STEADYING A SPANIEL--PREREQUISITES
DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT STEADYING A SPANIEL until he is what I call "good to go" (translation: really accomplished). He should be obedient, retrieving nicely to hand, quartering properly, flushing vigorously and accustomed to gunfire. That normally takes a full-time trainer about four months.
Then I steady the dog in a separate are, not where I do normal field work. I call the CRP ground I use for field training my "go-field" and my steadying field my "stop-field". My stop-field, which is right behind my house, has two areas, one with cover about 12 inches high, the other mowed down like a golf course. During the steadying process, I continue to run the dog regularly in the go-field, but only with dead birds and live clipped-wing birds ("clips"), so he won't flush and chase.
STEADYING AT REST
In my stop-field's mowed area, I up the dog beside me, on a lead. Then I toss a dummy and restrain him. He struggles, but in vain, for I don't send him until he again settles down beside me. Since the dummy is in plain sight on mowed grass, he always finds it. Success in every retrieve is very important here. When he's good to go on mowed grass, I start tossing the dummy into the 2-inch cover, which encourages him to use his nose.
Next, I move about 15 feet away from him and off to his side. There I stand on the end of a rope attached to his collar. I toss a dummy into the 12-inch cover. When he breaks, the rope gently swings him around to my front. I go to him, pick him up, carry him back and plunk him down where he was when he broke. Then I pick up the dummy myself, to teach him that, when he breaks, he gets no retrieve. Gradually he gets the message and stops breaking when I'm off to his side. Thereafter, and throughout his training, I pick up perhaps 20 percent of the dummies myself, to condition him not to go unless I send him.
When he's good to go on the dummy, I repeat this drill with a dead bird, which tempts him to break more strongly. When he remains hupped for the dead bird, with me off to the side, I start walking out in front of him about 20 yards before tossing the dead bird, initially throwing it so he must run past me to get to it. Next, I repeat this drill with a clip. finally I add a shot from a blank pistol. Throughout the rest of the steadying process I follow that sequence: first a dummy, then a dead bird and then a clip--first without and then with gunfire.
STEADYING IN MOTION
When he's good to go on all this, I steady him while he's in motion. I turn him loose, without a rope, to run in the stop-field. while he's in motion at a distance, I stop him with the hup whistle, then toss a dummy. If he remains steady, I send him to retrieve. If he breaks, I "apprehend the suspect and return him to the scene of the crime." I make him sit there awhile, then start over. (Please note: when going after a breaking dog, run only when he's neither looking at you nor in the area of the fall. When he turns toward you or nears the bird, slow down to a brisk walk, lest you intimidate him.)
I go through this drill--hup-whistle then throw--with the dummy, then with a dead bird and finally with a clip (without and with gunfire). When he's good to go on the clip with gun fire, I reverse the process, throw then hup whistle, starting over with the dummy. with him running free, I throw it just before he turns toward me, so he won't see me throw it (lest he learn to focus on me.) When he sees the dummy, I toot the hup whistle. If he hups, I send him to retrieve. If he breaks, I again apprehend the suspect and so forth. I do this drill with a dummy, a dead bird and a clip (without and with gunfire). Then I introduce the hup-to-shot, by throwing, then shooting, before tooting the hup whistle. Finally, I introduce the hup-to-wild-flush by tossing homing pigeons, then tooting the hup whistle as the bird flies back to the roost.
INTO THE GO-FIELD
When the dog is good to go on all this, I take him to the go-field and incorporate steadiness into his regular field work. Normally, it takes me about four months to steady a dog with this slow, gentle method, but when we get to the go-field, he still has all of the style he had before we started.