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Training A Show-Bred Cocker To Work

As you know, many years ago Cocker spaniels were bred and used for flushing game, mainly woodcock, from out of undergrowth. Over the years, the conformation of working-bred cockers has changed to that of its show-bred cousins. Nevertheless, the instincts to hunt and retrieve are still present in the show-bred cockers but may not be as strong. Unless your cocker does what should come naturally on its own, the hunting and retrieving abilities need to be nurtured out to develop a working show cocker.

It is satisfying to watch a cocker spaniel do what is natural and I have had great experiences and pleasure in training and competing my PEARKIM cocker spaniels for gundog work and using them on outdoor country pursuits.

I can briefly explain the method of training a show-bred cocker spaniel to work as a gundog but it is easier to demonstrate than to write!

Firstly, as with any type of dog training you need to do the basics of sit, stay and recall, this is to be done by command and/or whistle but at a later stage especially when competing it should all be done by whistle only.

Using a dog whistle you need to familiarise yourself of the following peeps on the whistle to use as commands:

  • To stop/sit ~ one short blast
  • To stop at a distance ~ one long blast
  • To change direction (left/right) ~ two rapid peeps
  • To recall ~ four small rapid peeps OR one curling peep.

Three important things to remember when training:

i) keep the training sessions short to avoid your dog from getting fed up with the exercises;

ii) always finish on a good note, even if it is just a simple sit and stay or easy retrieve to hand.

iii) it is important that you always remember to praise your dog after each performance which has been carried out correctly, this helps him to gain confidence and to enjoy what hes doing.

When the basic training is done correctly without any problem you can move on to the next step which is hunting, getting your dog to quarter ground (going left and right) in order to find game.

To do this, you walk your dog in a zigzag pattern, left and right, guiding him with hand signals and/or whistle, this is what is known as quartering. An extending lead is useful for starting the hunting pattern. Encourage your dog to hunt away from you, this can be done by hiding favourite toys or tennis balls in bushes/overgrown grasses. Try not to let your dog go too far away otherwise you lose control. Eventually your dog will quarter naturally when loose in the field/woods or park as he hears two peeps on a whistle.

Once your dog is hunting correctly the next step is retrieving. To do this, first you must sit your dog, you can either stand in front facing him and throw a dummy away behind you OR stand at the side and hold on to the dogs collar. If your dog starts to move without a command you are in a position to stop him. After the dummy has landed, wait a second and then send your dog to retrieve.

If your dog goes for a retrieve as soon as you throw the dummy and you are unable to stop him, let him continue his errand and on his return just take the dummy from him without any praise.

After a retrieve, your dog should present the dummy to you on command.

When the dogs retrieving ability has been proven, and he sits and waits for his command to fetch, and retrieves immediately to you, you can start to give direction commands. This is the harder part of training.

To make it easier, sit your dog with a hedge or wall directly behind him and have him facing you. Throw a dummy a few feet away to his left or right, your dog should sit for each dummy thrown. Without the dog running in, command your dog to retrieve from the sitting position - with a full stretch arm and hand direct your dog left or right and give the command fetch, repeat this two or three times, changing the direction so you command your dog left and right. Eventually your dog will look for your arm/hand signal and go in the direction of your command. To take this direction command on an advanced stage, throw two dummies in separate directions, after the second dummy is thrown send your dog to fetch the first dummy giving him a hand direction signal from you for left or right. After he has retrieved the first dummy, take him to the sit position, give the command to stay and then move a few paces away from him and give the hand direction signal of his second retrieve. Eventually this becomes part of the long distance commands.

Once the directions left and right are mastered, the next is to get your dog to go back. Again to start this method, sit your dog along side a hedge or wall and with you standing in front of him throw a dummy behind him. Your dog should sit and wait for the command to fetch, on sending your dog give the verbal command back and move your arm and hand forward as if to push.

Once all these aspects of training are performed correctly, your dog should be able to enjoy the working instincts and instead of just letting him loose for exercise you could have fun with the directional retrieves. If the training programme has been successful you should see a remarkable difference in your dog a show cocker working is a happy one!

I hope you found these training tips informative. If you are interested in training your cocker spaniel to work, I am willing to assist and arrange training sessions - please do not hesitate to contact me at a later date.