PETER BLATCH says: Most spaniels naturally take to hunting and retrieving rabbits because a bunny leaves lots of scent, and has a lovely texture when picked. It’s also an exciting quarry as it usually only flushes when the dog’s nose bumps it off a warm seat.
The trick here is to get the dog used to feather from a reasonably early age. For an older dog like yours that shows some reluctance on birds, you need to try and ‘ween’ it off rabbits slowly. Do this by giving it an odd retrieve or two on rabbit-skin dummies, but then introduce a retrieve with a cold partridge. If the dog won’t pick it, don’t worry, gently place the partridge in the dog’s mouth, then encourage her to carrying it without dropping.
Don’t use a pheasant at this stage because their size and weight might cause problems – a reluctant retriever might not know where to pick the bird to balance it in their mouth.
If all else fails you can bring an older, more experienced dog out to show how it’s done. Send both for the bird but hold the older dog back to give the younger one a chance of picking the bird first.
However, if the younger one is reluctant to pick it, let the older one do the retrieve. Sometimes a little bit of jealousy will persuade the other dog to pick the bird and bring it straight back to hand.
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