You’ve done your research and have located the perfect spaniel breed for your needs. Now the little guy is tumbling around at your feet, and you’re wondering how to get started. Have no fear, the only thing you need is your healthy seven to twelve week old spaniel puppy and a strong desire to train him on your part. So, other than the necessary equipment, you’re set!
A quick note on the equipment: You will need a simple flat collar, short lead, flexi-leash, and some puppy-sized retrieving dummies. Training will be taking place in your home and yard.
Once you have your equipment together, you are ready to proceed with the training of your puppy. Remember, the more quality time you can spend with him regularly, the better relationship you will develop. You will understand him, and he will understand you. As you are getting acquainted with him, expose him to as many situations as you can that you foresee him encountering later in life. Choose a call name that is short, one to two syllables, and doesn’t rhyme with any of the commands, such as “Joe,” “Mack” or “Ray” as they sound like “no,” “back” or “stay.”
Since your puppy is still very young, most trainers begin with the play-retrieve. Start to teach the play- retrieve when the puppy becomes comfortable around you, and will happily pick up different things and tote them back to his “house” or “lair.” Once he is doing that by himself, place yourself between where he picks up the toy and where he takes it and playfully con him out of it. This conditions the pup that you are his “secondary lair.”
Familiarize your puppy with the puppy dummy. Hold him by the collar and show him the dummy, as it’s something new to him and it may be scary at first. Let him smell it and mouth it, but don’t allow him to run off with it. Don’t tease him with it; just let him get familiar with it. When he appears to be comfortable with the dummy, go close to his “house.” Tease him with the dummy, tap it on the ground, wave it around, talk excitedly, whatever it takes to get him really wanting that dummy. When he really wants it, toss it a short way off. If he goes after it, picks it up and goes by you, grab his collar and bring him to a stop. Do not take the dummy at this time! Pet and praise the pup enthusiastically for a minute or two, and then see if he will let you take the dummy. You don’t want to take it too soon, as he may run away from you next time as he feels that it is his and you shouldn’t have it. If he won’t let you have it, continue praising him and petting him until he’s ready to let you have it. Then toss it again.
Repeat this two or three times. Don’t over do it. You want to keep him excited and wanting the dummy, not tired and worn out. Keep it fun. With a pup that won’t bring it back, you will have to attach him to the flexi-lead and bring him back to you, with or without the dummy. You may also use a small alleyway where he doesn’t have a place to run except out and back. Do not take him off the flexi-lead until he is regularly bringing the dummy back to you. Otherwise, you may inadvertently train him to bring it to you only when he is on the long lead.
Once he’s reliably bringing the dummy back to you in front of his “house” go into your backyard. Continue to keep the tosses short, five to ten feet. Move around the backyard as he demonstrates a reliable return. If he doesn’t readily return to you, place him back on the flexi-lead and work with him until he comes back to you without you having to pull him back in.
Keep the sessions short. Three or four retrieves is plenty. You can have another session an hour or so later, but keep them all short. Work slowly and let him improve at his own speed . Once he is reliably retrieving with you in various places, he is ready to move on to the next steps. This would include teaching him a command for the retrieve, whistle commands, and introduction to cover, birds, gunfire and water. Before long he will be ready to start retrieving actual birds!