Just Ducky Publishing

Retriever Training for Spaniels

Working with soft-tempered, hard-headed, intelligent dogs

by Pamela Owen Kadlec

copyright 2002

Chapter 1

This book is for the Boykin and other spaniel owners who are looking for specific information on training their dog in non-slip retriever work. A non-slip retriever is one that stays in place when the bird is shot and doesn’t fetch until commanded to do so - he doesn’t slip his lead.

   There are many great books on training your spaniel to flush and tons of them on training retrievers, but none that addresses the temperament of the spaniel. Training a spaniel is different from training a Labrador retriever. Most Labs are what I call ‘push-button’ dogs. You push a button and they go, usually in the direction you sent them. The temperament of a Lab is great: they can take almost any kind of treatment and still turn out to be nice hunting dogs. Some of them even respond better to a heavy-handed approach. The field trial Labs have been bred to withstand hot electronic collar corrections, however, and are too high powered for the average hunter/handler.

   Spaniels are very intelligent, and are typically soft-tempered dogs. If you work with your pup as in a progressive school – that is, letting pup advance at his own rate – you will have fun training him. If you try to push your pup too fast past his abilities, you will end up butting heads. Some spaniels will be steady and delivering birds to hand by six months. Some will be doing doubles and simple blind retrieves by seven months. Most will take a little more time to mature and gain confidence. The soft, timid pups require patience on the part of their owner. They don’t need to be babied. Just the opposite. They need to have plenty of birds and excitement to get them fired up for hunting.

   The spaniel is a flushing dog. He quarters. He does not take a straight line to the bird. Pup will start off straight, maybe for 30 yards, then the nose will drop (or raise, depending on the dog) and he’ll work in a zigzag pattern hunting the bird. The flushing instinct that drives spaniels to quarter back and forth has a purpose: a quartering dog covers a lot of ground while still hunting close to his master. The dog’s instinct to quarter, however, makes it difficult to teach a spaniel to take a line for a mark and especially for a blind retrieve. It makes it difficult to get the dog to sit on a whistle and take directions. Your spaniel knows (at least he thinks he does) much better than you do where the bird is! I can hear him now, “The bird is obviously in that clump of bushes over there! Don’t bother me with all that whistling, can’t you see I’m busy?”

   The typical spaniel is both soft-tempered and hard-headed. You will get into many power struggles along the way. Soft-tempered means that if you put too much pressure on the dog or if you use excessive negative reinforcement – hitting or hot e-collar stimulation – the dog will shut down on you. You will be left with a couch potato at best, a fear biter at worst. If you lose your temper easily then do not get a spaniel. Dogs do not respond well to anger and this relates particularly to spaniels. They don’t bounce back, and some even hold grudges. Honest.

   Boykins and most other spaniels respond much better to positive reinforcement. But sometimes a good yank on the check cord is needed or the pup will take advantage of your good nature. Spaniels are very smart dogs and they will test you to see if you are paying attention. The trick is finding the right balance.

   This book will aid you in finding that balance and training your dog to be a wonderful hunting companion and well-behaved house dog.

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Just Ducky Publishing
P.O. Box 129 - 79 Wood Duck Drive
Edgefield, SC 29824

FAX: 803-637-5825

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Last updated 12/16/04