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How to train a spaniel to get over an obstacle

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An important activity for any spaniel is to be able to safely negotiate obstacles such as fences, gates and dry stone walls.

Whether your spaniel is a pet or working dog, teaching him to clear obstacles will help him and you when out on walks and when working and will make outdoor excursions easier for both of you. 

Lifting a dog over fences and walls soon becomes a challenge, particularly when he is wet and muddy.

Teaching your spaniel to deal with obstacles should begin when he is a puppy. It is an easy and enjoyable activity and, like all training, should be made as easy as possible so that he gets it right when he is young. Whenever you are out with him, look for low obstacles, such as a collapsed dry stone wall that can be easily crossed. Cross the obstacle yourself and encourage him to get over with you. Repeat occasionally and gradually make things more difficult for him.

Get Over

This is the command that you should use whenever you need your spaniel to clear an obstacle.

As soon as your spaniel puppy is old enough and can go out and about with you, whenever you  are exploring with him you should look for opportunities to show him what you need.

This can be fun for your dog and, if you are careful to make things easy for him, then he will pick up the command quickly.

What you need your spaniel to do

When you tell your spaniel to ‘get over’ you are telling him to deal with the obstacle that he is presented with.

How he does this is up to him to work out.

Remember that your spaniel is intelligent and it does not matter whether he jumps the wall or finds a hole that he can get through.

There are some trainers that seem overly daft when training dogs to clear obstacles and they get hung up over terms and actions.

All you want is for your spaniel to negotiate the obstacle safely, using his brains to find a way through.

training a spaniel to jump
Spaniels are agile and competent jumpers

Be creative and help your spaniel to learn

While you are out keep your eyes open for little obstacles that you can help your spaniel to get over.

These could be small walls, fences with holes in, broken gates or gates with large gaps underneath, streams, rocks, fallen trees and lots of other things.

The idea is to get your dog used to dealing with a wide range of obstacles and to learn how to negotiate them.

The more varied the obstacles, the more he will learn and develop his ability to get over them.

Barbed wire

Never tell your spaniel to jump barbed wire.

This awful invention can seriously injure dogs and, if your spaniel were to get caught on a barbed wire fence then the results could be dreadful.

If you encounter barbed wire fences when you are out ( there are few places where it does not exist ) and you need to cross a barbed wire fence then you should lift your dog  – carefully over the fence – before you climb over.

It is important to life the dog over first then make him wait – I’ve seen owners climb over first and the dog, in his excitement, has jumped the fence to get to his owner.

Play it safe around barbed wire.

Making it more difficult

As your spaniel grows and becomes stronger and more capable, you can begin to make the obstacle negotiation more difficult.

The opportunities to find obstacles for him to ‘get over’ are endless when you are walking around the countryside and, if you think about your spaniel training while you are out and watch out for obstacles then you can build up his knowledge and ability.

Keep your eyes peeled, climb over stiles, dry stone walls, fences, fallen branches and get your spaniel to do the same.

Retrieving over obstacles

The whole purpose of showing a spaniel how to negotiate obstacles, at least for a working spaniel, is so that he can safely retrieve shot and other game when he is working.

Once your dog is familiar with the idea of getting over an obstacle, and providing he is good at his retrieves, you can begin to have more fun and help him to improve his skills.

Find an obstacle that is reasonably easy to get across – a collapsed dry stone wall is a good choice.

Sit your spaniel down and make him wait. Throw a dummy over the wall making sure that he sees it drop over the other side.

After a short period send him for his retrieve with the ‘fetch’ command. 

It is unlikely that he will stop at the obstacle but, if he does, tell him to ‘get over’ ( just like you have been doing in training ). 

Let him hunt for the dummy on the other side of the wall and, if he seems to be struggling, move to the wall yourself and encourage him – it is important that he does not fail this exercise so don’t make it too difficult at first.

You want him to find the dummy and to bring it back to you while you are on the opposite side of thewall from him.

You can gradually make this exercise more tricky with higher obstacles and more difficult retrieves as he gets older and more experienced.

I found some new style dummies on Amazon which replicate game birds and which look interestingyou can find them here.

To recap

Teaching a spaniel to clear obstacles is easy and you can make it a fun activity that your dog will enjoy.

Start with simple, easy to navigate things and, as your spaniel grows and gets better at ‘getting over’, gradually make the exercise more difficult. 

Add some retrieves to encourage and help his development and learning and he will soon get the idea.

Remember, keep things simple and help him to succeed.

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