Cocker Spaniel Breed Council


The temperament problems discussed below are not specific to Cocker Spaniels, and may be found in any breed of dog. The following suggestions are a few ideas on how to cope with the more common behavioural problems, but if you would like more advice, you can e-mail or telephone any of the members of the advisory council (click HERE for details) Many people feel that speying or castrating a dog with behavioural problems will help, however this is rarely the case.

Possessiveness is a problem easily learnt by dogs, and may involve food, toys or people. If a dog is secure in its environment, and is not continually having toys or food taken away from it, it is less likely to occur in the first place. Every dog must have a place to go that it can call its own, where it can sleep or rest and not be disturbed. If a dog starts to become possessive over anything, don’t make an issue of it – in general any dog should be praised for good behaviour, and ignored for bad behaviour.

  • Food. If your dog has become possessive over its food, it is because it feels it could loose that food at any moment. This would be a natural reaction in the wild – to protect your food from any other predators. The best way to correct this behaviour is to put down an empty bowl when feeding, or only a small amount of the dogs food, and then gradually add in the rest. In the beginning, choose a food that you know your dog loves. If the dog is aggressive, this can be done from a distance. Gradually, the dog will become confident that you are not about to steal its food, and indeed you are keen to give it more. The possessiveness will subside. Make sure all members of the family are able to feed your dog.
  • Toys. If your dog has become possessive over toys, then firstly make sure the dog has lots of toys so that this is less likely to happen. Imagine you were a dog enjoying playing with a toy and somebody stopped you – you wouldn’t be very happy would you? If this happens on a regular basis, you can understand why your dog becomes aggressive when it has a toy and you approach it. Aversion therapy is probably the best way to diffuse the situation. Immediately walk away and do not antagonise the dog any more. Dogs love to be a part of what’s going on, so if you and any other members of the family go off and play with another toy, it won’t be long before the dog comes over to see what you are doing, and join in playing with the new toy. This may need to be repeated several times to gain the dogs confidence. Teach any children not to tease a dog by taking away its toys.
  • People. If your dog becomes possessive over you or another member of your family you need to put a stop to this immediately. Do not find this flattering. A dog may be around one particular member of the family a lot more than the others. To avoid the dog becoming protective and only responding to this person, all other members of the family need to be involved with feeding, walking and playing with the dog. If a dog is sitting with a person and the dog growls when another person or dog approaches, then immediately get up and walk away from the dog. The dog should be left on it’s own for a short period of time. If you stay you are rewarding the dog’s protective behaviour. This behaviour should stop if this procedure is repeated each time the problem occurs. Dogs are very sociable animals and do not like being excluded from family activities or from human contact.

Nervous or timid dogs may show aggression when cornered or frightened. Some dogs are by nature more timid than others, but a dog that is not socialised and exposed to different experiences at an early age may become nervous in certain situations. For this reason you must gradually introduce your puppy to as many different people and situations as you can. These experiences must be happy ones for your puppy as they seem to have a long memory for things they have not enjoyed. If your dog is showing signs of nervousness, do not praise them as it is reinforcing this as correct behaviour. Instead try and gently encourage them and reassure them, helping them to feel confident. If your dog is naturally timid then do not force situations, it may take a long time for your dog to gain confidence and your dog may never be totally relaxed in new situations. Remember that a dog can detect if you are nervous so be as confident as you can when trying new things with your dog.

For many years the golden cocker spaniel has been maligned because of the syndrome known as “Rage”. This appeared to become prevalent in post war days, since then many people and indeed veterinarians have continued to warn people against this most popular of colours amongst the cockers. Research has been carried out regarding rage for many years; to date there has been no real explanation for this problem. Rage syndrome actually exists within many breeds; it also occurs in all colours not just the golden & reds.

It is vitally important that you do not mistake bad temperament for rage. Do not worry that this is something you are likely to see very often, this is a very rare problem within the breed and it is doubtful that real rage has been seen by many owners. Rage syndrome is not actually a behavioural problem, but a clinical condition.

A dog suffering with rage can live very normally and happily for many months, showing no signs at all of any problem. It has been known for 8 week old puppies to develop rage but it is more likely to start at the time of puberty in the males and the first season in bitches. However there appears to be no proof that hormones play any part in the problem. The dog will without any warning or provocation suddenly attack the nearest person, having no control of itself whatsoever, sometimes as you put its food down or just when you walk into a room where it is. You could be stroking it or playing with it. DO NOT TRY TO PACIFY THE DOG. Leave the area/room and do not return for several minutes. During an attack it is quite common for the dogs eyes to appear to roll back showing the whites of the eye, the dog does not know what it is doing so do not blame or hit the dog. It is assumed that the attack is caused by some sort of fault in the brain. We do not know what triggers this to cause the attacks. After an attack the dog will return to normal and be unaware of anything that has happened, he will become your loving pet as before. This is when you have to make the heart breaking decision regarding your beloved pet. These attacks will continue to happen on a regular basis, possible more and more frequently. Eventually your dog will know you are reacting differently to him and become worried and unhappy.

Other behavioural problems are never to be confused with Rage. The reasons and possible cures for these will be found under the relevant headings. Remember that Rage Syndrome is very rare, but very severe. If you have ever seen a dog with Rage, then there is no mistaking this for other behavioural problems. If you suspect your dog may have Rage Syndrome, please contact one of the members of the Cocker Spaniel Temperament Advisory Council for more help.

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