We have teamed up with the lovely girls @thespanielgirlgang to share the trials and tribulations of bringing your new puppy home. Below is an honest account of when Saffy joined the girls, we hope you find this blog enjoyable and helpful,
Love the Paws Team xx
Paws Puppy Blog – Edition 1
A sassy introduction to Saffy
Having two working cockers already (aged 3 and 10 months), I wasn’t planning on getting another puppy for quite some time. But when my breeder posted a photo of a little white Sprocker pup with a black eye patch and two-toned ear, well I guess that’s why I’m now trying to train 3 spaniels as novice gundogs!
Figure 1- Photo credit @thespanielgirlgang
Saffy is the most confident & independent pup I’ve ever met. She’s incredibly clever, and is a mastermind at causing mischief; to sum up, she’s a typical working spaniel with a large sprinkle of sass!
My first piece of advice if you’re looking into getting a working spaniel pup (especially one with working lineage), research the breed and seriously evaluate whether you have the time & energy to dedicate to walking and training them. Yes, spaniels are very cute and generally fun, friendly, lovable dogs, however, they are also super intelligent and active dogs that need a lot of mental stimulation as well as a good exercise regime. It’s a massive commitment to look after a working dog and ensure that their needs are met, but also a very rewarding experience.
Whilst each dog has their own unique personality that you have to cater to, for the most part, I knew exactly what I was getting into and how much work I was going to need to put into Saffy’s training. Even if you aren’t planning on working your pup, I would 100 percent recommend looking into gundog training materials to help structure your training and help nurture their natural instincts. I’ll list a few of the resources that I have found helpful at the end of this blog as places to start, and of course, point you in the direction of Paws Brooklyn for all of your gundog supply needs!
Ultimately, whilst I joked about seeing Saffy’s eye patch and then impulsively bringing her home, I knew that I had the time and dedication to train her, even as a novice myself. I hope I haven’t scared anyone looking into getting a spaniel pup off; I just hope to be able to help prepare any first-time working breed owners a little, in a way I was never prepared for my eldest spaniel, Gin!
A week in the life of Saffy
Saffy was 2 months old when I brought her home. As with any pup, it’s a massive change moving to their forever home and leaving behind their littermates who have no understanding of doggy etiquette! For the first 4 days or so, I did very little training with Saffy, and instead let her get used to her new surroundings and new big sisters. This obviously doesn’t include toilet training – as soon as she did her business on the lawn, she got a chunk of chicken and lots of praise!
Aside from this, the only other training I did with Saffy during her first few days was crate training.
Crate training was one of my main priorities to work on with Saffy. The crate should be a safe, comfortable space which your pup can relax and settle in. If used correctly, the crate can the most helpful tool at your disposal. It comes in very handy when you’re wanting to get a nice relaxing bath that your pup decides they want to share with you… Sadly, I did not persist with crate training Gin and Bramble, but I definitely wish I had! Seeing the way Saffy immediately settles down in it after one of her little devil episodes, or even how Gin has started to take herself off to bed in Saffy’s crate for a lunch time nap, or when the fireworks start, makes me confident that the crate is an amazing tool when used correctly. It was something I was determined to continue with this time around.
Blankets, a comfy dog bed and a crate cover are a great way to make the crate a safe space for your pup. Feeding meals, treats, chews or lick mats in the crate is also a nice way to make it a happy place for your puppy to go to as they associate the crate with lots of yummy food, and let’s be honest, there’s nothing negative about treats when you’re a greedy little puppy! The crate should not be somewhere that your pup is scared of, but instead somewhere they feel secure (something I learnt after using it incorrectly with Gin and her toilet training!)
The main things I’ve found the crate helps with are;
- Helping a pup to settle when they are overtired and acting like a little devil
- Preventing any damage, accidents, or negative interactions with older dogs whilst you are out of the house
- Providing a space for the pup to sleep in the night so they don’t end up taking over your king-sized bed and leaving you with 30cm of space
- Stopping pups from interrupting your peaceful baths by jumping in the water with you
- A place where the pup can go if you’re feeling overwhelmed and maybe need 10 minutes to yourself (this is ok!)
Aside from this, I focused a lot of my attention during Saffy’s first week on integrating her with my two older cockers, Gin & Bramble. It was important that I made the transition into a trio girl gang as smooth as possible for all of the dogs. Adding a tiny baby Saffy to the mix was a big culture shock for us all, but something I over came quickly by making sure the older girls still got plenty of my attention, and ensuring they had their own space when they needed it.
Figure 2 - Photo credit @thespanielgirlgang
8 days and counting
As soon as Saffy’s first week came to a close, we jumped straight into basic training. Puppies are so impressionable, so it was important to me that I made the most of that and started training Saffy as early as possible. From my experience, training not only helps the pup to develop into a well behaved and mannered dog, but it is also a great way to tire out their busy little minds! Saffy is much less of an overtired monster if we’ve done a few short training sessions throughout the day.
I had a handful of things on my basics training list that I wanted to prioritise. This isn’t to say that the other bits of basic puppy and gundog training aren’t important to me, but you can’t teach everything at once, so having two or three things to focus on at one time helped me to structure Saffy’s training and not overwhelm myself or her! I’d argue that trying to teach everything all together was one of the biggest mistakes I made when I started training my youngest Cocker, Bramble. Now I’m having to unpick all of the bad habits I taught her through rushing her training programme.
Sit is probably the first thing anyone teaches their pup, and if you bought from a great breeder, they may have already started to lay the groundwork for you. Teaching sit is pretty easy and there are many methods out there to do so, but there are a few tips I’ve found helpful along the way of my training journey. Firstly, mark the sit (or any ‘trick’) either with a word like ‘Yes’ ‘Good’, or alternately a clicker if you’re wanting to train with this tool. This tells the pup that they have done something good, and that a treat or reward is on its way. Another thing I’ve found useful is to train sit on a wide range of different surfaces like the carpet, tiles, the grass, the pavement etc. In my experience, spaniels, whilst typically being water babies, have an odd dislike to sitting their bum down on wet grass!
Once we had the verbal sit nailed down, I immediately started to teach Saffy sit with a hand signal and a pip on the whistle. I repeated all of the steps that I used with a verbal sit, but instead used the new hand single or whistle cues. I’ve found that this has really helped create a good foundation for our stop whistle training which I’ll cover in a later edition.
Figure 3 - Photo credit @thespanielgirlgang
The next basic training task on my list was Recall; I can’t express enough how important recall is to me. We are fortunate to live around some very beautiful, open spaces, and I want the girls to be able to enjoy their walks off lead, but I definitely wouldn’t let them off if I wasn’t confident that they would come back when called for. The best thing I ever taught all of my girls was to recall to three pips of my ACME whistle (PawsBrooklyn stock a gorgeous range of ACME whistles and lanyards!). They get a high value reward, such as Pate chunks when they return to make sure they are enthusiastic about recalling back to me, and they know they are getting a fair trade of yummy treats for stopping their search of good sniffs!
Saffy is an incredibly confident and independent little puppy, so it is imperative to me that she has a solid recall to prevent her from getting hurt, wandering too far and getting lost, or approaching other dogs without permission. One important thing I always try to remember when starting recall training is that dogs do not automatically know what three or five pips of your whistle means. You have to teach them your recall tone by enticing them to come to you with lots of yummy food so that they can associate the whistle tone with recalling towards you.
I’ve found that long lines are a great tool to help practise recall when you’re not confident that your dog will come straight back to you. I have a 10m Biothane long line that I actually use with my eldest cocker Gin around this time of year. As soon as the 12th of August come around, it’s like a switch flicks, and she becomes obsessed with game scent on the ground. Once her nose turns on, her ears turn off and she will follow the scent, returning at her leisure once she’s done. Now, If I know we’re going on a walk with a lot of scent on the ground, she’ll be on the long line so that I have a lot more control over where she’s wandering off too and can prevent her from following her nose to the other side of the field. I constantly practise recall with all of the girls and its something I am continuously working on to perfect.
A handy recall tip I’ve learnt over the past year is that, teaching recall and allowing your puppy the freedom of being off lead or on a long line) is much easier if you start ASAP. All of my girls have had off lead privileges since they were 12 weeks old; at this age, puppies are still wary of the big wide world, and won’t yet be confident at straying too far away from your side. This is a prime time to start teaching recall and I would recommend making the most of this opportunity to teach recall whenever it is safe to do so!
There are so many other basic training elements that I feel are so important (Stay, leave it, down…) and all are things that I have taught Saffy as soon as she was old enough. I hope to delve in deeper to more of our training journey in future blogs!
Figure 4 - Photo credit @pawsbrooklyn
Figure 5 - Photo credit @thespanielgirlgang
Until next time!
I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the training journey of Sassy Saffy and her big sisters! I am most definitely a novice gun dog trainer and always aim to be as transparent as possible when I’ve messed up a training technique (I will take 100% of the responsibility for miscommunication between me and the girls). I’m studying the gundog world along with my pups, and love that I can document the lessons I’ve learnt along the way on the Paws puppy blog. We hope to cover a lot more in future blogs about our training journey, including both the ups and downs, the successes and the lows, and some more of the mischief that little sassy Saffy causes!
A massive thank you to Paws Brooklyn for giving us the opportunity to share our novice girl gang journey with you all.
Until next time,
Nat, Gin, Bramble and Sapphire x
Figure 6 - Photo credit @thespanielgirlgang
Please note that these resources are materials or sources that I have found helpful for my own gundog training journey. Each trainer’s journey is completely different, and these are only recommendations based on my personal experiences.
Instagram – as crazy as it sounds, everything I have learnt about gundog training has been from following gundog accounts on insta, or from the resources that those accounts have recommended. Creating our dog account was the best thing I ever did for my girls! I have met so many wonderful people, found loads of amazing small businesses and learnt so much that I was completely oblivious to prior to starting our insta journey
Nick Ridleys Youtube series – Percy’s progress – a series of videos of Nick training his cocker Percy from a 12 week old pup trough to adulthood
Force free gundog training – Jo Laurens – A book which provides a great overview of the main elements in gundog training using modern force free methods
Total Recall – Pippa Mattinson - A book which helps to develop your recall skills with separate activities for training a puppy, and training an adult dog
Gundog training classes – There are lots of gundog trainers across the country which provide either 1 to 1 or group gun dog training classes.