Training a spaniel has to be done with the knowledge that some spaniels need hunting first, brakes later and for some the hunting is already in the dog so brakes can be applied sooner. At Kirkbourne we hold regular training days for novice and advanced spaniels. Last week it was our novice day and ten handlers and dogs arrived on a damp morning at our training venue in Doncaster. All the customers had pre-paid on line so at 10am we promptly started the training day. The day is in two halves with an interval in the middle for lunch. Firstly we met by the ponds and everyone signed in. We walked through our training wood and continued into the training field. As always we start off with some manners for the dogs. Kirkbourne always do this regardless of the level of the dogs. Some walking at heel and some sits and stays were completed before the real training began. After the basic training in the field was completed we headed into the wood that has been designed purposely for the use of our training with cover of varying types to ensure the dog has the experience to negotiate this type of environment. All handlers watched me demonstrating how we hunt dogs and how we ensure all ground is covered to prevent missing any game. It is important that all handlers know the importance of ensuring nothing is left behind. We want all game pushing forward towards the guns, that’s our objective and we must achieve it. After demonstrating all the handlers had their chance to show to me that they understood what is required and each one at a time had a go with their dog. Some of the dogs displayed good ground treatment and kept them close and turned very well on the whistle where required. However, some of the dogs did not have a clue what was happening and just ran around like a headless chicken. This is what happens with handlers that go for long walks with their dog running off in front having a jolly and then when you ask them to hunt they have not got a clue. To be honest at novice level we do expect some issues with hunting, each handler takes it in turn so we can then help with any issues and try to iron them out. We then moved on to show how we get the dogs to understand what we are trying to achieve by hunting the dog and letting it find an item occasionally. I would demonstrate this by hunting my dog in front of everyone and when I cast the dog to the right I would place a ball or dummy to the left. I would then cast the dog to the left and the dog will find the item, the dog soon understands this and will be hunting nicely form side to side. On a spaniel day we try to replicate a shoot day or a beaters day so working as a team of beaters through the woods was next to come. We split the group into two teams of five and got everyone lined up. We explained how we should maintain a straight line to ensure no birds would be left behind and how different it is when other dogs are working alongside you. Well the first team set off through the woods with some of the dogs hunting nice and close and the odd dog wanting to go chase the other dogs, again this is an experience the dogs need to see. When this happened a shout went out to stop all dogs to allow the naughty dog to be collected and the line was asked to continue. The first line reached the end of the wood and watched on as the second line of handlers and dogs came through. A little more success with this line and not too much went wrong. Once everyone had completed this it was time for lunch and a well earnt cup of tea.
After lunch it was time to do the real thing without the guns. We walked across to another wood and all lined out. This wood has a pheasant pen within it and could hold a few birds. As we went through one of the dogs got a little giddy and cleared the wood and chased a pheasant across the field. We had to wait a while before the handler collected her dog, all was not lost and no massive problem as we were not on a shoot day. These things happen and only a fool would expect the day without the odd chase. We swiftly moved onto the next area where a pond is surrounded by thick cover and willow trees. We split up into two teams and pushed the dogs into the cover, both teams going in the opposite direction and meeting at a flush point. Funnily the farmers Guinea fowl were there and that surprised the dogs, they flew well and the birds soon got up into the trees. A couple of pheasants flushed just as we met together with an odd dog in hot pursuit but soon back in line. Once this area was completed we them moved onto one of the main drives of our shoot. This is called the Willows, this is a bank of trees heading into a wood with a river to the left. Normally we push the drive east to west but as we were not shooting we swapped it around. Again two teams and away we went. I did warn the handlers that so far up the Willows we have Bee hives and be sure not to wake them, we successfully passed the hives without issue. The cover consists of new shoot willows and long white grass with some areas of thick brambles. As the first team went through several birds were flushed, one dog flushed a bird, stopped really nice but then could not cope and went in hot pursuit of the bird across the river and into the next field. A little bit of shouting and the dog was back in line. A dog on the right hand side went missing. The handler told me she had lost her dog. I came out into the field and saw birds 200 yards ahead flushing from the wood. I said I’m guessing that’s your dog up there ha ha. Again it did not really matter as it was a novice day and not a shoot day and we were there to learn. We eventually all made it through the wood with all the dogs in line. I had seen enough and so had the dogs so we then moved onto some drop to flush with dummies, most of the handlers were successful with this. Hunting your dog and a dummy thrown is a great way to check on steadiness and as you have already read, some require more steadiness training than others.
The day was then brought to a close and a recap on what we had trained and what each handler needed to work on. A great day at Kirkbourne Spaniels and well received. If you are interested in coming along to any of our training please email us email@example.com or visit our website www.kirkbournespaniels.co.uk.