WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A GUNDOG?
Subsequent to its introduction to the UK, Spanish Water Dogs went on to be recognised by the Kennel Club and were placed into the Gundog Group.
For the uninitiated gundogs were originally bred and trained to find live game and/or to retrieve game that had been hunted and shot by their human partners in order to put food on the table. Whilst the Gundog Group contains the greatest number of different breeds in any Kennel Club Group, not all Gundogs work in the same way. Some specialise in retrieving game that has been shot whilst others find live game and flush it for the gun. Other breeds fulfil a combination of roles. Gundogs are divided up into four different categories based on their function and purpose, but these categories can have much in common with reach other:
Hunt/Point/Retrieve (more often referred to as HPR's); and
Pointers & Setters.
Spanish Water Dogs fall under the category of Spaniels, or more accurately Minority Spaniel. This is a sub category for non-Spaniels that undertake the same type of work as the Spaniel breeds. This category is often considered to be one of the best for gundogs due to their natural hunting ability and retrieving instincts. With a strong intellect and keenness to undertake a full days work they are often used to flush game from thick dense brush and undergrowth and complete retrieves both on land and from within water, thus making them great working dogs.
Getting an SWD to gundog standard takes time and a lot of training, but the results can be very rewarding.
HOW DO I GET STARTED IN GUNDOG TRAINING?
The energy and trainability of a Spanish Water Dog lends itself to this type of work in the first instance, but relating to his human is the essence of his trainability within this field of expertise. A reliable response to commands is essential in a gundog; so that is why we train our dogs.
At home we can establish the basics:- sit, come, fetch, and wait, all of which can and should be started from the moment your SWD puppy joins your family. These are the foundations of not just gundog training but all obedience training, but are crucial steps that need to be well established before moving on and developing more specific gundog skills. A term you will often hear when people discuss a working dog is its 'steadiness'. All dogs, especially working bred gundogs, have an instinct to chase something that is moving, capture it if possible and carry it off to some location of their own choosing. This can sometimes be referred to as the dog's 'Prey Drive'. Steadiness training, routed in the basic four commands, is all about substituting that prey drive sequence for another which has the dog waiting to be told to retrieve before bringing the game tenderly to hand. Developing the core skills will make Gundog training a lot easier and more pleasant process. Walking to heel and reliability off-lead is something that makes a handler happier and less anxious on a day out anywhere, and is a great asset on any group activity. Don’t go off-lead without your recall!
Training in a group is the way forward for your gundog, as he will work as part of a team on a shoot day. The training and tests for this work will always be operated as a group activity. Only if out rough shooting would you require your trained gundog to work with you as the only dog. But you may find your trainer will recommend one-to-one sessions for you occasionally to work on any sticking points.
Gundog equipment to train your SWD is very simple and need not cost you much. A dog whistle at the preferred spaniel pitch is usual, securely fixed to a lanyard comfortable enough to be round your neck all day in any weather once you start working. I use Acme pitch 211 ½ as I notice my dog prefers it. A slip lead preferably with a double stop on it to prevent the neck end tightening to excess and made of comfortable pliable material to pop into your pocket when not on the dog, is your next item. Thirdly a canvas dummy or two of a suitable weight for your dog not to be overly challenged initially. It is helpful to have one in a colour that you can easily see, in case the dog misses it. Blue is not ideal as dogs can’t easily see it should they fail to scent it. So you see, it won’t cost you much to get started at home. You can enjoy adding to your stock of equipment as budget dictates, the sky is the limit!
As in any of the games we play with our pet dogs, it is our interaction with the dog that gives us so much pleasure. This training should always be done firmly but kindly as you build rapport together.
Excessive repetition will not impress our breed, and if you achieve a couple of recalls with your puppy, reward him and finish on a good note every time. If you need to back-track a step or two never let this worry you, the essential is to end on that good note where you and your dog have your happy relationship intact! Five minutes at a time is plenty at first, and while he has a sleep afterwards he will allow your wisdom to sink in. A sniffing or chewing time will also allow him to settle down. Never force anything, it will come in time, and good advice can soon be sought.
So once you have a nice recall, bringing back an object to you can be your next goal. With a gundog we are aiming for a “delivery to hand”. This means we are aiming for him to place the object into your hand on arrival back with it, while you encourage him and praise him. This is where it might be a good time to book in with a recommended gundog trainer, as it is important for you to get it right for your dog. With SWDs being a minority spaniel breed, a trainer who is up to speed with the nuances a minority breed might have, would be the most appropriate. You may need to travel to find the right person and do ask around for recommendations.
Once you have a useable level of training you may enjoy attending club events and tests. Within the minority spaniel breeds the various clubs offer training days and events where places can sometimes be offered to other minority spaniel breed clubs. Watch out for these on Facebook and social media groups, but more importantly, have fun with your SWD gundog!
(“Cassi” says, a gundog can also be female!!)
For more information about Gundog Working Tests, Training Days or for trainers in your location, please contact our Gundog coordinator Jane Appleton on
and check out our Events pages.
More information regarding the Kennel Club Rules & Regulations for Field trials and Working Tests can be found on: