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Was getting a cocker spaniel a mistake?

A reader wonders if a cocker spaniel was the right choice. Ellen Swift advises.

working cocker spaniel puppy

Should a working cocker puppy be housed in a kennel?

Q: I am wondering whether getting a cocker spaniel was a mistake. I bought my first cocker spaniel last year. I was sure to do my research on reputable breeders and health-tested parents. The pedigree is very impressive, with many field trial champions, and the mother had a lovely temperament.

We knew we were getting a high-energy dog, but aimed for her to be a family pet. I was told that if we could offer her the appropriate exercise, we would be an ideal home. Sadly, I am starting to think that was wrong. No matter how much we walk her, she is still manic. We have been on basic obedience courses, with little or no improvement. She has no interest in toys or treats, preferring to sniff and hunt. We have been considering if we will ever be able to offer her enough. Should we keep trying or should she be rehomed?

Training working cocker spaniel

Ellena training one of her working cocker spaniels

A: This is not an uncommon situation. I am thrilled by how thorough you were in looking for a puppy, but perhaps the breeder should have explained a little more about a working dog.

She has been bred from generations of working — and, by the sound of it, trialling — dogs. These are busy, energetic and intelligent lines that will never be content simply walking. Although you wanted a pet, you bought a highly tuned working dog. However, it does not mean you can’t give her enough.

Cocker spaniel a mistake? The answer is training, not just walks

By the sound of it, she is not getting any mental challenge or stimulation. Simply walking or running will never tire out a spaniel. All that happens is you make them fitter. So instead of walking for an hour, do an hour’s training. As she is bred as a gundog, this would be my initial go-to. Find a gundog trainer to help guide you on exercises and drills that will challenge her mind and body. Ensure she learns how to switch off in between exercise, using a kennel, crate or bed, so she isn’t getting overtired. If you would prefer not to do gundog training, look at scent work. Without stimulating or challenging her mentally, you are fighting a losing battle.