He is 12 months old and top of his basic obedience training class for sitting, staying and heelwork on the lead.

All this seems easy to him and he is an excellent retriever.

I have started to hunt with him but he seems very reluctant to leave my side.

What can you advise?

MARK WHITEHOUSE SAYS: Hunting is a natural instinct in a spaniel but if you over-train with the foundation exercises this can make them very clingy and totally dependent on you.

I would give the foundation training a rest for the time being and start to concentrate all your efforts on his hunting.

Take advantage of the fact that he is keen to retrieve and start by walking him on the lead to a grassed area.

With the breeze on your face sit him up on the lead and roll two tennis balls eight to 10 feet forward into the grass so that he can see them leaving your hand but can’t quite see where they have landed.

Then take your gun dog off the lead and give him a command to hunt.

If he leaves the area just encourage him back and keep encouraging him to hunt and find, and as soon as he has found the tennis ball give him lots of praise and repeat the exercise.

Use the same area and repeat the exercise twice a day for about 10-15 minutes at any one time.

After a few weeks this exercise will program your gun dog into the hunting mode. Do this exercise in a different location but still give him the same verbal commands and encouragement when he locates the tennis ball.

As your gun dog becomes more confident you can replace the tennis balls with canvas dummies, rabbit skin dummies and also dummies with feathers fastened to them. Variety encourages enthusiasm.

To finalise this training program, I would recommend a visit to a local training or rabbit pen. Here you can start to apply the ‘breaks’ and introduce steadiness and control into your hunting program.

For more gun dog training advice click here