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Posts Tagged ‘NAVHDA’

The desired result.

Okay, I guess technically it’s not related to the NAVHDA Utility Test, but a dog that will jump into and out of a truck bed or similar objective can be a godsend. Now that he’s over two years old and his growth plates are fully formed, let the games begin.

While we are on the road and appearing at the Game Fair in Minnesota, one of my goals has been to get Manny to do the work I’ve been doing for two long years: launch himself into – and out of – the back seat and truck bed where his crate usually resides. At the Fair, he spends considerable time hobnobbing with the crowd from the crate in our Aliner pop-up travel trailer, so that’s also on the agenda.

An interesting sidebar to any “collarwise” discussion has been the key. On the road, I often leave electric collars and their transmitters in the side pockets of my truck doors. While putting away his e-collar in that storage compartment, I commanded Manny into the cab. He launched, and was licking my face (from face level) in an instant. Later, holding the transmitter at the door, he glanced at it, and teleported himself into the seat on command.

After a few days of travel and practice (I may be a slow learner, but I do learn) Manny is now in the seat about 70% of the time on the first command. His crate is in the back of a lifted 4WD pickup, raised higher by my TruckVault so it may as well be the Eiffel Tower to a young dog. But he’s also learning that a bumper is as good as an elevator when I use the same methods.

Cleaner clothes, no back injuries, no ramp to pack, and it looks cool too.

Have you “taught” jumping into things? How? This isn’t the easiest way, and probably not the right way, so help me finish the job correctly!

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Uncle Buddy is the example: now, to approach strategically so he holds still on the flush.

Some things just make sense, whether you hunt with dogs or not. This is one of them.

If your goal is to have a steady dog that holds his point even while a bird rattles into the sky, this might help.

Dogs seem to be curious creatures. Unlike cats, curiosity probably won’t kill the dog, but it could cause him to break on a flushing bird if he feels like he’s being squeezed out of the action. On top of the others I’ve mentioned, here’s another good reason to be strategic about approaching a pointed bird: obscuring his view of the action could encourage him to move so he can watch the proceedings … even when you want him to stand sill.

This was driven home to me in a training situation just yesterday. I’d set up the bird in a launcher so it was hidden by tall sage. I brought Manny in crosswind, and he stopped at the first whiff of pigeon, front leg lifted in anticipation of the joy to come. Unfortunately, he was pointing scent that had wafted through yet another tall sage, so when the bird lifted he couldn’t see it. At the flush, he jumped left as if on springs, back on point when he landed. From his new vantage point, he could see the arc of the flying bird.

There was no intent to break point, or chase the bird. He simply needed a vector on it so when time came to retrieve he’d know where to go.

Yesterday it was a sagebrush. On other days, it’s been me. And there’s the lesson. By marching straight in on a bird, we are effectively blocking our dog’s line of sight. Holding a point with adrenaline flowing and guns blazing is hard enough. It’s understandable that any smart dog would want to know where the flying bird is headed – after all, if things go well, you’ll be asking him to “fetch it up.”

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We got lucky here. Now, we’re practicing to make things more perfect.

Of all the things my new friend and NAVHDA judge Bob Farris pointed out on a recent visit, the most gratifying was how steady Manny was on flying birds. Not rock-steady, of course, but better than many of the other aspects of the Utility test. And I’m pretty confident he’ll get better, especially with the help Bob extended to us.

Bob acquainted me with his version of the ‘gut hitch,’ a variation on Rick and Ronnie Smith’s half-hitch around the dog’s waist. The basic concept is that a dog will stop – and stay stopped – when he feels pressure on his flank. The hitch applies it.

Bob’s rig goes from waist to collar, attaching at both points. A checkcord is clipped to the rail-like cord and gives the handler an easy way to apply that pressure to the flank. A tug, particularly upward, stops most dogs in their tracks. The advantage to Bob’s version is the dog need not drag the entire cord, just the hitch portion, which remains off the ground and attached to his waist and collar. When you want to stop him, simply attach the checkcord and tug.

No, it’s not really that easy, but the tools make it easier. Now, to put theory into practice.

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This was easy. Now, let’s hit the water.

I summarized to my wife the biggest challenge of a NAVHDA Utility test this way: you must train to the test, and you must use “tricks” to chain together the skills needed for each portion of the test, or you will not pass. It’s no wonder NAVHDA offers handler’s clinics – most of us will never understand the training challenges of this complex series of events unless broken down into components and trained for in bits and pieces.

And they are not the obvious, A-to-B-to-C string. There is a considerable amount of dog psychology and cheerleading (so to speak) in getting from start to finish. Understanding what really counts is a lot easier when you can pick the brains of experienced, wiser mentors … luckily, I have one.

The duck search portion of the test is my current nemesis. Problem number one: a dog doesn’t naturally know that there’s a bird in the water somewhere. You must convince him of that, then chain it to the expectation that he must seek it out and bring it back. Thanks to NAVHDA trainer and judge Bob Farris, I now have a series of exercises to prepare him mentally for the task.

Lucky for me, Manny is bird-crazy. Bob can use that to chain together the components of a successful duck search starting from Square One. First objective: get him to the far bank, where any search should begin. That’s a few steps from where we are but it’s coming together.

So for us, we begin with a swim for a visible, obvious bird in the water. Then get Manny to swim farther for the bird, possibly with the incentive of a rock splash, and then farther, with a bird thrown beyond the rock splashes to get him across the pond.

Then, let’s take him back from the water, possibly behind the truck, but make sure he knows there will be a bird, maybe show it to him before he’s taken away. Then, add a track on the far bank to get Manny to search beyond the expected hiding place. If necessary, have someone there to encourage him verbally, possibly toss a rock or two if he needs it. Eventually, he will find tracks all around the dry land, and with luck water, too. With the confidence of knowing there is a bird in there, we hope he will maintain the motivation to search high, low, and in between  …  for ten minutes come test day.

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Now, it becomes a “whoa” command.

Thanks to NAVHDA trainer, judge and Pudelpointer breeder Bob Farris, my eyes have been opened so wide, I’m gonna need Visine! Of the many things he’s enlightened me about, steadiness while on birds was perhaps the most useful to me, and maybe to you.

We all have our methods for teaching staunchness. Barrel, table, half-hitch, collar, place board, winch, tow truck … all have their merits. But those are merely practical applications of a theory I’d never quite grasped.

Think about the temptation, the challenge, the genetic motivators for breaking point. After all, a point is merely a pause prior to pouncing on prey (just watch a coyote working a field for mice). Sure, we can stretch the length of that pause, but at some point we must overcome instinct alone or he will pounce.

As a judge, Bob is asked to evaluate every piece of the point-flush-shot-fall-retrieve process. There are different goals for each, the most important being the separation of instinct (the moment a dog smells the bird and points) from obedience (when he’s led to understand he must hold that point, indefinitely).

So, Bob says break the sequence into those two pieces: 1) the point … instinct; 2) staying staunch … obedience. That’s how they’re judged in a NAVHDA Utility Test, because that’s a good way to ensure reliable performance in the field (a dog that’s steady to wing-shot-fall).

Manny is catching on … now, if his handler can! He’s learning that a whiff of bird equals point. But he’s also learning that once I’m in the picture giving the whoa command, instinct is out, obedience is in. Eventually, the verbal command will become a hand signal, then simply a “look.” But by then, he’ll understand that a human that walks to the bird means the same thing as “whoa,” a hand signal, the sound of a flush, a gunshot or long whistle: do not move.

We love our dogs for their instinctive skills and how we can join them in the hunt, the two of us making a team that is stronger than either individual. There are plenty of times when the dog’s instincts are paramount. Others, when obedience and cooperation must trump those genetic signals.

What’s worked for you?

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