Not being a professional dog trainer, I do my darndest to be a good observer of canine behavior, in the hope it will make me a better dog owner. Buddy helps when he can, making obvious moves (or non-moves) to clue me to the more subtle training techniques I might use.
Years ago, Buddy’s mentor Yankee first got me thinking about how we introduce birds in the retrieving training process and how it is often too much, too soon.
At our first NAVHDA Utility test, Yankee followed the track artfully to the dead duck. But it was the biggest, heaviest, limpest mallard ever grown in the Pacific Northwest. More than a mouthful and ungainly to boot. He simply couldn’t pick it up, let alone bring it to me. Didn’t know how, hadn’t had any practice with something this uncooperative.
My hunting buddy Dave’s dog Missy drove the point home. Pouring rain in the Steens Mountains, we were sheltering under a rock overhang when kee-kee-kee, a chukar squirted out from the same overhang. Missy was already a big dog in a small body, but she gamely brought back that chukar by Braille – one wing was covering her eyes so she had to home in on us by voice commands.
These days, Buddy gets plenty of practice with ungainly, limp, heavy, odd-shaped objects in hopes that there are no surprises at the end of a superb track on his Utility test. Some trainers use hammers. Others, Dokken-style “dead birds.” I use both as well as …
If you reload shotgun shells, you’ve got the raw materials in laundered shot bags. Filled with dry beans and tied or taped closed, they present excellent challenges to young dogs as they learn to get their mouths around them. Add “wings” of empty bags, actual feathers and eventually real wings and you’re on your way to a great test or field trial.