So, you’ve finally got that beautiful, angelic little bundle of fun home safely from the breeder at 8 weeks old. Before you do anything, I strongly advise you to read the wonderful book by Janet Menzies ” Training the Working Spaniel”. Ideally you would have read it several times BEFORE your puppy arrives.
If you haven’t already done so, go straight away to buy an indoor dog pen. My one is made by Kong and is the Intermediate size. Without a suitable means of containing your puppy you will go mad and your house will be trashed.
Buy a big sack of good quality complete puppy food such as Beta or Skinners and get everything set up in a warm part of the house with a hard floor , where your little one can watch everything going on around. Washable pet bedding is essential as you may need to change it often in the first few weeks. Poppy, our puppy, is now coming up for 6 months and is in the outside kennel with the others during the day, but still in her cage in the house at night as I feel it is still quite cold. She will be joining the others full time quite soon. We have had many Labrador and terrier pups in our time, but this is our first Cocker Spaniel. The labradors were all very easy to housetrain, some of the terriers less so. Poppy is very anxious not to make a mess, but I had to be prepared to take her out SEVERAL times a day to start with as Cockers appear to have very small holding tanks.
Training should begin from day one. It is really important that only one person in the family does this. I got Poppy to come when she was called, to sit at mealtimes and wait all within a couple of weeks of her first arriving. Obedience is required at all times when commands are given, but with plenty of free playtime in a secure part of the garden. Toys and chews are a must for the first couple of months, and you must make everything fun for the puppy, so that lessons become a pleasure for both of you. Retrieving to hand is always a delight, but if you have an intelligent pup, don’t overdo things . I find that retrieving lessons should last no longer than 10 minutes, with perhaps only 5 or 6 throws of the dummy needed and don’t do it more than 3 or 4 times a week.I find that a cheap soft toy and a soft tennis ball are all that is required. Be careful you don’t use one of the heavier professional dummies too soon, as your pup will find them too much. Introduce your puppy to everything in the way of challenges to keep them from getting bored, but make sure you don’t over face your ward. Poppy is so quick to learn, that she will now retrieve whichever dummy I ask her to, if there are more than one lying to be picked up; she will go into cover (although she tries to avoid the nettles which are so stinging at this time of year) and even into shallow water. She did accidentally jump into the pond at about 3 months old, but swam to the bank and clambered out and was totally unfazed, although filthy.
Of course the real problem with Spaniels is of course their steadiness. We all see wild crazy spaniels on the shooting field each season, but how hard is it to keep them under control? I think I will soon be finding this out firsthand. One of Poppy’s first lessons was not to chase our free-range hens. This was the very first time I had taken her up to the henhouse at 3 months old. She did eventually sit! Now she will sit and wait before I let them out, and will walk through the flock without buzzing them
The whistle has been an absolutely essential part of training. One long blast for “Sit” and several short toots for “Come” . I know that real gun dog trainers use the word “Hup” rather than “Sit”, but I chose to use the command that all members of the family, dogs included, have been using for years. What we work on every day is obeying the whistle and hand signals so that Poppy can be sat in her tracks at any moment, and will come back to me instantaneously when summoned. I find recently that a little bit of a time delay can occur– only a second or two, but I try to make that unacceptable by catching up with her and using my voice harshly whilst holding her scruff. NEVER , EVER give a dog a row when it is coming back to you, as they will then think that coming back is what they are being told off for! Obviously It is very hard to intercept a Spaniel as they are so fast, but I find I can sometimes engineer a situation where she will be distracted and a bit slow to respond, and seize the moment to nip any potential disobedience in the bud.
I will be seeking more professional help in the next few weeks, and will try to find someone with a rabbit pen to further her steadiness training in that department. We are surrounded by fields of the little blighters at the moment, and although I am able to stop her going after them just now, or to sit and/or come back if she has started to hunt towards them, I am under no illusion that she will not be able to contain herself any day now!
This was one of her first retrieving lessons in an easy, open field at around 3 months old.
And this is today’s effort. I had no idea how hard it was to work a dog and video both at the same time. She was unable to deliver the retrieve to my hand as I was using both on the iPad! Sadly my amateurish attempts do not give her justice.