I have a two-year-old springer bitch who is easily the best springer I have had to date from a training point of view. Stopping, dropping and returning on the whistle, walking to heel, hunting and retrieving have all been easily achieved. The trouble I have is that although she will return a dummy to hand, as soon as she retrieves game she will drop it before she gets back to me and run off looking for something else. Have I done something wrong and can it be rectified?

HOWARD KIRBY replies: The answer here is in your question – she is dropping the bird to go off hunting. Have you done anything wrong? Well just a little, but don’t punish yourself, we just need to explain the rules to her. Stating the obvious, most spaniels will prioritise hunting over retrieving. When working with game her hunting drive steps up and she just wants to hunt. You will need to go back to the training field with some cold game, ideally a partridge, hen pheasant or small rabbit (we’re avoiding cock pheasants as their size might exacerbate the problem) and ensure she brings it to hand. If she drops the bird short, quickly put gentle pressure on her, ‘hey, fetch it!’ Encourage her and insist; it’s a fine balance but do your best to get her to pick it back up and bring the bird to hand. When she does, reward her with a gentle voice and soft hands, ensuring, and this is really important, that you put her into a sit/stay and make sure she doesn’t try to go off hunting. Our aim is to get her to understand that she must deliver to hand and that she will not then be going straight off hunting again.

You might be able to cure this quickly by insisting she follows these simple rules, but if it has become an ingrained behaviour then it will take longer to sort out.