How to exercise a Cocker Spaniel (English & American)

Differences between American and English Cocker Spaniels.

The American and English Cocker Spaniels are similar but distinct and different breeds of dogs. However, both are sporting gun dogs and have similar needs when it comes to exercise. For the purposes of this article, we will refer to both simply as Cocker spaniel.

Full body shot of buff colored American cocker spaniel laying outdoors in daylight in green grass with tongue showing.
Source: Getty Images

Which strain of Cocker Spaniel

With Cocker Spaniels, whether American or English, it is important to know that there are two distinct strains within the breed. The show strain (or show type) and the working strain (often referred to as Working Cockers or Field Cockers). Each stain is bred for different purposes with different attributes.

Working Cockers, as the name implies, are bred as working gundogs. They are capable of staying out all day hiking for long distances and swimming. However many are now being increasingly sold to homes as pets. They make ideal family pets preferably in an active home.

Show Cockers are bred for the show ring and appearance and meeting the show standard is the main goal. With working Cockers working ability has top priority.

Whatever the strain they are busy, active little dogs with minds of their own. However, a Working Cocker may be considerably more active than some show Cockers and have enormous reserves of stamina.

They can be on the go all day and still be ready for more. A show-type dog can also be energetic and will happily go for long country walks but will probably be easier to tire out. This is why it is important to know which group your Cocker Spaniel comes from.

In addition, every dog is an individual and some may be highly active while others may be more laid back.

How much exercise does a Cocker Spaniel need

The Cocker Spaniel requires at least one hour of exercise every day, but more is better, or they will become frustrated. This can result in destructive behavior, nuisance barking, and even escaping. They also require plenty of mental stimulation and enrichment.

There are three main types of exercise and activity you must provide your Cocker Spaniel every day.

  • 1. Daily walk
  • 2. Purposeful Activity and Free Play (see Cocker Spaniel exercise ideas below)
  • 3. Mental stimulation

This recommended exercise quantity and ideas are for a healthy adult Cocker Spaniel. The exercise needs of a puppy are different as they are still growing. The wrong quantity and type of exercise can cause injury to a puppy with growing bones and joints. See the bottom of this post for more about how to exercise a Cocker Spaniel puppy.

As a dog gets older they become less active and have lower energy levels. However, it is still important that they remain reasonably active to keep their joints and muscles mobile and to manage their weight. See the bottom of this post for more on the exercise needs of an older dog.

Cocker Spaniel walking needs

The daily walk and outdoor time are essential for a Cocker Spaniel not only to release some pent-up energy. The walk allows your Spaniel to stimulate the mind with the sights, sounds and smells they come across. It also provides social enrichment, improves their bond with you and is a good training opportunity.

The length of the daily walk should ideally be 30 minutes or longer, up to an hour. This can be just once a day, or two walks a day would be better if your schedule allows. Dogs also like routine, so try to schedule the walk for around the same time each day. Daily walks are much better than nothing all week and a big walk at the weekend.

In general, Cocker Spaniels are obedient and good off-leash. If your Cocker Spaniel is prone to run away you can use a long line or retractable leash. Cocker Spaniels are usually social with other dogs if they are socialized young.

Cocker Spaniel exercise ideas

In addition to the daily walk, it is important to provide other purposeful activities and play. The best type of activities for a Cocker Spaniel caters to their instinctive working traits.

They were breed to track, retrieve on both land and in the water. These are some suggested exercise ideas for your Cocker spaniel.

Swimming

Most Cocker Spaniels are also very keen swimmers. In fact, they can be hard to keep out of the water. Swimming is an ideal exercise as it burns energy fast and is a no-impact activity that doesn’t put a strain on the joints and bones and builds and maintains muscle. For more on swimming exercise for dogs see here.

Fetch

Playing Fetch with your dog is another fantastic way to burn pent-up energy. Cocker Spaniels were bred to retrieve ducks and fowl either on land or from the water.

Dogs can play this for hundreds of throws. A great alternative is to use an Automatic Ball Launcher so your dog can play Fetch by themselves. As Shelties are smart and very trainable they can be taught to use one of these. For more information check out “Automatic Ball Launchers for Dogs

Another great way to play fetch with your Cocker Spaniel is to make it a scenting game by using a scenting kit.

Dog scenting kit

These kits are used to train dogs for hunting. However, they are ideal even for a pet Cocker Spaniel to challenge their nose work skills. Comes complete with the training dummy toy and a bottle of Rabbit scent. There are other scents available such as duck and goose.

See the Hound dog scenting kit on Amazon

Stair Exercise

A good energy burner and muscle strengthener if you have stairs in your home. Start at the bottom of the stairs and have your dog “stay”. Throw the ball to the top of the stairs and then say, “Go!” Let your dog dash up the stairs. Have them return down the stairs at a slower pace to avoid injury.

Walking upstairs or a hill strengthens the legs as the full bodyweight of your dog is on each leg as the step. As they descend the stairs they are using the opposing muscles for stability. For more on stair exercise for dogs see here.

Play with other dogs

Provide the opportunity for your Cocker Spaniel to play with other dogs. They are a loving and very social dog. This is not only great to burn energy and stimulate their mind, but teaches them important social skills.

Wicked Ball

If your Cocker Spaniel is ball mad then the Wicked Ball is the ultimate moving dog toy for them. The magic ball runs and bounces all by itself and the LED light adds another level of engagement for your dog. No App or remote controller required.

It has several settings such as the Intelligent Companion mode. In this mode, the Wicked ball has 10 minutes of play and 30 minutes of rest. If your dog pushes or hits the ball it starts the play cycle again. It also has three reaction modes (gentle, normal, active) so you can set it to suit your dog’s mood.  Due to its obstacle avoidance system (collision sensor), it doesn’t get stuck in tight spots.

The Wicked ball is durable and dog safe and is also waterproof so it can be played with when swimming. It also has a treat hole for dogs that are food motivated.

View the Wicked Ball on Amazon.

Mental stimulation for a Cocker Spaniel

All dogs need an outlet for their minds. If a Cocker Spaniel is not provided the opportunity to challenge their minds they will come up with their own ways to achieve this.

This usually manifests itself in bad behavior such as excessive barking, digging, escaping and other destructive behaviors. Read “Mental stimulation and mind enrichment for dogs” to learn about the 6 types or categories of mind stimulation a mental enrichment and some great ideas to provide this.

Some ways to provide mental stimulation and enrichment include;

Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys are ideal for dogs like the Sheltie to challenge their minds and test their problem-solving skills.  Try to find puzzle toys that are a bit more challenging as they tend to work these out quite quickly. Check out “Top puzzle toys for dogs” for my top picks.

In addition to puzzle toys, Kongs for dogs are another great way to get your Spaniel to solve a problem and challenge the mind. Read “How to use a Kong for dogs“.

Scenting and nose games

Cocker Spaniels, like all hunting dogs, have a keen nose. Playing scenting and nose games helps to provide mental stimulation. Read “12 Scenting and nose games for dogs” for some ideas.

Chew Toys

Provide your Cocker Spaniel toys with good strong chew toys. Chewing is a great way to occupy them. In addition, chewing releases endorphins and helps to relax a dog. Many dogs hold stress in the jaw.

Cocker Spaniels have a more powerful jaw than you may think. Select chew toys that will last.

For more on the benefits of chewing and the best chew toys click here.

Learning

Teaching new commands and tricks is also excellent to provide mental enrichment. The Cocker Spaniel learns quickly and is eager to please. Teach them new commands, tricks, and even games. A popular game that involves learning is to teach them the names of their toys. Dogs can learn hundreds of words and names.

Food enrichment

Turn mealtimes into an opportunity for your Cocker Spaniel to get a mental challenge and enrichment. Instead of feeding them from a bowl, give them activities that require them to work for their food. To learn more about feeding enrichment for dogs see here.

Enrich their environment

Environmental enrichment is the process of making a dog’s living space more engaging and interesting. To learn more about environmental enrichment for dogs see here.

Cocker Spaniel puppy exercise needs

The exercise suggestions above relate to a healthy adult Cocker Spaniel. The exercise needs of a puppy are quite different. With puppies, their bones, muscle, and joints are still growing and developing.

Overly strenuous walks are not necessary and in fact, could possibly cause harm. Any activity that is high impact on the joints should also be avoided.

The best exercise for a young puppy is free play with age-appropriate toys.

Socializing with other puppies or friendly adult dogs is a great way to burn some of that puppy energy along with teaching them the social skills they need. Socializing any dog young is important.

As your Cocker Spaniel puppy gets older you can take them for short informal walks allowing them to sniff and explore and get used to being on a leash.

Puppies under three months probably haven’t had all their vaccinations so shouldn’t be walked in public. Check with your vet when it is alright to venture out to the park or street.

The general rule of thumb for walking a puppy is around 5 minutes for every month of age. So, for example for a 4-month-old puppy, a walk of 15 minutes to 20 minutes is enough. Monitor your Spaniel puppy on the walk for signs such as lagging behind, lying down or panting. End the walk if they seem too tired.

Mental stimulation is important for puppies and can tire them just as much as physical activity. For more on mental stimulation for puppies see here.

For more on exercise for your Cocker Spaniel puppy read “How to exercise your puppy

Exercise for a senior Cocker Spaniel

As a dog gets older they become less active and have lower energy levels. However, it is still important that they remain reasonably active to keep their joints and muscles mobile and to manage their weight. Read ” Dog exercise for a senior dog” to learn more.

Many dogs develop arthritis as they age. Exercise for them becomes a balancing act. It is important to keep their joints mobile and manage weight, but too much can make them sore. Read “How to exercise an arthritic dog” to learn more.

Summary – Cocker Spaniel exercise requirements

Cocker Spaniels are active, energetic and playful dogs that require at least one hour a day of energy-burning activity, but more is preferred. If they don’t receive the exercise they need to release their pent-up energy they can develop behavior issues. It is important to provide them with mental challenges to tire their mind also.

Let us know in the comments how much exercise your Cocker Spaniel gets daily and ways you exercise them.

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