This section is from the book "Sporting Dogs. Their Points And Management In Health, And Disease", by Frank Townend Barton. Also available from Amazon: Sporting Dogs; Their Points and Management in Health and Disease.
(Being an Extract from "Land and Water")
" Most people are contented if a dog will work within gunshot and push out the game for him to kill. Almost any mongrel with the necessary practice and experience will do this, but I assume that the sportsman takes a pride in his dogs, likes to have good-looking and well-bred ones, and if he wishes to shoot in comfort and in good form when he uses Spaniels, it is quite as necessary to have them well-trained as any other breed of sporting dog.
I will therefore give such directions as experience has taught me are useful. I know no dog that more repays the trouble of breaking yourself (that is, if you have the requisite knowledge and patience) than the Spaniel, who, from natural love and affection he has for his master more than any other dog, should be more ready to work for him than anyone else. The Spaniel's natural love of and ardour in hunting require a firm hand over him until 102 he is matured. There is an old saying that ' A Spaniel is no good until he is nearly worn out,' There is a great deal of truth in this, and the Spaniel's enthusiasm must be largely reduced before he can get down to cool, earnest work. I recollect an old bitch, that belonged to a Devonshire sportsman, that was so cunning that she used to catch as much game as he shot. When the old man died, I bought the bitch, as she had a great reputation ; but she was far too much of a pot-hunter for me. I could have backed her against a moderate gun any day.
" Spaniels get very knowing in working to the gun after a few months, and it is astonishing what efforts they will make to manoeuvre the game out to the shooter. I have seen numberless instances of this, particularly in hedgerow shooting, when I have frequently seen a clever old dog, on winding game, not make a rush at it, which would have had the effect of sending it out on the other side, but pop through the fence and push it out to you. This, as I have said, is only acquired by experience; and a young, vigorous Spaniel will sometimes push up the game, irrespective of lending any aid to the gun. A really good Spaniel, even when he is busy questing and bustling about, should always have an eye to the gun, and to work to it instead of for himself and his own gratification and amusement. You cannot well begin too early to train young Spaniels to get their noses down and to hunt close; to work thoroughly every bit of ground and every hole and corner that can possibly shelter a head of game. This is what the Spaniel is required to do when he is grown up ; and in order to inculcate this habit in him, and to discourage him in what he is so prone to do—namely, go ahead — you should begin by flinging small bits of meat or boiled liver into small patches of turnips in a garden, or small patches of thick bushes, or any kind of covert that will cause him to seek for it with his nose, and not with his eye. By no means enter your young Spaniels to rabbits if you can avoid it ; they take to them naturally when they get the chance, and there is no fear of their not having the opportunity soon enough. Enter them to winged game, by all means, and for this purpose get an old cock partridge, cut one wing, and put him into a small patch of thick covert.
" Never take young Spaniels into large or thick coverts where they can get away from under your eye. Confine your working ground to small bits of covert, patches of turnips, bushes, bits of gorse—any thing, in fact, where you will be likely to have thorough control over them, and where they are in reach of an attendant; whom you should always have with you to turn them to your whistle. I have found it a first-rate plan to take them out on the sides of rivers and ponds, where there are lots of moor-hens, and plenty of sedge and rushes; let them hunt in the rushes till they are tired, and a morning's work of this kind will do them more good than anything I know of. They soon become fond of the work; it teaches them to work close, and they are perfectly under the control of yourself and assistant.
" Teach them early to drop to hand and shot, and spare no pains about it; this is a part of a Spaniel's education which is generally neglected. I know many men who, instead of making them drop to shot, make them come to heel, using the words ' come around,' or ' heel.' It answers every purpose; and as it brings every dog to you, and he has to work right away from you again when he gets the signal, it has its advantages in keeping them under control; but, on the whole, I prefer the dropping to shot and wing instantly. It is difficult to make a Spaniel drop to fur; and if you can keep him from chasing, merely putting up hares and rabbits, but not following them after they are started, rest satisfied that little more is necessary or desirable.
" I once saw an interesting thing of this kind. I was shooting with a gentleman near Southampton, in one of his coverts, to a team of small Clumbers; we were both standing in a ride, and saw a charming little bitch feathering near us towards the ride. Just as she got to it, out popped a rabbit and scuttled down the ride, followed out of the covert by the bitch ; but as soon as she cleared the wood and was in the ride, close on to the rabbit, which she had not seen till then, down she dropped entirely of her own accord. She had not seen either of us, neither did we know that we were each observing this pretty bit of work until we compared notes a few minutes after, and agreed that we had never seen anything better. It is rather difficult to describe, but to me it was worth all the afternoon's shooting, and it made an impression at the time which is as fresh as ever now. She was, I need scarcely say, thoroughly broken.
" If it is desired to make young Spaniels take water, and they show any disinclination to it, the best plan is to take them to a stream which you can wade through. Walk through to the other side, and they will probably follow you at once ; if they do not, walk straight away from the opposite side and go out of sight; they will come, after making a little fuss about it. If you have not a suitable shallow stream, but are obliged to make use of a deep river for your purpose, get an attendant, whom they do not know, to hold your puppies while you go round by a bridge out of their sight, and come down opposite to them, and follow the instructions I have given above. Remember many young dogs have, at first, a great fear of getting out of their depth all at once, but will freely dabble into a shallow stream; so that it is best to lead them on by degrees. Once having got off their legs, and finding that it is an easy matter to swim, there will be no further trouble. Always choose warm weather for this teaching. There is, however, no better plan of teaching them to take to the water than letting them hunt moor-bens. As to whether Spaniels should be taught to retrieve or not, will depend upon what your requirements are, the number you use, and so on.
" If you own but one dog, by all means take all the trouble you can to perfect him in this business ; and for this purpose you should choose your whelp from a strain that retrieves naturally.
" If you work three or four Spaniels together, unless they are thoroughly broken, they all want to retrieve, and it is often the cause of much trouble. Nothing looks worse than to see several dogs all tugging at one bird, except, perhaps, the bird itself afterwards. If your dogs are sufficiently broken and under command, and will drop to shot or come to heel, and you can direct either one of them to find the wounded game, while the others remain down or at heel, you can let them take it in turn which shall be allowed the pleasure and honour of recovering the wounded ; but how rarely one sees Spaniels so well under command as this. In the case of a team of Spaniels, I think it better that they should not be allowed to retrieve, and this duty is better confined to a regular retriever.
" It is a good plan with young Spaniels to walk round a covert towards evening, when pheasants are out at feed in the stubbles, having an attendant with you to prevent them getting into covert, and walk in a zigzag way about the stubbles; you can generally give them plenty of practice in this way, and enter them well to the scent of winged game. If your puppies do not readily return to your whistle, but show a disposition to go on, turn your back upon them and go the other way, which will generally have the desired effect—and a rate or a crack of the whip from your attendant will greatly aid it. If a puppy is too fast, put up a fore-leg in his collar, or tie a strap tightly round one hind-leg just above the hock; but neither of these must remain long without changing, or you will produce swelling and inflammation. Apart from the pleasure and satisfaction there is in shooting to dogs of your own breaking, there is this advantage that they learn to understand your ways, and to know thoroughly your every look and motion, while you at the same time perfectly understand them.
" In selecting young Spaniels to break, if you do not breed your own, be most particular in getting them from a good working strain, of a sort that a friend of mine designates as ' savage for work.'
" To work Spaniels in thick, large woods, you should always go with them to work them, or send someone they are accustomed to work with, or they will become wild or slack".