Whenever I’m out in public with my Cocker Spaniel or post his photos online, someone inevitably asks “are Cocker Spaniels high maintenance?” After all, those eyes of melted chocolate, long silky ears, and nonstop tail wagging make people turn their heads to stare.
Yes, Cocker Spaniels are high maintenance as a breed because they require more coat maintenance and grooming, have health issues that seem to plague the breed, and they love to be close to their owners, making them more prone to separation anxiety.
I’ve owned Cockers for close to 30 years and I am a member of the American Spaniel Club and President of the Dog Writer’s Association of America. I know Cocker Spaniels inside and out, yet this breed continues to amaze me. If you are interested in learning what makes the Cocker Spaniel so high maintenance, allow me to teach you what I’ve learned over the decades. I’ll even toss in a few tips, tricks, and hints for helping a Cocker be happy, healthy, and thriving despite her high maintenance as a breed overall.
Why Is The Cocker Spaniel High Maintenance?
Cocker Spaniel hair tends to grow like wildfire. Devoted Cocker Spaniel breeders will tell you they bathe and groom their puppies long before releasing them to a pet home. Cocker hair grows in thick, full, and is often long and silky. It takes a skilled hand and a patient pet parent to devote time, attention, and skill to maintain a healthy Cocker coat.
Cocker Spaniels shed, but not to the degree of a thick double-coated breed like a Siberian Husky. You’ll want to keep a good set of brushes handy and work through a Cocker’s coat at least a few times a week. Stimulating the oils in her skin helps keep her coat in shape and may lessen the itchiness to which Cockers are prone.
Every 4 to 6 weeks, a Cocker Spaniel not entering the show ring usually sees the groomer for coat care, a trim, and even a clipping if the pet parent prefers it shorter (like I do). Even Cockers who are in the dog show circuit have a coat that requires more intense upkeep and care. When we wrote about what life is like for a Cocker Spaniel show dog, we learned a lot about the dedicated breeders, owners, handlers, and groomers who are devoted to the breed.
Non-Cocker dog owners tend to giggle at me or roll their eyes in disbelief when I tell them how often my dog saw a groomer. When my Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, used to go to a professional groomer, we had an appointment schedule that was pretty high maintenance. Every 4 to 6 weeks, the groomer would perform “the basics.” Basics include head and face clipping, private part area cleaned up and clipped, nails cut, and inner ear flap trimmed down short.
Every 3 months or so, my Cocker Spaniel would see a professional groomer for a complete grooming visit. He would be bathed in advance (by me), although the groomer was willing to bathe him. I didn’t want to risk water getting into his ears and exposing him to a potential ear infection. The cost of overall grooming, which took about 2-1/2 to 3 hours, was $60 plus a tip. I found that to be incredibly reasonable, but I wanted to learn to groom my dog myself.
Here’s how I learned to groom my Cocker Spaniel at home. Yes, it’s high maintenance but it’s not as intense or time consuming since I know own the tools and understand how to use them. I also tossed in some tips and tricks to learn to groom a Cocker at home.
Like all breeds, Cocker Spaniels are plagued with their own unique set of health problems and propensities toward certain diseases more than others.
Cocker Spaniel eyes are gorgeous and one of the most attractive physical features of the breed. They also come with their own share of difficulties. Things like glaucoma, cataracts, cherry eye, eyelash problems such as distichiasis, dry eye, conjunctivitis, and progressive retinal atrophy are more common in Cockers than other breeds.
This doesn’t mean you can’t tackle the maintenance that comes with Cocker eyes, but it takes a dedicated pet parent. I’ve written about the problems and solutions with Cocker Spaniel eyes. Give that article a peek and learn more about the various conditions before bringing a Cocker Spaniel into your life.
Beyond the eyes, here is a brief overview of some of the more common health problems that can affect Cocker Spaniels:
- Ears: Ear infections
- Immune System: IMHA (immune-mediated hemolytic anemia) and IMT (immune-mediated thrombocytopenia). Cushing’s Disease and Addison’s Diseases are known to affect Cocker Spaniels as well.
- Skin: Cockers are prone to more lumps and bumps than most breeds because they have a lot of sebaceous oil in their skin. I’ve dealt with many Cocker skin issues over the years including warts, fatty tumors (lipomas), mast cell cancer of the skin, sebaceous cysts, and plasmacytomas.
- Bone and Joints: ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) problems, arthritis, and back/disc issues including IVDD (intravertebral disk disease).
How Can I Reduce The Amount Of Work Cockers Require?
If you are dealing with a Cocker Spaniel breeder, be sure the breeder is someone who is reputable, will let you meet the parent(s), and answers your questions. A reputable breeder will also have a whole treasure trove of questions for you, the prospective puppy buyer.
I wrote a piece called Is It Okay To Get A Dog From A Dog Breeder that you might want to check out to learn more about what to ask and what should be asked of you. Stay away from pet stores, as they generally sell puppies from unscrupulous puppy mills.
If you are rescuing a Cocker Spaniel, talk to the rescue group or foster parent before committing. In a perfect world, every Cocker Spaniel has a good forever home. Make sure you are ready for the commitment involved with a rescue dog. I’ve done it before and I will do it again. Knowledge is power and you can hop over to read my article, How to Find a Reputable Dog Rescue.
Keep up with baths, grooming, nail clippings, and veterinary visits if a Cocker Spaniel shares your life. I’m all about “pay now or pay later,” so I invest in a good quality diet, won’t put anything on or in my dog that could compromise the delicate immune system, and I don’t wait if I think he needs to see the veterinarian.
Cocker Spaniels are relatively easy to train and positive reinforcement is key. Whether you bring a Cocker puppy home or rescue an adult or senior Cocker from a reputable rescue, Cocker Spaniels need loving, positive, training for a happy, well-rounded dog.
One thing I did to keep my Cocker’s mind and body active is working toward trick dog titles and canine good citizen certification. I don’t plan to compete or do any sort of television commercials, but my dog is confident, happy, and both mind and body are stimulated from his trick dog and canine good citizen training.
Read more about trick dog titles and our journey to success.
Are Cocker Spaniels Emotionally High Maintenance?
Velcro dogs. I’ll never forget the first time I heard that term used in conjunction with Cocker Spaniels. Cockers genuinely love to be near, next to, and/or on top of their humans. If you love the idea of having a dog who wants to be with you 24/7, the Cocker Spaniel is known for her emotional high maintenance.
Not every Cocker wants to be cuddled or snuggled with, as each dog is as unique as each person. Because they are Velcro dogs, Cockers are prone to separation anxiety. My situation is unique because I’ve worked from home for the greater part of the last 20 years, so a Cocker is always by my side. Side note: Best job perk and co-worker ever! Separation anxiety is a real deal, and if you work from home or want her left alone for a period of time, be sure to take it slow and steady and increase the amount of time you spend away.
Do Cocker Spaniels Require High Maintenance For Exercise?
Cockers require a medium amount of exercise. I love that they are happy to be a couch potato during t.v. time with you but then go on a walk or chase a ball at the park. The breed is not high maintenance like a Border Collie, a breed that truly needs a lot of stimulation to channel his energy. Cockers do require exercise, walks, and if you are so inclined, taking things to the next level with dog sports.
From dog agility to nosework, rally to barn hunts, Cocker Spaniels are smart, savvy dogs who are a lot of pooch packed into a medium-sized package.
Is A Cocker Spaniel The Right Dog For Me?
If you understand the history of a particular breed and what the dog’s purpose is, this is very helpful in helping to decide whether a dog is right for you in general.
The American Cocker Spaniel is the smallest member of the sporting dog class. Her eyes of melted chocolate (or green) and their merry disposition makes them the perfect breed for an owner who is devoted to maintaining her grooming, healthy, exercise, and activity needs.
Some people, like Cocker Spaniel foster mom Naomi Lukaszewski, simply love the breed and continue to foster Cocker after Cocker. As of this writing, Naomi and her husband Dan have fostered over 110 Cocker Spaniels until they found forever homes. Of course, they adopted a few along the way. She says Cocker Spaniels are like potato chips and you can’t have just one.
Fostering a Cocker Spaniel is a great way to help a dog in need while seeing if you can handle the maintenance factors involved.
The overall care for a Cocker on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being none and 10 being tons is about an 8.
Learn more about the breed by reading my article, Is A Cocker Spaniel The Right Dog For Me?
Wondering how long Cocker Spaniels live? < === Read our article on the topic.
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