“My two-year-old spaniel is one fast dog, a little pocket rocket! I believe his ability is outstanding, but when we’re hunting he’s getting a bit in front or out of eye site. I’m blaming myself because on his walks he will take himself off a little in front or even into the field, rather than staying close by me”.
This is a common problem and something we see a lot with powerful hunting driven spaniels. It’s important that you take a look at your daily exercise regime. If your dog is doing a lot of free-hunting then it’s likely that he will become more and more independent of you and start to make his own decisions.
Try to give him exercise through training sessions and less free-range running. Training sessions are just as tiring than running and it provides the mental stimulation they need. Training sessions would include retrieving practice, which will inevitably involve basic obedience – come, sit, stay, fetch, directional commands, and sitting to the whistle. Assuming you do things correctly, these exercises will sharpen him up. He will be focused on and led by you and waiting for an opportunity to make a retrieve. While we are looking for him to become more obedient, it’s still essential that this is fun for him. Undoubtedly you will need to correct him, but if your corrections are well timed and pitched at the right level he will understand what it is that you don’t want him to do. Try to remember that you want to get him to understand that all the fun (the retrieves) come from you.
When you take your spaniel hunting, encourage him to hunt around you, and try to engineer it so that all of his ‘finds’ are near to you. Drop dummies and hunt him onto them; ideally you will be directing him into the find. There is a balance to be sought here, as we need him to get his head down and hunt, but we ultimately want him to believe that you are a great hunting master to follow. All of this sounds great until he gets his head down and decides to go self-employed and do his own thing. In order to control him you will need him to be really responsive to the whistle. If he ignores a whistle command you will need to get straight after him, bring him back in – ensure he understands that it’s not the behaviour you are looking for and you won’t tolerate disobedience. Make him sit, come and stay and offer him a 'good' and end on a positive. He needs to learn and understand that if he stays close he will be able to hunt as much as he likes.
Never underestimate how skilled a good hunting-dog handler is. If you are really struggling, book some time with someone that really knows their stuff. It will take time and patience to learn your craft; dogs don’t suffer fools and will only choose to be led by you if you are a deserving leader.