Dog experts explain why Nicola Bulley’s spaniel was ‘running back and forth’

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    As police continue the hunt for missing mum Nicola Bulley speculation around her beloved springer spaniel Willow has been rife.

    Nicola, 45, was last seen walking Willow near the River Wyre in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27.

    Police said Willow was found "bone dry" and running between the gate to a nearby field and the bench where Nicola's phone was found.

    READ MORE: 'My friend vanished near a river like Nicola Bulley – her body washed up 3 months later'

    Willow was without a harness or lead, both of which were found near or on the bench.

    The police's working theory is that Nicola fell into the River Wyre despite a search having recovered nothing.

    Superintendent Sally Riley previously said it was "possible" that an "issue" with Willow may have led her to the water's edge.

    The Daily Star has reached out to dog behaviourists and trainers to explore why Willow was found how she was.

    Kimberly Freeman from City Sit Stay explained that spaniels are "very smart" and "very loyal" dogs.

    She told us: "I know there’s some speculation as to the dog being in distress in the water. They’re generally bred to swim quite well, a lot of dogs can swim naturally but spaniels are especially good swimmers, given what they’re raised to do and bred to do.

    "Because they are so loyal to their owners, if there was some kind of distress going on they would be very panicked and probably try and help as best they can.

    "If they weren’t able to, there would be a lot of pacing around, vocalising as well, and if there were other people around they would try to get that person’s attention."

    Animal behaviour and training consultant Nina Bondarenko said that Willow's pacing between the bench and the gate was linked to the "flushing behaviour" of spaniels.

    She explained: "They’re bred for hunt and retrieve, and they’re bred to flush out game, so they have to be very amenable to being handled at a distance, they have to be responsive at a distance.

    "They were never bred as guard dogs. Some of the bigger hunt and retrieve breeds were but these were never, they were always just jolly, intense little working dogs, flushing out game."

    As to why Willow stayed near the bench, Nina said "the dog sounds like it wasn’t sure what to do" and likely stayed near a "familiar smell".

    Jose Ros, from London Puppy Classes, said of spaniels: "It is a working breed. It is a very intelligent dog, a very happy dog, a very sociable dog.

    "The dog – by genetics – will enjoy going from bush to bush flushing birds, that’s what they enjoy doing most."

    However, he said Willow's behaviour was likely linked to distress rather than anything to do with spaniels specifically.

    He told us: "As for where the dog sits in this equation, if the dog was found pacing up and down, probably the dog was just anxious as the owner disappeared.

    "Unfortunately, the dog is not able to tell the police what happened."

    He added whether or not a dog would jump into a body of water after its owner "would depend on the individual" and "on whether the dog was trained" to do so.

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