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Posts Tagged ‘NAVHDA’

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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Good boy!

Good boy!

Whirrrrrrr! A long, dry slog down canyon went from relaxed camaraderie to high alert as four valley quail flushed wild on both sides of us. Manny’s attention was seized, he arrived at the scene of the crime quickly, snuffling the lingering scent like a starving man picks crumbs to ensure there were no stragglers.

The remainder of the downhill stroll was like a night patrol in a Vietnam jungle, eyes and ears wide open for every peep and rustle in the pungent sage. Our Texas visitor thought birds had hooked left, so we sidehilled in that direction a hundred feet above the swampy creek bottom, sometimes on hands and knees. Then, barely perceptible, a rustle in the juniper preceded the bird’s fleeting escape, downhill and over the cattail swamp at the bottom of the ravine.

One shot, bird down. Right in the middle of a football-field-sized tangle of mud, creek, beaver dams, cattails and berry vines … the sharp, thorny kind. The graveyard of forever-lost quail, I thought. The shooter marked the bird and stayed put, eyes glued on the spot where the bird had fallen.

Hmmmm. This looks familiar. A classic NAVHDA duck search, sans duck. Manny and I slid to the bottom and I sent him into the mess with a “dead bird – fetch!” He was daunted by the head-high stalks that fought back, mud that sucked at his feet and berry canes that tore his hide. A few minutes and he emerged, dirty, wet, birdless. But he stood calmly facing the web of vegetation, waiting for direction. I sent him again.

It was then I remembered training advice from an Idaho trip. I scrambled to the canyon wall before finding throwing-sized rocks, whose plunks and plonks tempted Manny farther and farther into the mire. We all listened, intent, to brush rattling, panting dog, mucky footfalls. Sometimes he was so deep in the vegetation all we saw was the faint quivering of cattail tops marking his route.

Then, nothing.

Stillness.

Rustle of stalks, splash of feet, but no panting … but I soon breathed easier. A long two minutes later Manny emerged with – I swear – the most humble look on his fuzzy face I’ve ever seen on a dog. Maybe because he was gently holding the quail in his mouth.

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One of the highlights.

One of the highlights.

In medical school, the curriculum is often watch-do-teach. All three create a finely-honed, multi-dimensional learning experience for any skill from surgery to bird dog training. The strategy was driven home again yesterday at an informal gathering of three friends with two goals: find good training water and take each of their dogs’ abilities up a notch.

If I told you where we went, I’d have to kill you. The spot is near a popular trout lake, but off the beaten path just enough. It’s not perfect, but as you know, here in the high desert any water is good water.

We arrived in a cloud of dust with different agendas, wrangling a total of five dogs, buoyed by high hopes. It was an equal opportunity training day, we even had a Lab with us. We ran the gamut: intense duck search, basic water retrieves, a little nose work, some obedience for the Utility Test, and for me the highlight of the day, a young wire that swam willingly for the first time.

With dogs as common ground, our relaxed banter uncovered a wealth of mutual acquaintances, backgrounds, and interests. Fishing, “secret” spots we’ve all visited, towns we’d each lived in … none would have bubbled to the top during a hurried encounter but all became fodder for budding friendships over the course of a day working dogs.

This session was a success not solely because of canine accomplishments. It was a winner because of the humans’ willingness to give and take and desire to pitch in. Sure, we wanted to work our own dogs and capitalize on the volunteer “staff” of training partners. But by the end of the day each had advanced their own dog’s skill level as well as aiding in the education of others’ dogs.

Yes, every quid deserves a quo.

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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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Like this, only better. I was there.

Like this, only better. I was there.

It was like we’d left off our hard work yesterday, not five months ago when we hit the road to make this season’s Wingshooting USA. Now that I’m home writing TV shows instead of in the field making them, Manny’s path to the NAVHDA Utility Test is front-and-center again.

We re-aquainted ourselves with my pigeons a couple days ago, flying them from my hand while reminding us both that the sight, smell, and sound of a bird means “whoa.” Yesterday, a point and flush … steady. Today, a point from 15 yards and steady. I tapped his flank (thanks Bob Farris and Ronnie Smith), strode birdward and popped the cap gun once-twice-three times.

Brrr! Startling us both, the bird erupted from the sage. I pulled the trigger while locking eyes with the dog, ignoring the escaping bird. Four wirehaired paws were anchored on volcanic soil. I jinked so Manny could watch the flight: up, away, then circling farther and farther until the bird was a speck, vanishing in the distant trees. Head swiveling, Manny held his ground.

Sure, it was just a pigeon. And I only shot a cap gun. But after a long count to 20 and several deep breaths we heeled away, headed for home with a spring in our steps … six feet barely touching the ground.

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