Cocker Spaniels are very smart and trainable dogs. They thrive very well with clear and consistent rules and expectations and you will soon find that they are actively seeking to please you.
Enrolling in a puppy preschool or equivalent is a good starting point for training if you are unfamiliar with training dogs. It is important to remember however, that dogs require training beyond puppy preschool. Dogs require training for life.
Puppy preschool is an excellent way to socialise your young pup with strangers and strange dogs (under a controlled environment) whilst you wait for them to be fully vaccinated and able to roam the big wide world.
Training not only helps to teach your dog what you expect them to do in terms of rules and manners, but it also helps to strengthen the bond between you and them and continual training will also help to ensure that you dog respects you and wants to actively please you.
Mental stimulation is also quite exhausting for a dog. 10 minutes of mental stimulation can replicate a nice long walk in terms of making your dog tired. This is where as a puppy, training can be extra beneficial as whilst your pup is growing, it is not advisable for him/her to be going on long walks or extended periods of exercise as it can cause damage to their growth plates. By adding in some training, you are able to take your dog for a short walk but then be able to tire him/her out some more by training.
Just remember, if you're training with food, be mindful as to how much you are feeding your dog as you do not want to make them become overweight. They'll always tell you they're starving when it comes to treat time!
A way to make your treats go further is to chop up some very small (half size of your small finger's nail) pieces of cheese, hot dog/cabanossi/frankfurt, and combine them with some kibble and mix up. Break this into smaller amounts and place in plastic bags or containers and into the freezer. This way their kibble will also smell like the cheese/frankfurt even though it's just their regular food!
Whilst it is very important to socialise your young puppy, it is crucial that they are socialised in the right environment.
Unfortunately public dog parks are not always the best place to socialise a young puppy. Whilst many parks have wonderful dogs and wonderful owners, not all of them do. You will need to assess this on a case by case basis, but if your pup is fearing other dogs whilst in the dog park, you will be better off to build their confidence elsewhere. The "small dogs" section of the dog park is not always a solution either.
There are places in Brisbane that do offer free puppy socialisation classes that are supervised.
The same concept applies to humans. Whilst it is great to have all kinds of people of different ages, sizes, colours, hair styles and genders meet your pup, it is important that this is done correctly.
If someone wants to pat your pup, have them crouch down (if possible) and allow your pup to approach them. Approaching a dog and standing over it can be awfully intimidating for the dog. You may choose to carry treats with you and ask the other person if they would give your dog a treat (from one of your pups treat bags). Some people do prefer however that their dogs never take food from other people, so this is totally your choice. Remember, be consistent with how you train and you should have less curve balls along the way.
If at any point your puppy tries to get away from another person, allow them to do so and don't force them back for pats. Like humans, sometimes dogs need to say no too.
Whatever you do, always make sure that it is a positive experience for your young pup and if a negative experience arises, finish it off with a positive experience.
I highly recommend crate training your puppy from an early age. Not only are crates great for when you need to go away somewhere, but they are also excellent for when your dog is recovering from desexing or any other kind of surgery or an injury. It is also a great way for your dog to have it's own safe spot for when visitors are over. Some owners apply the rule to visitors that if the dog is in the crate, to leave them be as the dog needs it's own space.
Crate training is very simple. The key is, you want being in the crate to be fun. Start by feeding your dogs meals in the crate with the door open.
Over a period of time, move towards being able to shut the door on the crate whilst the dog eats. After a while, extend that to further times by treating the dog through the bars in the crate, whilst it sits quietly in the crate.
Once they have that downpat, start asking them to go inside the crate and treat them whilst they're in there (non meal times).
Soon enough they will learn that their crate is an excellent place to be. Do not use the crate as a time out area or for any negative associations.
I highly recommend teaching your dog to sit before you open the door to let it out and that the dog waits for your cue before it comes out. To do this, have your dog in the sit position at the door and put your hand on the door latch. If the dog is still sitting, reward the dog, if they move to a stand, take your hand away, ask them to sit and once they sit, reward and try again. Keep going until the dog stays in a sit position whilst you move the latch on the door.
The next step is to open the door slightly. If the dog breaks sit, go back to the start of having them sit, and as per above, keep moving in little steps.
The last step is being able to open the door fully and still having the dog sit until you cue for them to come out. This can take quite some time and may require you to be quick with the door, but it will be worth it in the end. If you prefer to have the dog in a drop/down position rather than a sit position, that is perfectly fine too.
I cannot recommend highly enough how valuable it is to have a crate trained dog. Whilst your dog may very rarely be in a crate, it is far less stressful for them should they ever be required to be restrained in a crate, if they are already crate trained.