Some words of advice

Small working cocker spaniels are becoming increasingly popular out in the field. Their size has pluses and minuses.

  • The plus point is that they don’t take up much space in the car or at home.
  • The minus point comes with cocker spaniel retrieves of larger birds like a cock pheasant.

So what’s the solution?

Most small cockers will overcome the problem by themselves. Just give them plenty of practice on cold cock birds and then follow up with plenty of retrieves on freshly shot birds.

Generally the little working cockers develop their own technique of bringing a bird back to hand. But not always; some dogs will continually fumble and mess about with retrieves regardless of the amount of practice they get.

However if a dog can almost close its mouth on a retrieve it will tend to hold things a lot tighter than if it was trying to carry something with its mouth almost fully open.

So I have devised a way of persuading small dogs to pick a pheasant either by its neck or a wing. It may not be so tidy but it stops the quarry being messed with.

How to teach working cocker spaniel retrieves of large game

There are two ways.

  1. Take an empty plastic bag and cut a small piece off a corner. Put the pheasant beak into the bag first, pulling its head and crop through the hole, leaving the rest of the body inside the bag. This works because most dogs prefer to pick up feathers – or any part of the pheasant that’s exposed – rather than the plastic bag. Start the lesson by doing fairly short retrieves so the dog does not have to carry them too far then gradually, over a period of time, build up the distance you send the dog to fetch the retrieve.
  2. The second method is a variation on the above. Make two small holes opposite each other in the bag and then pull the pheasant’s wings out through each hole. The dog now has the choice of holding it by the neck, or by a wing, to carry it back.
cocker spaniels

The cocker spaniel

The spaniel is one of the oldest “type” of hunting dog and today the cocker and springer spaniel are among the most popular gundog…

You can experiment by wrapping cling film around the pheasant’s body. This is useful if the dog has learnt how to stick its nose inside the open end of the bag and pull the pheasant out by the tail. Cling film can be wrapped tightly around the pheasant to stop this happening.

After practising the above for a good length of time, practise without the plastic on and usually the dog will still turn the pheasant to gain a hold on the neck or wing where it can get a good grip and bring it back. If the dog shows any inclination not to do this then there’s only one solution – go back to using the wrapped or bagged pheasant, and start again.