Working Cocker Spaniel
The vast majority of working spaniels in the UK are also family pets.
And therein lies a problem.
Because the restraints we place on successful working spaniels are simply not acceptable to many pet dog owners.
New spaniel owners are often lulled into a false sense of security during the first few months, only to find control of their dog slipping horribly through their fingers towards the end of the first year.
Sometimes control is not lost until the dog has been ‘let loose’ on the local shoot.
We’ll have a look at what you can do to resolve the situation if your spaniel is running wild, but first lets look at why things went wrong in the first place
Why do working spaniels get out of control?
Serious spaniel trainers all follow a similar set of ‘unwritten rules’ that guide them as they train the dog.
Most people with a pet spaniel that they also want to take shooting, are either unaware of these rules or, are not committed enough to stick to them.
And this causes no end of trouble!
Rules control the fun!
Here are some of the key rules that a serious spaniel trainer will apply to their dog
- Rule One: the spaniel is never out of shotgun range unless retrieving on command.
- Rule Two: the spaniel is taught to sit to whistle and flush with absolute reliability
- Rule Three : the spaniel is taught that the handler is the source of all pleasure
Let’s compare this with many pet spaniel owner’s rules
- Rule One: the spaniel has no idea how far he is allowed to go, so he goes as far as he can get away with. Which on family walks is often very far indeed
- Rule Two: the spaniel has no idea what to do when a bird or rabbit flushes, so he makes the obvious choice and chases it.
- Rule Three: the spaniel finds a great deal of entertainment in so many ways (hunting rabbits, playing with the kids, ) that his handler seems quite dull in comparison
Rule One: keep your spaniel close
I can’t emphasise this enough. You need to keep your spaniel close to you. Distance erodes control. My spaniels have never in their lives, been further from me than fifty yards unless retrieving or as part of an obedience exercise. Learning to obey this rule changed my life and if you are keen to have a really good working spaniel, it can change yours too.
Rule Two: thorough obedience is essential
It is vital to get your basic obedience flawless in the absence of distractions, and then go on to ‘proof’ that obedience thoroughly (see below). You cannot hope to control a dog on a shoot, the most exciting place in the world, if he is not faultlessly obedient away from it.
Rule Three: be the centre of your dog’s world
A spaniel working in the field is going to be subjected to tremendous temptation. To counter that temptation, to keep him focused on you, he needs to believe that you are his very best chance of a retrieve, or for an opportunity to hunt.
Everything utterly brilliant in his world needs to happen where you are, and this is more difficult to achieve if he is answerable to three or four different people, all with different standards of behaviour.
Which takes us back to Rule One, because your best chance of convincing your dog that you are the source of the finest entertainment on the planet, is to keep him near you and to be the only person that provides him with what he loves: hunting and retrieving.
I mentioned ‘proofing’ above. And this can be tricky to achieve without help. Perhaps the most significant problem facing the pet dog owner lies in proofing the dog’s basic commands (recall, sit and turn whistles) against the distractions he will face in the field. This is not easy to do without access to live game on a regular basis.