Following my blog post on using Gundog training principles and guidelines for Jazz as part of her overall good education, I have received many questions about it over on Jazz’s Instagram account. Most frequent were about how I started with it, how we chose what to do and how to stay within positive training methods, what methods not to follow, what books did I find useful and what we do on everyday basis. It’s hard to reply with more detail on Instagram messenger so I thought I would start a little series on here telling you all more about our experiences and see where that takes us!
When I wrote that first post I didn’t expect much interest as most people I know or know of who own spaniels are generally divided into 3 “categories”:
1. They actually work their spaniels on shoots
2. They do agility/other dog sports
3. Do no training at all
It was fabulous to find out that there are spaniel owners out there who are also interested in something that could be described as “pet gundog” activities for similar reasons to mine 😀
How we started
In many ways I think what helped me the most with puppy Jazz was the fact that a friend of mine got what turned out to be a very head strong Spaniel pup several months before I picked up Jazz. Her girl was very hunting driven and had zero interest in retrieving balls or anything for that matter as well as being incredibly independent from a very young age. She was also pronounced “unsuitable for shooting field” on her first formal Gundog lesson at 6 months of age with a well recommended local trainer…Having made many mistakes with her pup, my friend willingly shared those with me so I was able to avoid a plethora of pitfalls many first-time-spaniel-owners go through.
Jazz’s breeder was also very helpful sharing resources and ideas, recommending different groups to join and places to learn from.
(The headstrong pup – Pippa – turned out to become an amazing picking up/beating Spaniel by the way, all it took was a change of trainer and a lot of patient practice – you can look her up now over on Instagram at @pippenmoor_gundogs as the crazy little thing got my friend so into Gundogs she went on to set up her own little KC breeding operation! Before you ask, no I am not interested in breeding Jazz or becoming a breeder but I am really interested in training so wouldn’t discount going in that direction as a hobby at some point in the future 🙂 )
In comparison to Pip, Jazz seemed to me the easiest puppy, albeit quite different to puppies of the breeds and crosses I experienced. She was extremely active, retrieving oriented from the word go, food motivated and loved searching for things without me ever having to teach her what to do (I simply hid her toy once behind the sofa when she was in another room, called her, looked at her and said “where is it?” just for fun and fully expecting to “search with her”…she has never heard that before but literally went into frantic search until she emerged all proud with her toy short while later. I’ll just call it the magic of DNA!
Alongside learning from watching the ups and downs of my friend’s headstrong girl, the first and possibly best resource I used and I am very thankful to have found, was the websites and books by Pippa Mattinson.
The first two of her books I read and can’t recommend enough were (both are on Amazon and I included links to them):
I have also recently purchased her latest book Choosing The Perfect Puppy to learn more before choosing my next Spaniel pup next year 🙂
I also joined multiple Gundogs Training for Novices/Beginners etc groups on Facebook and followed different Gundogs trainers on social media and You Tube in order to learn what methods there are out there, how different problems are approached by different individuals, how training spaniels compares to training other breeds and to decide what I was and wasn’t happy with.
From 8 weeks to 6 months
By the time I got Jazz I knew that the first 6 months should really be simply all about her enjoying puppyhood and thinking I was the centre of her universe. To be fair, she very quickly became the centre of mine! 😉
The best advice I ever came across for a first time owner of a spaniel puppy (and that will probably work for any gundog/field bred puppy) was to:
“NEVER TAKE YOUR YOUNG SPANIEL FOR ORDINARY WALKS”
It saved me from a lot of hair pulling and having subsequently watched the struggles of a couple of other first time spaniel owners where we live, I am convinced it is a sanity saver – at least for those with very active spaniels as I know some can be of much lazier disposition! I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy in rubbish weather or wind and rain but was definitely worth it in the long run!
Here’s a good read about this matter: http://totallygundogs.com/spaniels-and-why-not-to-walk-them/
When Jazz was little I would take her to one of the fields around the house and sit down with her while she explored the world. As she grew we started our short “spaniel non-walks” : never in a straight line, zig zagging everywhere to keep her attention and create a “quartering” like pattern which I found later helps keeping an older dog close (although I did make some mistakes later on being blaze with that! I will talk about it in another post).
I don’t think I took her for what is considered a normal “dog walk” for just the two of us until she was nearing 9 months but from when she was about 6 months old we did some get togethers with other dog owners and we also went to a big meet up organised by Jazz’s breeder where she played havoc with her siblings, Mum and other dogs in a large park.
I find that the elements of staying close and the owner being the source of all most exciting things that transcendents all good Gundog training methods are such fantastic foundations for a little spaniel as they make all other training so much easier. For a breed that loves to peruse nature so much yet craves human connection and communication, to have these basics makes life so much easier.
So to sum up, we started with trying my best to understand a working bred spaniel’s nature, drives and motivations. As most spaniel specialists also work them, it made sense to use their experience and knowledge of the breed as a starting point. However, I think it’s important to note here that many stricter rules of training that apply to a working dog are not, at least in my experience so far, necessary for a pet gundog.
There are books like Joe Irving’s (HERE) which I read in full or parts with interest but while they are a great insight into a hunting dog psyche, they are definitely not essential for a someone like me who doesn’t intent to take up any shooting sports seriously.
General interest in wildlife is a helpful start I think when owning a working breed of dog because it makes you more aware of potential influences the dog is experiencing. Walking Jazz through woodlands and fields takes me back in time to walking with my Grandfather who loved talking about different habits of various birds, deer and the likes.
Other interesting factors influencing Jazzy’s behaviour and success of my influence were direction of wind and air temperature so reading up on those was a good call. Jazz goes mental in colder weather when scents are so much more potent and so my timing has to be spot on on those days or I lose her attention quickly.
I think that might be enough for the notes on our starting point 🙂 I will go through our experiences with recall, steadiness and retrieving in the next parts and discuss how using those helps me with Jazz in our everyday life 🙂
If you are interested in pet gundgog training or spaniels and dog training in general do leave us a comment and if you write a dog blog leave us a link 🙂
Wiola & Jazz xx