How to Train Your Cocker Spaniel Dog to Not Bite

Hard
1-8 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

For as long as you can remember, you've always loved Cocker spaniels; something about those gorgeous silky ears and large brown eyes. It was, therefore, a huge thrill when, as an adult, at long-last you were able to get your very own Cocker. However, you soon learned the hard way that the Cocker is a strong-willed dog that, married with a degree of anxiety about life, can lead to snappiness. 

This didn't bother you too much, although at times it does make you a bit wary of the dog. However, things have changed recently with the arrival of a new baby. You aren't so much concerned for the present time as you are about what happens when the baby starts to crawl and then play with the dog. It leaves you with an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. 

Fortunately, you are facing up to the situation now and have plenty of time to take things in hand. 

Defining Tasks

Cocker spaniels can be mouthy dogs, who are sometimes prone to nipping or biting, especially when stressed. 

In an ideal world, prevention is better than cure and by teaching a puppy to have a soft mouth future problems can be avoided. However,  if you have missed this opportunity, even adult dogs can often be rehabilitated with some patience and know-how. 

For those dogs that are aggressive or you feel out of your depth with, always seek professional help. Your vet can put you in touch with a certified animal behaviorist who can look at all the relevant factors to put a strategy in place to keep everyone safe. 

Getting Started

Teaching a Cocker spaniel not to bite is as much about knowledge and timing as it is about equipment. By understanding what not to do, along with techniques for teaching self-control, it's possible to teach a puppy to have a soft mouth and reduce the risk of an adult dog biting. 

To do this you need basic equipment and motivators such as: 

  • Pea-sized tasty treats
  • A treat bag or pouch so those rewards are always handy
  • Toys to distract the dog
  • Tug toys or balls for remote play

The Soft Mouth Method

ribbon-method-1
Effective
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Step
1
Understand the idea
Young dogs, and puppies in particular, can be trained to have a soft mouth and not bite down during play. This is done by yipping or crying when the puppy's teeth contact your skin. Then let your hand go limp. This is similar to what would happen if the puppy plays too rough with a litter mate, and helps him to understand biting is not appropriate and ends the fun.
Step
2
Play with the puppy
Play with your pup, being especially vigilant for times when the puppy mouths your hand. This is usually not aggressive behavior, but just a young dog's way of investigating the world. However, teeth on skin is not appropriate under any circumstances and you need to teach him this.
Step
3
React to teeth on skin
In the heat of play, if the puppy bites your hand or skin, you must yelp, yip, or make a high-pitched 'pain' noise. Then let your hand go limp and stop the game. The puppy will soon realize that biting too hard ends the game, and since the puppy wants to play, he'll be more careful to keep his teeth away from delicate human skin.
Step
4
Turn your back
If you yelp and the puppy still keeps coming back for more and won't leave you be, then withdraw from the game completely. Either fold your arms and turn your back, or leave the room completely. Again, withdrawing attention and leaving the game is teaching him that fun stops when he plays too rough.
Step
5
Watch for over-excitement
Some puppies get so over excited that they simply can't control themselves, which leads to mouthing and biting behavior. You need to teach these dogs some self control. This is best done by playing in 15 second bursts (time this on a watch or phone) and then stopping. Only resume the game once the puppy is calm. This way if the puppy bites during his play session, he is sufficiently calm to respond to your pain signals.
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The Dos and Don'ts Method

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Step
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Don't: Smack or punish the dog
Avoid punishing the dog for biting. This will only serve to get him more excited or to become fearful of you - neither of which is a desirable outcome. Instead, if the puppy is being particularly mouthy say "No!" in a firm voice and withdraw your attention.
Step
2
Do: Play act
Now is not the time to be bashful or self-conscious. When the puppy mouths you, go for the full dramatic effect with an Oscar-worthy squeal of mock pain. The better you act up and whimper, the sooner the puppy gets the message.
Step
3
Don't: Wag a finger at the dog
Some people advocate wagging a finger at the dog or even striking his nose with a finger. Again, this is counterproductive as the dog is liable to see the finger as a moving target and part of the game. Hence, you may encourage him to bite rather than inhibit him.
Step
4
Do: Seek professional help
Biting is a complex topic and not one that always has a straightforward explanation. Be wary about making the problem worse and rather than experimenting, get the help of a professional, accredited dog behaviorist. They will watch how you and the dog interact, looking for trigger factors and what motivates the dog to bite. This enables them to design a protocol to help reduce the risk and rehabilitate the dog.
Step
5
Don't: Be brave
It's important that you react to teeth against your skin. Don't be brave , thinking "That wasn't too bad", because if you don't react the puppy will think that level of contact is permitted. This is all very well, but if as an adult dog he uses the same amount of force with adult teeth, he could do serious harm. No matter how minor the mouthing, react as if you lost a finger, so the dog gets the message that dog teeth on human skin is a no-no.
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The Teach Self-Control Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Understand the idea
Adult dogs bite for many reasons (some of which it's essential to get professional, accredited help with). For some dogs, especially Cockers, it's a matter of being impulsive and carried away in the moment. You can help these dogs by teaching them some self-control, so that they redirect the impulse to bite into a more appropriate outlet such as playing with a toy or listening to your instructions.
Step
2
Redirect to a toy
Cockers love having something to hold in their mouth, which just might be your hand. If this happens, redirect that instinct to hold by offering them a toy to carry. Offer them the toy and then praise them for taking it with an excited "Yes!"
Step
3
Desensitize to pats
Some dogs are quite reactive when it comes to being touched. Their response to being fussed or petted is to mouth the hand doing the stroking, especially as a moving hand is an inviting target. Help reduce the dog's reactivity by offering small treats in the free hand, while stroking them. This occupies the dog's mouth and rewards him at the same time.
Step
4
Avoid direct contact games
Take a look at how you engage the dog in play. If your rough-house the dog using your hands then this is tantamount to inviting him to grab your hands. For the mouthy Cocker, distance yourself by engaging in games such as "Fetch" or by using a tug-toy so that his teeth are at the other end of the game.
Step
5
Beef up basic obedience
A dog that listens to his master is less likely to get himself into trouble. Engage in regular (several times a day) training sessions and strengthen basic commands such as 'sit', 'stay' and 'down'. This allows you to take control of most situations using your voice, and with the dog listening to you he's less like to lose control and bite.
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Written by Pippa Elliott

Published: 01/03/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Enzo
Working Cocker Spaniel
17 Weeks
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Question
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Enzo
Working Cocker Spaniel
17 Weeks

No matter what we do our little working cocker spaniel will not stop biting, leaving the room, turning our back or distracting or yelling or whimpering in pain. All these make him bite more and go more crazy. He's amazing with all other training and gets its pretty much instantly.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Luke, Check out the Leave It method from the article I have linked below. I would also teach the Out command and Place command to help pup give space. When pup is overly tired the biting is likely to be worse too, so giving pup a rest in the crate or exercise pen with a dog food stuffed chew toy can often help pup return calmly again after 45-120 minutes of calm the activity. The crate time isn't meant as a punishment and won't be effective as a punishment to teach pup to stop, Leave It practice is needed for that, but when a puppy is over tired they tend to have a harder time with self-control, so it's often a sign that pup really just needs some down time. Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Out - leave the area. I would teach pup what Out means with the How to Train Out section, then I would also pay attention to the section on How to Use Out to Deal with Pushiness. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Know that this behavior takes time too. Often improvement happens over a 2-3 month period and not instantly, so look for improvement but know that isn't normal to have to work at this for a while. Pup has to practice to have the impulse control skills needed to stop. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Scout
Cocker Spaniel
12 Weeks
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Scout
Cocker Spaniel
12 Weeks

Just getting started with the puppy.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ashleah, To address puppy biting, check out the article on puppies I have linked below. Starting today, use the "Bite Inhibition" method. BUT at the same time, begin teaching "Leave It" from the "Leave It" method. As soon as pup is good as the Leave It game, start telling pup to "Leave It" when he attempts to bite or is tempted to bite. Reward pup if he makes a good choice. If he disobeys your leave it command, use the Pressure method to gently discipline pup for biting when you told him not to. The order or all of this is very important - the Bite Inhibition method can be used for the next couple of weeks while pup is learning leave it, but leave it will teach pup to stop the biting entirely. The pressure method teaches pup that you mean what you say without being overly harsh - but because you have taught pup to leave it first, pup clearly understands that you are not just roughhousing (which is what pup probably thinks most of the time right now), so it is more effective. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite I would also work on teaching the Out command, and then use the section from the article on How to Use Out to Deal with Pushiness, to enforce it when pup doesn't listen, especially around other animals or kids. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Another important part of this is puppy learning bite inhibition. Puppies have to learn while young how to control the pressure of their mouths - this is typically done through play with other puppies. See if there is a puppy class in your area that comes well recommended and has time for moderated off-leash puppy play. If you can't join a class, look for a free puppy play group, or recruit some friends with puppies to come over if you can and create your own group. You are looking for puppies under 6 months of age - since young puppies play differently than adult dogs. Moderate the puppies' play and whenever one pup seems overwhelmed or they are all getting too excited, interrupt their play, let everyone calm down, then let the most timid pup go first to see if they still want to play - if they do, then you can let the other puppies go too when they are waiting for permission. Finding a good puppy class - no class will be ideal but here's what to shoot for: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/puppy-classes-when-to-start/ When pup gets especially wound up, he probably needs a nap too. At this age puppies will sometimes get really hyper when they are overtired or haven't had any mental stimulation through something like training. When you spot that and think pup could be tired, place pup in their crate or an exercise pen with a food stuffed Kong for a bit to help him calm down and rest. Finally, check out the PDF e-book downloads found on this website, written by one of the founders of the association of professional dog trainers, and a pioneer in starting puppy kindergarten classes in the USA. Click on the pictures of the puppies to download the PDF books: https://www.lifedogtraining.com/freedownloads/ Know that mouthiness at this age is completely normal. It's not fun but it is normal for it to take some time for a puppy to learn self-control well enough to stop. Try not to get discouraged if you don't see instant progress, any progress and moving in the right direction in this area is good, so keep working at it. Next, check out these videos of a puppy class. Follow along with your puppy at home and practice the exercises to help with general basic obedience: Puppy Class videos: Week 1, pt 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnhJGU2NO5k Week 1, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-1-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 2, pt 1 https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-2-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 2, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-2-part-2-home-jasper-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 3, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-3-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 3, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-3-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 4, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-4-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 4, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-4-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 5, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-5-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 5, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-5-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 6, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-6-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 6, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-6-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1-0 Finally, check out the PDF e-book downloads found on this website, written by one of the founders of the association of professional dog trainers, and a pioneer in starting puppy kindergarten classes in the USA. Click on the pictures of the puppies to download the PDF books: https://www.lifedogtraining.com/freedownloads/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Tilly
Spo
14 Weeks
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Question
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Tilly
Spo
14 Weeks

How do I train not to bite

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
257 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Here is information on puppy nipping/biting. Nipping: Puppies may nip for a number of reasons. Nipping can be a means of energy release, getting attention, interacting and exploring their environment or it could be a habit that helps with teething. Whatever the cause, nipping can still be painful for the receiver, and it’s an action that pet parents want to curb. Some ways to stop biting before it becomes a real problem include: Using teething toys. Distracting with and redirecting your dog’s biting to safe and durable chew toys is one way to keep them from focusing their mouthy energies to an approved location and teach them what biting habits are acceptable. Making sure your dog is getting the proper amount of exercise. Exercise is huge. Different dogs have different exercise needs based on their breed and size, so check with your veterinarian to make sure that yours is getting the exercise they need. Dogs—and especially puppies—use their playtime to get out extra energy. With too much pent-up energy, your pup may resort to play biting. Having them expel their energy in positive ways - including both physical and mental exercise - will help mitigate extra nips. Being consistent. Training your dog takes patience, practice and consistency. With the right training techniques and commitment, your dog will learn what is preferred behavior. While sometimes it may be easier to let a little nipping activity go, be sure to remain consistent in your cues and redirection. That way, boundaries are clear to your dog. Using positive reinforcement. To establish preferred behaviors, use positive reinforcement when your dog exhibits the correct behavior. For instance, praise and treat your puppy when they listen to your cue to stop unwanted biting as well as when they choose an appropriate teething toy on their own. Saying “Ouch!” The next time your puppy becomes too exuberant and nips you, say “OUCH!” in a very shocked tone and immediately stop playing with them. Your puppy should learn - just as they did with their littermates - that their form of play has become unwanted. When they stop, ensure that you follow up with positive reinforcement by offering praise, treat and/or resuming play. Letting every interaction with your puppy be a learning opportunity. While there are moments of dedicated training time, every interaction with your dog can be used as a potential teaching moment.

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Question
Chew
Silky Cocker
5 Years
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Question
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Chew
Silky Cocker
5 Years

He bites my partner every few months. We have a baby boy due in 2 1/2 months as well

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jay, I recommend hiring a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression, who comes well recommended by their previous clients for their work with aggression, and who will come to your home or involve your family in the training. Without more details on the bite incidences and pup in general I can't answer you question more thoroughly, but I do recommend having someone experienced who can evaluate pup in person around your family, show you how to train and interact with pup to address the behavior, and get a thorough history on pup, to determine how to best train. Pup's reasons for biting are important information to know how to train in this situation. If the behavior is due to a fear of being touched or generally timidity, then counter conditioning pup to what they are afraid of and building overall confidence will be important. If pup is possessive of you or things in the home, then building respect for you and your wife and teaching a lot of commands and boundaries to address overall attitude, then rewarding pup for being truly calm in the situations pup was previously aggression to further the training, would be worked on. There are many types of aggression. Often boundaries and structure, building impulse control, counter conditioning and building confidence, building respect and trust, and addressing any triggers are a few of the ways aggression might be addressed, depending on the type or types of aggression present. Some dogs simply bite because they have learned that they can get their way by doing so, and there are situations like that where introducing a basket muzzle will also be needed for the training. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Max
Cocker Spaniel
7 Months
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Question
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Max
Cocker Spaniel
7 Months

Max has always nipped. He doesn’t like it when you get to close to his face and just recently we had some little cousins come over wanting to pet him, they all got around him pretty close and he peed for no reason. He does that when he sees people he doesn’t know. Well they were trying to pet him and all of a sudden he jumped and bit one of the boys on the arm drawing blood. I’m concerned this will become a habit and I would like to know what triggered him to do that if he wasn’t being mistreated.
Thanks

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Adela, It sounds like fear aggression. 1. Pup isn't comfortable with people near his face - there is fear there, and I recommend desensitizing pup to touch and handling using treats, to give him a treat each time you touch him during practice, gently working up to all the different areas of his body. 2. Pup is nervous around new people - in this situation pup was nervous, shown by the submissive pee. He felt cornered when they were near his face, so he defensively bite to try to "get away". I would work on socializing pup to new people. Having people tell pup to perform commands like sit and give a treat with you there to ensure he isn't being crowded. Watch his body language to see if he is tense or relaxed. If tense, give more distance and have them drop the treat at his paws instead of approach. Work up to him being willing to approach them. 3. Pup may have learned that his nipping can get people to stop things he doesn't like. You may also want to work on building respect through something like the Working method I have linked below. If pup is nipping you to get you to stop things right now, I would desensitize pup to wearing a basket muzzle so he can't use his mouth to get his way, while also desensitizing him to the things he is protesting and calmly building respect and trust, while keeping everyone safe. Pay attention to pup's body language and work him up to things instead of terrify him in the process. The muzzle shouldn't be a punishment. It should be introduced gradually with treats so he doesn't mind wearing it anymore than a harness, just as a temporary tool to help you address his behavior safely right now. Muzzle introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw Working method and other information on building respect and trust: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you I would also consider working with a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues to teach pup to move away from something when uncomfortable instead of using aggression. The dog is attached to the pole with a secure leash while on Place - notice the tape on the ground the kid knows not to cross - to keep the kid out of the dog's reach in case the dog lunges: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gblDgIkyAKU Teaching dog to move away from kids when uncomfortable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYs76puesAE Later stage, up close desensitization - even though kids are close, there is still a line and pup is still on a back-tie leash so that pup can't actually get to kids to bite if they tried...This is a later stage exercise for pup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIJoEJfTS-E I recommend working in person with a trainer to address the aggression around kids, for safety reasons especially. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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