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When most people hear the word "grooming", they think of taking their dog to the grooming shop for a bath and haircut.  While these two things are the most noticeable part of a "grooming", there are actually a number of other services that groomers usually perform while a dog is in their shop.  These other services can include trimming the toenails, brushing the coat, expressing the anal glands, cleaning the ears and brushing the dog's teeth.   Treatments for dry/irritated skin, external parasites and special "beauty" treatments (such as a hot oil coat conditioning) may also be done.  For the most pampered of pooches, there are also doggy day spas, camps and other specialty service providers that offer aromatherapy, massage and "social" events for dogs!   (Click on this link to check the BOTTOM of THIS PAGE for more info!)

A large percentage of Cocker owners take their pets to a grooming shop or vet clinic for grooming services, but some owners do their pet's bathing, brushing, clipping and other procedures at home.   This can save owners, especially multiple pet owners, a lot of money over the life of their pet/pets.   Of course, owners who want to save money and  groom their dogs at home, must learn to do ALL of the necessary procedures.    Owners wanting to groom at home will also have to invest in a certain amount of grooming equipment and supplies - toenail clippers, electric/battery operated hair clippers, clipper blades, grooming shears, shampoo, conditioner, parasite treatment, etc., etc.

Whether you will be caring for your pet at home or using a profession groomer or veterinarian to help you care for your pet, this page may help clarify some of the choices you have when grooming your Cocker.  Hopefully this information will help you do it yourself or allow you to tell the groomer exactly what you want done.  You may or may not need all of this information, so pick and choose what works for you and your Cocker!

The Right Cut:

The "right" trim for your Cocker Spaniel is a matter of personal preference and convenience.   There are limitless options for how your dog can be trimmed and what activities you choose to do with your dog (and where you choose do to them!) will impact what cut works best for your dog.    However, you must realize that whether your dog is a show dog or a family pet, she WILL require grooming. 

Cockers have long, silky hair that, if left long, must be brushed regularly.   The average Cocker also needs to be bathed about once a week and to have its ears cleaned regularly.  Cocker Spaniels are average shedders, but due to the length of their coat, they can leave a lot of hair around the house if they are not properly cared for.   A weekly bath and brush, no matter the coat length, will keep shedding to a minimum.


    Show Cockers are, of course, kept in full coat with long leg and side-coat feathering and they do not get their backs shaved like pet Cockers usually do.   The back coat of a show dog is thinned with thinning shears and /or hand stripped with a stripping knife to produce a smooth, hard back coat (hopefully!).  In most cases, a show dog's coat is considered more valuable than gold and every precaution is taken to minimize breakage, staining and tangles.   Show Cockers are many times kept in wire floored pens to protect their coats and/or are not allowed to run the backyard or any other area where they might get yard trash (leaves, twigs, grass) caught in their coat. 

    Some show Cockers are house dogs and do get yard time, but these are a minority.   Some show enthusiasts compromise and have special indoor and/or outdoor exercise runs built for their show dogs.   These runs may consist of a raised wood or wire floor, a playground gravel bed or a rubber or matted surface (dri-dek tiles).   Outdoor runs are generally covered or enclosed as sun-bleaching of the hair can be an issue with blacks and browns (even in partis).

    Show dogs that are "in" coat are usually brushed daily and get bathed and trimmed weekly.  These dogs' coats are religiously cared for and preserved while the dog is being shown, but most people trim the dogs down at some point after they are "retired" from the show ring.   At that point , the dog is usually trimmed in more of a pet cut or the dog may still have its back coat stripped and the leg and side coat feathering is hand-scissored to a shorter, more manageable length (generally about 2-4 inches of coat).  For information on dog shows and caring for show dogs, check out my SHOWING page.
    The perfect clip for your dog will depend on a number of factors.  These factors will include the amount of coat your dog has, the time he spends outside, the weather in your area, the amount of time you have to do coat upkeep in-between full groomings, the health of your pet's skin and coat, the presence of external parasites and the activities you participate in with your dog.  (Just to name a few!)  Of course, the one important factor I didn't mention above is how YOU like for your dog to look! 
    •  Regular Cocker Cut / Full-Coated Pet Clip - Many pet owners like the look of a Cocker in full coat and are more than willing to spend the time and money (mostly time) it takes to maintain this look.   However, this clip may not be practical for some pets.   With this clip, the face, the top 1/3rd of the ears and the back are shaved.  The ear feathering, legs and side-coat are left long and full.  The feet are trimmed close and feathers are tapered up slightly off of the ground.   This type of clip will require that the dog receive a thorough brushing every 2 to 3 days (if not daily) and bathing about once a week.  Keep in mind that bathing and drying a full coated dog is a time-consuming chore and can take several hours.

      If your dog has a moderate amount of coat, is moderately active, spends most of his time indoors, is only out on a manicured lawn, does not have fleas or skin problems and you are able to brush and bathe him (or have him brushed and bathed) weekly, then keeping your dog in full coat is definitely an option.    If, on the other hand, your dog has excessive coat, lives in a humid, wet location, has a skin sensitivity/allergy issue and you never touch the dog's coat with a brush or comb, then full coat is not the right choice for your dog. 
    •  Modified Pet Clip / Puppy Cut - For those of you that like the coated look, but don't have the time to take care of a fully-coated dog; or for those with a dog that they take out on walks in the woods; or for dogs that spend more than the minimum amount of time outdoors, a modified pet clip may be the best choice when choosing a clip.  This clip is similar to the one described above except that the leg and side coat are hand scissored shorter.    The feathers are usually trimmed until there is only 2-4 inches of hair left on the legs, sides and belly.   For you do-it-at-home groomers, the easiest way to get the leg and side coat shorter is to use a blade guard to get the bulk of the hair off.   After removing the bulk of the feathering, what's left can be hand-scissored to a smooth, even finish.  The ear feathering can be trimmed or left long depending on owner preference.  Many people refer to this as a puppy cut. 
    • Summer Cut / Field Clip / Strip - If your dog is extremely active, spends a lot of time in the yard, has skin or parasite issues or if you don't have time for a lot of coat brushing, you might consider keeping your dog in a field clip.  This clip is also similar to a regular Cocker cut, but the legs and sides are trimmed to 1/2 inch or less with a clipper blade (usually a #7F, #5F or #4F).  Many Cocker owners have their dogs clipped this way during hot weather.    It's also common for groomers to clip a matted dog this way so that they don't have to hurt the dog by trying to brush out mats.    This type of clip is a good choice if you take your dog camping or swimming a lot or if he is active in other outdoor activities.  
    There are several modifications that can be made to the above clips which may be helpful in addressing specific grooming issues with your pet.    Additionally, if your pet has a problem in a specific area, don't be afraid to experiment with grooming techniques until you find a solution to the problem.  Remember,  if you try something and decided you don't like the end result, the hair will grow back!!   If your dog is taken to a professional groomer, be sure and talk to the groomer about any issues or concerns you have regarding your dog's grooming.
    • Chest/Belly Strip - This is one of my favorite tricks and will save you a tremendous amount of time if you like to keep your Cocker in a regular Cocker cut or a modified pet clip.   This modification is used to remove hair in areas that are prone to mats and tangles.  

      To implement this modification, you (or your groomer) will begin by picking up each front leg and shaving from the elbow down into and through the "armpits" with a #10 blade.    Be sure not use a skip toothed blade or even a #7 or other finish blade as you might catch the skin.   While a cut from the clippers is not likely to be more than the skin surface, even a small strip of skin removed in this area may require stitches as the wound will tend to "spread open" due to the elasticity of the skin in this area.  The same is true when clipping the flap of skin just in front of the rear leg at the belly.  However, don't be scared by this warning and abandon your decision to try this modification.  A little care and attention is all that is required to avoid a problem.

      Next, if you haven't done so already, pick-up each rear leg and clip the inside of the upper thigh, the belly and the genital area.  Once you have removed the hair under each leg, pick the dog up by the front legs and shave from the chest down through the rest of the hair on the belly.  On each side, shave in a straight line from the armpit down to where the rear leg is attached and everything in-between.  This should leave about a 2 inch wide skirt of feathering on the dog's chest and down the dog's sides.    When standing, the skirt should still look full (or of the same scissored length as the legs) and the shaved belly should not be visible.

      Care must be taken not to remove too much chest or side-coat hair.   The point is to remove the areas that tend to tangle and are hard to brush out, while leaving the front chest hair, legs and side-coat in a "false" skirt.  If you take out too much or shave in the wrong place, the modification will result in holes in the skirt, so take your time and check your pattern often the first time you attempt this.    Once you have the pattern set, it will be easier the next time as you just have to trim the hair that is already shortened.

      This modification can help you cut grooming time (less brushing, shorter drying time) and can also help you spot fleas and ticks.  It may help keep the dog cleaner too as the chest and belly hair is usually the first to get dirty and pick up yard debris.    This clip modification can be very beneficial for dogs that work in the field or spend a considerable amount of time outdoors.   If your dog has coat that tends to tangle, he'll really appreciate you keeping this hair clipped instead of trying to brush the tangles out all of the time.

      Clipping the chest and belly hair short will also make your pet happy as he will be able to belly down on cool surfaces during warm weather.  When he starts to get warm, you'll find Fido belly down on the AC vents or the tile/linoleum floor!  I see a big difference in panting and activity levels in my dogs if I keep their belly stripped out.  It also makes tummy rubs more enjoyable! 

    • Ears - As most owners are aware, Cockers can be prone to ear infections and other more serious ear issues.   To help minimize or eliminate the risk of ear problems, Cockers must have their ears cleaned regularly.   Some of the following grooming procedures may also help prevent or reduce the seriousness of ear issues.  At least some of the following steps should be included every time your dog is groomed.  Unfortunately, many groomers don't do this on their own and, if you have someone else groom your dog, you may have to ask that they do so.  

      The idea behind the following grooming steps is to lighten the ear leather and to remove all hair from around the ear opening so that there will be maximum air flow in and around the ear canal.  This will help keep moisture and debris from being trapped in the ear and will help prevent bacterial and fungal growth within the ear.  

      The first step in grooming to prevent ear problems is to clip all hair as short as possible around the ear canal and to keep it this way by grooming the dog every 4-6 weeks.   For maximum effectiveness, the top 1/3 on the outside of the ear, the top 1/3 of the underside of the ear, behind the ear and the side of the face need to be clipped short.  A regular "Cocker" pattern on the face and head will clip the necessary hair.  This is generally done with a #10 blade, but a #15 or #30 blade may be used around the ear canal opening if your dog does not have sensitive skin and does not have existing ear infections and/or ear issues that make it likely he would traumatize the ear by scratching after the grooming.  

      If your dog has existing ear problems and/or has sensitive skin and is likely to scratch at the ears after grooming, you can try a #8 1/2 blade or a #7F blade to trim the face and ears.  It's important to use a cool blade when clipping this area as any irritation (clipper burn) could cause the dog to scratch and traumatize the ear.  If this should happen, the dog is like to end up with an ear infection.  (The very thing you were trying to prevent!)  If you should see any irritation (hot spots) on the ears  or face after grooming, you can use Neosporin to soothe the irritation and prevent infection and you can use a hydrocortisone spray or cream to soothe the itch.

       Another grooming procedure that may help prevent ear infections or help to control existing ear issues, is to remove the feathering on the lower half of the ear leather on the inside of the ear.   This will remove some of the weight holding the ear down and can help increase the amount of air flow into the ear canal.  If you are careful to shave only the hair on the underside of the ear leather, this will leave a full feathering of hair on the outside of the ear and will preserve the characteristic, long-eared Cocker look.  

      To further reduce the weight on the ears, you can also trim or shave the feathering on the outside of the ears.  Many owners that trim their dogs leg and side-coat feathering will also trim the length of the ear hair to give the dog a balanced look.  If you prefer not to shave the entire ear and would like to leave some ear hair so that the dog still has a Cocker look, try scissoring some of the length off of the bottom of the ear.   I don't usually do this straight across the bottom of the ear, but will slightly curve the trimming in an effort to match the general shape of the ear.   Be sure to comb the ears before doing this and then clip, comb, clip, comb until you get the desired shape and length.   (One word of advice here is to start by leaving the hair a little longer than you may think you really want.   Hopefully, that way you won't clip, comb, clip, comb only to find there's nothing left!!)

    • Feet - Traditional Cocker clips generally leave the dog's feet full and fluffy.  If the dog's leg coat is scissored or trimmed shorter, some owners will trim the feet moderately short to match the leg trim, but most Cocker owners never consider trimming the feet really short.  This is, however, an option that some owners might consider incorporating into their dog's grooming routine.  

      In some instances, it might be beneficial to the dog to trim or shave the feet short.   Clipping the feet short can help prevent/control fungus infections and other skin disorders of the feet that can cause the dog to constantly chew or lick his toes.  Additionally, owners who have never thought about trimming their Cocker's feet short might consider that eliminating excess hair on the feet can help keep the dog clean and can prevent the dog from tracking so much dirt and yard debris into the house, especially during wet weather.  In snowy areas, short hair on the feet can also help keep the dog from getting ice or snowballs in between the pads or caught up in the hair between the toes.   During warm weather, short hair on the feet can help keep your dog from getting grass seeds, stick tights or cockle burrs in its feet.

      • Almost Normal - If you think your dog might benefit from having his feet trimmed short, but you would like to maintain the traditional Cocker look, you can scissor the foot hair very short around the pads, toenails, between the toes and slightly up the sides of the feet.  You will also trim the feathers a little shorter than normal so that they taper up and away from the foot and the ground a little more.  You will be able to see the tightly groomed foot (which should appear closely trimmed but not shaved) but the feathers will still be full and the dog will, for the most part, still appear to be in a normal Cocker clip.
      • Short but Hidden - If you think your dog might need to have his feet clipped shorter than described above, but you would still like him to look like he has his full coat, you can shave the feet short to the first joint (ankle), while leaving the long leg feathering to hang down and cover the feet.  The bare feet will show some when he moves, but the leg hair will hide the feet most of the time.  For this modification, you should trim the leg feathering just to the point that it doesn't drag the ground.
      • Everything Short - If you decide to shave the dog's feet and don't mind that the bare feet can be seen, you can trim the leg feathering even with the line where you quit shaving the foot.  Taper the leg featherings up from the shaved area all the way around the leg.  You can also trim the side and chest coat if necessary so that all of the coat is the same length.  This modification will make keeping the dog's feet and legs clean and dry much easier.   (The dog won't leave huge muddy footprints everywhere every time he goes out in the dew, rain or snow!)  For people whose dogs have access to a doggy door, this can be a lifesaver on the carpet and furniture.

        To shave the feet short, I suggest using a #10 blade against the grain of the hair growth (from the nails up the foot, between the toes, to the first joint (where there's a slight bony protrusion on each side of the leg bone).   Be sure to shave between the pads on the bottom of the foot as well. 

        An added bonus of shaving or trimming the feet short is that trimming the nails is much easier without all that hair in the way! 

Special Services:

For those REALLY pampered pets out there, instead of going to Rover's regular groomer the next time he needs a haircut or bath, maybe your dog would like to try one of a rapidly growing selection of  doggy day camps or doggy spas/resorts!   These specialty centers are geared towards offering your pet the ultimate in care, grooming, relaxation and fun.  At most of these facilities, your dog can get any of the normal "grooming shop" services, but (depending on how deep your pockets happen to be!) you can also choose from a number of "extra" or special services.   How about limousine pick-up and delivery service, agility romps,  hydrotherapy (swimming) for exercise/conditioning, aromatherapy or a massage?   And if your dog needs a place to stay while your away from home, why not try a doggy spa/resort with special windowed suites, a real bed, his own tv (taped animal programs for the discriminating viewer!), individual cuddle and quiet time, supervised multi-dog playtimes and, before going home, a wonderful new "do" in the specialty grooming salon!  

 You may think I'm joking, but there really are doggy spas and resorts.  Some of these are NOT grooming shops and only offer doggy day care or spa treatments.  However, many offer a full range of grooming services as well as individual playtime, supervised multi-dog playtime, individual training time for obedience and/or agility and a plethora of "treatments" designed to help your dog feel like a million bucks.  Believe it or not, doggy day care can cost as much or more than day care for a human child and spa treatments can cost an owner as much as they would spend for some of their own beauty treatments! 

Below is a quote for "services"  from Dog Day Cafe in Tennessee.  As you can see, your dog can be pampered like never before!!  (and this doesn't include a bath or haircut!!)

"The Works" -  $50.00 - (from includes:

  1. Aromatherapy Ear Cleaning & Ear Massage

  2. Aromatherapy Relaxation Pawdicure

  3. Aromatherapy Joint Rub Essential Oil Treatment

  4. Canine Calm Down Aromatherapy Treatment

  5. Canine Fear/Anxiety Aromatherapy Treatment

  6. Stuffed Kong

  7. Leave in Aromatherapy Fur Conditioning

  8. Gourmet Treat of the Day

  9. 15 minutes of Agility Exercise or Clicker Training

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Copyright Sandcastle Kennels 2004

Last revised: January 01, 2006