SI Vault
 
THE FLUSHING SPANIELS
Stanley MacQueen
June 15, 1959
Most hunters who have ever owned a gun dog agree that with few exceptions these dogs also make fine house pets. More surprising, perhaps, is the fact that many house pets make excellent gun dogs without losing any of the qualities which endear them to the family at home. Cocker and springer spaniels are particularly adaptable to the dual role of hunting and home companions. They are easy to teach, eager to learn and generally enthusiastic by nature. Given proper training, almost any spaniel can fulfill both roles and add immeasurably to his master's enjoyment. He should, of course, first learn the simple rules of living with people. When he has mastered the commands to sit, to stay, to come when called ('How to Educate the New Family Dog,' SI, July 14 & 21, 1958) he is ready to take to the field. For most spaniels, the right age will be between 6 and 9 months. Up to a year and a half, the average dog can still be taught to hunt, but much beyond this age training may be more difficult. Regardless of when field training begins, however, it is important to remember that dogs, like people, are individuals; some learn more quickly than others.
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June 15, 1959

The Flushing Spaniels

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Most hunters who have ever owned a gun dog agree that with few exceptions these dogs also make fine house pets. More surprising, perhaps, is the fact that many house pets make excellent gun dogs without losing any of the qualities which endear them to the family at home. Cocker and springer spaniels are particularly adaptable to the dual role of hunting and home companions. They are easy to teach, eager to learn and generally enthusiastic by nature. Given proper training, almost any spaniel can fulfill both roles and add immeasurably to his master's enjoyment. He should, of course, first learn the simple rules of living with people. When he has mastered the commands to sit, to stay, to come when called ('How to Educate the New Family Dog,' SI, July 14 & 21, 1958) he is ready to take to the field. For most spaniels, the right age will be between 6 and 9 months. Up to a year and a half, the average dog can still be taught to hunt, but much beyond this age training may be more difficult. Regardless of when field training begins, however, it is important to remember that dogs, like people, are individuals; some learn more quickly than others.

Stanley MacQueen (above) is the first of four experts who, starting with this issue and continuing through the summer, will teach you how to field-train your sporting dog. Stanley, the third generation of MacQueens to take up gun-dog training, has spent the major part of his 29 years working with flushing spaniels. This interest began in childhood under the guidance of his famous father, the international spaniel authority Larry MacQueen. Today father and son together train and handle more than 100 spaniels every year at their Ramornie Kennels in Pottersville, N.J. In the ultimate test of gun-dog training, the MacQueens have been represented at every national spaniel field-trial run in this country, and they have won national championships three times.

First time in the field

The opening phase of field training is easy and very informal. It involves no more than taking the young dog out in the field as often as possible to acquaint him with all types of terrain and game cover. A spaniel is born with a natural desire to hunt. Your job is to encourage this birdiness, as it is called, by making his outdoor sessions fun. Keep them short—a half hour every day rather than several consecutive hours once a week—and stop them, for a few days if necessary, when the dog seems to be tired or losing interest. The basic equipment you will need is a collar and lead, a whistle (police variety: 25�), and a .22-caliber blank training pistol ($7.50). Always take the dog afield on the lead, and before releasing him make him sit, so he understands you are the boss. Let him run free for a few minutes while he works off excess energy, then walk along in the direction he takes. When he gets too far ahead of you, call him back. Each time you call him, follow the command with several short whistle blasts. Eventually he will learn to associate this whistle signal with the voice command "Come." If he is slow at first, be patient, and avoid excessive correction. It is more important now that he develops interest in a variety of cover than that he obeys every command. If he is reluctant to enter heavy brush or briers, encourage him by going in first. When you come to water, let him splash and play in it. After the dog has been afield several times, accustom him to the sound of gunfire by shooting the training pistol in the air. Make sure he is at least 100 yards away from you the first few times you fire so that you don't startle him. Gradually decrease the distance as he becomes used to the noise. When you are ready to leave the field for home, reward the pup with stroking and praise as you put him back on the lead. Remember that the most important part of this early training is to make it fun for the dog. It will be if every session afield is relaxed and short.

Training pistol accustoms pup to gunfire in the field.

Short runs acquaint puppy with thickets and brush.

Praise is the best reward at end of session afield.

Shallow pond for splashing introduce young dog to water.

First encounter with birds

As soon as the pup is ranging freely, sniffing eagerly for signs of game, and entering all kinds of cover with boldness, he is ready for his first encounter with birds. At this stage it is not important that they be pheasants or grouse; pigeons are cheaper (they average 50�) and easier to handle. Clip the flight feathers from one wing to prevent the bird from flying. Hold the pigeon in your hand, and let the dog sniff and nuzzle it. Then shake it slightly—this won't hurt the bird but will dizzy it so it stays in one spot—and throw it a few feet from you. Encourage the dog to go after the pigeon by moving your arm toward it and saying "Fetch." He will probably pick it up right away but he may decide to play with it. It is better to let him do so briefly the first few times than risk souring him on birds by correcting him. As soon as he takes the bird in his mouth whistle him to you. If he returns without the bird, repeat "Fetch" and encourage him by whistle and voice to bring it. When he does, reward him. Repeat this exercise daily, planting the bird farther away each time. And remember, be patient with his mistakes and generous with praise.

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