A day full of spaniels and spaniel training

From time to time we invite external instructors and arrange seminars with them. Here’s a story from a seminar we had a few years ago with Catharina Fahlberg.

Yesterday was the first out of two seminar days on Basic training for spaniels with Catharina Fahlberg. We were six teams and some observers who defied cold and snow to begin the “hunting season” (giggle). Actually, the hunting season is just over now, but I really mean that since it’s been so cold and dark and snowy, hunting training has been on the back burner. We’ve done a lot of obedience training, but now it was time to head out again.

Everyone was well dressed, here’s Jagger, 6 months.

The temperature had been around -15 degrees Celsius all week, but had thankfully risen to just -3 degrees… We began indoors all the same. After the obligatory presentation round, Catta explained how hunting with spaniels works. Unlike retriever hunting trials, hunting trials for spaniels use live game almost immediately. Catta focused on the structure of the different hunting trials and rounded off by going through what the dogs must be able to do to start at trials.

Catta and Sam demonstrating.

We watched a bit from a video of one of England’s most acclaimed hunting coaches showing how he starts hunting training with his puppy. Then we got to think about how we would like to work our dogs in the field. After that, we went outside and let each dog have a turn at hunting a small area. There were several dogs (and handlers) in the group who’d never hunted before. The task was to “get started” and get the dogs to understand that hunting is something we do together. Catta had scented with down from a pheasant and all the dogs got started and hunted nicely.

Tassla, who has already been hunting for a while, got to work with the distraction of two “shooters” (two kind observers) flanking me. We had never done that before, but Tassla ignored the distraction and kept hunting. It was mostly me who had to keep track of everything – for example making sure that the dog didn’t end up between me and the shooters… (that of course makes it difficult to shoot …?)

Tassla plays with Andreas, one of the observers.

Catta encouraged us to be very engaged in the dog’s hunting during the learning process, and we received various tips and advice on how to develop our handling for the next session.

We then ran through all the different whistle sounds in the whistle. What is the dog supposed to do on the different whistle cues and how should we teach this? We started with the turn whistle. Catta went through four different ways to teach the turn whistle and then we had to choose which we thought best suited our dog. I perceive this as a touch stone in all of Catta’s training; Adapt yourself to the individual you have in front of you. It’s not just one road that leads to Rome.

Cotton, listening carefully. ?

After the turn whistle, we proceeded to working with the stop whistle. Time to play!

Lisbeth and Dottie getting warm through playing together.

We played a sitting game where we first {1played tug with the dogs, then we stole the toy which usually led to the dog sitting down. The sit produced the toy and we were back to playing. . Quite quickly, the dogs realized that “if I sit down fast, I’ll get to play again”. (The game is described in more detail in the book.)

Inger steals the toy from Nova…
… Nova sits down …
… and we’re back to playing!

It was great fun to see how alert all the dogs became when we started playing with them. There was a lot of tail wagging!

Cotton is longing for the fun toy.

At the end we played a recall game where we let the dogs eat some treats on the ground while we ran in the other direction. When the dog had finished eating and started running after us, we blew the recall whistle.


We were all quite tired and cold at this point, and the day was coming to an end. For next time, everyone will work on getting the hunting going and on the different whistle signals: the stop/sit, the turn and the recall.

This was the first time we collaborated with Catharina Falhberg and it was awesome! Catta is a very experienced instructor and trains solely with positive methods without physical and verbal corrections that can be perceived as unpleasant to the dog. She builds everything by training small parts and putting them together. She starts all her training through play. And she also puts a lot of effort into creating a good relationship with the dog that makes the dog trust her, always want to follow her and be part of everything she proposes. She wants a good collaboration that is based on trust. She wants the dogs to offer behavior and think for themselves, which creates a good learning situation. It is training entirely in my and Elsa’s taste and that is the basic idea that we convey in the book.

Molly sits quietly, waiting for reward.

On the spot, we decided to arrange no less than two spaniel courses with Catta. Keep an eye out here, we will post them shortly.

Marita and Cotton training – believe it or not – the sit. ?

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