The Working Section exists to help to promote and assist members in the training of their dogs to the gun. The Welsh Springer is a dual purpose spaniel in that the breed has not split into show and working types and we believe that it is important to develop the natural working instincts of the breed whilst breeding from sound stock. We gain pride from the fact that our dogs can be worked seriously one day and be shown seriously the next.
The Club holds events to encourage members to test their dogs in competition and there are a number of people available to give advice on training or help when there is a problem to be overcome.
Ultimately working spaniels are used to fill the game bag and there are many people who shoot regularly over their dogs either on formal shoots or as a rough-shooting companion. The Welsh Springer is a natural game finder and is an exciting dog to work.
Many members however gain pleasure from training their dog and only participating in assessment tests either against Welsh Springers or other breeds. This is a pleasurable and fun activity, being an extension of training. Although a number of handlers have gone on to work their dogs on the real thing or to participate successfully in field trials, training increases the bond between handler and dog and, at worst, you can only end up with a better trained companion.
Give it a go but beware … you might just get the bug!
For new buyers – I believe there are many good breeders whose stock can be bought with confidence as healthy and typical, with good trainable temperaments, and where at least the dam, and often sire too, may be seen. Obviously evidence of working experience or trainability in parents is preferable.
For current owners – my advice to owners of dogs, whatever the age, interested in training, and to potential owners, is:
- Join two breed clubs – the national WSSC for unrivalled information in its publications, and your regional club. All run training classes and tests where you will be made welcome, to observe, learn and later take part when your dog is old enough. (Contact list below). If breed classes aren’t practical, try show spaniel or Minor Breeds classes. Get advice; don’t risk incompatible groups/trainers.
- Do your homework, by finding out as much as possible about the breed, the process and psychology of training, and about the shooting and country sports scene. Use your public library and the many periodicals available with excellent professional advice columns. It’s a lifetime’s study but so much easily available information exists. See my starter list below..
- While waiting to develop your breed contacts, begin play training, with praise rewards, early. Plenty of good kind nursery training classes are run at vets’ surgeries etc, for socialization and owner training, using modern proven techniques popularized by Dr Ian Dunbar’s books and TV seminars.
- A few general tips – make haste slowly, at the dog’s pace not yours. Don’t be in a hurry. Use your brains and develop your own judgement. Keep praising the right response and ignoring, as far as possible, the wrong one. If you have to scold, just do that but never over-punish. As the wise Derry Argue wrote about setters, all they need is a shake and a rough word. Above all, let nobody else chastise your dog!
- “The Complete Book of Gundogs in Britain” [ed.T.Jackson, pub Barry & Jenkins 1974 ] has a superb breed portrait, with details of field trial achievements up to ‘73, in Hal Leopard’s chapter on the breed..
- My own volume on the breed, “The Essential Welsh Springer Spaniel” [pub. author, 2nd ed.1990] now o/p but available via libraries contains 3 chapters on working training and history, with details of trials and major test success up to 1990, together with a comprehensive book list, including many on general gundog training.
- ” Welsh Springer Spaniel”, by Anne Walton [pub TFH Kingdom ’99 ] a beautiful book & a must for owners, 2 excellent working contributions by experts Eileen Falconer and Julie Revill.
- “The Complete Gundog” comp.& ed. John Humphreys [David & Charles 1990] – excellent compendium, all you need to know on breeding, training, field work & trials, plus editor’s pen portrait of Simon, his first (Welsh Springer) dog.
Welsh Springer Spaniels as Working Dogs
Welsh Springers are a delightful, soft-centred idiosyncratic breed and their distinctive red and white colour, handy size, normal structure and photogenicity have rendered them increasingly popular in the show ring, and on the pet food label, in the last 30 years. They began, when gaining KC recognition as a separate breed in 1902, as working gundogs, thanks to the testimony of Mr A.T.Williams and other landed gentry in South Wales, where several kennels had been kept for well over a century purely for working purposes.They have stayed essentially the same, in type, character and appearance ever since. It is vitally important for the preservation of the breed’s many virtues and overall quality worldwide that temperament, trainability and soundness is preserved through serious training for gundog tests and trials, or agility, obedience, tracking and similar active disciplines.
Having been fortunate enough to own Welsh Springers since 1966, to have known all the leading working figures since that time, and to observe the breed in action at such pursuits in the USA, Sweden, Holland, Denmark and France as well of course as the UK, I have no doubt whatsoever of their competence and talent in intelligent and sympathetic hands.
Numerically relatively small – annual registrations today run at around 500, compared with 13000 English Springers – the Welshmen have never been populous enough to become the common shooting/working dog, or the choice of the professional trainer. Financial pressures demand a large pool for selection and a quickly trained product. Welshies are slower to mature and to learn than the two dominant working spaniel breeds, so they are not cost effective. Their natural style too, often slower-paced and far more nose-dominated and scent sensitive, does not suit the modern fashion for high speed. In terms of status in the field trial scene, therefore, Welsh are ranked below the working English Springer and working Cocker.
However, sweeping judgements are often wrong, exacerbated by the sight of poor examples. Trials are only the tip of the iceberg – there is a far smaller gap between all breeds, and frankly much overlap, in terms of shooting field usefulness. The virtues of scenting ability, stamina, boldness in thick cover, intelligence and biddability should not be ignored just because electric pace isn’t displayed. Undoubtedly it is the quality of the trainer, and the suitability of his programme, plus capable handling, which dictates the dog’s effectiveness. All breeds produce badly trained and controlled dogs, as many shoots can demonstrate!
Welsh Springers are the ideal amateur’s dogs, where time spent in training together shouldn’t be critical, and good relationships are founded on patience, kindness and intelligent learning techniques. Their merits include being affectionate, clever and perceptive, and they appreciate being reared in a home because they are people-orientated. The power of their noses can’t be stressed enough – it dictates their working style. Thus they excel as game finders and linehunters, as Hal Leopard wrote – no better dog on runners. The Swedes value their tracking skills highly; Americans worship their brains and multi-discipline versatility. They are courageous and tough. Some have literally saved the lives of their owners by independent thinking. Wilson Stephens wrote (Gundog Sense and Sensibility) that he considers them the only equal to the working English Springer in thick bramble. But – they do need more time to mature than some breeds of gundog. Tho’ individuals vary widely, they are not computer-like instant absorbers of lessons. Other defects include a tendency in some lines to whine when keen and give voice on scent, unimportant and even useful at rough shoot level. Though proscribed in UK competitions this virtue is expected in France and Europe, where a bell is often attached to the collar. Retrieving skills vary considerably, and may well have to be taught patiently over several months. Most important, and the essential key to successful training, is this breed’s sensitivity – they will not respond well to any kind of ill-treatment or harsh punishment. Like most humans, they respond far better to praise than abuse, and they learn some things very quickly. Don’t go near the boot and stick brigade!
The Welsh Springer Spaniel Club has a small Sub Committee dedicated to the working of our Breed.
In the first instance please contact the Working Sub Committee Chairman, Fiona Stevenson by email or phone 07765 447493.