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Posts Tagged ‘dog training’

Is it that first shopping trip?

Is it that first shopping trip of the season?

Hiking in the desert, of all places, it hit me when I noticed the dried leaves carpeting the sandy ground. Last fall’s remnants kindled anticipation of this fall’s hunts. Wrong leaves, wrong place, but the die was cast – I’m ready for hunting season.

What is your trigger-tripper? A training milestone? Weather change? Test season? Youth hunt?

Something pushes you over the edge, inescapably heralding the Most Important Time of Year. But do you know what it is? And if you don’t have one, you have several months to pick one.

Go.

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Good boy!

Good boy!

Whirrrrrrr! A long, dry slog down canyon went from relaxed camaraderie to high alert as four valley quail flushed wild on both sides of us. Manny’s attention was seized, he arrived at the scene of the crime quickly, snuffling the lingering scent like a starving man picks crumbs to ensure there were no stragglers.

The remainder of the downhill stroll was like a night patrol in a Vietnam jungle, eyes and ears wide open for every peep and rustle in the pungent sage. Our Texas visitor thought birds had hooked left, so we sidehilled in that direction a hundred feet above the swampy creek bottom, sometimes on hands and knees. Then, barely perceptible, a rustle in the juniper preceded the bird’s fleeting escape, downhill and over the cattail swamp at the bottom of the ravine.

One shot, bird down. Right in the middle of a football-field-sized tangle of mud, creek, beaver dams, cattails and berry vines … the sharp, thorny kind. The graveyard of forever-lost quail, I thought. The shooter marked the bird and stayed put, eyes glued on the spot where the bird had fallen.

Hmmmm. This looks familiar. A classic NAVHDA duck search, sans duck. Manny and I slid to the bottom and I sent him into the mess with a “dead bird – fetch!” He was daunted by the head-high stalks that fought back, mud that sucked at his feet and berry canes that tore his hide. A few minutes and he emerged, dirty, wet, birdless. But he stood calmly facing the web of vegetation, waiting for direction. I sent him again.

It was then I remembered training advice from an Idaho trip. I scrambled to the canyon wall before finding throwing-sized rocks, whose plunks and plonks tempted Manny farther and farther into the mire. We all listened, intent, to brush rattling, panting dog, mucky footfalls. Sometimes he was so deep in the vegetation all we saw was the faint quivering of cattail tops marking his route.

Then, nothing.

Stillness.

Rustle of stalks, splash of feet, but no panting … but I soon breathed easier. A long two minutes later Manny emerged with – I swear – the most humble look on his fuzzy face I’ve ever seen on a dog. Maybe because he was gently holding the quail in his mouth.

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What, if anything, do you say now?

What, if anything, do you say now?

I’m pretty well whoa-trained. When telling a dog to stop, I slam on the brakes too. It’s one of the funny things about that word that got me wondering how differently we think – and act – about the whoa command than we do about other commands.

Along with the barrel, gut hitch, place board, half-hitch, training table, pinch collar, e-collar on the flank or whatever strategy you use, something often gets lost – our ability to speak. If you subscribe to the belief that once a dog scents a bird “whoa” is an obedience command, why do we clam up once the dog obeys?

Check yourself: Fido is coursing a field and slams into a point. If you’re me, you’d also lock up, eventually realizing you’re in charge and need to do something – hopefully while the dog remains staunch. You might skulk toward the dog and bird, or stride purposefully, but how many of us proceed silently, hoping against hope that our dog holds still?

Meanwhile, the dog considers his options: he’s done what comes naturally (point) and wants to do what next comes naturally (pounce). He might have been taught a pounce is verboten, but without feedback, there’s a fifty-fifty chance he’ll get what he wants.

Is that okay with you?

Instead, quit expecting your mouth to “whoa” when he does. After all, Gunner heels in the yard, you praise. Coming back with a bird in his (soft) mouth merits a scratch behind the ears. But that end-swapping point on sketchy bobwhites is met by a silence as heavy as the moment between sermon‘s conclusion and congregation’s “amen.”

To a young dog torn between primitive passion and desire to please you, a word of praise may mean all the difference. I know Manny’s steadiness improved once I began delivering positive feedback instead of zipping my lips.

How about you? Does a cat get your tongue when your dog scents a bird?

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One of the highlights.

One of the highlights.

In medical school, the curriculum is often watch-do-teach. All three create a finely-honed, multi-dimensional learning experience for any skill from surgery to bird dog training. The strategy was driven home again yesterday at an informal gathering of three friends with two goals: find good training water and take each of their dogs’ abilities up a notch.

If I told you where we went, I’d have to kill you. The spot is near a popular trout lake, but off the beaten path just enough. It’s not perfect, but as you know, here in the high desert any water is good water.

We arrived in a cloud of dust with different agendas, wrangling a total of five dogs, buoyed by high hopes. It was an equal opportunity training day, we even had a Lab with us. We ran the gamut: intense duck search, basic water retrieves, a little nose work, some obedience for the Utility Test, and for me the highlight of the day, a young wire that swam willingly for the first time.

With dogs as common ground, our relaxed banter uncovered a wealth of mutual acquaintances, backgrounds, and interests. Fishing, “secret” spots we’ve all visited, towns we’d each lived in … none would have bubbled to the top during a hurried encounter but all became fodder for budding friendships over the course of a day working dogs.

This session was a success not solely because of canine accomplishments. It was a winner because of the humans’ willingness to give and take and desire to pitch in. Sure, we wanted to work our own dogs and capitalize on the volunteer “staff” of training partners. But by the end of the day each had advanced their own dog’s skill level as well as aiding in the education of others’ dogs.

Yes, every quid deserves a quo.

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