Is there any hope?
I hope you can help me with an issue I am having with my two spaniels. The gundogs in question are 10-month-old litter brothers. In terms of their picking-up skills, one is a good hunter and bad at retrieving. The other I would describe as a ‘plodder. He goes slowly but is excellent at marking and delivery to hand.
So what can I do about improving the spaniels picking-up skills? Is there anything that will make things better?
Don’t compare them
When they are young all gundogs show different qualities and yours are only 10-months old. You have fallen into the trap of comparing them to each other, and for this reason you will become disappointed with them both, neglecting to focus on their positive abilities.
You should separate the two brothers and train them as individuals if you want to improve the spaniels’ picking-up skills.
Focus on the positives and work on the weaknesses.
Splitting the gun dogs up is crucial if you want to address their individual flaws effectively.
Hunting comes naturally to most spaniels but there exceptions who need extra guidance, training and encouragement.
Don’t be too quick to write off one of the spaniels as a ‘plodder’. Try hunting him in an environment with plenty of game scent, such as a training pen or a rabbit pen. He will develop his natural instincts more quickly if he is in contact with live game or rabbits.
Depending on the kind of dog work you intend to do, you may know that it needs to be trained…
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The other dog, whom you describe as a ‘good hunter’ can be encouraged to improve his retrieving skills by being hunted only in very light cover. Fire a starting pistol and throw him a retrieve so he has an easy opportunity to mark it down.
If doing this a few times doesn’t improve his marking send him for the retrieve sooner while the dummy is still in the air. This will encourage him to run in, but you can then work on the breaks later.
Once your gun dog is reaching the fall area every time and marking the dummy away, you can then start to work on the breaks by reinstalling the stop whistle.
Many novice handler make the mistake of introducing the stop whistle on every flush at a young age, which encourages the gundog to look up at this. As a result they take their eyes off the flush and don’t get the opportunity to mark the dummy or flush away in the fall area. So every flush becomes a blind retrieve. So you see, poor marking ability is created by poor picking-up skills.