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Hunting and Working 

The control of instinctive behaviours


Being able to control your dog around prey/livestock/other dogs  /fowl etc. starts with understanding what prey drive consists of.



Predatory sequencing behaviours start with the dog seeking prey through his senses.

Locating prey through orientation behaviours such as ground scenting, air-scenting, determining wind direction and speed, scanning the environment with his eyes for any movement and/or ears for sounds.



As soon as the dog has located the sounds, sight or scent of possible prey, he will start to hunt down or stalk the prey.

Body language becomes tense, blood is pumped hard and fast, the heart-rate increases, oxygen needs to be pumped, the ears filter out unnecessary sounds, the pupils dilate etc .


 There are many neuro physiological changes taking place to put him into optimum efficiency.


Closer to his quarry, with it in sights, he will slowly, silently and carefully creep forward (setting/pointing) closing in as close as possible to his unsuspecting prey. (Unless he's a terrier that uses confusion, startle and panic to move the quarry in a frantic manner) and take opportunity to pounce or flush it suddenly in order to chase.



The chase part of the predatory sequence is where many companion dog owners notice the dog is predating something. The quarry may tire or attempt to find safety.


The Grab-hold bite:

/Bite to kill/Shake to kill:

If the dog is lucky and gets close enough to his prey, he will then grab-bite to prevent the animal from escaping, kill-bite the prey animal, or swiftly dispatch the animal with a neck breaking shake


Possession:. Guarding

(not all dogs will do this and those that do may not do it every time ..however it helps to explain why hunting dogs that don't have training that ventures into allowing for their natural behaviours can be very quick to start guarding possessions.


Shredding stripping the animal of fur/feathers, dissection and consumption (sometimes just for the semi-digested contents of the animals stomach) -

After the animal is dispatched, the dog will often hold on to the prey animal, parade with it for a little time, before stressfully finding a safe place to store it or to eat it in peace. (Behaviours you will have witnessed in your home with toys or treats of high value).. why something found or stolen is higher value ..and why you don't take things from a dog ..he's still behaving within the pattern behaviours of predation.



We have training sessions that will help


Resource Guarding problems 

I see Resource Guarding problems (especially with Cockers) a lot, It’s very common in the breed and other hunting dogs's part of the hunting sequence but can vary in degrees of aggression and the items that are guarded) 


There’s a lot to cover with this problem, so while you wait for your appointment,

Here are a few tips:


Do not confront or chase the dog - this actually makes the aggression much worse for the next time.

If he's in danger of grabbing something will have to clear things away and not provide any toys or chews that may become a choke hazard.


Teach a good in-house recall


Start to teach him that human hands never take things away from him and are good


Stop swapping/trading ..this is a dog who is already in a high state of arousal ..having two things on the table is two things to attempt to guard.. double the stress..he will know you want one of them and still fears that loss. Next time he'll be suspicious of your approach.


These things will be covered in detail during your session.


So many gundog breeds find themselves in rehoming centres, usually as adolescents - understanding the breeds needs before embarking upon one, could prepare you better to adopt such a dog or prevent them from being surrendered once you discover the time and dedication that these dogs thrive on.. not all will be difficult, but those that require more, don't generally wait in turn amongst busy young family lives.


Hunting dogs, gundog-breeds & mixed breeds, the doodles and poos (but Spaniels in particular) are bred to hunt - many owners looking to bring a new puppy into the family or looking to adopt appear to acknowledge this fact, but may not fully appreciate the implications.


Much of what you read about hunting and predatory behaviours states that it begins when the dog fixates on the quarry they have found - the reality however, with many hunting breed dogs, is that the sequence starts as soon as the dog gets out of the home or car.


A lot of people choose a gundog breed because they enjoy hiking or similar and want to have a companion who will be up for the lifestyle, and despite that being a big part of what the dog will do, they won't simply be content to fit in with your plans.. nature has its own plans for your dog...they are going to hunt.


They can do it with you or without you . That's your choice.


Gundog breeds, Spaniels by majority, cockers and cocker mixed breeds in particular, who have been allowed to engage in free-hunting, make up a large proportion of the dogs whose owners come for help.


Before he becomes adolescent, your dog will be a pleasure to take out for a walk, be interested in you, enjoy the interaction etc. You may find the 'zig-zagging' when teaching him to walk at your side is a little annoying - and you may not realise that he's already quartering when he does this, practicing hunting skills starts early.


The average owner will go along to a handful of general puppy classes and socialisation parties etc.. use a dog walker or a daycare facility.. unknowingly offering them freedoms unsuitable for what's in store.


As the young gundog matures, their independence increases, hunt drive, defense drive and social drives kick in and they gradually (sometimes suddenly) pay less attention to their owner and more attention to the environment usually enveloped in the predatory sequencing behaviours and resulting one day in them failing to return, until satiated.


This inevitably ends up with the dog not being allowed off leash again - unless in a managed secure hired field or similar.


To prevent such a scenario occurring, a gundog needs to be taught the difference between going for a walk and going hunting.. What would your dog answer if you could ask him what a walk is?..

Is it for exercise?, to sniff at leisure? (tracking) for 'decompression'? for training?, for playing with others? or a combination of those? .. if there's no clarity or definition to him, what guidance is he following? 

Left to his own decisions he'll go off hunting or chasing..(aka free-hunting and often described as being 'self-employed'.


The youngster needs to know when it is appropriate to go hunting, to only hunt with you.. whether for food, toys or game... Never without you, if you want him to have any control over it.


As well as the sudden change to the recall being what tends to persuade owners to seek professional help, guarding possessions and getting growly is also something that owners of house pets are not prepared for..

Many of the gundog breeds are bred to retrieve game, it's part of their instinctive behaviours, part of predation, and subsequently they find holding and carrying objects very reinforcing, (but letting go of them very difficult) ..naturally, they would find a safe place without any onlookers, to bury, cover over or consume the quarry. The desire to carry things will vary from dog to dog.


You are a true threat if you have a history of taking objects from him, or him losing it by any trickery you may use to get it from him.


With inappropriate training (or no training at all) this can very quickly develop into a problem.

When your puppy explores their world using their mouth, it includes picking up everything within reach, new owners tend to want to get the article back from the pup, whether to somehow teach the dog that they can or as a matter of safety.


How this is handled in the early weeks can set the pup up for either future success or failure.


If we could get this trained in mainstream puppy classes it would prevent a lot of issues down the line.


If the puppy is taught that when a human approaches you, what you have in your mouth will be taken from you. The pup will initially take avoidance measures, turning away from you, or running and hiding...cornered, he will learn quickly to use defense.


When this doesn’t work and the pup matures this will escalate to covering the object with their upper body or neck to communicate that it is theirs, growling, and then biting if pushed to the limit.


However, if the pup is taught that every time a human approaches good things happen, he doesn't lose his valued object - and no value is added to it (when two of you want the same thing it goes up in value) he learns that relinquishing the article for their owner is a good idea and the guarding and biting problem won't be such a great problem... (It's still part of your dogs repertoire of behaviours but he shouldn't now need to engage in them)


Training a retrieve (not fetch) is a great way to shape behaviours.


Spaniels, along with other Gundogs, until trained up otherwise, are also impulsive, part of their genetic makeup is to be ready and prepared to respond swiftly to environmental stimuli.


Living in a family home environment this can be challenging.


It's important that they are taught to be able to control their impulses and not act on instinct.


They have been bred to be busy and want to be active all the time, a gundog needs physical and mental exercise but not excessive amounts,


On a working day in the season, they need to be able to hunt for 4hrs or so ..however the rest of the time would be spent at rest.

The gundog breeds that work closely alongside a handler find being with people important, it's how successful hunting works.


There's a saying that you don't own a spaniel - you wear them, making it all the more important to teach an active adolescent house-pet to tolerate being left for periods of time..


So, are gundog breeds good family pets?.. if you consider your lifestyle, then abandon your plans in favour of their lifestyle ..have a good sense of humour and love more than anything watching your dog flourish and share his achievements with you.. they are the best experience of your life.

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