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Posts Tagged ‘fetch’

And in the comment section, tell me why.

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The drive home ... one tired pup

I played hooky Friday (maybe you did too) and got on the chukar hill in time for a two-hour hunt. They called, we climbed, put a sneak around the rocky top, and scored. Buddy had to search to the bottom of a thousand-foot ravine to produce the bird. 

A last-minute cancellation meant I got one of  two rooms at the motel – especially welcome as the snowflakes started falling. An old writer friend greeted me in the parking lot, and Sandy held supper for me at the café. There were more old and new friends in the general store, where the beer was plentiful and cold. The population of the town doubled overnight to 18, most from my own town five hours away. 

My hunting partners arrived to trade secret spots. A neighbor pulled into the lot. Soon five wires, a couple pointers, shorthairs and a Lab, were all sniffing butts and peeing on bushes. And not one dogfight. Do you own a male dog? You can sense the relief.

That night, an impromptu Italian dinner was offered and accepted, jokes were told, and the one stranger at the café ended up being a fishing companion from almost 20 years ago.  

In the field, birds were pointed, some were shot, retrieves were made. By the end of the snowy weekend the sun was blazing, illuminating the desert from a vantage six hundred feet up a rocky draw. Life is good. 

Now, how was your closer?

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Awaiting their turn at the test!

Awaiting their turn at the test!

(First, have you voted on my  TV show theme yet? See below when you’re done with this post.)

Just back from helping at our local NAVHDA chapter’s Natural Ability test and as usual, am energized and motivated as well as a little sunburned. The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (go here) is a fast-growing group with very clear and sound goals: create better bird dogs through training and sharing of breeding-critical information; and make better bird dog owner-handlers.

Designed for dogs 18 months of age and younger, the NA test is simply that: an assessment of the pup’s natural traits in areas that will ultimately be developed into finely honed hunting skills. That’s not to say you unclip the lead and cross your fingers, as one of the traits being tested is what NAVHDA calls “cooperation,” or a willingness to work with – and for – its handler-owner. But it’s also not about how a good trainer can turn a puppy into a hunting robot. (more…)

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So sue me.

We are a year behind in the training schedule (ironically, because I’ve hunted with too many other people’s dogs in too many other states). But Buddy’s nemesis, the retrieve, is starting to shape up. Dare I jinx it by sharing my progress?

Suffice it to say the one universal, all-things-for-all-purposes motivator for Buddy is food. And I’d neglected to use it in training to retrieve. But recent posts have discussed our retrieving training without addressing why I do it the way I do, so here goes …

Sure, the force-breaking thing is all the rage, but not for me – what would it do to the roll-on-the-floor stretching routine, for example? So it’s all carrot and no stick on the backyard training table at my house. (Save your ire for another blog – force fetching is NOT an option.)

So far, so good. And here’s how we do it:

– Every good move (or non-move, when on “whoa,” for example) is rewarded. Note that I give treats and praise for Buddy’s NOT doing something wrong as often as for doing something right!

– Even baby steps in the right direction merit a treat

– Once a part of the retrieve is mastered, fewer treats are offset by more praise

Eventually, my pockets won’t smell like chicken or salmon and Buddy will continue to bring back birds. Until then, I don’t mind the occasional whiff of seafood when I reach for my truck keys.

– Scott 

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Buddy, before training got serious

Even this little guy could use a "cushion" in his retrieves

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.

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Dogs, like armies march (and think) with their stomachs

A crusty old trainer told me a crustier, older trainer once told him: Never give away a bowl of food.

And as I approach crustiness, I follow that advice religiously, because it helps Buddy be a better hunter.

Short of birds, food is the strongest motivator … for an un-neutered dog. So I’ve learned to use food strategically.

It starts with dinnertime. Lucky for the neighbors, Buddy doesn’t have to sing for his supper. But he does whoa for it. Talk about temptation!

I also dole out food treats for coming when called or other jobs well done, and early in the training, they are awarded even when Buddy only got an “A” for effort. As he masters a command, the treats are reserved for excellent work.

I never give away treats for free. Like all praise, food is earned – phony “good dogs” only mislead a dog from the real work at hand.

If you have two dogs, it doesn’t take long for one to want what the other gets when he does a good job. So go ahead and use food envy when you have to.

If you remember that food is a training tool, like me with Buddy, you’ll get more than just a dog with a full belly. Urp!

– Scott

PS: Watch some great springers in action in this excerpt from my show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zrsQWPHhsA

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