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I have been training gundogs for over 25 years, specialising in springers, cockers and labradors. I have been training them the same way for so long I can produce nine out of ten dogs to a standard that any professional gundog trainer would be proud of.

It all starts from the first day I fetch the pup home.

Whether it is eight weeks or more start as you mean to go on. I always let my pups be pups, if you donít then they will take a long time to mature in later life. Minimise your puppy training and donít put any pressure on your pup at all, let him play. From the first day that I have brought my puppy home I will kennel him, settling him in by introducing him to his kennel and surroundings.

If you are keeping the pup indoors, then purchase a portable collapsible cage. This will keep him out of mischief and from picking up bad habits, which are hard to cure. This makes training so much easier. Feed him well with a good quality food, making sure fresh water is always available. I free feed my pups by leaving food down 24 hours a day. They always seem to grow more evenly and much stronger boned.

I never kennel a pup with another pup. A lot of trainers believe kennelling a pup with another from a different litter helps but I do not agree, and my methods have proved this. If the pup frets, as most do, either place an older dog in with it or place some cuddly toys in its kennel. This should help to settle the pup in.

I introduce my pups to a retrieve in the first week of it arriving at the kennels, a simple pair of my old socks rolled into a ball. At first, I let the pup out of his kennel making a load of fuss of him. Encouraging him to come into me by getting down to his level and allowing him to get on my knee. At this point, I will tease the pup by ragging the socks about the pup until he wants to grab hold and tease me with them.

This is where my base for my training starts. In the kennels, I have a passage about three feet wide and about twenty feet long which I find ideal for puppies as they can't get up to no good and pick up bad habits, such as running around and not taking notice of what I am doing. This is one of many bad habits. I just throw the socks a short way - around four or five feet - and let the pup go for it without restricting the pup. If the pup goes out to retrieve the socks, donít call him until he picks them up. If he drops them, donít worry try again until he picks it up and returns to you. Encourage him to jump onto your knee with the socks, but donít take them off him. Let him hold them for a minute or so - donít rush or panic. Clap your hands to excite him and lower your voice tones.

I will do this once or twice. If the pup does it, ok. Stop praising him and put him straight into his kennel - donít allow him to play about. Try it again the next day following the same pattern. Now miss a day. If he performs the same the following day, youíre off to a flying start. Donít be tempted to try again, that's when things go wrong. Keep this up for two or three weeks until he knows what is expected of him. Gradually increase your throwing distance, but donít go too far. You want a confident pup that knows how far the retrieve is. Keep it short just two or three minutes! Once a day or every other day is plenty.

"Keep it simple and put no pressure on the little pup."

After about three or four weeks of this simple retrieving pick your puppy up and place your retrieve in the same place you have been throwing it. Let him see it, walk back to where you normally kneel down and let him go straight for it without restriction or hesitation. Hopefully, he should go straight out for it and return. You can now say you are on your way to training your dog. Keep it simple and put no pressure on the little pup. If he fails, try again, if he still doesnít perform, go back to a simple thrown retrieve. I do this with my pups over and over until they are about 24 weeks old.

This is where I start my basic spaniel training. At this stage, we have a pup that will go out for a simple hunted retrieve and returning without any hesitation. I now have the bond with my pup that I require. He looks up to me as some one who cares, means no harm, looks after and plays with him. Iím his best pal!

Roger Harrison
Kirkham Gundogs
Lancashire, England

Roger Harrison of northwest Lancashire, England, has been involved with gun dogs for over a quarter-century. He trains his English springer spaniels for shooting, beating and his own enjoyment - polishing them to field trial standards. Through his kennel, Kirkham Gundogs, he has produced a series of spaniel training DVDs, reviewed by Spaniel Journal.

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