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11 Questions with....................... Graham West and Kayleigh Snell

After a rather wet and windy day’s training on Exmoor with Graham and Kayleigh we started on the usual format for the 11 questions but got rather distracted. I think you will still find it good read, it’s just a bit less formal than normal. Graham, as you may know, is an A panel judge and has worked and trialed spaniels and Labradors for a number of years. You are most likely to see him with cocker spaniels or his house dogs and beloved pets two Newfoundlands. Kayleigh Snell is a fantastic dog trainer whose had a great deal of success in her own right working and trialing her dogs, and works closely with Graham primarily with cockers.


Kayleigh Snell with one of her cockers taken by Heidrun Humphies


Graham West taken by Heidrun Humphies

What’s the most embarrassing/naughtiest thing your dog has ever done?

Graham: Too many……. The naughtiest thing was when we took our young dogs into the pen the other day. I lost one down the rabbit hole (Dottie) and the only way I could to get her out was to pull her out by her back legs she was in that far in!


Kayleigh: In the same training session my dog decided to do about 6 or 7 laps around the rabbit pen!


Both: So we decided that was the end of that!!! (laughing)


Sarah: What about eating something they shouldn’t?


Graham: My dogs don’t do that… they live in a kennel!!!


Sarah: Eating a pheasant whole? Could you imagine that with a cocker… it’s the same size as them!!


What your best achievement?

Graham: I don’t think the best achievement is anything to do with awards or trials. I thinks it’s when you’ve got a dog that has got all sorts of problems and feel that you aren’t getting anywhere, you take it out and HayHo, the penny drops!!!


Kayleigh: I agree… it’s when you’ve worked on something for so long and then suddenly it gets it.


Graham: … and BANG!! It’s got it! I think that’s the thing a lot of people don’t get… you need to stick with it.


Sarah: Was there any particular dog or situation you’ve had that with? Or just in general?


Graham: Just in general… I had one once which was a real little bastard (laughing) and one day all of a sudden “ohhh I can do this job, and I can do that”. He just turned around. There is no moment in time, it’s just when you’re struggling with it all. It’s like the one we took out this morning, it’ll do massive go back and then all of a sudden will just stand there and look at me.


Kayleigh: Couldn’t even do a 2m go back but could send it 200yards some days.


Graham: Yeh… Just got to find a way, find a little chink in the armour. Whilst we are on the

topic there was one dog I had trouble with called Spikey. This dog showed me how Kayleigh related to dogs, he wasn’t coming right for me full stop it wouldn’t go right!! Keighley said “I’ll have a go at that” and she took him home. And I’m not lying… 2 weeks later it did 200meters right!!! Wouldn’t stop just kept going right!!! I learnt a valuable lesson that day about naming dogs and how you speak and in fact there are competitors in Wales that have put it in their training programme. I said to Keighley “What have you done to him?” and all she had down was in a high pitched tone “Spikey” … It was the way he said his name. That same dog I was getting nowhere with now goes with Keighley and gets Field Trial awards. He has also proved to be a real working asset on the shoot so there is one dog I had no involvement with and just flipped over. All dogs you try and find something they are good at so which is the best one…

The nicest one was getting an award presented by the Queen with most points awarded to a Cocker Spaniel in the year. That was something special especially as that was at Sandringham in the snow with the hares. Bearing in mind the hares were bigger than my dog! I felt pleased about that.


Kayleigh: Spikey and Zac…would be mine.


What would be the most important training tip you can give, just one?

Kayleigh: Enjoy it!


Sarah: For example Debbie and John said… consistency.


Graham: Yeh, that’s right as long as you have a dog you can be consistent with. I think Kayleigh is right. Enjoy it! There are never any negative days, always come away with something positive.


What do you look for when choosing a puppy?

Kayleigh: I look for, not the liveliest as such, but for the most action such as hunting around, looking around, retrieving/picking up stuff, coming to you. I don’t want something that’s sat in the corner and not getting involved. I look for something that’s a bit bold.


Graham: I second that! You can imagine when we’ve had our own litters. We think we have it sussed but then Keighley has the dogs and I have the bitches.


If training a dog, do you prefer a dog or bitches?

Kayleigh: I don’t get on with bitches


Graham: I’ve always had my best luck with bitches but then saying that my best dog was a Labrador that was a dog. So, I would go along with bitches. I think there is something about them. When we are training we always run a dog along with a bitch. I’m not sure if that’s subconscious or not. I was only thinking about it the other day when we go out we take the dogs out and see which… no dogs are level but we try and run dogs alongside one another of similar ilk. For example, we have two dogs in the back of the truck and one is bred by me and the other is bred by Kayleigh. And she has the one I bred and I have the one she bred! It’s like we both set up to set each other up! (laughing) because they are both manic… and I mean manic!! You see the little dog that was hunting down there?...these two dogs make that one look slow. Our peer group would snap our arms off for them. .. and I’m not just saying that. They would! These are the two we took into the pen. They really are frantic.. a 100 meter go back is a bit too short for them, they want to get going.

We usually pick dogs at similar stages in their training or have similar problems. This is another thing people forget if the dogs have a particular problem, we are not bothered about training the dog we are trying to fix the problem and that could be anything.


How often do you train your dogs?

Kayleigh: I try to train every day. I will obviously give them a break, and maybe 1 day off. Not for long though, maybe 10mins a dog.


Graham: If we take out a dozen dogs and you spend a quarter of an hour a dog that is a lot of time. We are in the situation that we have lots of dogs but yes we go out training every day but it might not be that dog every day.


Sarah: It’s hard sometimes to know when to stop and to think I’ll just do one more. And it’s usually the one that goes wrong.


Graham: Dead right!!!


What got you into dogs?

Graham: Pig hunting in New Zealand, back home. When I came to England I was playing rugby and they said we are having a shoot and do you have a gundog? And I said no, they said yes you do… I had an Irish Setter… but I didn’t know. I took this Irish Setter out, if I took it out now it would be quite unique because it would retrieve. I’d trained a setter like a spaniel but I didn’t know that at the time. I came across this lady with “Sparkville Setters” who invited me down on this shoot, said we are having a Grouse count. I went down and fired a gun in the hedge and the dog went mental because I had trained it as a spaniel not as a setter. So that was my back door into it. Then my friend who had a little cocker and saw that retrieve something and seeing a dog who brought it back to me it was like an eureka moment and I was sold on it… the moment I saw it bring something back.


Kayleigh: I was brought up with it. Dad was a game keeper, Grandad a game keeper so I had the dogs and the guns around me all the time. And I just followed the realm and had my first Springer when I was 8-9yr old and from that moment I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I don’t really know anything different.


What type of shooting do you do over your dogs and how often?

Kayleigh: Rough shooting, not very often. Fire a shot over them possibly once a month.


Graham: Do you mean to training or end product? End product is to shoot over dogs whilst rough shooting. It’s a great day to come up here to shoot at Debbie’s, it gives us the opportunity to really do it. Kayleigh is a keeper so always the other end of the stick. We both trial so we don’t shoot, so rough shooting. A couple of times over the season and when we get an invite.


How often do you enter a test or trial and do you enjoy them?

Graham: Never enter test, I used to. Nothing against them, I just never got anything out of them. Trials, I trial hard trialling and judging up to 3 times per week but that depends on what dogs you’ve got. Last year, the novice dog I had I lost so I couldn’t do it. Through noise. I was explaining to the lady with the dog that was squeaking, she’s not exempt from it. No one is exempt from it. That was a dog fully trained with an award and ready to rock n roll. I went from me to you and the dog squeaked it’s head off so that was the end of that dog’s trialling that year. I get a buzz from trialing, I like seeing the dog… No size or sex involved… it’s just you and the dog, handler and how it works out


Kayleigh: Only ever done one test but trialling yes… it’s all about the luck and if you get the run or not but you’ve done everything you can. It’s just like what I’ve being doing my whole life except you’ve just got people stood judging you. I do enjoy it!


Image by Heidrun Humphies

Edited by Sarah Watters-Carver

Transcribed by Charlotte Chilvers

Images by Heidrun Humphries


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Email : sarahwatterscarver@gmail.com

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