September 23, 2010
A Reminder that the basics can be covered right at home.
Editor's Note: In a departure from his usual question-and-answer format, Dave Duffey shares the training philosophy of a renowned early breeder and trainer. The described methods are as viable today as when they were first written; they are also consistent with many current training techniques and include a trick or two that may be new to readers. A century-old, in-house training procedure will do a great deal to make up for the difficulties today's sportsmen have in finding grounds and birds for their field training.
Dr. F. J. Pfeifer was a New London, Wisconsin physician generally credited with being the originator of the American water spaniel in the early 20th century. His involvement in retriever trials in the mid-1900s qualifies him as an "expert," but Doc Pfeifer employed simple play-training techniques that will benefit today's amateur trainers whose lifestyles complicate readying a gun dog for field work. His techniques can be done in the house and yard, in brief, relaxed sessions.
When Dr Pfeifer was shipping hundreds of American water spaniel puppies from his Wolf River Kennels, he sent along with each pup a pamphlet he composed, entitled Simple Rules for Home Training of Spaniels. Following is the text of that pamphlet. "A dog that does not have some education, or that does not mind at the command, is not a joy to his master's friends or a pride to the owner. Every dog lover likes a well-behaved dog, of any type. I think the pleasure of owning a dog is, in part, his teaching and training. There is a great deal of satisfaction in watching the growth and development of your pup.
"Every sportsman who has trained his own dog thinks he has the best dog. This may account for the vanity of man in saying, 'the master must know more than his dog in order to teach him anything.' If you will follow the suggestions given, anyone who has a little patience and a kindly hand and voice can teach his spaniel through the play method in his leisure hours.
"The natural instinct of the spaniel is a beneficial factor in his training. A pup of eight weeks of age is ready at all times to play with his master. The first play lesson is to roll your ball along the floor, telling your pup to 'fetch it.' Repeat 'fetch it' as he is going after it. He naturally will retrieve the ball for you.
Take your ball away from him by inserting your fingers between his jaws and gently pressing his lips to his teeth. Make much of the pup and the object he retrieves. Do not have your lessons too long. If he should run away from you, call him, or clap your hands lightly to attract his attention to you. After he has fully learned to retrieve your ball, try a glove, a piece of newspaper rolled up and tied like a ball, your slipper, etc. This is to give him the idea that he is to bring anything you send him after on command.
"When he fully comprehends that he is always to bring to you on command, throw your object into another room, gradually farther and farther. Always point in the direction you throw your object so your pup will learn to go in the direction indicated. This will be of use in the field when sending your dog after game or teaching him to quarter right to left.
"Now hold your pup and throw your object around a chair or corner in the other room so that he will have to hunt for it. Do not make the lesson too hard at first. If he cannot see the object, he will instinctively put his nose to the floor and hunt. Do not allow him to fail. Help him to hunt for it, and then walk back to your chair or starting point saying, 'fetch it.' In a few lessons your pup will delight to hunt for the object and retrieve it. Watch his expression as he finds it and brings it to you.
"The next step is to have someone else take the object while you hold the pup. Have the assistant flaunt the object in the pup's face, and walk in the other room, dropping it on the floor. Tell you pup to 'fetch it.' He will be off like a flash, looking and hunting for the object. The first lesson must be easy. Do not expect too much from your pup. After a time, your assistant will not be able to hide the object so your dog cannot find it. This will teach your dog to hunt and use his nose, and is the most valuable lesson for this later education.
Give your pup a ball or other object; walk into the other room, asking him to follow you. Teach him to carry the object until you relieve him of it. Do not allow him to drop it until you give the command. If he should, put it back into his mouth repeatedly until he holds it. This will keep your dog from dropping his bird 10 feet away from you or when he reaches the bank of a river or slough.
"Some want their spaniels to sit down in front of them after retrieving the object. This can easily be taught at this stage by sitting in a chair; when your dog retrieves an object, he will come up to you and sometimes sit down naturally, looking up to you in an expectant manner. If he does not, say, 'sit down,' and gently push on his hindquarters. Take the object out of his mouth and repeat the retrieving and sitting lesson.
"Lesson number two should be in dropping or charging. We generally use the word 'drop,' 'down' or a long drawn out 'ssh.' This long drawn out 'ssh' is very convenient in a home or in a blind. It is distinctive, does not confuse the dog with his other command, and is sometimes of value in the field. Gently press on his front and hindquarters, giving the command at intervals.
Gradually release your hands, but be ready to press down and give the command should the pup try to arise. In a few lessons, he will stay down, and a in a few more he will drop at the command. Do not make the lesson too long at a time and show your appreciation if he tries to obey you. Have lessons short and often.
Give the command 'up' when you want him to arise. A good way is to walk a ways, give the command to 'down,' then command 'up,' pet him and walk a few steps, command 'down,' wait awhile, say 'up' and pet him. He will think he is playing a game with you. When he is thoroughly trained to charge at the command, give the downward motion with your hand at the same time you command him to drop. Do this always hereafter. In a short time, he will drop either at the downward motion of the hand or the command. This is very important and will help to control your dog in the field or in the home.
Now, give the command to drop, thrown an object and keep your pup down. His first instinct is to break and run for the object. As you throw the object, catch him by giving a sharp command to drop. If he holds, tell him to 'fetch it.' A few lessons and he will know that when you give the command to drop it means down and that he is not to fetch until he gets the word. This is the beginning of the first lesson to keep your dog from breaking shot and dropping to shot.
"The easiest and quickest way to teach your dog to drop to shot and not to break shot is the following: Take your dog and gun in a room, bring gun up to your shoulders as if to fire, give command to drop. Do this a number of times eac
h day until your dog associates the bringing up of your gun with the command of drop. After a few lessons, do not give the command to drop, but simply bring up your gun. You will find that your dog will drop instantly.
Pound a pan or shoot a cap pistol some distance from your pup. If he does not seem to notice the noise, gradually come closer until you can shoot off a cap pistol nearby. Bring up your gun and as he drops, shoot off your cap pistol. Later on, a .22 rifle can be substituted and as you pull the trigger, give the command to drop so he will associate the report with the command to drop.
"Your dog, so far, has been mined entirely in your home and is ready for field work along the same lines. My last pup was 51„2 months old, and was thoroughly trained in the above lessons when I took him on his first hunting expedition. The first day, he retrieved a duck, a coot, and a snipe like a veteran without marring any one of them."