how to groom a cocker spaniel at home

How To Groom A Cocker Spaniel At Home: How To Guide

I wanted to learn to groom a Cocker Spaniel at home for decades. My American Cocker Spaniel dogs received regular grooming thanks to professional grooming appointments. I knew it would be a financial and educational investment, but my dogs are worth it.

I wanted to learn the basics of Cocker Spaniel grooming for safety, security, and to take care of his coat needs on my own schedule without having to schlep my dog to a professional and plunk down $70 to $125. It’s worth it, but an innate desire to groom my Cocker Spaniel’s coat led me to where I am today.

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 my Cocker Spaniel 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. High-quality YouTube videos from a professional dog groomer who specializes in Cocker Spaniels became my second best friend.

If you prefer to learn some basic grooming techniques and what it takes to 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. 

Groom a Cocker Spaniel At Home: Getting Started

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’ve done regular bathing, brushing, and touching my Cocker Spaniels since they entered my life at nine weeks of age. I began by touching their ears, paws, body, and mouth and include regular brushing to get them used to being handled.

After my second Cocker, 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 Spaniels have thick lush coats that require regular, thorough grooming.

For the first week or so, just put your dog on the grooming 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.

When I’ve talked to dog owners over the past three decades who struggle with grooming their Cocker Spaniels, it’s often for one or two reasons. Either the dog was adopted and had a bad history with grooming or the dog simply didn’t get handled, touched, and desensitized to the whole process early enough.

I bathe and blow dry my Cockers one day and then I groom them 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.

Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I am also an Etsy and Chewy affiliate.

Tools To Groom a Cocker Spaniel At Home

The right tools are crucial to grooming your Cocker Spaniel at home. Knowing how to use those tools is of utmost importance.

Here’s a basic list of what I use to groom my dog at home and that I recommend you consider, followed by a description of each:

  • Grooming table
  • ​Slicker brush
  • Metal comb
  • Rake stripper (deshedding rake)
  • Clippers (with a changeable blade if desired)
  • Clipper blades (if you plan to use interchangeable clippers)
  • Clipper oil
  • Blade coolant
  • Scissors
  • Thinning shears (optional)
  • Nail clippers (if you are going to clip them at home)
  • Styptic powder
  • Canine nail file or glass file
  • Ear cleanser
  • Cotton balls
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste

Grooming Table

A sturdy and portable grooming table is a must-have. The grooming table I use is portable, foldable, and is easily stored.

The right brush, rake, and combs are important. Some of the best brushes for Cocker Spaniels include:

tools for grooming a cocker spaniel

Brushes and Combs

Slicker Brush: Used several times a week on my Cocker, a slicker brush 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 skin issues.

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 love the Mars Coat King Undercoat Grooming Rake Stripper. I use the #20 on the recommendation of a trusted Cocker Spaniel breeder.

PRO TIP: Professional Cocker Spaniel breeder taught me a special hack with the Mars Coat King Rake Stripper. I use it in the tub when my Cocker Spaniel, Alvin, is wet and all lathered up. The undercoat hair really comes out when used properly and gently down his back from the neck to the start of his tail.

Steel Comb: I use this frequently, especially and mostly when backcombing my Cockers 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.

I like this 2-piece Flea Comb set sold on Amazon.

The other brush I like to use 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.

Bonus Bathing Tip: Instead of shampooing your Cocker Spaniel as you normally would, try the frothing method of bathing instead. You can thank me later.

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 Bravura Clipper for years. I invested in this for use in-between major grooming sessions on my Cocker. It is lightweight, allows for precise trimming, and easy to use.

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.

Grooming 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.

Puppy cut cocker spaniel
Dexter in his puppy cut.

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.

PRO TIP: 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 can do serious 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.

Andis grooming blades
Photo from Andis

Grooming Scissors

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 professional human 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.

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.

Pro Tip: Cocker Spaniel breeder, Lisa Gaertner, uses special thinning shears to create the perfect “top knot” look at her Cocker Spaniel’s heads. She advises not taking too much and using caution with thinning shears. They can pull the dog’s skin and are very sharp. (It took me years to get the courage up to try them under professional guidance from Lisa.)

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.

I’ve sent my blades and scissors to Fred Rowe and Sons for sharpening.

Flat Shears

A quality pair of flat shears is a must for detail work, trimming, and touch-ups, and I also often hand scissor my Cocker’s legs since my dog grooming skills have improved.

I mostly use curved shears but a flat pair of grooming scissors come in handy from time to time.

Again, I only recommend using thinning shears on your Cocker Spaniel if you are very well-trained and are 100 percent comfortable using them. You can do damage to your dog and yourself.

learning to clip a dog's nails with clippers

Nail Clippers

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.

Millers Forge Nail Clipper with Orange Handle Medium Size

Wearable Magnified Head Set With Light

Miracle Care Kwik Stop Styptic Powder

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. Here are dog shampoo ingredients to avoid.

One of my favorite ways to use dog shampoo is the frothing method. It is easy, effective, and makes a huge difference in your Cocker’s skin and coat. Learn how to make your dog’s fur soft with frothing.

My favorite in-tub bath brush is the Pride and Groom Bath Brush. It’s made with silicone teeth and a bamboo base to release debris and undercoat. It also stimulates your dog’s natural oils, and my dog thinks he’s getting a spa treatment.

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:

Pride and Groom The Shedder Shampoo and Conditioner (with the most amazing scent that doesn’t overpower or irritate.)

Zymox Itch Relief Shampoo

Zymox Itch Relief Leave-On Conditioner (love love love this stuff, you leave it in!)

Wondercide Bar Soaps

Note: I don’t always bathe my Cocker Spaniel 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.

Pro Tip: Here are my favorite dog shampoos for dry, itchy skin.

Reminders Before You Start Grooming

  1. Always check the blade to be sure it is not hot to touch – you can burn the dog
  2. Never scold your dog for not cooperating. You don’t want the dog to be fearful.
  3. Give your dog frequent breaks and time for a drink of water and to lay down.
  4. Tell your Cocker what a good boy/girl they are as you groom. Positive reinforcement is essential.
  5. If you get frustrated or feel confused, stop.

Types of Cocker Spaniel Haircuts

There are several types of haircuts for Cocker Spaniels from which to choose. I like to keep my Cockers in a “puppy” or “sporting cut.” A well-groomed Cocker Spaniel with a puppy or sporting cut will have less fur all over, the length is cut shorter, and it is much easier to manage for a busy pet parent.

The shorter cut makes it easier to maintain in between grooming sessions. You can also more easily feel for skin problems like lumps and bumps. As a bonus, it’s easier to see fleas or ticks as you run your fingers through their coat and across the skin.

A shorter coat means less matting or tangles as long as you brush often and praise your Cocker for being such a great dog.

I’ll be focusing on how to do a puppy or sporting cut. Here are some images of Cocker Spaniels with other types of haircuts. If you prefer a longer coat, most of my techniques apply to you, but you would take less off the dog.

I don’t use a stripping blade on my dog’s back, although many professional groomers or show dog groomers prefer that tool. In inexperienced hands, you can harm your dog if any of these tools are not properly used.

Show Cut

The show cut allows the coat to remain long on the chest, ears, belly, and the hair that hangs down on either side, called the skirt. The rest of the body is cut shorter. The show cut requires a lot of maintenance.

groom a cocker spaniel at home show cut

Teddy Bear Cut

I don’t see this often, but I have seen it on Instagram, and as a different look, some pet parents prefer. The dog is cut to resemble a teddy bear of sorts. The length is short, while the head, tail, and ears are longer.

teddy bear cut for grooming cocker spaniel
courtesy Shutterstock

Puppy or Sporting Cut

puppy cut on a cocker spaniel

The puppy cut is my favorite, as seen on my Alvin above. The entire body is clipped down to a nice shorter length but the ears are a bit longer. Now and then I clip the hair hanging down from the ear with scissors.

Step-by-Step Puppy Cut Groom Your Cocker Spaniel At Home

The complete video to walk you through Cocker Spaniel clipping at home is below, but step by step with photos, this includes:

groom Cocker Spaniel back

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 will 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 FCs, are finishing blades and require much less scissoring after clipping the coat with them.

Clip your Cocker Spaniel from home

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. You want to work against the grain inside the ear 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. A snood works well to prevent food and water from entering the ear canal or sticking to ears.

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.

grooming a Cocker Spaniel leg

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 harm the 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 dog has arthritis.

clipping the cocker spaniel leg

Pprofessional groomer and Cocker Spaniel pro, Patricia Elkins has a wonderful technique, so you can see how she cleans out a pet Cocker Spaniel below.

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. Back brush and run the blade again.

I prefer to hand scissor my Cockers’ legs for a smoother overall look. Check for mats in the pads and gently remove them. 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.

Pro Tip: Get an in-depth look at dog paw care and maintenance in our article, Dog Paw Care Professional Tips and Advice.

how to groom cocker spaniel paws

Clip Nails

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 veterinarian 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.

Finishing Touches

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:

  1. Flush ears
  2. Brush teeth
  3. Wipe off any hair with a bath cloth or pet-safe wipe.

What If My Dog Hates Being Groomed

Not all dogs enjoy the grooming process. Many dogs tolerate it and are fine during grooming sessions, but other dogs do not.

If your dog gets nervous, angry, or agitated during the grooming process, there are some things you can do to help him accept grooming.

My article on grooming a difficult dog features tips, tricks, and professional advice and products.

Final Pro Tips For Home Cocker Spaniel 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:

how to groom a cocker spaniel at home

Final Tips For Grooming Your Cocker Spaniel At Home

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.

Have you ever groomed your Cocker Spaniel at home? Let us know and how I can help in the comments below.

Tips to groom a Cocker Spaniel at home

Additional Reading

​Differences Between American Cocker Spaniels and English Cocker Spaniels

Expert Tips To Clean Cocker Spaniel Ears


  1. I’ve read books, and watched videos. I’ve taken classes, talked to my grooming friends. NO one until I read this in-depth article on how to groom y cocker spaniel. Lordy, you could teach a class in this Fidose. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of your videos, article, attention to detail, and the photos you shared with your fans and audience.

    Thank you so much for helping this fur Mom. I’ve taken notes and booked marked this page. Such valuable information.

  2. Thank you for sharing about cocker spaniel grooming as I was searching for the real tips. By the way, I hope someone can answer me what are the specific best smart dog toys for cocker spaniel owners.

  3. Great job in your description of the process. Very practical and helpful. I also lend my voice in stressing the need for a professional especially when it pertains to the decision of grooming the anal gland.

  4. The clippers I use are a whal brand they work really well on my boy Cooper his hair is just ever so slightly more course than my girl Harper. On her hair they just don’t work. Her hair is so cotton soft like a bunny rabbit. She matts up more than he’s does. The clippers just clog up and pulls. What would you recommend for this problem?

    1. Hi Chelle. Here are some things you can do:

      1. Brushing is the best way to prevent matting and exfoliate Harper’s skin. Go one section at a time and be sure to cover the entire body. I recently wrote a post about the Best Brushes for Cocker Spaniels. My faves are listed here:
      2. Lift the brush, pat, and gently stroke a section of hair at a time.
      3. I love the products from Pride and Groom and have been using those on my new Cocker pup:
      Of note, I like a slicker brush but be careful with the pins so you don’t hurt her skin.

      Hope that helps!

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