Spaniel Journal

This characteristic of being an 'all-around' hunting dog was not the only thing that drew my interest. I was also enamored with the breed's mysterious past. Just what breeds were used to bring about a small, curly-haired, brown dog that likes to retrieve and flushes birds with the best of them? I found that, as with many breeds, this will probably always be a mystery but that educated guesses seem to point toward an influence of Field Spaniel, Curly-coated Retriever, the now extinct English Water Spaniel, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and the Irish Water Spaniel. As columnist Dave Duffey has often written, it really does not matter and it is likely that given the breeding practices of days gone by all of these breeds and then some were likely to have influenced the AWS's genetic makeup. What does matter is that the influences of these breeds have gone on to produce a dog with a nose for game, tenacity for retrieving, and a coat for cold-water retriever work. This was the kind of dog I was looking for and after a seven-month wait the breeder was able to send me my first American Water Spaniel pup.

"Have a plan.
Have fun.
Remember you are training a spaniel."

After letting the pup settle into her new home for a week or so I began her training program. Finding information about the breed was tough enough but finding training information was nigh on to impossible. So I took all that I knew from previous years of training other breeds and started in with a makeshift program. To her credit this little girl, Choco, was a trooper and put up with all of my mistakes so that each of us learned as we went along. One key training lesson I was taught by Choco was that the AWS is not a retriever, per se, and does not do well with rote training techniques so often espoused in the annals of retriever dom. The breed is more easily trained by using techniques that are characteristically spaniel in origin. Keeping things fun and interesting for both the trainer and the dog will go a long way in teaching the AWS just what is expected of it and work to create a better relationship between handler and dog. If there is one thing that the new AWS owner needs to know it is to dole out reprimands in a fair manner.

Perhaps it is a little anthropomorphic to say but the AWS seems to have a tendency to understand when it has made a mistake and deserves to get a little scolding. On the other hand, dish up an undue retort for failure and the AWS is likely to simply shutdown and refuse to work; no matter how much you try to make it do otherwise! I have spent more than a time or two scratching my head and wondering why the darn dog would not respond only to realize later that I had been unfair in my expectations and reproach; yet another lesson learned by the trainer. Today it is easy for me to give training advice to newcomers to the breed. I break it down into three simple statements. Have a plan. Have fun. Remember you are training a spaniel.

A plan of action is always necessary and mine always starts with fun retrieves and basic obedience. From there I will direct the training to what I want out of the dog emphasizing more retrieving sessions for the duck dog and more quartering sessions for the upland dog. Ultimately my training program will end up working on areas such as steadiness and blind retrieves and it will continue throughout the hunting life of the dog. I think that with all dog training having fun is key, if the trainer is having fun the dog is likely to have fun and the training is probably going to take hold. That is one reason why I try to remind everyone that the AWS is not just a retriever and that it needs to have some variety in life. Emphasizing the spaniel heritage of the breed in training and giving the

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