I'm often asked if Cocker Spaniels make good family dogs and although I firmly believe Cockers make great family dogs, my answer to this question has to be a cautious 'Yes and no'.
Please allow me to explain.
As devoted Cocker owners, we already know that the Cocker Spaniel temperament is very gentle and loving and that our Cockers are happy, friendly little dogs.
We also know that they love being outdoors, but are equally happy inside; languishing on the rug in winter sunshine, curled up on our laps, playing with our children, or simply dozing by the fire.
We've trained our dogs so we know that they're very willing and intelligent and it's this train-ability that helps them to become good family dogs.
They don't like being left alone and can often suffer from separation anxiety if left home alone for too long. They adore being with their family; in fact, they feel a need to be involved in everything the family does!
Their wonderful temperament makes the Cocker Spaniel one of the best family dogs you could hope to live with!
So, yes, Cocker Spaniels do make good family dogs, but this statement comes with a very strong piece of advice, which is explained below.
Although Cockers are very gentle dogs, they can also be quite sensitive and will shy away from harsh treatment or handling.
If they're not treated gently and kindly, Cocker Spaniels can become quite aggressive and judging from the amount of e-mails I receive from owners concerned about their Cocker's aggression, I know this to be true.
Many owners can't understand why their Cockers suddenly become aggressive but sometimes overlook that fact that children can be rough, especially in play or when they get excited, and it's often just too much for a young puppy to handle - and that's when the trouble begins.
The puppy may try to warn off the children by growling, but because a growling puppy is often considered cute, the growl is frequently ignored. However, a growl is a warning that a bite is likely to follow and should always be taken very seriously!
If the children continue to play rough or are too boisterous, the puppy is likely to become progressively more aggressive; from growling, snarling, barking, and snapping, to the final, more dangerous act of aggression, biting.
If the puppy learns that aggressive behaviour can get him what he wants, he'll continue to use this behaviour to get his own way in many other situations....and so the aggression continue and will escalate if not checked.
Aggressive dogs will never make good family dogs!
"This form of aggression is known as 'Fear Aggression' and it can cause
a total relationship 'melt-down' between you and your
Cocker Spaniel unless you can regain his trust."
Many inexperienced owners don't understand why their Cockers begin behaving aggressively and are often unable to deal with the problem.
Unfortunately, these poor misunderstood animals are no longer viewed as good family dogs and often end up in Cocker Spaniel rescue centres because their owners can no longer handle them.
Sadly, many of these so called 'aggressive' Cockers are also put to sleep.
It's such a shame really, as the majority of occurrences of canine aggression (in Cockers or any other breed of dog) could have been easily prevented in the first place simply by treating the dog gently, with kindness and respect, and giving good solid training and (gentle) discipline.
Important Note: Unfortunately, this 'fear aggression' (and many other types of aggression in dogs) is sometimes misdiagnosed as Cocker Rage; a condition which does exist in the Cocker Spaniel breed, but happily, is rarely seen.
You can follow the link for more information and an explanation of how to determine if your dog suffers from Cocker Rage Syndrome.
The first step is make sure you choose a puppy with a good temperament.
The second, is to find a good Cocker Spaniel breeder!
Find a good cocker spaniel breeder - yes, I've said it twice because it's important!
Choose a reputable Cocker Spaniel breeder who carefully matches her breeding pair for temperament as well as health in order to produce good family dogs.
A good breeder will have given a great deal of consideration to selecting which dogs to breed from.
Additionally, they will have started the all-essential socialization process long before your puppy is ready to leave for his new home, a process which, by the way, should be continued immediately you get home.
See below for more on puppy socialization.
Learn how to select reputable cocker spaniel breeders and, once you've made contact with your chosen breeder, which questions to ask American and English Cocker Spaniel breeders.
Beware of Cocker Spaniels bred in puppy farms (also known as puppy mills), or sold in pet stores, as their animals are often inbred which can result in aggressive behaviour in dogs as well as unnecessary health problems.
Inbred puppies can result in nervous, jittery, snappy, high-maintenance dogs which will prove very difficult to manage and train, particularly for a novice owner - not exactly what you'd call good family dogs and certainly not the sort of dog you'd want around your children!
Put simply, socialization can help to produce good family dogs!
Socialization is the process of acclimatising a puppy to his environment; humans, animals, everyday noises and new situations so that he's comfortable with all manner of encounters and situations.
It's said that the 'socialization window' closes at 12 weeks and although it's possible to socialize after that time, it will prove much more difficult and the results won't be as good.
Don't miss that window of opportunity!
Poorly socialized puppies are often confused and frightened by the simplest of situations or noises, and are often nervous about their surroundings. They can become easily over-excited and anxious and they're more likely to display fear aggression and other behavioural problems later in life.
Generally, under-socialized dogs don't make good family dogs!
Socializing your puppy is vital to ensure a confident and well-behaved adult dog and will allow that great Cocker Spaniel temperament to shine through!
To get the best from your Cocker Spaniel, I strongly recommend any puppy obedience training is based on positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement is where your dog is rewarded with a treat, praise, or both, for getting it right.
By doing so, you're not only rewarding your dog, but you're reinforcing his good behaviour.
It's best not to rush your puppy's training just be patient and he'll get it right.
Cockers are keen to please and will try so hard to do what you want, but it sometimes takes a little longer for them to learn exactly what it is that you want from them.
If your puppy get's it wrong, be patient and loving - he'll get there when he's ready.
Learn more about how to train a puppy.
Don't ever let your puppy get away with bad behaviour, otherwise he'll 'learn' to behave badly, and badly behaved dogs are not good family dogs.
You need to help him understand what behaviour you want from him and that means rewarding his good behaviour and punishing bad behaviour.
Discipline should never take the form of physical punishment, simply give a firm 'No' and move on. Don't dwell on it.
If your puppy continues to misbehave, ignore him or leave the room for a couple of minutes.
It won't be long before he learns which behaviour gets him the treats and which gets him the 'cold shoulder'!
Whether you're training or disciplining your puppy, if you're too rough with him he may become defensive; he may growl, snarl, bark, snap, or bite.
Fear aggression can cause a total relationship 'melt-down' between you and your Cocker Spaniel so take it easy; be patient and gentle with your Cocker puppy.
Some owners believe that it would be irresponsible to bring an adult Cocker Spaniel into a family with young children and that it could be a recipe for disaster. Unless the adult Cocker had previously lived in a household with children, I would be inclined to agree.
I would, however, recommend bringing a Cocker puppy into a household with young children as this will allow them both to learn and grow up together.
If Cocker puppies are to become good family dogs they need to be well-trained and disciplined. Additionally, there must also be a set of firm ground-rules for the children to follow, for example:
The children should also be aware that their puppy may not always want to be handled or to play. They need to respect that, and give their puppy some peace and quiet from time to time.
Always ensure young children are supervised around a young puppy until you are confident that you can trust both to be safe with each other.
Please don't think I'm targeting the Cocker Spaniel as an aggressive dog that shouldn't ever be placed in a family environment.
I'm not - far from it!
I offer these words of caution to anyone bringing any breed of dog into a home with young children - it's simple common sense.
Cocker Spaniels do make good family dogs so long as they're trained well and treated with respect by all members of the family and the above-mentioned ground rules are followed by all, particularly the children!
Treat your Cocker with kindness and understanding, be gentle with him and he'll reward you with years of affection, companionship, loyalty, and happiness.
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