Q: My springer spaniel was fine last season in the beating line, but after several days out this year he has begun to chase rabbits. This is making him pull forward and then disturb lots of birds as well, which, of course, the keeper doesn’t like as it has ruined a couple of drives. He stops when birds flush but not rabbits. What should I do?
A: Go back to basic training and take him through a refresher in steadiness; make sure he sits to any object you throw through repetition and reward. This dropping of his own accord to a moving object must be perfected first. Then you need access to lots of rabbits or, better still, a purpose-built pen where you can put yourself in a position each time he flushes a rabbit to intercept him before he has got a full chase under way.
Stop him in his tracks by getting in between him and the fleeing bunny, then give lots of praise. Make him sit and wait for a few seconds before casting him off in the opposite direction to the fleeing rabbit. Eventually, if you are consistent with intercepting him, he will stop of his own accord as each rabbit flushes. With more practice he will begin to hesitate before the flush, almost coming on to point. Don’t let this hesitation give you a false sense of security. You must remain alert and ready to pounce if necessary. Physical punishment is not needed, but giving praise and fuss each time for stopping definitely is essential, so that he learns right from wrong in a positive way.
Once you are confident he has been cured, that is the time to reintroduce him to fur in the shooting field, but be vigilant if you want to maintain the success of all your hard work at home.