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Posts Tagged ‘retrieving’

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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This one, easy. Frozen, not so much.

This one, easy. Frozen, not so much.

Ice cream headache. Did you ever think your dog might have one?

If you train with frozen birds, he might. He’ll never admit it, but the outward manifestation might be lousy retrieves. Thanks pro trainer Larry Lee, for pointing out the obvious – to everyone, apparently, but me. I was lamenting the goofy way Manny would approach a frozen pigeon, then daintily pick it up by a wing and drag it back, sort of.

It was Larry who asked what I would do in a similar situation.  I pondered that. Now, so will you: open the freezer, pull out an ice cube and hold it between your teeth for oh, say the length of a 200-yard retrieve.

It’s no wonder Manny was less than enthusiastic. So was I. Carrying a pigeon by one wing isn’t easy.

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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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This was easy. Now, let’s hit the water.

I summarized to my wife the biggest challenge of a NAVHDA Utility test this way: you must train to the test, and you must use “tricks” to chain together the skills needed for each portion of the test, or you will not pass. It’s no wonder NAVHDA offers handler’s clinics – most of us will never understand the training challenges of this complex series of events unless broken down into components and trained for in bits and pieces.

And they are not the obvious, A-to-B-to-C string. There is a considerable amount of dog psychology and cheerleading (so to speak) in getting from start to finish. Understanding what really counts is a lot easier when you can pick the brains of experienced, wiser mentors … luckily, I have one.

The duck search portion of the test is my current nemesis. Problem number one: a dog doesn’t naturally know that there’s a bird in the water somewhere. You must convince him of that, then chain it to the expectation that he must seek it out and bring it back. Thanks to NAVHDA trainer and judge Bob Farris, I now have a series of exercises to prepare him mentally for the task.

Lucky for me, Manny is bird-crazy. Bob can use that to chain together the components of a successful duck search starting from Square One. First objective: get him to the far bank, where any search should begin. That’s a few steps from where we are but it’s coming together.

So for us, we begin with a swim for a visible, obvious bird in the water. Then get Manny to swim farther for the bird, possibly with the incentive of a rock splash, and then farther, with a bird thrown beyond the rock splashes to get him across the pond.

Then, let’s take him back from the water, possibly behind the truck, but make sure he knows there will be a bird, maybe show it to him before he’s taken away. Then, add a track on the far bank to get Manny to search beyond the expected hiding place. If necessary, have someone there to encourage him verbally, possibly toss a rock or two if he needs it. Eventually, he will find tracks all around the dry land, and with luck water, too. With the confidence of knowing there is a bird in there, we hope he will maintain the motivation to search high, low, and in between  …  for ten minutes come test day.

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None of this for a while, little guy.

The “V” in NAVHDA stands for versatile, which in many cases is synonymous with retrieving. As the saying goes “conserve game, hunt with a trained dog.” That dog must bring back anything you shoot, wherever it lands, every time. (In Europe, and even some NAVHDA tests if you choose, furred game can be part of the retrieving challenge.)

We’ve got a long way to go, Manny and me. The NAVHDA Utility test is complex, and in large part composed of skills that are, frankly, hard to train for. They are difficult because they require water. And most of us don’t have access to the right kind of water, if any. So this critical component gets short shrift.

So, to the water we went. Luckily, trainer and NAVHDA judge Bob Farris was willing to offer some tips. I spent part of my summer vacation – actually, one morning last week – working with Bob. To say it was eye opening would be an understatement.

As most pointing-breed owners ultimately figure out, their dog will pick up and bring back some things some times, but “natural retriever” is not a term that has much heft for us. Force fetch training is critical if we’re to live up to the “conserve game” credo.

And retrieving in all its forms is a gigantic part of the test. But Manny is not quite at the top of his game due to my lack of diligence. His force-training was good, to a point. But on birds, he’d often slack off prior to delivering to hand: stop, drop, or do a little dance prior to delivery. And I’d been remiss in requiring prompt completion of the transaction.

So, back to the training table and yard work. Starting with the “here” command, expecting full compliance no matter the distraction. Using the back-off, run-away method when necessary, augmented with e-collar tones and if necessary, stimulation. Then adding the fetch command and expecting full compliance with that last, crucial ten feet of delivery to hand. Then including water in the equation.

But no birds yet. Bumpers, sure. But I’m not ready to risk a slip of the finger on the red button while birds are in play.

Thanks Bob. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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“Backing,” honoring, whatever you want to call it, there are at least two types I know of. The one we’re all familiar with,  where one dog points and the other dog slams into a pseudo-point when he sees the first dog. Eventually, Manny and I will get to that.

Beyond the Bumper to birds … with an audience.

I wonder if the other honor that teaches self-discipline, control and maybe even a better retrieve? As you know, we’ve been working on one dog watching, waiting patiently while his bracemate brings back my Real Bird Bumper and other stuff. But lately we’ve been using real birds. And it’s having the desired effect.

Both Buddy and Manny are more energetic on their runout to the bird, lusting for feathered prey. But (luckily) they are each disciplined enough to execute the command, and there is the envy factor: “gee, if I don’t get it, he will.” It’s a test of wills for all three of us.

So far, so good. It’s not in any NAVHDA test until the Invitational, but I’m wondering if the simple act of deferring to another dog (in addition to the human) adds another layer of complexity. And thus, perhaps, challenges their intellect.

While writing this, I realized how lucky I am having a pigeon loft just 34 steps from my dog-training area. As George Hickox so well put it: “No birds, no bird dog.” If you don’t have birds nearby, how do you do it? Where do you find them, what do you pay, how often do you get them?

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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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