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Posts Tagged ‘bird dog’

Would you be steady with them strolling past?

Would you be steady with them strolling past?

You’ve heard the phrase “less is more.” Does it have relevance to dog training?

Manny and I are deep into preparation for an upcoming NAVHDA Utility test (www.navhda.org) and our latest challenge is steady to wing-shot-fall. If you know the test, you know it’s a ball-buster. Both the field and water portions require a dog to be rock-steady in the midst of distraction shots, walking birds, flying birds, dead birds, shot birds, bobbing decoys, and swinging guns. Not to mention a small gallery of judges, gunners and handlers adding to the circus atmosphere.

I hit on something today (probably did earlier, but it didn’t sink in) that I hope helps. Actually, part one hit me yesterday when in a less-than-stellar moment with my wife’s help, Buddy lunged every time the bird flew and the gun popped.

Revelation: he was simply reacting to her tensing the checkcord in preparation for the flush, telegraphing that tension to him literally and figuratively. He felt the stress both physical and emotional, and simply couldn’t focus on what he knew to be right.

[I remember an obedience trainer who’d worked with wolves once telling me canines will almost always pull back when you do, for example, on a lead. You’ve probably have had yours push back when you steady him on point by pushing on his rump.]

None of this would have sunk in had I not taken him out to remedy last night’s situation with a brush-up at lunch today. No wife, no checkcord, less tension in the air and voila! a steady dog throughout the sequence.

I may be a slow learner, but I pick things up, eventually. With luck, so will Buddy. Hope this helps you, too.

Scott

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So, what’s the best approach for you, the bird, and Buddy?

Here’s a lesson I’m learning almost weekly this time of year. Maybe you, too. You trudge up the hill to find your dog on point. He’s steady. Birds cooperative. Until you take over, that is.

Once he’s pinned a bird, I try to help Buddy do a great job handling it. I approach from at least an oblique angle, not striding right past. He’s less likely to break point. If I can, I get birds to hold instead of run by squeezing them between Buddy and me.

Want another reason to approach your dog from the front? He’s not right under the muzzle blast and it’s deafening effect. That way, he’ll have one less excuse for not hearing my commands. Even when I miss. Which is often.

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Here I am trying to explain to Buddy why not finding any birds is okay, once in a while.

Here I am trying to explain to Buddy why not finding any birds is okay, once in a while.

My Little League team lost every game one season. I know a bit about being skunked. So when not a single primer burns, no feather clouds drift with the breeze … well, that’s when you dig deep for something – anything – to justify your trip.

And that’s before the spouse greets you at the door with a snarky “You went all that way and didn’t shoot anything?”

That’s your cue to tote up the balance sheet, hoping for um, balance. Sometimes it’s easy. Other times, you gotta get creative, gin up a rationale out of the irrational.

Or do you?

I’m a firm believer in the “less is more” philosophy when there’s nothing in the ice chest. Maybe you too. We can focus on the other things, often as (or more) important than obtaining free-range protein.

Pro’s: the dog still got some exercise; it was a beautiful spot; I still got some exercise; the birds will be there “for seed;” I found an owl skull; time spent with new (or old) friends; no ammo was harmed in the making of the hunt (cha-ching!); it wasn’t raining; no birds to clean; I can cross that spot off the list; no gun to clean … well, you get the idea.

Con’s: no birds to clean.

Yep, it’s a pretty short “con” list. Or am I missing something?

When nothing flies, the adrenaline stays firmly in its glandular garage, and the game bag is empty, what do you put on your mental balance sheet?

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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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They do work miracles sometimes.

They do work miracles sometimes.

At least three times in the past few days, while typing “dog,” I’ve typed “god.”

No, I don’t have dyslexia. I doubt it is a Freudian slip. I’ve been typing since 10th grade. I know how to spell. But somewhere, deep inside my subconscious, there is a kernel of truth in this recurring typographical error.

Maybe you’ve transposed the same letters in the same way. Or thanked your dog for leading you to a revelation. Or put your faith in his nose. While in the field with him, perhaps you had an epiphany. Or simply hoped – prayed – he would hold that bird while you huffed and puffed up the hill to his point.

I’m not advocating you abandon your current spiritual beliefs. Nor do I equate a dog (even a staunch, finished wirehair) with a Supreme Being.

But don’t you think our hunting partners have many admirable qualities? More importantly, don’t hunting dogs bring out the best in us?

Amen to that.

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A little help, please.

A little help, please.

WANTED: Training partner. Age, gender, shooting skills unimportant. Necessary attributes include patience, tolerance for dog slobber and pigeon poop. Must appreciate burrs in socks and rips in pant legs.

I’m tempted to run an ad like that. I suspect I’m not alone. Someone else, somewhere, is probably drafting a similar blog post right now. Maybe it’s you.

It’s not that friends and acquaintances don’t want to help. There’s a matter of schedules, a difference in priorities, possibly they favor a different dog breed. Or maybe they just haven’t been asked.

But seriously, what do you want in a training partner? And what can you bring to the party?

Patience and tolerance, of course. Everyone – and everyone’s dog – has a bad day. But what else would help you and your dog be all you both can be? Is it hard-won experience that can be called on when you haven’t got it? I’d imagine ideas would be welcome, from left field or the school of hard knocks. That’s where the quid becomes pro quo – I graduated with honors from that school.

I’d hope they have a dog, any breed, any skill level. I’m an equal opportunity training partner. Even retrievers are welcome. Someone who’s been there and done that would shorten the learning curve, especially when it comes to hunt tests, woodcock and field trials.

But a fresh perspective might be helpful, too. Wide-eyed innocence, honest questions that cause one to think differently, could be just what is needed on a given day.

If they brought their own pigeons they might be invited for a beer. If their dog will stand a bird indefinitely while me and mine maneuver clumsily into an honor merits a second bottle. Bird launchers, stakeout chain, blank ammo rattling around in their pickup ensure a barbecue invitation.

Flexible schedule, got it. Down-the-block availability, check. Stellar shooting skills, a bonus. The wisdom to know when to offer suggestions and when to shut the hell up merits a wee dram of very old single malt.

You know where to find me.

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Not ready for retrieves yet - this is from last season. But soon, soon enough.

Not ready for retrieves yet – this is from last season. But soon, soon enough.

One step at a time, the saying goes, and the steps are encouraging. Despite two TV seasons of breaking at the shot, Manny is making progress on his steadiness to wing, shot, and fall.

We had a few setbacks without it, so we are back to using Bob Farris’ “gut hitch,” a variation on the Smith cousin’s flank half-hitch (thanks to all of you). It is the defining factor. That little tug on Manny’s waist may as well be an anchor chain for as solid as he stands the bird. A whiff of pigeon and he’s staunch, foot up and tail twitching into a straight and high twelve o’clock posture.

Then the gut hitch goes on, I mutter a quick reminder of “whoa,” and move in for the flush. Boom goes the blank pistol (we’ve graduated), and a wirehaired statue watches the pigeon fly toward the desert, disappearing through the trees and out of Manny’s sight – and mind. A wiggle in the tail as the bird vanishes, but four feet remain firmly planted on the sandy soil. Ten more repetitions and I’ll take off the hitch.

So, how’s your training going? What are your goals for this spring and summer?

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