How much training is too much for your dog? How often and how long should you train your cocker spaniel for? Puppy training tips? Training mistakes and how to make training sessions most effective / Perfect cocker spaniel (C) dog blog / English cocker spaniel guide to the breed, grooming, diet, nutrition, puppy tips / Natalia Ashton, canine dog nutritionist & pet nutrition coach

How often should you train your dog?

A couple of weeks ago I talked about a few points of training a cocker spaniel and was absolutely thrilled when so many of you replied, shared your thoughts and asked questions.

One of the most popular requests was about the frequency and length of training, so I thought I’d talk about it today. As I’ve always trained my dogs myself I got to experience quite a few views about the process.

Years ago, when I first got into dog life, the training practices were very different compared to today’s ones. The former were almost military-like, very strict, very precise, more focused on the results and the owner. The dog was there to achieve and perform no matter what and the ones who didn’t were regarded as useless. I never really got too much into that and trained my first boy to suit our life and have fun more than anything else. To be fair, he was a poodle, one of the most intelligent breeds. He never needed much work as everything was learnt and remembered based on a few little lessons (and his own canine experiences).

These days it’s all about positive training. A wonderful way to ensure that the dog does not only learn something, but feels like a happy confident genius and builds a strong lasting bond with his parent/trainer.

But what about the duration of the training? When is the best time to start? Where is the perfect place to do it? When is the ideal point to stop? It can be confusing.

To get your brain buzzing I’ll start with a wonderful and very straight-to-the-point quote by Heini Hediger, a Swiss biologist and the “father of zoo biology”…

“Good training is a disciplined play”

In other words and in my opinion, a training is only successful if it is fun and leaves you and your dog feeling liberated, joyful and content about achievements, however little they may be.

I think that training a dog should also be perceived as a work out (for the brain, in our case, but still… the mighty grey and white lamp of fat has feelings, too). Imagine, you decide to strength train. You have two options – do a series of exercises based on your personal goals, every day, for a short period of time, consistently. Or you go to the gym once or twice a week and absolutely kill yourself there for hours, performing every workout routine known to man, to “compensate” for all the days in between.

If you choose the first option, you are likely to achieve fantastic results because you will pay attention to every muscle group in your body, you will not overwhelm your immune system (every physical activity depletes the body from essential nutrients that must be replaced for proper recovery and rejuvenation) and you will not experience the aches and tiredness that make you collapse.

On the other hand, spending a few hours at a time will most definitely leave you exhausted for days, give you a stinking cold (because that’s how your immune system is likely to respond to your efforts) and probably put you off working out in a week or two.

Same with dog training. Do it in short regular bubbles – and it will be a fun way to keep moving forward. Keep it to one or two long sessions a week – and see your dog feeling tired, frustrated and possibly reactive as a result.

So my ideal training is a consistent daily routine made up of a few quick sessions based on individual dogs and their personal abilities and needs.

We have a bunch of tricks and cues to practice or learn, but never really schedule or time our exact lessons. Each little “burst” takes about 5-15 minutes depending on our location and time of the day. We train in whilst boiling a kettle or during advert breaks on TV to practice “sit”, “down”, “stay”, “fetch”, “paw” etc… Or learning to “wait” for the food or food toys to be prepared and served. We train during our walks to perfect “heel”, recall, “stop”, “stay”, “paw”, standing on objects, “look”, listen”, “let’s go”… the list goes on…

At home we learn new tricks in the afternoon or play “find food”, “leave”, obstacles, brain games, not barking (work in progress, but we are slowly getting there) in the garden or house. Whenever the boys run to me from the garden I use a recall cue and treats. Currently, I am also teaching boys to take turns while we train, so ensure that one is happy to calmly wait on a sofa or “mat” while I am busy with the other one. I don’t like separating them during training times, let alone keep one crated, so this is our way to be together always.

It is also very important to always keep an eye on the dogs’ body language and facial expressions to make sure that they are enjoying the process. Stress isn’t a great helper when you train because it literally blocks the brain from getting the messages or remembering anything. That is why any sign of over-excitement (which can happen in 5 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on the type of exercise, timing and location), annoyance, boredom or tiredness is a signal to stop, ask for a much-loved and well-known cue and conclude the session with a treat and a calm cuddle.

One more point to bear in mind is to never train when you are not feeling your best. You may try to fool yourself, but the dogs will always pick on your emotions and physical state and react to it.

And what if you are trying to train a puppy? I’ve got it covered in my Perfect cocker spaniel book. Each chapter in the Practice sessions comes with puppy training tips based on his age and needs. I just thought I’d mention it in case you’re new here.


Photo credit: image by Tumisu from Pixabay

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

Why train your dog / cocker spaniel training explained / Perfect cocker spaniel book & pet blog / dog diet, nutrition, grooming, training, health tips / (C) Natalia Ashton

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