This series takes a look at the ‘lot’ of the working Springer Spaniel in our modern society and was originally published on the Gundog Club website.
He comes when he is called, hunts within gunshot, and is steady to shot, flush and fall. Yes?
Well, you are probably a committed field trailer. Or perhaps you have at least five years gundog training experience under your belt.
If not, you are a member of one of the smallest minorities in the country.
Springers are (in) trouble
The fact is that for a lot of inexperienced gundog owners, Springers are ‘trouble’.
And all to often they are ‘in trouble’ too. For many working bred springer pups end up in rescue centres.
This series of articles about Springers takes a hard look at the working Springer Spaniel’s place in society. It asks why we let so many working Springers down.
It also asks “what can be done about it?”.
A lot of people are struggling with Springers
When the Gundog Club was launched in 2006 those involved, including myself, were shocked at the number of people who were struggling with their dogs to the point of despair.
Before the Gundog Club arrived, there was no central source of information and advice for gundog owners, and the need for such a service became immediately clear. It was in fact overwhelming for our small team of staff.
Over the intervening years the Gundog Club has received a sobering amount of requests for help. There are a lot of very concerned dog owners out there that have bought themselves a whole bundle of trouble.
These people are not for the most part, the owners of lively young Labradors, the nation’s favourite pet gundog, so often exuberant and destructive when young.
They are not the owners of the cheeky and mischievous working Cocker rapidly growing in popularity and sometimes labelled as ‘difficult’. On the contrary, the people in trouble, over 90% of them, are the owners of English Springer Spaniels.
Out of control!
When the phone rings, the conversation usually begins like this:
“ I have a Springer Spaniel, and he is 8 months old”.
Sometimes it is 10 months or 12 months but you get the picture.
In most cases, what is happening is that the dog is being taken for a walk in the countryside and he is ‘running away’. And I am not talking about a few minutes, or a couple of hundred yards here.
We are talking hours and miles.
In almost every case the running away is triggered by chasing something. It can be something as small as a bee, or as big as a deer. It is all the same to the dog.
And of course, once the chase has begun, inevitably more wildlife is disturbed and one chase leads to another and another.
The problem pet
Most working bred Springer pups are actually purchased as pets. But by the time that their pet is approaching a year old, many Springer owners are experiencing difficulties.
There are those that are aware that the problem lies partly in their dog’s genes, and they wonder if his talents might be appreciated elsewhere.
As a result, some people that have bought working bred Springers as pets, will phone the Gundog Club towards the end of their pup’s first year.
They are ringing to inform the GC, they say, that they are about to do the working gundog community a big favour by offering their wild and talented little hunter up as a working dog.
They have prepared themselves to give up the dog that they love.
They may well be in tears at this point.
He is far too good for a pet they will tell us, and needs to work.
On further gentle questioning, it is revealed that this dog needs to work so much, that he usually does it in the next county, and returns home at his pleasure.
Letting them down gently
The person on the other end of the phone will try to let the troubled owner down gently.
They explain that in fact, a working dog needs a far higher standard of obedience than a pet dog, and that a solid recall is the foundation of basic gundog obedience.
They ask them to consider keeping the dog and attempting to retrain the recall themselves, with the help of a professional trainer if at all possible.
They remind them that another inexperienced trainer would have the same trouble with the dog as they are, and might not cope.
They tell them the truth - that Springers like these, once passed on by those that raised them from a puppy and really love them, often get passed on again.
Unwanted and undesirable
The owners of these young tearaways can usually see that the dog needs an experienced hand and are unable initially to understand why experienced trainers will not be beating a path to their door and fighting each other for the privilege of adopting their ‘failed pet’.
The reason that their pet is now ‘undesirable’ needs some explaining.
The problem is that the many hours of training required to reverse the damage they have done by allowing their dog to experience the joys of self-employment, works out fairly expensive.
Most trainers do not have the time to indulge in re-habilitating an out of control spaniel, when it is easier and quicker to train a young, unspoilt puppy.
The bitter truth is – not only will no-one will be parting with good money in exchange for a delinquent absconder, the hapless owner is going to have serious difficulty even giving him away.
What can the owner do?
The poor owner may find some comfort in learning that this is a very common problem. There are many people out there going through the same thing.
It isn’t their fault and they are not alone.
It usually rapidly becomes clear that they love the dog really, and don’t want to part with it at all.
But they are at the end of their tether, and…. what can they do?
Well there is hope. And we will look at the solutions and opportunities for those that are struggling with their pet Springer later in this series. But for now, let’s look at another group of dog owners that are struggling with Springers
The working home
It is not just people that buy Springers as pets that get into trouble. The relatively small proportion of people that buy springers in order to work them can also find themselves in deep water.
And in the next instalment I will be looking at Springers that get into difficulties in working homes.
In the meantime there is something you might be interested in. The work of the Gundog Trust
About the Gundog Trust and the Gundog Club
The Gundog Trust is a relatively newgundog training and welfare charity. One of its aims is to reduce the abandonment of working bred springers and other gundog breeds, through public education and the provision of a structured gundog training scheme.
The graded training scheme is run by the Gundog Club which is owned and managed by the Gundog Trust. It is designed to be used by both pet and working gundog owners. The only difference between the two groups is how far along the scheme they choose to progress.
Pet gundog owners can use the scheme without getting involved in hunting or shooting. The first four grades are all run on dummies.
Training is a particularly vital welfare issue for our hunting breeds. Correct training started at an early age avoids so many of the problems that lead to abandonment of working gundogs.
The Gundog Trust has just received its charity registration number and is now preparing for its public launch Please help to spread the word by telling a friend about our new charity. Thank you so much!
Follow this link for The Trouble With Springers Part Two
All proceeds from products and services purchased from the Gundog Club go to the Gundog Trust (Registered charity no.1147407).