‘Follow my leader’ is the foundation of quartering and close range control for spaniel puppies.
Tiny eight week old puppies want nothing more that to be close to you. They totter along beneath your feet and do their best to trip you up. This is the precious ‘dependent’ phase during which you have a golden opportunity to establish a very useful precedent.
Follow my leader
The precedent you need to establish is ‘You lead, and the dog follows’. It seems obvious really but so many people end up doing it the other way around, I know I did with first few dogs. I would be trailing along behind them the whole time, wondering why they weren’t particularly interested in me. Keeping them close was just such a battle. But it needn’t be like that
Why do people struggle?
Wherever you go, your dog should follow. Sounds simple enough, but many people struggle with this and the reasons are twofold
- They leave it too late
- They walk in straight lines
Start right from day one
Get your puppy following you from the moment you bring him home. Every time you put him down outdoors, keep moving away from him a little. Obviously you don’t want to scare him, or wear him out. Just a few steps here or there is all that’s necessary. First one way then the other. This is all great habit forming stuff, and with your spaniel, it prepares him for the day when he is quartering neatly in front of you.
The main problem with taking a working spaniel puppy for family walks is that mostly consist of walking in one direction. If you constantly walk in straight lines you become predictable. The dog knows where you can be found and has no reason to worry about losing you. He quickly falls into the habit of hunting back and forth in front of you, pulling further ahead as he becomes more independent.
I really recommend you do not take a spaniel puppy intended for gundog work, for family walks, until you have established a good zone of control, and taught him both to quarter, and to walk at heel. In other words until his training is well advanced. I know that this is not what most spaniel owners want to hear but it is a change in mindset that transformed my own abilities as a spaniel handler and can do the same for you.
The Zone of control
As your spaniel puppy passes the five month mark he will start to become more independent and less reliant on your close presence to feel safe. Staying near to you needs to become a deeply ingrained habit so that it feels as natural to him as breathing.
Focus on creating a zone of control past which the puppy may not pass. You can do this by creating an imaginary circle with you at its centre. Every time your puppy approaches the perimeter of the circle, attract his attention and draw him back towards you. Use rewards to keep him wanting to be near you. Make sure the rewards are something he values highly. You can read more about the use of rewards in dog training in this article. Suffice it to say, the reward needs to be his favourite thing, not yours. It could be a retrieve, a piece of chicken or a big cuddle and fuss. Whatever turns him on.
Make yourself the centre of his world and keep him firmly within your zone of control.