Why does the springer spaniel have a reputation for being difficult to train? It’s not deserved.
Why is the springer spaniel something regarded as a problem dog? It's poor training that's at fault, says Justin Clarke, not the breed.
The springer spaniel holds the greatest appeal of all gundog breeds for me. Springer spaniel skills include multi-tasking, drive, pace and style. A hard-going springer is a breed to be reckoned with out in the field. (Read our list of best slip leads.)
Springer spaniel training needed
Sadly, some springers indulge in behaviour which has given them a slightly sketchy reputation. There’s always one that spoils it for the rest.
Examples of poor behaviour in the field by springers include:
- Running in
- Finishing a drive long before the beating line
- Selective hearing
- Self-employed retrieving
- Multi-task – hunt, find game and be steady to the flush
- Handle and retriever game
- Mark game
- Do twice as much work as a retriever
Springer spaniel skills and characteristics
If springer spaniel training has been carried out correctly and comprehensively then watching a working springer is an absolute joy. (You might also like to read problems with springer spaniels and hunting.)
There is no greater thrill than spending a day walking up behind two or three springers that hunt flat-out whilst keeping their noses to the ground, demolishing any cover that dares to get in the way. On occasions the ground seems to shake with their very presence and determination to find game. The combination of watching a dog one has trained working well, together with the knowledge that a shot might present itself at any given moment, makes this type of shooting extremely hard to beat. (Read why won’t my springer move from the peg.)
Much of the enjoyment in walked-up shooting stems from watching a dog that is adept at multi-tasking. Having a dog that can hunt, has good game-finding abilities and is steady to the flush is absolutely essential. Equally important are its handling and retrieving qualities – at which a well-trained springer spaniel excels.
Marking and delivering to hand
To see a well-schooled springer nudge a rabbit out from under its seat and then sit back without so much as thinking about running-in never fails to excite me. And many a time I have watched a springer mark an area of a fall well and follow the line on account of a bird running, only for it to return and deliver it tenderly to hand. Without the skills of that springer, the bird would have been lost, let alone flushed in the first place.
Returning home at the end of a good day with a mixed bag of half a dozen or so head of game harvested as a result of that unique dog/handler relationship is both timeless and rewarding.
Training a springer spaniel
It is often said that labradors are easier to train than springer spaniels. There might be some truth in this, but the reality is that a springer or working cocker will be doing twice as much work in the field as a retriever, so it needs double the training.
Training a retriever is all about the handling and retrieving. The springer, however, is expected to handle out in a similar fashion one minute, whilst also hunting, flushing and leaving game the next, in order that a shot might be taken. Obviously this process can take longer to teach and can certainly test the training abilities of the handler . But once you get it right you will never look back.
Springers nowadays are considerably more biddable than in the past. Years ago it was vital to get the handling into a dog before encouraging the hunting. This was because the hunting gene was so strong that if done the other way around they could become fixated on their hunting and would not respond very well to handling.
This article was originally published in Shooting Gazette in 2015 and has been updated.