If you have a working spaniel or intend to work your spaniel then you will need to introduce your dog to cold game.
Even if you only intend to use your spaniel for hunting as opposed to retrieving, you should encourage game retrieving so that you have a rounded off dog.
When to introduce a spaniel to cold game
You should not be in any rush to introduce your spaniel to cold game.
Before you even consider this stage of training your spaniel should be retrieving dummies nicely to hand and you should, ideally have been using fur or feather dummies as part of your training.
Your spaniel should be a young adult which would place him anywhere between 8 and 18 months old.
By now he should be progressing well with his basic spaniel training and be ready to move onto more advanced exercises.
What type of cold game to use
This really depends on the type of cold game that you can get, but, ideally you should try to use both fur and feather, and the two best options are rabbit and pheasant or partridge.
Regardless of the game, it should be fresh and not smell strange or have maggots or other infestations.
The game should not be damaged and should have minimal, if any, visible signs of blood.
It is also important that the game has not been used before for training, particularly for training with other dogs – it needs to smell of game and not of other dogs.
Introduce your spaniel to cold game
The back garden is the best place to do this. Somewhere safe and secure with no distractions.
Let your dog scamper around and play, maybe throw a dummy or two for him to fetch.
Taking the cold game, rabbit or whatever it is, drop it onto the floor and encourage your spaniel to investigate.
The chances are that he will come up and sniff at the game and perhaps mouth it. Encourage him to investigate and, if he picks it up, brilliant, encourage him to bring it to you.
There is also the possibility that he may back away, tail between legs, maybe stalking the game as he builds up courage. He is simply uncertain and you should encourage him to sniff it, maybe hold it yourself and show it to him.
You want him to investigate and not be afraid.
Getting your spaniel to retrieve cold game
If your spaniel is a good and keen retriever then you shouldn’t have too much trouble with this.
This exercise can also be a good tonic for spaniels that don’t like retrieving dummies ( and I’ve come across a few of these dogs) as soon as they get onto the real thing their retrieving comes to life.
For most dogs the best way is to take him out , throw a dummy and send him out for it. As soon as he brings it back, throw out the dead game – not too far, make it easy, and send him for it.
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The majority of spaniels will run out to the game and pick it up. It may take a short while as he figures out how to hold it, and, as he picks it up he may hesitate.
As soon as he picks the game up, whistle him in to avoid any temptation that he may have to take the treasure away.
Don’t be too concerned with how he carries it.
With birds he may hold it by the neck or wings, even a leg – we simply want him to bring the bird back to use just like a dummy.
Make your cold game retrieves more challenging for your spaniel
Just as you have done for dummies you should progressively make retrieving work with cold game more challenging.
Look for opportunities to give your spaniel a new challenge, something that he needs to think about and use his experience, senses and ability to solve.
More blind retrieves, in rushes, long grass, heather and other cover.
Use walls and throw a retrieve, that he sees, over the wall so that he has to work out how to get to it and then has to hunt on the other side.
Increase the distance of the retrieve, get someone else to throw the game that your spaniel can see.
Use water, streams and other small, shallow waterways. Throw the game into the water or onto the opposite bank.
In all of these exercises we are developing the spaniel’s confidence, experience and ability and, most importantly we are encouraging him to trust in his sense of smell when he hunts for the cold game.
Mouthing cold game
Many spaniel trainers get concerned if their spaniel mouths cold game and worry about hard mouth.
Don’t get worried. It is normal for a young spaniel to sometimes mouth cold game. It is a new experience for him when he gets this strange thing in his mouth.
Dogs learn from mouthing and, for a dog, this is an important activity, it helps him to learn how to carry an item, how much pressure he needs to hold it and how to balance it in his mouth.
It is highly unlikely that your spaniel will have any form of hardmouth and far too many spaniel trainers get hung up on this subject unnecessarily.
If your dog returns game to you that is damaged it is more likely due to anxiety and uncertainty on the part of the dog.
Simply stop the cold game training for a while, go back to fur and feather dummies and return to cold game after a week or two.
Last update on 2023-12-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API