We all want our puppies to be bold and confident outdoors.
Fortunately with appropriate opportunities to explore outdoors as puppies, most working bred spaniels have both of these attributes in bucketfuls.
Much more common is the young spaniel that is not under control, not within range, and quite possibly not within earshot.
‘Follow my leader’ is about establishing good habits for the future. And about establishing the foundation of quartering and close range control for spaniel puppies. So that you end up with a dog that is working both for you, and with you.
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
Don’t wait until your gundog puppy is seven months old to start training him. This advice is a relic from the days of ‘dog breaking’ when dogs were allowed to run wild and then brought back under control with some pretty harsh handling.
Good habits are best instilled from the beginning.
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 away from you, and back again, pulling further ahead as he becomes more independent.
Focus on your puppy
Family walks can be counter productive especially with hunting breed puppies. Partly because on a typical family walk the puppy falls into this pattern of running out away from you instead of crossing from side to side close in front of you.
And partly because if you have family members with you, there’s no way you are going to be sufficiently focused on the puppy.
I recommend you don’t take a pup intended for gundog work for family walks, until you have established a good zone of control, taught him 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.
By this time, 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 outside of 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.
Make yourself fun
Use rewards to keep your puppy wanting to be near you. Engage him in activities he enjoys. A marked retrieve here, a little hunt for a tennis ball there.
Intersperse short periods of hunting and exploring nearby you with little training sessions. A sit-stay, a little bit of heelwork.
Make sure the rewards you give your puppy are something he values highly. The rewards you provide need 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.
Keep changing direction, keep him guessing, and make a huge fuss of him each time he rushes after you. Make yourself the centre of his world and keep him firmly within your zone of control.
You might also find these articles helpful
If you enjoy my articles you might like this book
Total Recall is a complete recall training programme for puppies and adult dogs
It’s force free and fun.
It explains how dogs learn and how you can create a really reliable response to your recall whistle.
You can check it out here: Total Recall
This article was originally published in 2011 and has been extensively revised and updated for 2015
I have a nine-month old springer spaniel cross (we think half pointer) who is very fast. At 6 months he caught a bird in the woods so we put a bell on him and it didn’t happen again. He is no longer wearing the bell but caught 2 birds last week: one in the woodland and the other mid-flight. I thought his recall was good but now all he wants to do is chase birds and he is then oblivious to my calls or whistle.
I have had him on a training line all this week and both he and I are very frustrated by it. He is not able to expend the amount of energy that he usually does as it’s impossible to cover the same distance.
I have just bought and read your book Total Recall which I wish I had known about a few months ago as the structure looks so sensible.
Please can you give me any advice on what I should do with him as I’m not sure where to pick up from in your book and don’t think I should be starting from scratch again. He has a fantastic temperament and socialises well but is overly-submissive with other dogs. His recall is good except when birds distract him or he suspects that we are about to end our walk.
Hi Neila, teaching a dog to recall away from birds once he has had the thrill of the chase and actually been successful will be a long task. And proofing a recall against birds means access to birds, so you’ll probably need the help of a gundog trainer. Are you intending to work the dog in the future? If so, you might find it helpful to get support from this group Positive Gundogs
Have a look at this article for more information, especially the 3 rules.
Just to add another perspective on your experience – it sounds like you have done a great job establishing a ‘recall without distractions’ in a dog that came to you with a poor recall. That’s much harder than getting a good recall in a new puppy, so well done! However, that’s actually as far as the Grade One guide intends to take your recall, which is why the guide didn’t help beyond that. The books aim to break training down over a number of stages. A Grade One dog is just starting their training journey – Grade Two will teach you to extend your recall to greater distances and longer times, then Grades Three and Four teach you to ‘proof’ your recall – that is to gradually add distractions a bit at a time until she will recall in any situation. It is a long process, but well worth it. I would really recommend having a look at the next books, or at Pippa’s other recall articles, for advice on how to extend your recall and proof it against distractions. I hope that explains why the Grade One book didn’t tell you everything you wanted – and I also hope it’s helpful!
Jenny Hogan says
As and inexperienced trainer, I tried to follow your instructions to the letter via the grade 1 gundog book 2 years ago with our working cocker puppy. (we were supposed to be socialising her to be a hearing dog at this point and I had previous failure of a cockerpoo with strong chase so wanted to get it right second time ). Trudy is very placid for a cocker not that mad constant tail wag that I see in others. That is ( as I understand now, its taken me 2years lots of reading and talking to lots of “experts”!) until she picks up a deer scent. At 5 months she would have galloped to the other side of the boring football pitch (despite me trying to be the most exciting object in view), and by 6 months with the turn of her head she was on the other side of a 10 acre field. she would return with in a few minutes but that isnt quite the point!
Once she became ours (she unsurprisingly failed her entry to advance hearing dog training assesment) I continued to address the issue, I learnt firstly that her heel work and attention to me was not tip top. But the main problem was preventing such self rewarding behaviour
My comment is that I found the grade 1 book extremely helpful for lots of bits I keep going back to ( for example always ending on a good note, breaking the task down, and only going on if you can achieve the previous stage well).
Unfortunately and I did not find any advice in the gundog grade 1 or any other of the many books I tried guide me when I found I really had a self rewarding problem helpful. Problem pages talk about a dog with no recall (Trudy’s recall undistracted was very good). Any advice says “exercise in enclosed area” (only ok if you have your own paddock) or avoid area’s where chase happens (no good if it happened everywhere!) . It was only after getting advice from Adrian Slater gundog trainer at Crufts this year that I fully understood about the cause of Trudy’s chase, and also how I should be using a long line to deal with the problem (first get a decent longline ie not a bit of washing line, and stick with it) . Having experienced 2 dogs in a row with serious chase I am surprised how difficult it is to find written advice to help. If I had known at 5 months to keep Trudy on a long line things may have been so different ( it seems barn door obvious now!).
In summary: Lots of really really helpful advice,but what about when the inexperience trainer is struggling with a self rewarding behaviour and how to prevent it getting worse ?
I am glad you found the book helpful and that you are making progress with your dog now. Training leads are very useful in dealing with recall problems (proofing recall against distractions is the largest and most important part of recall training).
I am currently putting together a lot of information on recall, which is quite a large topic.
For those that are having problems now, there is a chapter on using a training lead in Passing Grade Three of the Gundog Club guides: http://www.thegundogclub.co.uk/shop/books/TrainingGuides/passinggradethree.htm
I will have a think about putting some information on long-line training up on here too!