Updated: Feb 18
So, you attach your Spaniel puppy’s lead and off you go for your walk.
They bounce happily from smell to smell, enthusiastically running ahead zig-zagging from side to side as they go, pulling towards passing people and dogs with their cute wiggly bums that no human on the planet can resist. But it’s ok, they are only tiny so the pulling is no problem and it’s just what puppies do. They’ll grow out of it.
You unclip their lead at the local field where they have the best time chasing birds and rustling around in the bushes with their nose to the ground. But it’s ok, they never stray too far and you are feeling pretty pleased that your puppy comes back every time you call - you must have a good one!
Fast forward 6-months…
Your puppy is barking, whining, jumping and grabbing at you every time you so much as look at your walking boots. They are still bouncing from smell to smell, running on the lead, pulling to everything they want and getting annoyed when they can’t reach it. Now they are bigger, stronger, and MUCH more determined.
You can’t wait to get to the local field to get their lead off. They obsessively look for birds and are chasing them much further, barking and screeching in fast pursuit whilst completely ignoring your calls. They still love to spend time in the bushes with their noses to the ground but now they’ll pick up a scent and take off, only coming back when they are good and ready.
The puppy you got as an adventure companion is now a complete nightmare to walk, both on and off the lead. And sadly, this has nothing to do with adolescence and that famous “rebellious” stage. It will not pass.
I work with Spaniels more than any other breed and more often than not, it’s always the same problems. But, this all-too-common story applies to all our gundog breeds.
So, what the hell am I talking about saying “we need to stop walking our Spaniels”? Surely, they need more exercise, not less?!
Let me explain…
What is the difference between a working Spaniel that is out flushing and retrieving birds throughout the shooting season, and the one that you share your home with?
Well, genetically…absolutely nothing.
Whether a Spaniel is raised in a family home as a pet or in a working gundog kennels as a shooting companion, genetically, they are the same. They are both fast and furious hunting machines.
However, there is one huge difference.
One has learned to control its impulses and respond to its handler whilst doing its job. The other has learned to do its job freely, on its own, without any control, restraint or direction.
OK, so let’s get to it…
I want to tell you a secret that EVERY Spaniel owner NEEDS to know…
You cannot just “walk” a Spaniel.
You cannot just unclip their lead and go for a carefree walk until you clip them back on again at home time.
Our Spaniels need more than just hours of exercise every day if we want to keep them safe, happy, healthy and fulfilled.
We need to provide them with games and activities throughout their walks so we are exercising them not only physically, but mentally as well. These dogs are desperate for a job to do. If we don’t provide them with fun and focussed activities, they will find their own job and you will be nothing more than the heavy weight on the end of the lead holding them back from everything they love.
Include activities that involve searching, hunting, retrieving and waiting patiently for the things they want to strengthen their self-control skills.
Structure your walks so you get some down time, but your Spaniel is also getting the important training and stimulation that they need:
- Reinforce good lead walking manners and impulse control on the way to your walk.
- Instead of just letting them off when you reach the field, play a few minutes of fast and fun treats chases, ping-ponging from left to right.
- When they are easily focusing and engaging with you release them with a clear cue that tells them to “go and be a dog”. Spend a few minutes walking, allowing them to explore whilst you mark (say “yes!”) and reward (throw them a treat) any behaviours you see that show your dog is maintaining connection with you and making good choices. For example, turning to give you a glance, popping back for a quick visit, looking at a bird and remaining still, looking at a dog and then back to you, turning their body to follow your body movements etc. If you want your Spaniel to do it more, you need to reinforce it!
- Call them in and play with the ball for a few minutes. Not just mindless chasing, wait for stillness and patience and reward with a chase.
- Release them to be a dog for a few minutes, reinforcing their good choices.
- Call them in and get them hunting for hidden balls.
- Reconnect their lead and reinforce good lead walking manners and impulse control on your way home.
Make your walks interesting. Give them something to focus on. Motivate your dog to stay close and connected to you. Teach them that you are relevant. Don’t just be a spectator to the fun.
From this day forward...
Stop just walking your Spaniel...
BE the fun...
and see the change.