Working Cocker Spaniels can be excellent family dogs and superb loyal pets. They are not so big that they bowl children over, but can be very active. Training these dogs to house basics is very easy as they are very intelligent dogs and once your trust has been gained by the dog they will practically do anything you ask. They are friendly, outgoing and their temperament to children is second to none. They take to obedience training well, and enjoy a range of activities, including retrieving, flyball and agility. This breed is very trainable, so long as the owners are gentle as well as firm, since Working Cocker Spaniels are generally very sensitive dogs you should both have a good relationship without unnecessary problems.
If you decide you want to join a club and train for the field, Real training for this type of work does not start until over 9 months of age, I would even stretch that to a year plus for Cocker Spaniels, the older and mature the dog, in my opinion things seem to come a lot easier to them, in fact most things seem to come to the older dog like a "JIGSAW PUZZLE" you will find when immature and the pup is not ready you will be going over and over again with the same things a lot more often so don’t be tempted get the house basics in, let the dog have its puppy hood and enjoy watching the dog grow from puppy to adult dog, you will thank me in the long run for this vital piece of information. Please refer back to the training pages for anymore information regarding the working of cocker spaniels.
Working Cocker Spaniels adapt well to the house and to housetraining, they can also put on weight easily. This may be because owners find it hard to resist cute spaniel eyes telling them it's cold outside, or pleading for another titbit. Fat little pups tend to turn into obese adults with associated health problems, so it is important not to believe a little pup who tries to convince you he is starving. Working Cocker Spaniels need a fair amount of exercise, but none more so than any other cocker or dog come to that. Just because they were bred for working it doesn’t mean they need twice as much exercise. The only thing I will stress is that Working Cocker Spaniels are GUNDOGS and very intelligent dogs, they can become quickly bored with the same ground and routines that you take them too and the exercise for their minds in keeping active and busy must be stimulated at regular intervals, so try and go to different exciting grounds where they can bustle around until theirs heart content.
On the grooming side, most of the working cocker strain is a lot easier then the show type. They love going in muddy places and through undergrowth, where they can pick up burrs and other debris, they also mat easily, which obviously must be brushed out at regular intervals, they are all excellent swimmers so be prepared for a very wet dog if walking near a river. Whereas show Cockers can also be quite barky dogs, Working Cockers are not so, if reared in the house they are quite quiet dogs in fact I have had some that don’t bark at all, this is due to the fact that in Field Trials if the dog make any noise whatsoever they would be disqualified from the event, it makes sense as if the dog is working it has to be very quiet not to frighten game.
They also come in a variety of different colours like their show cousins to choose from. Please read the cocker training and History section or go to our breeding and Colour page for an excellent insight into Cockers Genetics.
Once people buy a Working Cocker Spaniel they seem to want to get more involved and find out about the activities that are available for working and for Field Trials. Children usually like to take an active roll in the training and should be encouraged to participate in the activities of your working spaniel, who knows in a few years time, they could be the next British Champion. We all have to start somewhere and it is a MUST to keep the sport alive with up and coming talent. If this is not encouraged this generation would be the last.
If your dog comes from working stock, the breeder should be able to advise you about how to start to develop your dog into a working gundog and introduce you to other people in your area with similar interests. There are many large Game and Country Fairs held all around the country every year which are well worth attending if you want to find out more. There are usually working gundog demonstrations at these Fairs and you should take the time to not only watch the displays, but talk to those people involved and ask their advice. The Kennel Club also sends a stand to some of the larger Fairs and the staff are more than happy to discuss the sport with you and help to clarify any Rules and Regulations you need help with. There are plenty of specialist publications which are filled with articles and tips about training your gundog, and the role of the dog owner and dog in the countryside, such as ‘The Shooting Times’, ‘Shooting Gazette’ and ‘The Field’. These magazines also have sporting calendars which list when and where Game and Country Fairs are being held. The Kennel Gazette also features articles about Field Trials and gundogs as well as giving the dates of forthcoming Field Trials.
If you decide that this sport is for you, you can begin the process of training. You should remember that not only your dog must be fit and healthy to do a day’s work, but you should be as well. You will need to be fairly robust to be able to tramp across some of the rough terrain encountered on some country shoots!
You should start with basic obedience. Beginning with a course like the Good Citizen Dog Scheme and progressing to more advanced Obedience training is an excellent basis for developing a working gundog. Having mastered basic obedience, you should then join a Field Trial Society. The Kennel Club will be able to help you find the most suitable society near to you. Field Trial Societies will be able to help you with specialist Field Trial training and can suggest trainers who may be willing to train you to the gun on a one to one basis. Training a working gundog is really a sport in itself and can take many years of hard work, developing a good rapport with your dog, to create a dog capable of working in the field.
Field Trial Societies may organise members’ competitions and training assessments which are designed to develop your dog’s ability and help with your training technique. These are helpful as your dog should learn to work surrounded by other people and dogs as it would do out in the field. Clubs may also publish newsletters and magazines, and organise all manner of social events.
Joining a Field Trial Society is also the only way you will be able to enter gundog competitions. Over 600 Field Trials and many Gundog Working Tests are held every year, and they are nearly all over subscribed. Preference is always given to club members so, if you want to go into competition, you will have to join several clubs to stand a chance of getting a run.
Once you have joined a Field Trial Society you should ask to attend as a guest at one or two Trials, to see the standard required of dogs working in the Field and also to try to pick up training tips from top handlers in competition. The majority of Field Trials are held during the autumn and winter as this is the shooting season.
Many of our best loved breeds were traditionally developed to help man in hunting. Labrador Retrievers gathered game in the field; Cocker Spaniels flushed and retrieved game; Irish Setters ranged over the fields helping us seek out birds and rabbits for the table. A great many still help us in shooting and hunting today.
Field Trials have developed to test the working ability of gundogs in competitive conditions. Trials resemble, as closely as possible, a day’s shooting in the field and dogs are expected to work with all manner of game, from rabbits and hares, to partridges and pheasants. Field Trials are very popular, attract hundreds of competitors and are still very much part of our countryside sports. If you have a love and understanding of the countryside and like to see dogs working as they were intended to, this friendly and relaxed sport may be just what you are looking for.
If you want to own a dog capable of performing at a day’s shooting he should come from working stock. Some dogs which have been bred for the show scene, or simply as pets, may have lost much of their working and hunting instinct which is vital in working gundogs. You will need to be dedicated to developing your dog as a working animal as, not only will he require a lot of training, working gundogs can also be more demanding than pet, or show dogs. They need plenty of exercise off the lead and their minds need to be kept active by working in the field.
Most gundogs aren’t ready to work in competition for at least two years and the first sort of competition you will probably enter will be a Gundog Working Test. These competitions are for members of the organising club only . They are designed to further good, sound, gundog work and encourage dogs’ natural working ability, but do not involve shooting live game. Work is done with dummies, or cold game, and these friendly competitions are a natural extension of the training you will already be doing with your dog.
There are 3 types of Gundog Working Test, designed for different breeds of dog. Whenever possible dogs should be tested at a drive, walking up and in water.
Judges will be looking for quick pickups and fast returns, natural nose and marking ability, quietness in handling, control, drive and style.
Breeds which Hunt, Point and
When you have been a member of a Field Trial Society for some time and been attending training sessions and GWTs, you will generally be advised by the Field Trial Secretary when your dog is ready for competition. Field Trial Societies send Schedules to all their members before a Trial and when you and your dog are ready you should complete the entry form and return it.
The Schedule will tell you when and where the Trial is taking place and what Stakes are scheduled. Field Trials can consist of one or more Stakes, which are separate competitions at that Trial and can be limited by the age or previous experience and wins of the dog. You should study the Schedule carefully to ensure that you enter the correct Stake for your dog. It is also important to complete the entry form as legibly and accurately as possible; your dog’s registered details should be exactly as they appear on The Kennel Club registration certificate and your name and address should be clearly marked to assist the Field Trial Secretary in advising competitors of the draw. The Schedule will also tell you by what date your entry form should be returned to the Trial organisers, known as the ‘closing date’.
After the closing date for entries the Society Committee will conduct a draw to pick the competitors for the Trial. As has already been mentioned Field Trials are usually over-subscribed so you may not be lucky enough to get a run the very first time you apply for entry. Different types of Trial allow different numbers of competitors and the Trial Secretary will advise all entrants of their placing in the draw. If there are only 20 places available, and you are number 32, you will not get a run unless 12 people in front of you drop out. With so many people keen to compete you must advise the Trial organisers immediately if you have to drop out of a Trial to give another competitor chance to run in the Trial.
There’s a great deal to think about before you go to a Field Trial.
Firstly, you must dress appropriately. You should wear plenty of layers of warm clothing, and, Wellington boots and a water and wind proof coat are a must. It’s also important that your clothes are dark, or in neutral tones, and not brightly coloured as this may startle game. With the vagaries of the British weather you are well advised to take a change of clothing with you, so that you are not faced with a cold and damp car journey home.
You should also pack the food and drink you are going to need during the course of the day. Sometimes Judges do not stop for lunch, particularly when there are reduced daylight hours in the autumn and winter, so you should think about things you can eat in the field if you cannot wait until a day’s competition is over.
Field Trials usually mean a long car journey so think about your dog’s needs too - a good strong travelling box and plenty of water will make his trip comfortable. Working dogs are not fed before a day’s work but you should remember to pack your dog’s bowls and some dog food as you may not return home from a Trial until late in the evening.
Although the Schedule and draw will tell you where the Trial is going to take place you should also take a good map with you. Field Trials are usually signposted when you get near to the meeting point but it can often be very difficult to track down exactly which field down which country lane you need to be heading for.
Many people choose to travel the day before the Trial and stay in Bed and Breakfast. If you do decide to do this, always double check that the management are happy to take dogs and that there is somewhere suitable to exercise your dog.
You should allow yourself plenty of time to reach the meeting point. If you are late one of the reserves may get the chance of running in your place and all your preparation and long journey will have been wasted.
Once you have found the meeting point you should let the Field Trial Secretary know that you have arrived. They will mark you as present on the card, which lists all the people and dogs taking part in the Trial, and give you a numbered arm band which you must wear throughout the Trial and is the means by which you will be easily identified during the Trial.
Before the Trial starts, a briefing will be held to introduce the host (if present), the gamekeeper and the guns, to explain how the day will run and any special instructions. Competitors must always attend this briefing both for their own interest and to be courteous to the Trial organisers and host. Field Trial Societies rely on the generosity of land owners to host Trials and keep the sport alive. The host not only provides the land to hold the trial and the game, but also the guns, the beaters, the game carriers and the Gamekeeper. It is vital, therefore, that you treat the countryside with respect and always be courteous to the estate staff.
After the briefing, everyone will either walk or drive to where the Stakes are to take place. Safety is a very important consideration and spectators, and dogs and owners not competing, must stay behind a red flag carried by one of the Stewards. This ensures that everyone stays out of the way of the guns and that people do not stray onto parts of the estate they are not meant to.
During each Stake the Judge(s) will ask each dog to work a number of times under various conditions. The Kennel Club’s J Regulations set out in detail the manner in which each exercise is conducted for each breed. Competitors should make themselves familiar with the Regulations well before they enter their first Field Trial. Judges will be looking closely at how your dog works, making a note of all his strengths, but also of his major faults. There are also a number of eliminating faults in each Stake such as whining and barking, hard mouth, running in and chasing, failing to find game that another dog can find, and changing game whilst retrieving. There are different eliminating faults for each Stake and handlers should be well aware of these both in training and in competition.
If your dog does commit an eliminating fault he is excluded from further competition at the Trial. This can be very disappointing if it occurs on your dog’s first run but you should lose with good grace and enjoy the rest of the day’s shooting. It is considered very poor form to leave a Trial early simply because your dog has not performed to the best of his ability. Always thank the judges and trial secretary before you leave.
Attending your first Field Trial may cause your dog to behave differently than he does in training. Young dogs in particular, can be bothered by crowds and if this is the case you can move a little way from other competitors and officials. You must, however, let the Steward know what you are doing and why. You will not be penalised for controlling your dog in this manner. In fact, it is a good idea to tell your Judge and Steward that you are competing in your first Field Trial as they will make their directions very clear and offer you help.
Working gundogs should be kept under good control at all times, both whilst waiting to compete and during the Stakes. You should always be aware of how your dog is reacting and what he is doing. If he does misbehave, you should never handle your dog harshly, or use punitive correction during a Trial. This could land you in trouble with The Kennel Club and also indicates that you have not trained your dog properly. All dogs should be trained and worked using plenty of encouragement.
If for any reason you become aware that your dog is not going to work well - we all have our off days - you should ask the Judge’s permission to withdraw. This is a courtesy that must be observed and ensures that the Judges’ and Stewards’ time is not wasted.
At the end of the Trial there will be a number of presentations that all competitors are expected to stay for. The host, gamekeeper and guns will be thanked; 4 awards for each Stake will be presented together with any Certificates of Merit other dogs may have earned; the overall winner will thank the Judges and make any other comments about the Trial.
Any questions relating to this article please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is a list of UK Gundog and Field Trial Societies and clubs which could be very helpful if you decide you want to join a club, please click on the above link to re direct you to the Societies and Clubs page.