Graham Watkins, our gundog guru, shows how to get a youngster off to the best possible start

Spaniels have been bred for generations to hunt out game from stick piles, patches of bramble and thick bracken banks, and a well-bred puppy should be pre-programmed to get its nose down.

However, if you do too much early hunt training with a young spaniel this can become the most important thing in its life and will overtake any desire to retrieve.

Spaniels are “pre-programmed” to hunt, it is their most basic instinct and, to be honest, there are two trains of thought when training a young spaniel. Some trainers, especially if they plan to compete in field trials with their dogs, like to concentrate on getting a puppy whizzing about “play hunting”; others like to get a dog retrieving first and then concentrate on its hunting at a later date.

Recall is most important

The recall is one of the most important parts of a young gundog’s foundation training. There will get to a stage at which you want your dog to come back to you no matter what it is doing. If he has become “all obsessed” with hunting, especially if he gets on some ground where there is a bit of scent, you may well find he will ignore your recall command.

Steadiness

Steadiness is another foundation 
training element and – once again – 
if you have focused on the dog’s hunting skills it can be more problematic to instil steadiness at a later stage.

Balance and consistency

Training a gundog is all about balance and consistency. Therefore, you don’t want to be too biased towards either hunting or retrieving. Ideally, each aspect should be taught in conjunction with the other and, in fact, they can complement each other. If you have conditioned your pup to fetch retrieves, later in its training you can use this to encourage the pup to hunt up and to find a retrieve.

Teach a spaniel puppy to retrieve

 

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