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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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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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Good boy ... now "leave it" for later on the retrieve. Much later.

Manny backslid on the one part of retrieving on which we weren’t solid: a real bird, brought to hand without um, “tenderizing.” Yesterday, his retrieves were energetic and enthusiastic. Using my Real Bird Bumper, he was scooping, making a U-turn, and racing back. When a pigeon was substituted, the wheels came off.

Thankfully, I figured out why, in record time.

Immediately before, we’d been working on steadiness, close-in birds flapping and flying in front of a dog that had been too long in the kennel while was in New York making shows. The adrenaline was gushing in torrents in Manny’s little doggy body. When the retrieving practice commenced a couple minutes later, and CRUNCH.

It only took one night to sleep on it before it hit me (at about 4:30 a.m. to be exact): Divorce flushing, flying live birds from retrieving … completely … for a while. Most of us have had a corollary drummed into our thick skulls for years: training a dog to expect a retrieve upon every flush (or shot, for that matter) is verboten. The worse you shoot (like me), the deeper you sink into that mire. Manny is showing me that the less mature a dog, the farther apart flushes and retrieves should be, literally. So for now, we will put time – and distance – between the two skills.

Today, it worked. I’m still playing it safe, leaving my pigeons in the loft after they clock out on their flushing job. Our retrieving work will be limited to Real Bird Bumpers with chukar wings taped on. Not real, but real enough.

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"Dogging it" after an especially long workout in Manny's younger days.

Funny, you think you’re doing pretty well in the fitness department, then with a jolt, you’re reminded that you’re not as buff as you thought.

Nope, not me. I know I’ve got a long way to go before my pants are loose and knees less stressed from that extra weight. Let’s just get that out of the way once and for all.

But it’s also Buddy and Manny. They are magnificent, mystical hunting machines, fine-tuned for their purpose. But my wife remarked today at how Buddy is looking slimmer – and (slow on the uptake) I noticed it too. You know how it is, when you’ve lost a belt-hole’s worth of weight … everyone compliments you. Left unsaid is that it was noticeable, i.e., they discerned a difference between your heavy persona and your (temporal, usually) less-heavy version. (My wife is jealous of how easily I can lose weight until I remind her that I usually find it again.)

It made me think: all these months of running one dog, then the other to avoid confrontation halved the length of each dog’s workout. Yesterday’s long romp among the rimrock and bunchgrass drove home that point. Manny’s tongue was dragging, and Buddy was walking alongside me for the last half mile or so. Me, well, if I could walk alongside myself I would … and my tongue was at least figuratively dragging along with my feet in the volcanic dust we call soil here in the high desert.

We could all use more of those kind of workouts. For next hunting season, but also for the simple, 30-minute bit of fieldwork Manny will have as part of his Utility Test this fall. Adrenaline, stimulus overload and his handler’s stress will amp up his average speed and a little bit extra in the tank will serve him well.

Thankfully, daylight saving time is here (have you re-set your clocks?). Longer days mean longer workouts … and we aim to take advantage of them.

How about you? What gets you – and your dog – in shape?

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"Natural ability" he's got. Maybe even elegance. It's all the other stuff we need to work on.

“Easier said than done” is more than a cliché. Just look at the NAVHDA test rules if you don’t agree. A dog that passes, let alone earns a Prize I in the Utility Test would be a worthy hunting companion anywhere, anytime, on any game.

And that’s the challenge. As the new year gets rolling, so do we.

Training, of course, is critical. This is not a test of fundamental “natural ability.” That train leaves the NAVHDA station at age 16 months.  From flawless retrieves to a civilized partner in the blind a dog’s gotta do it all, well.

But poise just as critical. A dog must be cool and calm when necessary, then kick in the afterburners when required. Add three judges trailing him, an oozing, loudmouthed gallery and gaggle of other dogs waiting their turn, and it’ll test any dog’s intestinal fortitude.

Manny was cool and collected from Day One. On his first visit to the vet, he occupied the high ground of the exam table like it was his own, lying down and crossing his front legs while surveying his new territory like a just-crowned monarch. But as with everything, only practicing for a test will be good practice for a test. I hope to recruit a crowd of helpers/observers.

Water is another story. Few of my wirehairs have had what some call “water love.” Partially my fault, as here on the desert it’s hard to find enough to become comfortable with it. The pup will swim the English Channel for a bird, though. In front of judges, we’ll see. And sustaining a duck search for 10 minutes will be as much an endurance test for Manny as it will be an emotionally wrenching ordeal for me. I almost lost Buddy to a long water retrieve a couple seasons ago and will do everything to avoid a repeat.

One of the problems that my career may have exacerbated is Manny’s steadiness on flushing birds. For two seasons on Wingshooting USA, he’s been allowed to break at the shot and start his retrieve. (No snide remarks on the quality of those, please!) Now, I’ll have to un-teach that, instead working toward rock-steadiness from flush, to shot, to fall.

There is an obedience component to this test as well. Steadiness at the blind in the face of multiple gunshots and dropping birds is one example. We have to walk – at heel – a little obstacle course. And our nemesis in the Natural Ability test was cooperation after Manny picked up a bird. He’s got to bring it right back, without passing “Go” or collecting $200. (As opposed to deconstructing it in front of three patient judges like he did last test.)

None of it will be easy. Dogs – and humans – have good days and bad days. I think I’m ready for the unavoidable natural and human-caused goofs that are out of our control. It’s the other ones I’ll be preparing for … And you?

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The sun broke through this morning, bringing smiles to everyone. Sure, it got warm as the day progressed, but a breeze stirred the sage and the chukars seemed to cooperate. Here is Day Two of the hunt test.

If you’re intimidated, don’t be. Simply go, introduce yourself and stake out your dog. The experience will be good for both of you. Eventually, you’ll be hooked.

Kudos to all who organized this test, and the many others out there that help us make better dogs. Thanks.

13-week-old Athena meets 13-month-old Manny. We are already negotiating a dowry.

We wanna play too!

Nice honor on a squirrely chukar that liked to run instead of fly!

Another good showing for Blitz and John ... three or four finds, retrieves, and a back.

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I was just gunning, and not very well at that, but I had my camera and could fit in a couple shots between shots, so to speak. Here’s a photographic account:

May as well get it over with ... my shooting made me feel like the south end of a horse headed north.

Two Master Hunters in the field ... Old Blitz (wire in background) did well and at 11 years (77 dog years), that's really something!

Hunt HQ ... cover much needed as it rained early in the day - boy, do I miss my van with pop top and awning ... but not for long!

Probably the only French Spaniel you'll ever see. (They point.) Got a leg on her JH title today. Congratulations Joel.

Mother, daughters, son ... a family affair

After all, it was put on by the German Wirehaired Pointer Club of America ...

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