Cockers past Present and Future

Breed description

Early times

Different temperaments

Celtic origins

The Welsh Cocker

Weight difficulty

Working Cockers

Cockers Today



Early Training

Sitting to command

More Advanced training

The basics to begin with

Can my dog swim ?




Having owned and bred ‘show’ cocker spaniels  for over a period of 30 years, We would never have imagined how much more pleasurable it could be to own a working cocker. In fact, before we purchased our first, we knew about these intelligent, bright spaniels. but, like most cocker owners, never pursued getting into the working or trialling side, time always seemed to be the problem, but the story has changed and now we had wished we had made the move years ago, our lives now have totally changed for the better. We now are totally hooked and would never go back, and will no doubt have them for the rest of our days.

We have always loved the cockers, firstly because of the practical size they come in, but also because of their appealing character, always up to a bit of mischief, but liking nothing better than to follow their owner round faithfully, like a shadow. Hence the saying "follow you round like a spaniel". My saying is Love & treat them well and they will repay you twenty times over with love, affection,  faithfulness and kindness. You will thank me for this small piece of information, whatever you do stand by it, It works and I will quite happily disagree with anybody who thinks different.

Please follow our journey through the web site as the information I have put together is constantly updated and experiences that I have had throughout the years will become apparent.

I hope you all enjoy our story and the vast amount of information I have compiled and updating for everybody to see. I am sure, when or if you get the time to go through the whole web site you will realise I am a cocker man through and through. If you get the chance or want to ask me any questions, please feel free to email me and tell me what you think of the site, and if you have any ideas of what you would like to see for everybody to view, all will be considered. please do not hesitate to email me on

Cockers past Present and Future - by Keith Erlandson -

Shooting Times 10 June 1999


Breed description

Although no working cockers conform to an arbitrary breed standard, bearing in mind that no Dual Champion has ever emerged within the breed, not even during the day of Mr C.A. Phillips' Rivington cockers, they still bear a distinctive stamp, with broad, flat-topped heads as opposed to the high-domed heads of the show variety.  Ears are set on higher and not so exaggerated in length that they trail into the dogs' food bowls.  They should be short coupled to engender the true cocker action, with brisk steps rather than the raking gallop of the English setter and many Springer spaniels.  It is preferable that both dogs and bitches should scale 251b or under, but I have seen a son of Wilfred of Cromlix that weighed 40lb, which pleased its owner, Mr Fraser, as it was able to tackle Scottish rivers in flood. Colours vary enormously and can be black, liver, black and white, liver and white, red and white, lemon and white, orange roan, blue roan; liver mixed with red roan and occasionally tan markings can manifest themselves alongside all these colours.  Occasionally, a solid buff-coloured cocker will be born that is neither lemon nor red.  Unlike Springer spaniels, cockers do not breed true regarding colour, and virtually two parents of any colour combinations can produce any colour schemes within the same litter. Among show cockers, ever since I can remember, there have been manifestations from time to time of bad temper or "cocker rage", which allegedly is particularly common in black or golden specimens.  Seemingly an identical syndrome occurs among American show Springer spaniels, but happily our working cockers are free from cocker rage.  Generally, temperaments are very pleasant with a complete absence of nervousness, and though I have never tried it myself, they make excellent housedogs.  When staying with Lady Auckland at Cromlix, Jimmy Wylie commented that you had to eat your food quickly or the house cocker sitting on the next chair would have it off your fork!

After FTCH Speckle of Ardoon won three consecutive Championships from 1972-74, there was a noticeable upswing in the fortunes of the cocker.  Speckle did not produce pups as good as herself, but they were sound and produced far better progeny themselves - a ~c case of Speckle's powerful genes skipping a generation.  Her most notable granddaughter was Cyril and May Gwynne's FTCH Gwibernant Snake, who has been heavily line bred to with nothing but good results, the acid test of bloodline soundness.  Snake has tied up well with FTCH Rhu of Migdale, another descendant of Speckle and other Elan bloodlines, through the big black shooting dog who never competed, Southfield Sam.  Today, cockers at their top level take the cover very well and soundness of mouths equal the best springers and retrievers.  A welcome spin-off from the breed's field-trial performance has been a vast increase in the numbers of cockers in ordinary shooting hands.

Whereas a top-grade cocker needs good handling, many of the trial throw-outs are ideal dogs for novice shooter/dog handlers.  Most are excellent retrievers and, with practice, develop good noses for runners.


Frequently, the working variety of the Cocker spaniel is a much misunderstood animal, even among a cross section of shooting people.  In fact, it would be fair to state that many do not even know the animal exists.  This was borne out recently by a remark in a contemporary magazine to the effect that cocker spaniels, "can now inherit ectropian, a bleeding disorder known as factor X deficiency, progressive retinal atrophy, distichiasis and three different skeletal anomalies ". I would not dispute this testimony had the writer made it clear that he was referring solely to show cockers. However, as no such qualification was made, 1 can only assume that he was unaware that the cocker, like so many other gundog breeds, had split into working and show varieties. This was excusable up to a point.  After the Second World War, the show-bred cocker spaniel increased enormously in popular appeal and for a period of time was the most numerous Kennel Club registered breed.  It was at this time that the cocker acquired an unenviable reputation for being useless as a working dog which in most, but not all, cases was justified.

Early times

The truth of the matter is that in earlier times, before the advent of either dog shows or field trials, all cocker spaniels had been bred solely for work and a few strains had been kept purely with this object in mind after the advent of dog shows in 1859.  Whereas a few shooting men like Mr C.A. Phillips, pioneer of the field-trial movement, bred their cockers for work and entered them in dog shows, this being the only competitive activity for gundogs until spaniel trails were inaugurated in 1899, many other breeders did not shoot. They bred solely to conform to the breed standard and had no interest in the perpetuation of working qualities or, it would seem in some cases, in physical soundness, which would appear to be the reason that physical defects can be perpetuated in show strains today.

It must have been the case, however, that those people who were interested in their cockers as working dogs, men like Mr C.A. Phillips and Dr Dawson, bred for physical soundness as well as working qualities, as working cockers today suffer from physical abnormalities to a lesser degree, arguably, than any other gundog breed. Jim Edgar MRCVS, a recently deceased working breeder, once told me that he'd had working cockers since 1948 and had never encountered a case of hip dysphasia in his own dogs or anyone else's. Personally, I have only heard of three cases of progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and that seems confined to one bloodline only and is not spreading.

Different temperaments

Cocker spaniels tend to have different temperaments to English Springer spaniels, though they have had some connection over the past 140 years.  Mr C.A. Phillips never hesitated to scramble his Springer and cocker bloodlines around as and when he thought fit, which was the norm in the formative years of all the gundog breeds. Cockers tend to be bolder, more mischievous and fun loving than Springer’s.  In fact, a well-known breeder of pointers, Springer’s, cockers and cattle, the late Patience Badenach Nicholson, stated that if you find you have a nervous cocker, you should put it down without hesitation. This makes sense.  Being much smaller and lighter than most Springer's, it requires supreme confidence and verve to swing a hare or cock pheasant clear of the ground and gallop back with the retrieve.  A touch of the miseries would inhibit its determination and render the dog less effective. The same applies to its hunting drive.

When discussing the origins of any breed of dog, it can be tempting to dismiss its early history as being shrouded in mystery.  This is especially so in the case of older breeds like spaniels, as opposed to those of fairly recent manufacture such as the Labrador retriever, the flat coated retriever and the golden retriever, whose origins are reliably documented.  Note well that these breeds have all evolved since game shooting became popular and the need for recoverers of shot game arose.  Game shooting is a comparatively new sport compared with coursing, falconry and the more utilitarian taking of game with nets for the table. The two latter activities require the services of either flushing or pointing dogs. Regarding coursing, in earlier times flushing dogs sometimes were used to start hares from cover for the gazehounds to pursue. It follows that the pointing and flushing breeds are of greater antiquity than the retriever breeds, so their evolution is more difficult to chart. However, it is not necessarily impossible.

Celtic origins 

Unquestionably, the cocker spaniel is of very mixed origins, but 1 think it may be possible to trace what I believe is its oldest bloodline.  When the Celtic tribes migrated westward across Europe from what is now southern Germany, approximately between the years 500-150 BC, they took their cattle, pigs and horses with them, and without any doubt their dogs.  It is well documented that there existed at that time a large Celtic hound, possibly descended from the ancient molossus and probably the main ancestor of the Old English mastiff, later to find fame as a war dog that fought the invading Romans and, afterwards, infamy as an unbeatable fighting dog in the arenas of ancient Rome. The Celts undoubtedly possessed herding dogs and my belief is that these people had smaller red-and-white hunting dogs.  Falconry is an ancient sport and owing to artefacts discovered, it seems that the Celtic chieftains flew hawks and falcons, particularly the former as the Celts were a woodland people and doubtless flew the short-winged goshawks at rabbits, the natural quarry of this raptor.  What more could a high-born Celt wish for to flush rabbits, hares and woodcock for his hawks than a spaniel-like animal? My belief is further compounded by the Celtic settlement in Brittany, Wales and Ireland. To this day, all these areas produce red-and-white hunting dogs.  Brittany has its epagneul Breton, known to ourselves and the Americans as the Brittany.  The original sang pur Brittany was originally only red and white, but at the end of the Second World War, so few Brittany’s of breeding age were available in France that crossing with other local pointing spaniels took place.  This introduced black and liver colouration.  Ireland has its ancient red-and-white Irish setter and later the more familiar Irish red setter emerged from the red-and-white taproot, frequently with accepted white markings on the nose, chest and legs, like some cocker spaniels today. As far back as the 10th century, written records tell us that there were red-and-white spaniels in Wales, which were the undisputed ancestors of the Welsh Springer spaniels of today.

The Welsh Cocker

Then, for a time, there existed the enigmatic Welsh cocker, over which there is confusion to this day. This is because many cockers are bred in Wales and frequently the uninitiated believe these products of the principality to be Welsh cockers, which they are not.  To the best of my knowledge, the welsh cocker was never a Kennel Club registered breed, but it has been mentioned by earlier writers and cynologists like Hubbard as being red and white.  This would suggest that it evolved as a smaller "subspecies" to the Welsh Springer, just as we have miniature poodles, schnauzers and dachshunds.It is said to have become extinct, like the Devonshire cocker, but I believe both varieties were simply absorbed into the breed of cocker spaniel prior to the Kennel Club's formation in 1873, as the red-and-white cockers we have today are distinct from the lemon-and-whites and orange roans. "Stonehenge" in his 1859 Book of the Dog mentions the Welsh cocker and there is also a lithograph of a Welsh and English cocker standing together. The dog featured in the above picture is UH SHR Ch. Greenwood's Angus MH SH JR WDX CGC. With kind permission of Brian Schmidt).

Weight difficulty

A difficulty that arose in the latter half of the 19th century was that, although the cocker had become established as a breed in its own right, around the turn of the century the Kennel Club brought in a weight classification whereby any spaniel of 251b or under was a cocker and anything over this weight was a field spaniel or a Springer.  So though some breeders strove to establish the breed, others crossed their cockers with Springer’s and registered the larger progeny as Springer’s and the smaller ones as cockers.

Those who breed cockers today have inherited this genetical to-ing and fro-ing and genes do not just disappear.  In the past, there have been some uninformed comments in the press regarding variation in type regarding cockers, with suggestions that many of undesirable Springer size, action and colour are emerging. I can do no better than quote an ex-scientist friend, the late Dr John Brindle, who said, "Some of these people are naive beyond belief, and know nothing about the history of anything.  In fact, they believe that the history of everything began on the day they themselves became interested in it".

Working Cockers

I saw my first working cocker in December 1945.  She was a clear liver-and-white, but with a typical cocker action.  My real experience began in 1957 at the Kennel Club Cocker Championship, when a large, springery liver-and-white dog, FTCH Carswell Solomon was beaten into second place by the very cockery FTCH Jordieland Bunty.  This was to be repeated in 1960, 1962, 1964 and 1974, when a large animal of Springer appearance was beaten on each occasion by a very typical cocker.  Doubtless these large cockers had put up excellent performances in the body of the stake, but in the final analysis the experienced judges exercised their preferences for the true cocker type.  Nevertheless, in 1965, 1969, 1970 and 1980, very large cockers won the event. 

So for as far back as I can go, there has always been a vast difference in type within the ranks of the working cocker.  It might be easy to blame the breeders for departing so far from the breed standard, but that would be unrealistic if we take a backward glance into the history of the show cocker.  The disparity in type depicted in old photographs is both amazing and enlightening.  Ch Obo, born in 1879 and probably regarded as The Father of the Breed was a long, low dog and 1 am certain he would not have gained his title under the show judges of today.

Moving into the 20th century, Mr C.A. Phillips' Ch Rivington Reine, born in 1904, was short legged and long bodied, yet the same owner's Ch Rivington Gunner, born in 1906, was tall, leggy and of workmanlike proportions.  Bearing in mind that both show and working cockers of today both stem from the same root stock, is it so very strange that a disparity in type sometimes occurs even when the same thing happened with those cockers of a bygone age that were allegedly bred to their breed standard?  The situation is further compounded by the various outcrosses that, quite legitimately, have been brought into the gene pool in the past.  This was before the Kennel Club, short-sightedly I think, placed an embargo on this practice in around 1969.

I am fortunate to have had as one of my mentors Miss Peggy Brown of the Headland cockers. A notable breed historian, Miss Brown has a vastly extended pedigree of Rivington Dazzle, which in its last generation shows outcrosses of field and Sussex spaniels. Miss Brown told me that Springer outcrosses were not good, as Springer blood is so dominant that it masks cocker type and persists over the generations. She considers Border collie and English setter outcrosses as beneficial, but as English sprinters and English setters both originated from common stock of the land spaniels of Europe about 400 years ago, a far back setter outcross can still produce characteristics that the uninitiated could mistake for recent Springer ancestry. Recently, I discovered that the great show breeder, Mr H.S. Lloyd, had used an English setter by the now defunct Class 11 registration to bring blue roan colouration into his Ware cockers.

Cockers Today

Having observed working and field-trial cockers for more than 42 years, I can state that the proportion of untypical cockers seen today is smaller than was the case 30 or 40 years ago. Whereas there were several good cockers present at the 1957 Championship, like Commander Collard's double Championship winner FTCH Buoy of Elan, handled by John Forbes, Frank Fuller's FTCH Stockbury Elizabeth, handled by Reg Hill and Tom Ellis's FTCH Deewood Wendy, thereafter cockers went into rapid decline.

This dark period lasted from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, though a few good cockers still manifested themselves, like the FTChs Simon of Elan, Wilfred of Cromlix and Headland Hazel of Monnow. Commander Collards'1966 Championship winner was more pedestrian, but was a brilliant game finder and has left a wonderful line behind it through its granddaughter, FTCH Speckle of Ardoon.

During this period, cockers were knocked hard in the press as some commentators who lacked breeding experience did not appreciate that livestock production over the decades can fall into troughs, then rise to new heights.  The great cocker lady Janet Wykeham-Musgrave said that more than 150 years ago, the English thoroughbred declined, but recovered "under its own steam without being crossed with Clydesdales".  Her words were prophetic if we look at the breed today.


Working cockers, compared to show cockers tend to have broader, flatter heads. Their coats are usually shorter and their frame is more athletic and sleeker. Also a more marked difference is their shorter ears, which are far more practical and tend to lead to fewer problems than their show cousins. Colours vary considerably, but are similar to the usual cocker strands. For instance in our latest litter, the dam is liver and the sire chocolate roan. We also have found over the years that you will find that most working cocker breeders tend to go by the quality in the pedigree rather than the colour, we beg to differ in this area completely, we feel that the colour of the dog plays a most important part of the buying and working factor as well as the pedigree you must like the dog you are working with, and if for any reason you do not, and that includes the colour you can forget it, it will not work, (I say this with first hand experience and through various people I have chatted to at working tests and Field Trials) you will see in my links section an excellent piece on colour genes in the cocker spaniel which my wife and I studied for many a year when on the show cocker scene. We feel you should wait for the right cocker spaniel, with the pedigree and the colour. If you are like me do not settle for any less, be patient, wait until the right dog for you comes up, you will thank me for this relatively small piece of advice, it also makes extremely good sense.

Working cockers also tend to suffer far fewer physical problems than the show dogs, for example ‘rage syndrome’ known to occur particularly in golden and black (solid) coloured show cockers does not seem to afflict workers. All the cockers that we have encountered during trials etc, have all had excellent temperaments. Our cockers are all extremely affectionate with our children, something that we were never able to say about our previous dogs. They are on the whole happy, affectionate, faithful and confident.


 To the gain the most enjoyment from your working cocker, it is well worth training them. We have found that the best time to start training is around about 10 to 12 months of age, and depending on the particular cocker, if you are gundog training you must really stand back and access this yourself to see if the cocker is ready, before then you could be doing more harm than good. Too many people make the mistake of gundog training too young, I was one of them, but you learn very fast (I agree the wait can be very frustrating) but take it from me, you will thankful you did. Although cockers are highly intelligent, they also get bored easily if you do too much too quickly. They need to be interested in what they are doing, or they will not perform at their best. The following training tips are ones that we have tried and would recommend. However, like a child, it is worth noting that each dog has a different personality and should be handled as such. This is particularly noticeable to anyone who has previously trained a Springer spaniel. Springer's mature quicker than cockers; therefore they can tolerate an earlier start. Also, another difference in their characteristic is that the cocker seems far more sensitive, this point is particularly important when it comes to discipline. The cocker is acutely aware when his handler is annoyed, thus affecting his behaviour. He will either become withdrawn or will start to misbehave as a result. Therefore, great care should be taken not to be over zealous when disciplining. Just a raising in the tone of one’s voice can be sufficient to create a change in behaviour, without resorting to physical punishment (although some trainers would disagree). A quick stamp of the foot in front of the dog, along with a verbal ‘telling off’ is usually enough to correct our spaniels’ bad behaviour.



The most important part of training is to make sure you keep calling the puppy by its name, preferably a short name which will be easy to use in the field. This could also be emphasised with the use of a whistle. However you must ensure that you are consistent with the number of toots. We find that about three to four short high pitched toots is a good way to bring the puppy back in to you. For a good response, it is a good idea to give puppy a small edible treat so that he will be willing to repeat his performance. Once this behaviour has been well established, you can then progress to retrieving.

This can be practised with a small ball (taking care that it is not too small that the puppy can choke on it, but not so big or heavy that he cannot hold it comfortably in his mouth. You can purchase very reasonably priced puppy training dummies or even a stuffed sock will suffice. As soon as he picks the dummy up, after a short throw away from you, call or whistle him in and praise him.

Do not let him run off with it, but intercept him and gently take the dummy from his lips – Do not force it from him, this will prepare him for retrieving game without damaging it). If he will not return with his prize, intercept him before he runs off in another direction and again, gently take the dummy from him and praise him.

The next essential step is to teach the sit command. This again is a vital component of training the working dog, as for him to receive any commands whilst out in the field, he must be able to stop, look at you and take further directions. It is also most important that your dog sits at your side before being set off to retrieve, whilst the gun is fired, and also, after having successfully retrieved he must return his prize sit in front of you and release the game/dummy to your hand.



 Firstly, it is best to get your puppy used to walking with a lead, preferably a slip lead, so that it is easy to slip off and on quickly. The lead should be slack and not too long. If the dog pulls in front, stop and wait, he will learn that if he wants to advance it is best if he walks at the same pace as his master. However, if he persists in this behaviour, a sharp jerk of the lead accompanied by the command ‘heel’ should do the trick. This is something that will come with practice, and should result in you being able to walk with your dog to heel without having to use a lead.

The next step is the ‘sit’.

 Begin by walking your puppy with a slack lead by your left side (if you are right handed), with the lead in your right hand. Then stop suddenly and raise the palm of your hand in front of him along with the command ‘sit’. To start with he will obviously not understand what you want of him, so gently push on his rear quarters with your hand to make him sit. Make him sit for a few seconds and if he tries to move pull him firmly with the lead and reaffirm the ‘sit ‘command. Begin walking again using the command ‘heel’. Continue practising, but don’t let it get too boring for him and always praise him when he is sitting to command. It is best to bend down to him and say ‘good boy’ otherwise he will start to rise from the position, defeating the object of the exercise. Of course in the field, we are not able to use commands such as ‘sit’ over a long distance, therefore you must begin to accompany your commands not just with hand signals but by replacing the verbal ones with whistle commands. For sit, we use a single tone blow for a few seconds. Try practicing this gradually without the lead on, once you have mastered heel walking and sitting to command. The next step is to get your dog to sit at a short distance from you. The best way to introduce this, is to put the lead on and make him sit, then place the lead under your foot and say ‘stay’ putting the palm of your hand in front of his face. Make sure he is sitting calmly, and then turn to face him, still raising your palm in front of him. Take a few steps back and if he attempts to move towards you reinforce the ‘stay’ with a harsher voice and the hand but it is sometimes useful to stamp your foot in front of him to show that you are annoyed. If he performs well, give him lots of praise. Practice this move and increase the distance you move away from him gradually. When you are sure that he is competent at this command, put him in the ‘sit-stay’ position, turn your back and walk away. You can also walk around him. You should reach the stage where you are both totally confident in each other and where you can give the sit-stay command, walk out of his sight, to return a few minutes later and see him still sitting in exactly the same position as you left him. Most importantly, you must not rush your dog, it will not only upset you if he fails a command, but will probably upset him even more in the long run and he senses how annoyed you are with him.

Every dog, like a child learns at a different rate. Do not push him too quickly. If you take your time and gently ease him into training, giving lots of praise all the way, you will enjoy each others company all the more.


 We have looked at general puppy training, but if you really want your dog to work in the field more specific training is required. However, again you cannot afford to start this too early. If you have experienced or spoken to a Springer trainer you will find that they begin their training much earlier than a cocker. We have learnt through experience, that to attempt any serious training before at least the age of 9 months can be extremely detrimental. They are, on the whole, still puppies, and appear to differ quite considerably to Springers in that their boredom threshold is much lower. In fact we would now recommend that a cocker should not be trained too seriously until they are around 12 months old. By this time they should be well socialised and are more ready to settle down to working mode, rather than wanting to play with you. Also, if they have been introduced to dummies (of which you can gradually increase the weight and size) they should be better used to picking up the sort of game that they will eventually be introduced to retrieving.

 Firstly, as with any training of the cocker, you must still make sure that your dog does not get bored. A short lesson every day of about 20 minutes will be far more productive and less stressful for the both of you, than a long hour lesson twice a week.


To begin with, you must always try your utmost to remain consistent with your commands. Remember that a dog will understand much better if you use one or two short words to direct him rather than several. For example if you decide from the beginning to use the word ‘sit’, always use the same word, do not suddenly change it to ‘hup’ as he will get confused. The same goes for your hand signals and whistle commands. If you stick to a single blow of the whistle lasting about 2 seconds for the sit command, you must always use the same tone and length of blow.

 If you give a command, make sure that your dog obeys it, do not let him get away with, even once, or he may try it again, when it really matters.

 In order to advance to field training, let’s go through what commands your dog should be confident in performing. He should now sit to the verbal command ‘sit’ or to a single 2 second blow of the whistle. He should be walking to heel with the verbal command ‘heel’ and will by now sit and stay until you call him by name, with the command ‘stay’ or with the hand raised, palm facing forward towards the dog (like a policeman stopping traffic).

All of these commands can now be further enhanced so that they can be understood by your dog at either a short distance, quietly or at a longer distance, which is vital for working. In order to do this you should make sure that these commands can be recognised in each of the following ways:

 To sit = verbal command ‘sit’, whistle ‘2 sec.blow’ or hand signal ‘high                          

                                                          Flat palm’

To stay= verbal command ‘stay’.

To walk to heel = verbal command ‘heel’ or hand signal ‘pat your thigh a couple of times on the side he is to walk’.

To come in to you = verbal command ‘call your dog’s name’, whistle ‘double peeps in succession’.

 Once all of these are mastered you can then progress to quartering. This is where the dog must pick up the scent of the game in the field. Some cockers take to this very naturally, however, although finding a scent is instinctive to them others need to be coaxed.

Start off with your dog in the sit position on your left side. Make sure he has your attention and direct him away from you to your left by moving your arm with one stroke in front of him, in the direction you want him to go. Accompany this with the command ‘Hi-seek’. Make sure that he doesn’t go too far away, but let him find a scent on his own to start with. When he has gone about 5 metres, give a short toot on the whistle. He should turn to look at you, whereby you should then use you arm to direct him to the right. To emphasis this turn your back away from him and start walking in that direction, keeping slightly behind his line. This should create a zigzag pattern. Make sure that every time you want him to turn, toot your whistle. If during this exercise he begins to become distracted or wanders off use the stop whistle and bring him back in to you to the sit position. Make sure he is calm and begin the exercise again. Eventually with practice your dog should quarter without you having to walk behind him at all.

It is helpful once quartering is mastered to bring a friend along to place or throw dummies for your dog to hunt and retrieve, whilst you are controlling him. Get your friend to throw a dummy to a gun shot (or another loud sound) to customise him to the sound, whilst he remains in the sit position. During this time he should be focused on the direction in which the dummy has gone. Once the dummy has landed in the cover of the grass and he is steady, send your dog off to ‘Hi-loss’. He should now be quartering the ground, searching for the scent. If you see that he is going in totally the wrong direction after a reasonable amount of time, whistle him to stop so that you have his attention, and then send him off in the correct direction with a directional arm signal. As soon as he appears to have found the dummy, whistle him to come in. When he approaches you he will naturally be pleased with himself, but you need to direct him straight in front of you. Therefore, to start with, it is often better to bend down with welcoming arms and call his name gently. Hopefully he will then bring his prize to you. You need to make him sit and gently drop the dummy straight into your hand. In order to do this it is easier to place your hand underneath his jaw to begin with and ease it from his mouth without forcing it. You should give him lots of praise as you do this, in the hope that he will realise that it is best for him to give it to you without running off. However, initially he may wish to play a game of chase with it, so you should intercept him immediately and make him sit. So as not to discourage him, you must still praise him whilst taking the dummy gently from his mouth.

This forms the basis for his work in the field and once these skills have been completely mastered he should be ready for another advancing step.


Of course he can? It is always a bit frightening to begin with, but you should realise that your dog has a natural instinct to swim. Where do you think the term ‘doggy paddle’ came from?

Never force your dog to go into the water if he doesn’t want to, but it is a good tip to introduce him fairly young to water so that he isn’t frightened. Be warned,

do not force your young dog into water when it is cold or you could face health problems. Therefore, the best way to start with is to wait for a warm summer’s day (if there is one) and find a pond or lake, with a gentle sloping entry point. Use a floating dummy, so that it will not sink and begin by throwing it a short distance into the water. Use your usual commands to fetch the dummy and he may, if your lucky just jump straight into the water quite naturally. However, if he is reluctant, try throwing a small morsel of food, or if this is unsuccessful, you could try paddling yourself. Failing all of these tips leave this exercise for today and wait until you can recruit the services of an experienced swimmer (dog) with whom your dog is familiar. With such help, you can encourage your dog to follow its peer. However, beware not to exhaust your dog or he will become too tired and lethargic and this may also put him off trying it again.

Once your dog is familiar with the technique of swimming, he should be encouraged to swim further distances to retrieve dummies. And when he is really strong you should replace the floating dummy with a proper dummy, so that he knows he must retrieve it before it sinks beyond trace. An important point to note here, is that you should take quite a few dummies with you and be prepared to lose quit a few to the bottom of the lake/pond to begin with.

Once your dog is proficient at retrieving a dummy in water, you then need to train it to swim to the opposite side of a pond/lake onto the bank, to retrieve a dummy thrown over the water. This is a lot trickier and relies heavily on making sure that your dog pays absolute attention to the direction that the dummy is thrown in, or it will be a useless exercise