September 23, 2010
A finished dog is beautiful to watch, and possible for all.
Pup should "hup" when retrieving to hand.
Everything one does in life is a matter of degree. Is "okay" good enough? Does one strive to do "well"? Or does one strive for "excellence"? For many jobs, and many people, "okay" and "well" suffice.
For some folks, however, only "excellence" will do, so they want a steady spaniel to hunt with.
On the whole, only accomplished field trial dogs and AKC Master Hunters (or strong candidates) are steady to wing and shot. In those games any dog that is not steady is dismissed from the field.
Being steady to wing and shot means that when a game bird flushes in sight of your dog, your dog sits down and remains stationary, or steady, while the bird is shot; pup does not race out for a retrieve unless you command him to make the retrieve.
You must be able to make pup sit down at a distance before steadying him.
Seeing a hard running spaniel drive in and flush a bird, then sit while the bird flies off and is shot, and still remain sitting until sent by his master for the retrieve is an impressive sight. It is the epitome of spaniel training, the icing on the proverbial cake.
We must understand fully that the command "hup" (sit) has nothing to do with a bird, whether it is flushed, flying or on the ground. Hup means stop whatever you are doing right now, sit and do not move until released. Hup, then, is an obedience command, always to be obeyed immediately.
The beginning of the steadying process begins in the house when pup is very young, learning his most basic commands: hup (sit), stay, come, heel and no. Actually, spaniel folks do not teach the command "stay" because hup means to sit still until released.
Early training to hup is gentle, pushing pup's rear to the floor as you say "hup," or putting a treat in your closed hand and moving it toward pup's face but passing it just over pup's head as you command "hup" and give pup's rump a gentle push to the ground.
When pup reaches his mouth up and back for the treat, he nearly sits himself down reaching for the treat.
Pup will hup only briefly at first, but work on extending that time. After pup sits down, take about a half step or so backwards and raise your hand partially, palm towards pup like a traffic cop while you repeat "hup." As pup extends his time sitting, take a full step (or two) back and raise your hand as before while saying, "hup."
These early lessons are very brief, because we do not want pup moving before we release him. We want to lengthen his time sitting and reward it with a quick pat on the head or kind word--but do not overdo the praise.
Always step back to pup before giving him praise because he initially will not know how to react to praise; he will assuredly wiggle his bottom, stand up and come toward you without being released. That action allows a negative to occur, and is counterproductive.
Making pup wait for the command before retrieving lays the groundwork for steadiness.
As pup improves by sitting on command and remaining longer over time, step farther away from pup and use the upraised hand signal.
Fairly soon, but not until pup has connected the command "hup" with sitting down, give a single toot on your whistle immediately after saying "hup." "Hup/toot" becomes almost one command and sooner than you think possible, pup will sit on the verbal command or the single toot of the whistle.
Practice teaching pup to hup two to four times daily for five to 10 minutes each session.
Pup is happy to have your attention. Be consistent by requiring immediate compliance to your command, and also extend the time that pup remains seated.
Do not call pup to you from his seated position for quite some time. Walk to pup, pet him and release him from his "hup" command.
Sometimes release him first and then pat his head. Mix your actions a bit so pup does not anticipate your command and move on his own; help pup avoid mistakes by varying your routine. Fewer mistakes mean more positive behaviors, pats on the head and "atta-boys."
Continue for several months as you slowly move farther from pup and increase the time he must remain seated. Continue to return to pup to praise him. When he is showing steady, extended compliance, call him to you occasionally to reward him with a word or pat on the head.
As time passes and pup complies with "hup," occasionally hup him when he is not next to you; he should sit immediately. If he does not, quickly go to him, pick him up and deposit him on his rear end where he was when you gave the command. Repeat as needed. Lengthen the time pup remains seated, then walk around while he waits, eventually moving to where he can't see you while he waits. Test him on "hup" in different situations.
You must be able to "hup" pup while he's moving prior to steadying him. Hup is the most important command; it must be inviolate.
Pup must be introduced to birds prior to steadying in the field. Again, however, it is important to remember that "hup" and steadying is about obedience, not birds. While steadying will work in conjunction with birds, it is all about obedience.
Put pup's food dish down and make him "hup" prior to eating. Release him to eat by saying his name. When pup will not move from his sitting position (hup) to get grilled steak, you have achieved a lot, and success in the field will follow.
A positive training session earns pup a pat on the head and you a sm
Add distractions as you continue "hupping" pup, and make him comply. After a couple of months pup's bottom should hit the ground immediately when he hears either "hup" or the whistle "toot." Repeat, repeat, repeat until pup reacts automatically every time, and remains until commanded to move.
Naturally you have also been working pup on retrieving, with pup being "hupped" by your side while you toss the bird and ensure that he remains seated. Pause and release pup for the retrieve by saying his name. It sometimes helps to have a lead on pup and to stand on the lead so he cannot "break" and grab the dummy or bird.
Pup should be retrieving well prior to steadying him in the field.
When he is waiting until you send him, take a dummy and sit pup down, facing you from about 10 yards away. Call pup to you, and when he is halfway, toss the dummy slightly behind you and very slightly to your side, at the same time commanding "hup."
Pup will likely sit immediately. If he does not sit on your command, he cannot get the dummy because you are in his way, and you will stop him, but without too much fuss.
If pup stops, step quietly to him, give him a soft pat on the head and send him for the dummy. If he did not stop, pick him up and move him to where he heard the command and sit him down. Make pup wait while you pick up the dummy — do not reward him for non-compliance.
Repeat, repeat, and repeat — but not too much at one time.
Eventually, switch to a warm, dead pigeon for the drill, and repeat until mastered. Begin using only the whistle command. Next, toss a live, wing-clipped pigeon for the drill, and repeat. Again, use only the whistle command.
In a fenced area, dizzy a pigeon and put it down and allow pup to flush it. When the bird is in the air, and never before, give the whistle "toot"; pup will likely sit.
Move into a field and toss a dizzied pigeon on the ground for pup to flush. When the bird is in the air, blow the whistle. Mix wing-clipped birds in with flyers to keep pup guessing and driving in for a hard flush.
Once you commit to steadying pup, be consistent and work with pup every day. Have helpers for birds, guns, etc. The steadying process can be done alone, but having help makes it easier.
The real key is the obedience work all along. Don't badger pup, but make sure he obeys commands promptly. Pup's compliance with obedience commands will determine his ability and usefulness in the field.