One of the many challenges in teaching Buddy to retrieve is holding the bird until told to release. I use “thanks” for the release command, just a quirk, but it works. I also use “get it” rather than “fetch” just because. So sue me.
Anyway, getting back to the task at hand (or paw): Buddy is reliably steady to wing-flush-shot-fall. He’ll even bring virtually everything almost all the way back to me most of the time. Birds are a bit of a challenge because they’re odd-shaped and still alive and kicking, literally. But he’s just … about … there. Mostly. I hope.
To get us across the finish line, I’m adding a buffer, or cushion, literally, at the end of each retrieve.
Many trainers suggest running away from the dog as he returns with the bird, sparking the “chase” instinct. I see it as extending the “buffer” between handler and dog indefinitely. It works but eventually you’ll have to quit as field trial and hunt test judges will mark you down once they stop laughing.
I’ve added my own twist on this strategy and it’s a helpful transitory step: I’ll run away, but let Buddy gradually catch up. As he gains ground, I reverse field, quickly close on him and grab the bird while giving the release command. The cushion has disappeared immediately, surprised Buddy, and he doesn’t have time to drop the bird prematurely.
Or, I’ll face him, slowly backing up (stretching the cushion) so he is encouraged to continue his approach (much like running away), but with a “soft” stop. I watch him carefully and if I see any hint of premature release, I’ll back up faster.
The real epiphany for me, though was using the whoa table in a new way. Most of our introductory lessons take place here. Buddy knows when he’s on the table, we’re all business. Sending him on a retrieve from the table, he knows to return to the table.
When he comes back, I’ve moved a couple feet away from the table and he’s forced to stop short of me. And, he can’t put the bird down because he’s at the edge of the table and it would fall further than he’s willing to reach to pick up again. Yet another “cushion.”
Once he’s stopped and holding, we’re on to a longer hold. This is more a test of my will than Buddy’s, and I’ll talk about that soon.
Hey, here’s an excerpt from one of my shows – watch these shorthairs! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ha0C-Z-okU
Meanwhile, has anybody else had similar “unorthodox” revelations? I’m especially interested in water retrieves as we’re training for a NAVNDA Utility test and it’s a big and complex part of that challenge.