The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to English Springer Spaniels" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk - DVM. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.
Author Credit: Dr. Joanna de Klerk - DVMWhether you are bringing an English Springer Spaniel into your home to live as a family member, or you intend to work your dog, it is vitally important that he is obedient. Obedience is deference toward you, his master, and in teaching your dog to live by your rules he will be a calmer and happier dog because he knows that you are in control and he has nothing to worry about. Obedience does not mean that your dog has been dominated into submission, but that he does the things you require of him because he wants to please you. Springer Spaniels, as has been noted already, are very sensitive, form a very close bond with their human, and really crave approval. They are also highly intelligent and communicative, so obedience training is already off to the right start.
If you have been attending puppy classes with your Springer Spaniel, you may find that obedience classes follow on directly once your dog is ready to start learning a few commands. Otherwise, it is worth inquiring at your veterinary practice for the location and contact details of classes in your area. Even if you have trained a dog before, it is worth enrolling in classes, because you have camaraderie and support. It is more fun than training on your own, it becomes a regular discipline, and you may make friends to go on walks together with your dogs. It is beneficial for your dog to continue his socialization, and the distractions of training in an environment with other people and dogs provide just the right element of challenge your clever Springer needs to train him to focus.
There are different training methods when teaching obedience to dogs, so you should check that the class offers a method that you are happy with. Harsh training has fallen out of favor in modern times, and is very unsuited to Springer Spaniels because they are so sensitive. So if you are told to bring a choke chain, you should look for another class. You may be told to bring a clicker, and this can be a very useful training method to reinforce positive training methods. With clicker training, you click and treat when the dog does the right thing. Other positive reinforcement training classes will not require the clicker, but will just require you to bring some irresistible treats such as small pieces of sausage, dried liver chips, or small training treats.
You will also need a short lead, and to be sure your dog is wearing a collar. A waist bag or fanny pack can be useful to keep your training treats to hand, or at least, clothing with pockets.
Positive reinforcement is merely a training method, and there will be many different ways of teaching the basic commands. If you are going to obedience training classes, you should stick to the methods you are being taught, as being consistent is very important. But if it is not possible for you to attend classes, you can use the methods that follow to teach the basics of sit, stay, lie down, and walk on the lead.
How to Teach Sit
“Sit” is a vital command for your dog’s own safety in certain situations, and since it is easy to teach it is a simple first step in the journey of communication with your dog.
To teach “Sit,” you need to start by getting your dog’s attention fully on you. Your English Springer Spaniel may or may not find this a challenge, as some dogs, especially when they are young puppies, are especially hyperactive and easily distracted, so it is helpful to begin simply by rewarding the dog for making eye contact with the “Look at me” command. Treat the dog when he gives you his attention. If you are clicker-training, you should click then treat.
So with your dog focused on you (which will be easier now that he knows you have treats), move your hand containing the treat up and over his head. His hind quarters will instinctively lower. (If he spins around, set him right and repeat until he lowers his hind quarters correctly.) When his bottom is fully on the floor, give your dog the treat and praise him.
Do not use any command word at this stage, but continue the action over several repetitions until the dog understands that he is being rewarded for lowering his hind quarters to the floor. Once this action is reliably in place, you can use the word “Sit” as you do the hand motion. This way the word becomes associated with the action to your dog.
The next stage is to wean your dog off the hand gesture to just the word. With further repetitions, you can make the hand gesture smaller, until you are using no hand signal or body language, but just the word “Sit.” Rewarding each repetition continues to be important to tell your dog that he is doing the right thing.
By this stage, your Springer Spaniel is beginning to feel rather pleased with himself, and is enjoying earning your approval, so it is time to wean him off the treat and onto praise alone. So as you continue the command, do not treat on every repetition. You can still praise your dog, but just produce the treat on intermittent repetitions.
You do not have to reach all these stages in one training session. Keep sessions short for your dog and end on a positive note. Build training into his daily routine so it soon becomes second nature, and it will not be a chore for either of you!
How to Teach Stay
Your English Springer Spaniel is a lively dog with a short attention span, so the next trick he needs to learn is to stay in the sit position until you release him from it. Here, his intelligence and eagerness to please are in conflict with his puppy hyperactivity, so you will need to keep the session positive by only asking for a very short period in stay to begin with, as you need to set your puppy achievable targets so that he remains encouraged.
Stay should be taught as two commands, “Stay” and “Free.” “Free” signifies to the dog that the command period is over. It is also the point at which he has achieved what was asked of him, and he can receive the treat or praise.
Ask your dog for the “Sit” position, and tell him he is a good boy. Make sure he is totally focused on you, and reliably staying in position, and you may use the “Stay” command. Do not use the word “Stay” if your dog is not staying, as he needs to learn to associate the word with the correct action. Keep the treat in your closed hand near to his nose, and he is likely to remain focused. Then after a few seconds, lead your dog away from the sit with the hand containing the treat. As your dog gets up, say “Free” and give him the treat he has waited so patiently for.
With further repetitions, increase the time you ask your dog to stay. When he seems to be staying consistently until released, move away from him while he is in the “Stay.” If he follows you before being released, lead him back to the original spot and put him in sit again. Only treat your dog when he gets it right, but as before, always end on a positive note. If you push your dog too quickly, you may find yourself striving too hard for that positive note, whereas if you just progress gradually, your dog will succeed consistently, and this solid improvement will encourage you both.
How to Teach Lie Down
It is easiest to start teaching the lie down command from a sit position, so you should ask your dog to sit, and reward him to focus his attention on you.
Kneel in front of your dog so that you have good eye contact and bring a treat to his nose, then lower the treat in your closed hand to the floor between his legs, close to his body. Your dog should instinctively lower his front legs, but you should not reward him until both elbows are firmly on the floor. His hind quarters should also go down, but if they do not, you should not push them, which creates resistance, rather you should use your other arm like a limbo pole. Place it across the dog’s back, and move the treat forward, so in creeping forward toward the treat, the dog has to lower his back beneath your other arm.
Repeat this exercise several times in succession until it leads to an automatic response. If your dog is struggling, however, don’t let him be discouraged—you can teach the command incrementally, rewarding a dip of the head, then a lowering of the elbows, until your dog achieves the full lie down position.
Again, you should not use the command “Lie Down” until your dog is reliably being guided into the correct position with the treat.
Once you have achieved the lie down position with you kneeling in front of your dog, you should raise your body to a crouch and then a stand which will add to the challenge, as you will not be bringing the treat all the way to the floor for his nose to follow.
The next step is to wean him off the treat so that he acts consistently on the word alone. So do not reward on every repetition, but vary the times he gets a treat or just some fuss.
Adding “Stay” to the lie down command is the next step, so that you have a dog that will lie down and stay down, which can be extremely useful on many occasions. Just as with stay, you should release your dog from the position with the word “Free.” Initially, release him after only a few seconds, building up the time he remains in the lie down position. Remember that staying in one position is challenging for a Springer Spaniel, so as before, set achievable targets, progress slowly, and always end on a positive note!
How to Teach Walk on the Leash
Your English Springer Spaniel is naturally inclined to walk off-leash, and as previously explained in Chapter 7, solid recall is of paramount importance to enable your Springer to enjoy his freedom. However, all dogs also need to know how to walk nicely on the leash. This can be the hardest of the basic commands to teach your Springer Spaniel, because they are so energetic and they tend to pull hard in their enthusiasm to get wherever they think they are going. However, this is not only exhausting for the owner, it is damaging for the dog. Harnesses may divert the strain from the neck, and control headcollars may make pulling uncomfortable, but they are not the answer. Your Springer Spaniel needs to learn from the outset how to walk nicely by your side on a loose leash. He will not always be a small puppy, and his strength will grow with his size, so you do not want him to think he can use it to get what he wants.
You need to have realistic expectations about walks when training your dog to walk on the leash. This is because you will not be going consistently in one direction or at one speed. You will also have to work to keep your dog’s full attention, by being more exciting than his surroundings. To your dog, the leash prevents him from going where he wants, so he will instinctively pull. He needs to disassociate pulling with getting where he wants, and associate going forward with the feel of a loose leash. So every time he pulls, you need to stop. Put your dog in the sit so that you can regain a loose leash, then proceed. Your walk is going to be a continual sequence of stopping and starting in the early stages, and you should also keep changing direction to keep your dog interested. Eventually, he will realize there is a lot more walking and a lot less stopping and sitting when the leash is loose, and he will learn that the right place to be is by your side. Keep your training treats to hand so you can reward his correct behavior when he is walking nicely.
If you are attending puppy classes, you may find your Springer Spaniel puppy learns very quickly in class and walks beautifully on the leash. Likewise if you have started training your dog in the yard. However, once you are outside on a walk, he is a maniac. This is hardly surprising, as there are so many more distractions outdoors and a greater sense of going somewhere. You already know he can do it in class or in the yard, so that is a solid start, but you will find you have to work that bit harder to maintain his attention outside. It may feel frustrating when you just want a nice stroll in the park with your dog, but this time will come. The early months are for training which is a different experience altogether, but a totally worthwhile investment for the years to come.
Agility and Flyball
English Springer Spaniels can get on very well with Agility because they are so intelligent and athletic. If you have a high energy dog, Agility can help in managing his hyperactivity, and provide a fun pastime that will keep you both in good shape.
Young puppies cannot participate in Agility because of the risk of damaging their growing bones and growth plates. However, by concentrating on obedience training in the first year, your dog is learning to focus on you as his master, to understand about following commands and the principles of reward training. This means that by twelve months when he can start Agility, the basics are already in place.
Agility involves taking your dog around an obstacle course against the clock, and is graded so that initially your dog will only be jumping very low poles. He will also learn the other elements of the course, such as the tunnel, hoops, the A-frame, the walkway, the see-saw and the weaves. As his bones and joints reach maturity, the course becomes more demanding and the jumps will go up. Many Springer Spaniels will love the challenge and exercise involved in Agility and it will increase your bond. However, some Springers may be stressed by the experience, as they can be a sensitive and neurotic breed. Agility should be fun for your dog, so if he does not seem to be enjoying it, you may need to accept that his personality is different and look instead for what he really enjoys.
Flyball is another exciting pastime that your energetic Springer Spaniel may enjoy, as it involves retrieving a ball from the end of an obstacle course and returning with it, and naturally, retrieving is your dog’s greatest skill!
If you are less mobile and would find running an Agility course with your dog problematic, Flyball may be a more attractive option, as for the most part, the dog is going it alone.
As with Agility, your dog needs to be twelve months before starting Flyball to ensure his growth plates are closed, but the initial stages will only involve low jumps. Your dog should have good recall, because he will be sent away down the course to retrieve the ball before returning, but beginners’ runs are usually fenced each side.
In your dog’s first year before he can start Flyball, your recall and obedience training are providing a sure foundation. Fitness and diet are also very important for a dog that is going to take part in high energy activities such as Agility and Flyball.
English Springer Spaniels are a pleasure to train because of their special connection with humans. They want to please, to use their brain, and to be told that they are clever. By always keeping your dog’s goals achievable and working within his attention span, you will see him progress in his learning and in the way you communicate with one another. This way, all the while you are bringing the best out in your dog, you are forging a special bond that will last a lifetime, and make for many happy years ahead.
To read more from "The Complete Guide to English Springer Spaniels" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk - DVM, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below: