Working Dog Introduction
The Welsh Springer Spaniel is sometimes known as a ‘Minor or Rarer Spaniel’ for the purposes of the Working fraternity. This means that he is one of the lesser known spaniel breeds that are worked. Most people think of the English Springer and Cocker when working spaniels are being discussed; the rarer breeds are Sussex, Clumber, Field and Welsh Springer spaniels.
The main job of a Spaniel is to find game and to ‘spring’ it into the air for the guns to shoot, hence the term ‘Springer’. In the early days it wasn’t guns but hawks or falcons, and the dog’s hunting characteristics were developed principally by the Spanish Moors; hence the name ‘Spaniel’.
The characteristics required of a Springer are to go over the ground to either side of, and just ahead of, the handler, probing the cover (undergrowth, including brambles!) where there might be game, in order to spring it. On a driven shoot, where the beaters drive in a line towards static guns, the dog can work a bit ahead, but on a shoot where the guns walk behind the beaters (or handle the dogs themselves) and shoot over the dogs the dog must work close enough so the guns can get a shot. In this type of shoot especially, the dog is also used to retrieve the shot game, so retrieving skills are also needed.
So, the characteristics required of a working spaniel are: basic obedience (walk to heel, sit, stay, recall); finding and retrieving game; steadiness (to shot, flushed game and other distractions); and directional control for control of hunting and retrieving (sending the dog left and right, out and back, search that locality). Most control is achieved using a combination of whistle and body language.
Those who try training their dog for these skills invariably get huge satisfaction from the bond that builds between dog and handler as the skills are developed and used.
The Welsh Springer is an extremely competent worker. He has intelligence to apply his skills appropriately, a wonderful ‘nose’, and is almost tireless. However he tends to be more deliberate and methodical in his hunting than his working bred cousins. But this does not mean that he will not be productive in finding game - in fact quite the opposite, he is likely to follow up on the faster dogs and flush birds that have been missed. Often the dog’s instincts and enthusiasm can result in it doing more than the handler has trained it or instructed it to do. For the rough shooter, he is probably the ideal dog who will work at the right pace for his owner to keep up with, and will rarely miss a bird.
He is however, not the easiest of dogs to train. His intelligence and willfulness leads to a tendency to ‘do his own thing’ rather than blindly following the handler’s instructions, and he can ‘cock a deaf’n’ when he finds something of interest that needs his attention! This means that training needs to be very slow and easy, taking each exercise in a relaxed way and giving lots of praise when things go right, and trying to ignore him when things go wrong – a lot easier to say than do! Stop the training session when the dog gets tired, and always finish the session with a ‘success’.
Welsh Springers are great fun to work, and training, which is based on positive methods and praise, should be started as soon as the pup is fully inoculated. Training your Welshie can be fun for you both. Start with basic obedience (these classes are easy to find in all localities), then go on to gundog-specific training. These classes are not so easy to find, but many gundog societies run spaniel-specific training, and some even encourage the minor breeds. Most people find training in a group is more fun, but perhaps slower, than one-to-one with a professional trainer. Informal group training sessions can be done in public access land, meeting regularly, say once a month. And, of course, there are the Club’s ‘fun day’ events each June.
Having decided to ‘do working’ you could find a suitable shoot that will be sympathetic to beginners. Complete beginners might wish to not even take the dog at first, and then keep him on a lead until everyone gets used to what goes on. Beating is a great way to get you and your dog in peak physical condition!
But if going on a shoot is not your thing, there are many assessments, tests and trials around to try your hand at. The least formal of these is a Working Assessment. SEWSSC run one of these in Kent each May. There are various levels of test, e.g. Beginner, Puppy, Novice and Open, so there is something suitable for all levels of competence. At the other end of the spectrum are Field Trials, where a particularly high degree of skill is required of both handler and dog.
For more information on any aspects of working, contact the Club’s Working Secretary, who is always happy to discuss any aspect of working your Welshie.
Have a go, you will not regret it!