Grooming a Cocker Spaniel at home is something I wanted to learn for decades. I knew it would be an investment but I’d be able to groom my Cocker by myself. The main reasons I wanted to learn to groom my Cocker are for safety, security, and to take care of his coat needs on my own schedule without having to schlep him to a professional and plunk down $60. It’s worth it, but an innate desire to groom him led me to where I am today.
After using the services of a few professional dog groomers over the years, I settled on one groomer in particular. If you are like me, something is internally nagging to try your hand at home grooming.
This post is dedicated to the basic steps, tools, and tips involved in Cocker Spaniel grooming, which involves several steps. In order to learn to groom Dexter at home, I visited a professional dog breeder a few times to watch how she groomed Cocker Spaniels in her own private grooming salon. A few times I watched as my dog was professionally groomed in a shop. I also watched many videos and enrolled in a home study grooming program.
If you prefer to learn some basic grooming techniques and what it takes to do care for your Cocker’s coat with a puppy trim or full groom, I’ve got you covered and a step-by-step video, too.
Why: Grooming A Cocker Spaniel At Home
Cocker parents often ask me how to learn to clip their dog at home, and I usually ask why they want to learn. If it’s to save money, in the long run is a great reason, but it shouldn’t be the only one, at least not at first. There are costs associated with home grooming, but once you learn and pay for the different products needed, it is a huge cost savings.
I have been bathing and brushing Dexter since he entered my life at nine weeks old. I started touching his ears, paws, body, and mouth to get him used to being handled.
After Dexter came down with kennel cough twice within a week or so after visiting the professional groomer, I decided to learn. Prior to that, he was semi-groomed every six weeks and fully groomed every 9 to 10 weeks. Cocker Spaniel coats are thick and require frequent grooming.
Nightly teeth brushing means my dog is used to having his mouth gently touched. I started slow, learning to run a blade along his back and then moved on to other parts of his body. Your dog should be accustomed to touch and allow gentle handling.
For the first week or so, just put your dog on the table and get him used to it. Praise often. Brush your dog on the table. Pet his feet, touch his ears. Use the grooming clippers but don’t turn them on. Get used to holding them while putting your dog at ease.
I bathe and blow dry Dexter one day and then I groom him the next. A clean coat allows for the blade to run smoothly through the hair. I also prefer to break his grooming up into two days so he isn’t standing for hours on end in a tub and then a table.
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Tools To Use For Cocker Spaniel Home Grooming
Here’s what I use to groom my dog at home:
A sturdy and portable grooming table is a must-have. This is the grooming table I use and recommend.
I recently wrote a post about the best brushes for Cocker Spaniels. These include:
Slicker Brush: Used several times a week on my Cocker, helps get rid of debris, loose hair, and keeps the coat in overall good condition as the oils distribute through the fur as you brush. Use caution as there are wire bristles. Use caution so you don’t scratch or damage the skin. I don’t use a slicker brush when my Cocker’s coat is shorter. Don’t use if your dog has broken skin, fleas, or any sort of skin issue.
Deshedding rake: Safely removes the undercoat and loose hair with ease. I explain more in my YouTube video (below). Used before you start grooming. I’ve tried a few brands and really love the Mars Coat King Undercoat Grooming Rake Stripper.
Steel Comb: I use this frequently, especially and mostly when backcombing Dexter during the actual grooming session. I’m an Andis fan, and I own this Andis Steel Comb for Pets. It’s lightweight and a staple in any grooming toolkit.
Flea Comb: I carry one of these in my Cocker’s travel bag, his first aid kit, and in his grooming supply kit. I run this along his coat once it is a bit shorter after grooming to see if any dry skin or fleas exist. I use it for a longer Cocker coat when he is growing out a bit. I don’t care for the plastic ones because the teeth easily break and go missing.
The other one on my dog both on and off the table is a double-sided bamboo handle brush, featuring two separate brushes. One side is a standard bristle brush and the other is a pin style. I used the bristle side most often.
Cocker Spaniel Clippers
Without a quality clipper, you can’t properly groom a Cocker Spaniel. Some people prefer a cordless clipper with blades on board while others (like me) prefer a wired clipper with interchangeable blades. It’s really a preference thing, but I like the feel and control of wired clippers along with the ability to change out the blades.
Cordless Clipper: I’ve used the Wahl Arco Clipper for years. I invested in this for use in-between major grooming sessions on my Cocker. It is lightweight, allows for precise trimming, comes with two rechargeable batteries. The 5-in-1 fine blade adjusts between a 9, 10, 15, 30, and a 40 for a variety of cutting lengths. More about blade sizes and cutting lengths shortly.
Corded Clipper: My go-to clipper is the Andis Ultraedge super 2-speed detachable blade clipper – it is corded but is very quiet and has two speeds. I primarily use it on high. I prefer to interchange the blades and I keep two of each blade size on hand. You’ll see why shortly. This one weighs a bit more than the Wahl Arco Clipper, but I love it for a full groom and the ability to change out the blades.
Wahl Clipper Oil: Use this for maintenance and optimal performance after every use with your clippers. It is important to oil and clean blades to keep blades from becoming dull and the clipper itself lubricated.
Andis Cool Care Plus: Use this on blades if you use the Andis clipper – or any clipper with blades that become hot to touch as they are used. I used this diligently with each grooming session and it lubricates, disinfects, and most importantly, cools the blades.
There are a variety of grooming blades for dog clippers including steel, ceramic, fine-toothed, or skip-toothed, and each of them is designed to clip dog hair. The size of the clipper blade means which blade is attached to the end of clippers, like the Andis Ultraedge Clipper that I use.
The blade(s) used determines the length of the hair. Each number on a blade corresponds to a different cut length. It’s really easy but there are entire seminars and books devoted to the topic. The blade or blades you choose depends on the length of hair you want remaining on your Cocker Spaniel.
The Andis blades I use are made of high-carbon steel and are detachable. The higher the number, the shorter the dog’s hair will be. So if you use a #3-3/4 on a hairy Cocker Spaniel, you won’t be taking much hair off at all. That size blade is designed to leave a half-inch of hair on the dog.
I prefer a puppy cut so Dexter’s hair is a bit shorter than a Cocker bred to show in the ring. Here’s what I use followed by a handy chart from Andis.
Blade #3-3/4: For light leg and paw work, I use the 3-3/4 blade after backcombing the tops of Dexter’s paws.
Blade #5FC: In summer months, I use the 5FC or the 7FC, it all depends how short I want Dexter’s hair. This is the blade I use on the back and body and down his sides. Basically the skullbone to tail. I have two #5FC blades so that when one gets warm to the touch, I use the cooling spray and don’t have to wait. I can pop the original blade off and pop a cool #5FC on the clipper. The FC means “finish cut” and leaves the hair looking more finished and smooth.
Blade #7FC: Again, I alternate with this blade with the #5FC, but primarily use a #7FC for a shorter cut, sometimes on the legs, too. The #7FC is a higher number than the #5FC, so more hair will be clipped from the dog. The #7FC leaves 1/8-inch of hair.
Blade #10: This one is a ceramic edge and you can do a bit more damage with this blade. It is NOT a finishing cut blade, so you need to use caution. I use a 10 for the underbelly, near his groin and butt, top of head, face, inner ears, and jowls.
For home grooming, those are the blades I use and recommend. I have a few higher number blades, including the #15 and #40 but you seriously can do damage with those blades. If you want to groom your Cocker at home, the above-mentioned blades are the ones I recommend having in your blade carrying case.
I hand scissor a few areas on my Cocker Spaniel. You’ll want to hand scissors the edges around the paws so they look rounded. A common mistake newbies make is making the paws look grinch-like and sort of a hot mess (I know, I’ve been there). The cool part about dog hair, especially on a Cocker, is that it grows back fast! Forgive yourself and start slow. Now the scissors.
Curved Shears: Some people, like my friend Naomi Lukaszewski who has fostered over 110 Cocker Spaniels, uses a pair of human professional shears. I prefer a pair of curved shears for use on my dog’s paws and his ear flaps. Good shears are not cheap, but you get what you pay for.
For those starting out, try a pair of Fromm curved shears.
I use Kenchii curved grooming shears, available in a variety of sizes. Mine are the Kenchii Five-Star Offset 6” Curved Grooming Shears. I love them. Regular use means getting them sharpened as the blade dulls. A dull blade can cut you or the dog, so always seek a professional service to sharpen them. If you are investing in good scissors, it makes sense to have a pro sharpen them. One service that comes highly recommended is Fred Rowe and Sons.
I also own the Sharf Gold Touch 7.5” Pet Grooming Shears and like the feel of them a lot as well.
A quality pair of flat shears is a must for detail work, trimming, touch-ups, and I also often hand scissor Dexter’s legs since my dog grooming skills have improved.
I mostly use curved shears but the flat pair I use is the Fromm Premier Point Tip Shears.
I’ve written extensively about the process of clipping a dog’s nails at home. There are two tools I could not do without when it comes to dog nails.
Read more about those tools and my easy-to-learn process here: How to Clip Dog Nails at Home
Prep and Pre-Grooming Preparation
I bathe and blow dry my Cocker the day before full grooming. You don’t have to do this, but it’s easier on both of us. In terms of shampoo and the blow dryer I use, a good shampoo runs the gamut.
Not all dog shampoos are created equal, and some of them contain ingredients that can harm your dog. More about the dangers of dog shampoo.
Ask 20 Cocker Spaniel moms or dads what shampoo is best for their dog and you’ll get a variety of answers. Use what works and you prefer. We rotate between these shampoos and conditioners:
Zymox Itch Relief Leave-On Conditioner (love love love this stuff, you leave it in!)
Note: I don’t always bathe Dexter before a light grooming, if for example, I’m doing nails, face, and head. I find the blade runs smoother through the coat when the dog is bathed first, and I am that’s the way I was taught when I took professional training.
Reminders Before You Start Grooming
- Always check the blade to be sure it is not hot to touch – you can burn the dog
- Never scold your dog for not cooperating. You don’t want the dog to be fearful.
- Give your dog frequent breaks and time for a drink of water and to lay down.
- Tell your Cocker what a good boy/girl they are as you groom.
- If you get frustrated or feel confused, stop.
The complete video to walk you through Cocker Spaniel clipping at home is below, but step by step with photos this includes:
Back and Body
I like to start with the back and sides of my Cocker, skull bone to tail basically. Learn to clip one section of your dog at a time. Once I felt comfortable on the back and body, I moved on.
If you run the clipper backward (tail to head vs head to tail) it’s going to take the length down one blade number. For example, if you run a 4F backward that length will be that of a 5F clipped normally head to tail length). It is harder to run the clipper blades backward, too…you have to use more hand/arm strength to push it through the coat.
It will take a few “passes” and backcombing, as illustrated in the video. Praise your dog and never yell or scold them for not cooperating. Metal blades…especially the FC’s are finishing blades and require much less scissoring after clipping the coat with them.
Head, Face, Ears, Neck and Chest
I use 10 for the head but I recommend you start with a lower blade like a #5FC. I groom the outer ears 1/3 of the way down using a #7FC. Use caution around the ears are there are sensitive areas that can easily get snagged in the blade.
I use the curved shears to round the ears because I like a shorter “bobbed” Cocker ear. Inside the ear, you want to work against the grain once you feel comfortable. The Cocker ear is prone to infections, and keeping the ear canal free of hair and debris lessens the likelihood they will get an infection.
I like to clip the entire inside flap of the Cocker ear to allow that airflow and to prevent all the nasties and yukkies the Cocker ears pick up. Snood anyone?
The face is all about a #10 blade, as demonstrated in the video with my technique. It’s important to clip the cheeks against the grain, the jowls to prevent lip fold dermatitis, as well as the side of the face, and in between the eyes.
The neck is tricky, but involves holding the dog’s skin taut and working against the grain, or gently running the clipper backward up toward the chin. I use a #7FC blade on the neck for the most part.
Some people use scissors to clip eyelashes, but I’ve learned to take them off in one swoop with the #10. Never take a chance on this if you are uncertain or unsteady in your technique.
I squat down at my dog’s level to achieve a clean chest with a #7FC blade and work with the grain in smooth downward strokes.
Legs, Groin, Armpits, Tail
I highly suggest you move on to these areas when you’ve mastered others. The knack for developing smoothness and evenness comes with time and running the blade a few times over the coat in addition to backcombing.
Make sure the blade lays close to the skin and is not pointed at the skin. The blade will stumble and can harm the dog, making it harder to use. You want the blade to glide.
Lift each leg gently and clip the armpits and groin area – I use a #7FC or #10 on these areas.
For the sanitary and anal area, #10 is my choice. Never run the blade on the dog’s anal area where it can sensitive exposed skin.
I tend to squat to groom my dog to make it more comfortable for him. Some people lift the dog’s leg up, but use caution to not harm the dog especially sensitive Cocker ligaments or if your pooch has arthritis.
Patricia Elkins has a wonderful technique so you can see how she cleans out a pet Cocker Spaniel:
Legs and Feet
As illustrated in the video below, the legs and feet are next. I like the #7FC straight down and across the tops of the paws. I use downward strokes from the chest to the top of the paw. Backbrush and run the blade again.
I prefer to hand scissor Dexter’s legs for a smoother overall look. Check for mats in the pads and gently remove. Never pull on mats to harm the dog or cause him pain.
Backcombing the tops of the paws allows me to then hand scissor them and use a #3-3/4 blade to thin them out. The hair between the pads needs to be cleaned out with a higher blade, but anything higher than a 10 is dangerous, in my opinion, for someone new to this process.
The very last thing I do is nail clipping. I suggest reading how to clip a dog’s nails at home for a step-by-step with video.
Anal Glands: Yes or No?
Not all dogs need their anal glands expressed. I also learned from a vet friend many moons ago that some dogs will need regular emptying of anal glands once they are expressed the first time. I always recommend allowing a professional to do this, such as a veterinary technician or vet.
At this point, I stand back and assess how my dog’s coat looks overall. I do touch-ups, areas I may have missed, tell him what a good boy he is, and smooch his face.
A few other things you can do:
- Flush ears
- Brush teeth
- Wipe off any hair with a bath cloth or pet-safe wipe.
Final Pro Tips For Home Grooming
Here’s the promised video of Cocker Spaniel home grooming basics. I suggest visiting some benched dog shows where you can watch the various Cocker Spaniels being groomed. Press play on this video below:
Start early with touching your Cocker’s feet, coat, head, mouth, and sitting for you.
Join my Club Cocker Wigglebutts Worldwide Facebook group to connect with other Cocker Spaniel lovers. You can search grooming in the Search Box, too.
Grooming a Cocker Spaniel is time-consuming and requires a dedicated pet parent. It’s also very rewarding to be in charge of your Cocker’s coat. Keeping a dog’s fur brushed, groomed, and clean is good for them, too.