys (make sure they are made of natural un-dyed cotton, ideally organic and always supervise!), suede toys, knotted towels and t-shirts in plentiful amounts can help a lot. Many puppies love destroying cardboard boxes, too. Stock up on toys like a kleptomaniac – and rotate them every few days to keep the pup interested. Don’t forget, once the puppy teeth are out, the grown-up set and gums still take time to settle, so don’t expect your junior to act as a responsible adult – he isn’t quite there yet. So toys and more toys, plus careful training are your allies.

A lot of puppies can also become nippy and aggressive when they are either overexcited or tired (puppies cry – puppies bite). I’ve written about it before, so Zoomies are so last year is the post for you.

Biting can also be your pup’s answer to fear or any moment or situation that makes him feel uncomfortable. Use socialisation, training and create calm environment to show him that life is generally pretty good, especially when you are a little cocker.

It is also important to remember to be gentle with the pup because he is very fragile and can be easily injured, not to shout him, or lock him in a spare room or crate as a way to punish him, work as a family involving everyone who ever plays with the little one, and most definitely teach your children the do’s and don’t’s of handling a young dog.

This stage will be over before you even realise. It just takes a little dedication and lots of patience to get through.

If you are looking for more information about English cockers and finding and raising a puppy, you may like my book Perfect cocker spaniel, which has a month by month puppy plan nestled nicely among the tips about breed, health, grooming, first aid, diet and training.

 

Image credit: cocker spaniel puppy by Switlana Symonenko (C) 123rf.com