The Spaniel Life Chose Me
I remember the first dog I absolutely adored was our farm dog Banner, who was coincidentally, an English Springer Spaniel. I vividly remember sitting in an old dusty chair with him sleeping on my lap when I was five years old. Fast forward, 40+ years, and I would be immersed into training our first Spaniel, let alone dog. If you would’ve told me five years ago, that one day I would be hunting and trialing a spaniel, I would’ve called you crazy. I had never owned a dog, a gun, and had never hunted anything in my life. But the first time I saw a Spaniel work, I was amazed. This led us to getting our first dog, Ruger, a Welsh Springer Spaniel.
My husband and I joined Eastern Slopes Spaniel Association (ESSA) in April, 2019, in hopes of getting Ruger trained enough to take him out hunting that September. It was a steep learning curve, and sometimes frustrating. We were all learning the steps of recall, quartering, flushing and retrieving. Over those next five months, with ESSA’s help, we were able to hunt with him. I’ll never forget the first Pheasant Hunt! It was amazing watching Ruger working the field, and to see him loving every minute of it. Getting a spaniel led to many new firsts, including acquiring all the dog gear and my first ever gun. One that I’ll never get rid of…a beautiful over/under Browning 12 gauge.
Those first few years hunting with Ruger, I was an active participant, but I knew I wanted to have the opportunity to be more hands-on with the training and have a crack at trialing our next dog.
During a cold snap in December, 2021, I brought 7 week old Blade home. Right away I knew I would have my hands full with this little guy. I started with short sessions in the house working retrieves down the hallway with a plastic duck. Once the weather warmed up a bit, I got him into the field so he could explore. He was eager, bold and pretty spicy. I had some goals in mind with this guy and knew I would need help. Training started in April, 2022 with ESSA. To say he was ready to go was an understatement. “He’s a lot of dog”, so I’ve been told. Over the next few months, we were ready to participate in our first hunt test. Fortunately, he passed both his working tests, but more importantly, he was getting to do what he loved. I was able to see how we were successful, and what we needed to work on. Watching him work the water in that hunt test was so fun! I used to coach competitive swimming, so anything to do with water was a joy to witness.
The last two years with Blade have taught me so much. Watching and talking with other dog handlers, gunners, judges and spectators has been eye opening. Just listening and trying to take it all in. There is A LOT. Some days are easier than others. Days you think your dog is a rock star and you don’t know how you got so lucky. And then there’s those moments that humble you and you wonder if you’re doing anything right, and why you got into this craziness. Training dogs is not something that comes naturally to me. Learning wind patterns, whistle commands, being precise in showing your dog what you want to see, and the right timing of your commands is all new. I remember one particularly hard trial for me, thinking why do these people keep coming back to do this? Out of 30 dogs, only four get to the top. So what keeps bringing the other 26 back? It has to be more than the accolades. Then I figured it out. It’s the love that you have for your dog and to keep improving your Teamwork. At the end of the day, the ribbons are great…who doesn’t want to place? But your dog doesn’t care about the ribbons. All they care about is getting those birds and spending time with you. I think this is an overarching sentiment of all the dog owners who get to do this wild stuff. That’s what keeps you coming back. Whether it’s trialing or hunting your dog, thankfully, Ruger and Blade are happy to do it.
My goals for the next few years have shifted. Trying to stay in the present and not worry about what’s to come. Take more photos (which I also love to do) and focus on where you started and where you are now.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts” - Winston Churchill.
From Retrievers to Spaniels thanks to one little dog
I remember my grandfather telling me stories of hunting with his English cocker spaniel in the 1940’s on the flats of the Fraser Valley, they were always funny tales of a smart and quirky little black dog.
My father always had a retriever to duck hunt with so that was the direction I went when I got my own first dog. During 20 plus years of training retrievers for hunt tests and obedience trials I often wondered about getting an English cocker spaniel. My husband of that time would not “allow” me to have a spaniel, for reasons not part of this story I found myself minus a husband, so in 2017, I acquired my first working English cocker spaniel.
His name was Abitt of Gusto “Gus”. Very soon after bringing this puppy home, he suffered terrible seizures likely caused by meningitis to the brain or a reaction to puppy vaccines, we never determined which for sure. He was a fighter, my Vet and I decided he deserved a chance at life. His first year was survival mode, I was armed with an arsenal of drugs that required a nursing chart for dosage and timing. Two types of antibiotics, two seizure drugs and a steroid. It was kill or cure. There was also a dark brown plastic bag lurking in the fridge filled with enough drug to end it all. Gus could cluster seize, seizures that rolled one after another not stopping, his temperature would soar so high it would fry his tiny brain. I would have no choice but to use that drug to end his suffering.
Much to my Vet’s surprise and my delight Gus lived. In his second year the seizures went away, and no further meds were needed. There was some brain damage, and his vision has been affected but certainly not his drive to hunt and retrieve.
We live on Vancouver Island where at the time, there were no other working spaniels that I knew of. Lucky for me Mike Sterling reached out, he helped me with some basics of spaniel work requirements when he was in the area. With no other spaniel people training on Vancouver Island, we trained with the retrievers. Gus’s vision and depth perception had been damaged so he could not see beyond 30 yards. Not that this stopped him from trying, he would use his nose, catching scent as he worked the wind. At one HRC hunt test he even scented and quartered his way while swimming to a water retrieve that he could not see. At one practice day Gus was faced with retrieving a Canada Goose, despite the bird equaling him in size and weight, he brought that bird in somehow, trotting across the field, proudly delivering it to me. No matter what I asked of the little guy he gave it his all. Gus, my little odd man out gained a fan club in our Hunting Retriever community.
In the spring of 2019 Peter and I ventured out to Alberta with Gus to attend his first Spaniel puppy trial hosted by ESSA. I had no real idea of what I was doing, everyone was so kind and encouraging, Gus it seemed did know what to do. There happened to not be any other pups in the Trial that year, we came home with 2 first place ribbons because the judges said Gus deserved them, did I mention how kind everyone was? 😊 We returned to Alberta for the hunt tests and Gus achieved his Working Spaniel title and 2 legs for his Junior.
In Gus’s 3rd year of life, he began to unravel, a Neurosurgeon who had hunted over Gus explained that because he had been so young when he had the seizures, his brain had been able to rewire around the damaged areas, but often the rewiring doesn’t hold. Gus became very agitated, always circling to the left, his world became small, our home and his crate in the truck. But he could still hunt. His best days were spent quartering, flushing, and chasing down pheasants for hunters, as long as I was with him. On one hunt that fall, Gus pushed me with his front feet and with his bark, out of a field of waist high grass. The message could not have been clearer, I was not to go into that field. There were two hunters walking with us, he didn’t care where they went, just me. The hunters found bear tracks and fresh bear scat a few yards further into the field, they too backed out in a hurry. Poor Gus was so stressed over this near danger for his mistress that he spun and spun in circles to the left.
That winter, three years almost to the day of the first seizure we made the decision to let Gus go. The increasing anxiety, the distressed cry in his bark and the constant pacing in circles, always to the left, told us it was time.
Gus had lived for 3 years against all odds, we had crammed as much love, joy, and adventure as we could into our precious time together. Gussy, taught me that a short life can still be a good life and has value. I am so grateful to this little dog for giving a master’s class in the strength of an indomitable spirit and for introducing us to the world of upland hunting Spaniels.
Peter and I now have 2 English cocker spaniels; 4 year old Salmon Creeks Nymph Calista CDX, TD, MH “Calli” and 16 month old Cold Waters Trick Shot Ricochet WS “Ricochet”. Gradually a spaniel training community is building here on the Island. We are ESSA Club members and with Club member support this past fall, put on for ESSA the first Spaniel Hunt test on Vancouver Island. I am the CKC Spaniel Council Rep for Zone 11. Peter and I both love the spaniels, Upland hunting in all it’s forms and we owe it all to a quirky, damaged little spaniel named “Gus”.
The Legend of The Black Eyed Bandit
The legend of the Black Eyed Bandit began with a dog named Pepper and several friends along the way.
In 2011, I needed a hobby that didn't involve people.
'I bought a puppy today', I told my husband on our 24th wedding anniversary. The phone was very quiet at the other end.
Over the next 2 years, this little spit fire English Springer Spaniel named Pepper drove me crazy, until I met a stranger at the local dog park one very cold January morning. His name was Boyd. He took us under his wing and taught us the ways of the spaniel field dog and, along with a couple of other key people (Tim Bashforth being one), ushered us into the world of bird dogs.
It turned out that I loved working with these dogs, but my Pepper wasn't registered, so couldn't trial. That's when the Black Eyed Bandit came into our lives. She was a gifted little dog right from the start and had the best opportunities to develop, that a rookie like me, could ever dream of. She started trialing before she was 2, and in the following 2 years, earned both of her Canadian titles and took us to the Nationals. I have boxes of ribbons of hers in the basement. The ones still up include her 3rd Master Hunter ribbon, which secured that title, the final Blue Ribbon that won her Field Trial Champion title, and the CM from the National Amateur. I had only been trialing 6 years at that point and everybody else had been doing so for 30+ years. This is a testimony of Bandit's abilities.
In 2019, when she was 4, I bred her to Bushbuster's Yankee Brat and she produced 8 perfect puppies; 2 male b/w, 2 female b/w, 2 male L/w, and 2 female L/w, 5 of whom went to trialing homes. She's been High Point Dam in Canada twice now and she's the first Western Canadian female to ever hold this honor. Those plaques are still up, too 😁. (Look for the Bird Dog in a pedigree for her offspring).
A Legend is not complete without it's trials. She was bitten by a wolf and lived, overcame liver failure, and lived. She's been attacked by dogs twice (she never fought back), and lived, and has outlived her 1st friend, Pepper.
Bandit has always been 100% my dog and, as a team, we've had the best of times. Now at the age of 9, she is still a joy to work with and still follows me around whenever I'm home. When we're out, she jumps out of the car watching for my commands with an attitude of 'Let's do this!' Eastern Slopes Spaniel Association has been instrumental in helping both of us develop and learn. We are very grateful for the welcome afforded us and highly recommend this group of Spaniel enthusiasts to anyone wanting to learn and work with their hunting or trialing Spaniel.
When I was a little girl....
When I was a little girl, I would sit on the back porch with my cocker spaniel, Shane, and make mud pies. He ate them! He was my buddy. In my 20’s I had a relationship end badly so I said to my friend Leroy Sanders, “I am done with men. I’m going to get a dog; a Cocker spaniel.” To which Leroy replied, ”You should get a real dog; a Springer.”
Leroy found me an unwanted dog that was Saighton Stinger’s Grandson. He was all legs and full of energy. When we got into the vehicle, Shadow sat on the floor, wrapped his paw around my finger, and buried his head in my legs. He claimed me. Shadow was 10 months old. I really knew nothing about what had just come into my life, which had been forever changed. Men came and went but I had Shadow. Shadow taught me how to hunt. When Shadow passed, I was heartbroken. Six months later, I was looking for a puppy and mentioned to Leroy that I found one in Saskatoon. Again, he said I’ll find you a puppy.
One Saturday, we drove to Kitscoty because I had to meet the parents. Makaduke was Alice Stewart’s dog. That day, I met Makie, Alice, and Alex Stewart. From there we drove to Miquelon lake to see the pups. Mom was a daughter of Kenine Rob of Rytex, a popular stud in England. Dr. Ralph Rowe had imported the mother. Nancy Southern brought her back from England.
At Miquelon Lake, I took one of the girls outside. She took off like a rocket around the house… I thought she was gone. Then she came around the other side of the house. She raced over and sat and looked up at me. We played for a few minutes and I took her in the house to take her sister out. That didn’t go well because the first one was screaming, so her sister was upset, and we went back in the house. The screamer squirmed out of the man’s arms and jumped over to me. Silence. We left. Leroy said, “You have a stick of dynamite in your lap.”
I thought she was a nice puppy that could run fast. Shadey was an amazing little dog. I went from a 60-pound male to a 30-pound female and she had me on the run. Shadey, because of Alex Stewart’s training and handling, was field trial champion at age 2.
Shadey had puppies and Misha was my next dog to train. Misha was the opposite of Shadey. She was a worker. She would run marks all day. Shadey would do 2 then get bored. Misha gave me her all. She wasn’t as intelligent as her mother, thank goodness. She was my almost dog and my most expensive dog. The vet liked Misha. Misha would French kiss if you weren’t careful and she got the vet one day.
Shane was a grandson of Shadey. He was handsome and he knew it, and smart, but wanted to do it his way. I loved him despite his attitude. He was hard to train because he was strong-minded. Gidget was out of Shane and Misha and she had Misha’s work ethic. Gidget and Shane were best buddies. When Shane passed, I felt sorry for Gidget because she would go outside and look for him then look at me as if to say, Where is he?
I learned the meaning of consistency from Shadey. Shadey was the Queen. Gidget was not worthy. Every day, Gidget would be polite and bow to Shadey and, every day, Shadey would raise the corner of her lip at Gidget and walk away. Every day, every encounter. It sunk in what being consistent meant. Thank You Shadey. I am forever in your debt for that lesson.
Foxey joined Gidget and Shane to Gidget’s disgust. Foxey followed Shane everywhere. Shane was almost deaf so he slept at the back of the closet where he was safe. To this day, Foxey sleeps in the closet.
My life was changed for the better after bringing Shadow home. I have long learned to accept being outsmarted by a dog but try to keep ahead of them. I can’t imagine what I would have done without them all.
Today I have Foxey, Zorra (Spanish for female Fox), and Ziggy. He is such a character; he could not have a serious name.
My world has been enriched by all the amazing people who play with Springers. I knew nothing when I started and now I know a little bit but still have lots more to learn. It’s become a life passion. Thank you to all of my dogs for what you have given me.
Our great love for Springer Spaniels began quickly and easily after a trip to Medicine Hat for pheasant hunting with Lanny’s dad and his spaniel in 2007. As soon as we got home we found Emma at Expressways and flew her home. Emma quickly became Lanny’s best friend and together they spent 14 years learning and loving all things hunting. She was a wonderful hunting dog.
In 2015 we found Rae from Silver Sky Ranch. This dog changed everything for me. I used to spend our trips to the field behind the camera but found thrill in shooting with her by my side. Rae was lost too soon and we miss her everyday.
Our beloved Emma was tragically lost while Lanny was away working in January 2021. I couldn’t bare to tell him the news and began looking for a distraction. I came across a puppy and told him that he was ready to go… after all, the best presents are the ones that bark! That’s when Diesel came to us. Off to Windy Plains we went to see this little dog! After watching Rod demonstrate his training abilities and learning of his knowledge in the trial world we were quickly hooked. We knew we wanted a dog to be trained like that.
So it began. Rod took Diesel to begin his training. At only 7 months old Diesel won 1st place in puppy trial which started an addiction for us! Since Rod often had Diesel and we missed having him in our home, we offered to care for one of Rod’s puppies. We were told he was for sale and not to fall in love but little did we all know, he was already home. Stanley stole our hearts and we never looked back.
We joined Eastern Slopes with our pups in 2021. We joined with plans to watch and be around wonderful dog loving people. While watching and working with Stanley we quickly realized that trialing was not as easy as everyone makes it look.
Fall hunting is our favorite! A time of less pressure on the dogs and more allowance to gain experience; both good and bad. It all makes for great corrections. Hunting will always be our top priority and if training for trialing provides us with the hunting dog we desire then we will continue to play the game!