I’ve said it before, and don’t mind saying it again – we’re breeding generally ‘softer’ gundog puppies these days than was the case a few years ago.
There’s nothing wrong with a less-bold spaniel puppy, because as long as you tailor its training accordingly you will end up with a very useful worker and shooting companion at the end of it.
This type of puppy’s early training though needs to be done differently to that of bolder temperament but do bear in mind this gentler dog could well develop greater drive and confidence as its training progresses.
If this happens, you may need to change tactics to take account of the changes in its development.
To start with I don’t mind giving softer pups a lot more free running exercise than I would bolder types and I also encourage them to enter cover – starting with easy, long grass, gradually building up to the thicker, harder variety.
During these lessons you need to continually make a mental note of the dog’s attitude to the tasks you want it to perform. Is he, for instance, ‘getting too far away’ or is he simply ‘just running about happily’ and enjoying himself?
Or maybe he’s ‘hunting with determination’ because there’s scent on the ground? All this is for you to decide. With a softer dog it’s generally best to use ground that’s had game on it because the scent it leaves will actively encourage him to hunt.
Don’t be alarmed if the pup actually finds game and chases it a short way, say 15 yards or so before turning and returning to command.
If he does this then praise him lavishly on his return. On the other hand, it’s a sign to start serious training if he chases game and continues hunting hard where it disappeared.
It’s also the sign to avoid giving him any further contact with game until later in his training.
If a puppy proves reluctant to enter cover, throw some retrieves into shortish grass, encourage him to search and to boost his enthusiasm let him run straight in on them.
For this exercise I use tennis balls or small dummies so the pup has to use his nose.
As soon as he gets keen on rushing into tall grass for a ball, start throwing two or three into cover simultaneously.
This is a useful tactic that makes the dog think there’s only one retrieve to pick and after returning with a ball he’ll probably be reluctant to go back in to search for the others.
Quite simply, he thinks he’s done his job so now’s the time to give lots of encouragement. If necessary you can even walk into the grass – downwind of the remaining balls of course – and have him hunt them out.
The dog will soon learn there are rewards to be found in cover and after a week or so of this lesson he’ll be keen to go in under his own steam and search on command.
DROP A BALL
Next step is to encourage him to hunt in the grass without any balls being there and just before he starts to give up hunting, throw or drop a ball where he can find it.
The tricky bit is getting the ball into the cover without him seeing you throw/drop it. The secret is all down to timing, wait until he’s moved slightly away from the area, head down sniffing, and then throw it in behind him.
An alternative way to get a ‘soft’ spaniel hunting properly is to let it hunt freely in a pen and chase rabbits. The pen should have more cover than open spaces so that the dog only gets a fleeting glimpse of a bunny before it disappears into cover again.
Rabbit pens designed solely for steadying for example, those with domestic fowl in them should not be used.
Keep a close eye on the dog as you do not want it to get anywhere near catching one of the rabbits.
Once the dog starts to persistently hunt the area where rabbits have disappeared into cover you can stop the pen work and continue his training elsewhere.
You can use a check cord to encourage a good delivery from a bold puppy but it’s not something you should try on one that’s softer – it could put it off retrieving altogether.
Best way is to simply sit on the ground and let the pup jump all over you!
Throw a short retrieve and, as soon as the dog picks it, give lots of encouragement to return and do not try to stop it jumping in your lap.
Let it have some fun! The important thing is to praise the dog BEFORE you take the retrieve from its mouth.
TONY’S TRAINING TIP
To teach a dog to sit and not move until told you need to catch the dog and correct him just as he goes to move, not after.
To do this you must watch for the warning signs.
More often than not a dog will always lower his head before lifting his bum from the ground so you need to correct him as soon as he starts to lower his head.
Done this way the pup will learn not to move from a sitting position until you command him to.
Give the dog the command to sit.
Keep a close eye on him as you move away.
Be quick to correct him if he starts to lower his head.