Cocker spaniel size/ temperament, but less exercise?

(37 Posts)
Glendora Mon 06-Jul-20 10:41:36

Hello dog experts!

We're beginning to make plans for getting our first dog in the next couple of years. I've wanted one for ages and have always loved working cocker spaniels. But I don't think we can manage the amount of exercise/stimulation they require - i.e. 2+ hrs of walks a day. We live semi-rurally with good walks on our doorstep and a big garden. But I also work FT (from home most of the time) so don't have masses of time for really long walks every day.

I love the temperament and look of working cockers and we want a medium-sized dog. What else might fit the bill as a good first-time dog for a family? DC will be around 5 & 8 when we get the dog/puppy. So, no labs, retrievers or greyhounds (too big), no terriers (too small, too barky). In an ideal world we'd find a spaniel/lab mix (springador, etc), but they seem impossible to find. Or just a lovely mongrel, but again, impossible to find unless a rescue and I don't think we can take on a rescue (first time dog owners, primary-aged children, etc).

OP’s posts: |
frostedviolets Mon 06-Jul-20 11:19:24

I've wanted one for ages and have always loved working cocker spaniels. But I don't think we can manage the amount of exercise/stimulation they require - i.e. 2+ hrs of walks a day
Personally, I don’t agree with the whole working breeds/working lines of breeds need hours of training and mental stimulation per day mantra.

I think all huge volumes of exercise does is best case scenario create dogs that expect huge volumes of exercise every day and get destructive and frustrated if they don’t for whatever reason get it like if your are ill or the weather is dangerous etc and worst case scenario create dogs that are hyperactive, neurotic and never really relax/settle down.

I do know people with working bred cockers and labradors and they don’t get the ridiculous amount of exercise and training mumsnet swears they need.

They are properly trained and chilled indoors and lively outside.

I have a border collie of working lines and I know other people with border collies of working lines.
None of us give our dogs excessive amounts of exercise and training and they are all calm, placid house companions and lively outside.

Of the ones I know, mine is the quickest to overstimulate.
She can do long walks easy but they have to be calm.
Lots of training or lots of excitement like playing ball for instance and she is quite unpleasant.
She loses the ability to relax and paces and becomes extremely whiny.

Whenever we say we have a border collie, and I imagine a working line cocker would get the same reaction, without a doubt we get ‘god I bet that’s hard work/you must have to exercise for hours/bet that keeps you busy’

Reality is, she sleeps pretty much all day.
She isn’t one bit bothered about missing walks and following the advice of huge amounts of training/exercise (that is almost always advocated by people who have never even had a working line dog!!) makes her anxious and thoroughly unpleasant.

With cockers, I wouldn’t have a show line if you paid me!
I’m not disputing horrible working line cockers are out there but personally, I have yet to meet a working line cocker that hasn’t been delightful.

Show lines on the other hand, I find generally quite awful.
I have met quite a few that are shockingly aggressive both to people and other dogs.

Glendora Mon 06-Jul-20 12:16:21

That's really interesting, and potentially really encouraging, to hear frost.

OP’s posts: |
BiteyShark Mon 06-Jul-20 12:18:52

As PP mentioned I think it is very easy to get into the mindset of lots of walking to tire a dog out. If you walk them excessively all that happens is they get fitter and fitter and you have to keep walking them more to tire them out. I made that mistake at first with my working cocker but soon realised after speaking to a gun dog trainer that I needed to stop exercising as much as I was and start working him (not in the traditional sense).

My dog can walk all day if we wanted but it does affect his behaviour for the worse. An hours off lead (and that's the important part the off lead bit) is good enough. He then has a bit of ball play in the garden and when he was younger we did trick training/scentwork or agility if we needed to exercise him and couldn't get out of the house.

Mine goes to daycare and because he has more exercise there we often don't walk him on the other days because he just wants and needs some downtime.

The best way to tire a working cocker is to get them to work their nose. 'Find it' for food, balls or anything is his favourite game and the best part is he doesn't care whether that's on a walk, in the garden or in the house grin

Glendora Mon 06-Jul-20 12:39:04

Oh this is all very encouraging. I had ruled out a working cocker and was feeling really quite sad about it. But now I'm thinking maybe one would work as our family dog. How exciting!

OP’s posts: |
BiteyShark Mon 06-Jul-20 12:52:51

My best advice if you do get a working cocker is to go to a gundog trainer for training advice. They taught me how to use his instincts rather than working against them.

They are hunters and you need to recognise that they want to hunt with their nose and will pick up a scent and follow it. The negatives is that I can't wander around on a walk staring at my phone or talking and ignoring him as he will hunt on his own (and disappear off finding deer) so I have to engage his nose by hiding things for him to find or doing retrieves etc. The positives is that now he has brilliant recall as long as I have a ball in my pocket.

PrayingandHoping Mon 06-Jul-20 12:57:56

As PP the "oh that dog needs hours of exercise"
Drives me nuts!

I have 2 German Pointers. Both fit and healthy. Young trains (and competes when not on lockdown) in agility and eldest has just retired.

All I get is "oh they need SO much exercise"

No.... they don't...

They get as much exercise as they are given. Some days that may even be a 30/40 walk round the block (road walking is good for muscle building). At all other times they sofa surf totally happy!!

Tire their brain. THAT gives u a content happy dog. Not one who's legs have been walked off it.

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Chaotic45 Mon 06-Jul-20 13:05:44

I'm a dog walker and I agree that in general dogs don't need hours and hours of walking- they need mental stimulation, enriching walks, a chance to be 'a dog'.

A healthy happy adult dog will sleep and relax much of the day if they receive the above.

I also agree that taking a working type dog to classes run by a gun dog trainer can be fantastic. They understand and can tap into the ingrained motivations and strengths of these dogs. However I'd always look for a force free, positive reward based gun dog trainer. These aren't always easy to find as sadly the gun dog world does seem to be the slowest of all to adopt these 'modern' trining methods.

Boomclaps Mon 06-Jul-20 13:07:25

My working cocker sleeps A LOT.
Will happily walk 20 km, but would also be quite happy with a walk round the block.
We do a several small training games a day.
Agility once a week (when not in lockdown)
We do scentwork in the house.
Hide food

But she’s not “hard Work”

I disagree a little bit with the what bitey shark says though, about having to engage /entertain on walks. You can train to reduce drive, or to only use it on command.
We taught a cue for “go sniff” and “retrieve” so she knows when she can follow her nose. The other times she needs to be close or at heel depending on the command.

Glendora Mon 06-Jul-20 13:20:17

This is great to hear. Thank you all! You've made my day... I'd be thrilled to have a dog I could 'do stuff' with like agility/ scent work (I think oldest DC would really love this too). And walks could easily be 'interesting ones' given our local surroundings.

I had a look and it seems like there are a few gundog trainers around us, which is good news. Thanks for the heads up @Chaotic45 re. the type of trainer to look for. I'm going to start putting out feelers for local, reputable breeders. We have plenty of time, so hopefully we can get on a waiting list for a puppy for late 2021.

OP’s posts: |
Sitdowncupoftea Mon 06-Jul-20 13:22:40

Personally I've never had a working cocker spaniel but a friend did he was a lovely dog but was his gun dog.
Working breeds need mental stimulation and a task not just walking. I have two working dogs. Mine are not cockers but I do various different activities for stimulation. The younger one Im limited to as hes still growing and should not be over exercised. If your not working the dog as such maybe another breed would be more suitable as a family pet.

vanillandhoney Mon 06-Jul-20 14:00:38

I have a working dog (beagle) and an hours off-lead running about is plenty for him. Some days he gets longer as I'm a dog-walker so I'll bring him to work occasionally, but he really doesn't need it.

Like PP said, working dogs need mental stimulation far more than physical. I do scent games with him, I've taught him to retrieve, and he gets some "play" time with other dogs too. He honestly doesn't need hours and hours of exercise - in fact, too much makes his behaviour a lot worse.

GervaseFen Mon 06-Jul-20 14:23:58

Interesting thread as I'm looking at getting a new dog too. I think on or off lead makes a huge difference with working dogs. I had a beagle too and before about 3 years, an hour on lead would have done nothing. I'd love two dogs so they could play too but can't afford the initial outlay all in one go.

PrayingandHoping Mon 06-Jul-20 14:29:30

Working cockers are v popular in the agility world

If u find a good agility trainer u won't need a gundog trainer alongside (and if u try and do both u may hit your head against a wall as gundog trainers don't like agility trainers generally! Agility only uses positive reinforcement (as mentioned below often gundog trainers don't) and they like to train things like tuggy etc which is a BIG no no in the gundog world.)

BiteyShark Mon 06-Jul-20 14:38:04

It's interesting about the trainers. I agree that often they don't mix very well in their approaches grin.

Gundog trainers helped me understand what made mine tick in regards to his breed instincts. We didn't keep it up as it wasn't something I wanted to do long term but it was helpful in the early days.

Agility was fun but it did bore him at times and I found he would increasingly take himself off to have a sniff about mid way through a course leaving me waiting shock

Now scentwork was the bees knees. He bloody loved it and all you could hear was his nose sniffing away. We had to stop due to work commitments but out of all of them I would say mine loved this the best.

Katinthedoghouse Mon 06-Jul-20 14:44:42

Wholeheartedly agree with the sense that has been spoken so far on this thread.

On a different day MN will call you irresponsible for having a working breed if you don’t own livestock or regularly shoot.

WC can and do make excelllent family pets.

PrayingandHoping Mon 06-Jul-20 15:30:52

@BiteyShark like anything it depends on the trainer... and some trainers don't "get" non collies ha ha!

My trainer has SO many HPRs! She's really learnt to understand them. They have to learn to think outside the box and how to get them to tick. Tbh I don't think gundogs naturally like tuggy.... they do better for food incentives. My youngest likes the clam... my eldest was a tennis ball.

Sniffy can be a phase agility dogs go through.

WhatAStupidIdea Mon 06-Jul-20 15:52:01

As someone who grew up on a farm with many working breeds (including cockers), I agree one million percent with all of the above. All of our dogs worked (about the farm and as gun dogs), but other than that, they rarely had a lot of exercise. They were all very well trained, polite, well behaved dogs. The mental stimulation was far more important than masses of exercise. Don’t get me wrong, when they worked it was clear they were in their element, but they were also happy to chill out and sleep in front of the fire for hours on end.

We now have a different working breed in a non working household (I won’t say which breed as it’s exceptionally rare in this country), and we find, as above, that the more exercise we give them, the more of a nightmare they become.

Chaotic45 Mon 06-Jul-20 21:14:19

Glad this thread has been helpful OP. It's lovely to read such sensible comments.

I just wanted to clarify that positive reward based method gun dog trainers do exist, it's just they can be harder to find than a more old fashioned based approach. It's such a shame, but is at least slowly changing. Also, more and more they offer a huge amount to those of us with no intention of actually going shooting. It's been a revelation for my working breeds and those of many of my customers.

Also worth considering that their approach is often more suitable for hind dogs as you need to be mindful of keeping things low impact in terms of agility for a long time with a young dog.

PrayingandHoping Mon 06-Jul-20 21:29:26

Decent agility clubs do young dog foundations keeping it all v age appropriate. My youngest started at 12 weeks

I'm glad gundog trainers are changing their ways. I feel it may take a generation to take over 😉

TJ17 Mon 06-Jul-20 21:45:50

We have a mixed breed (known as a Cavachon)

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel x Bichon Frise

He's very loving and cuddly, amazing temperament (especially with children), loads of quirky personality traits and don't need much exercise (ours is fine with a daily walk around the block and enjoys being out in the garden). The only high maintenance part is they need daily brushing unless clipped short and regular grooming (but I imagine it's the same for a cocker anyway)

He weighs 15kg and is about the size of a cocker spaniel but they can weigh anywhere from 6-18kg I think.

GrumpyMiddleAgedWoman Mon 06-Jul-20 22:00:25

Tire their brain. THAT gives u a content happy dog.
Yep, especially if some of the brainwork you offer plays to their instincts and fulfils their working drives. All of that said, an unfulfilled working cocker in a pet home can very easily go self-employed and piss off after the bunnies for 20 minutes or more or, worse, chase hares or deer out onto busy roads.

If purely positive training is what you want, look for trainers recommend by The Gundog Club (you should be able to find them on FB). TBH the gundog trainers that I know (quite a few, none of them Gundog Club) all use praise as their first port of call with a dog, and are very keen that you build a close bond with your dog, develop trust and have a great time together.

If I wanted a working line dog but did NOT plan to work it, I would look for various things:
1. Parents (or at least one parent) not worked - and esp if one had ended up as a pet due to a lack of drive and general inclination
2. A pedigree very low in Field Trial Champions (FTCh) and working test winners
3. I would ask the breeder to pick out for me a dog that seemed low on drive.

Plenty of working-line springers and cockers are kept as pets, never worked, and are bred, so it shouldn't be too hard (under normal circumstances) to find a litter like that.

AmberShadesofGold Tue 07-Jul-20 06:40:48

As a gentle word of caution - they might not need two hours of exercise but they do need your time. I would still imagine carving out those two hours over the day to include feeding, playing, grooming, training and walking - just to make sure you can fit it in

Puppies require more of your time than that. It is hard to watch a puppy and work FT, even from home.

Not impossible but I do think this thread - whilst mostly sensible - may give the impression this young spaniel (if and when) may require very little of your time input. Which will not be the case.

ShadowsInTheDarkness Tue 07-Jul-20 10:09:52

Agree with the above. If you think about working gun dogs, a lot of their time is spent laying down quietly waiting for other dogs to flush things, then there is more time lying quietly while guns are being fired. A good working dog knows how to settle for extended periods which can actually use a lot of mental energy, especially when surrounded by lots of tempting smells and loud noises.
Mental stimulation is important. Often people with working breeds who don't do all the puzzle feeders and hiding food round the house, and hide and seek with the kids etc are the ones who claim their dog needs 3 hour walks daily. They are trying to compensate for the lack of mental stimulation with physical exercise and it just doesn't work.

Also where exercise is concerned, using open spaces is brilliant for spaniels. We were at the beach on Saturday with our 14 week old sprocker spaniel and I was watching a pair of cockers further up. Their owner walked in a straight line down the edge of the sand up the beach, got to the end and turned round and headed back. She had a small toy breed dog with her who was trotting along. The spaniels took full advantage of the space and were zigzagging across the whole of the sand, in and out of the water, chasing each other in wide arcs. They must have done 3 times the actual steps of the toy breed without the owner having to actually do those steps too. The same principle would apply to any large fields or spaces where the dog can be off lead.

They are fab dogs though. Quick learners, amazing with children, food motivated which is brilliant for training. Do it OP. You won't regret it!

ShadowsInTheDarkness Tue 07-Jul-20 10:11:34

Also just to add that ours sleeps all night, back in bed at 10am, sleeps for a few hours, another big nap in the afternoon and is out for the count by 8.30pm. As with all puppies, they need a lot of sleep for all that growing.

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