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Posts Tagged ‘What the Dogs Taught Me’

closeup detail-23 “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

-Will Rogers

Dogs are fascinating, multi-dimensional beings that have intrigued me for decades. The most interesting aspect of their lives, at least to me, is how they think. Maybe “think” is the wrong word for those of you who believe animals dwell deep in the primitive depths of instinct, fang, claw, action and reaction.

But we hunting dog owners know better. We’ve seen our partners apply reason, employ logic, solve complex problems and learn a bit of “language.” Sure, they think differently from us. But they think. And the sooner we figure out what they’re thinking about – and why – the better our hunting team becomes.

Have you ever had a lousy boss? You know the type: harsh voice constantly berating you, cutting you down, badgering, yelling, and criticizing … never offering praise or encouragement.

Some of us have been lucky enough to have a good boss, or even been one. To others, it might have been a coach, teacher, Scoutmaster, neighbor. You remember them for their soothing demeanor, supportive attitude, mutual respect, positive reinforcement. Heck, even their critiques were constructive, almost pleasurable.

Of the two, who would you rather work for? For which would you gladly stay late to help with a rush order, or go the extra mile? The same holds true for your dog.

I’m not saying you should curry favor, suck up or kowtow to your pup. In the pack, your dog functions best when he knows his boundaries and who’s in charge. In your house, yard and field that’s always you. Establishing those boundaries and setting up your chain of command can be done in a number of ways, some better than others. One version engenders respect and cooperation, other versions foster fear or aggression.

When discipline is applied appropriately, instruction is melded with encouragement, or correction is done with restraint and sensitivity, I think your dog acquires a sense of “fairness.” I doubt that dogs truly comprehend that term, but they are certainly aware of the opposite.

Doesn’t it just make sense to create a relationship based on mutual trust, respect, and reward for a job well done? Remember back to when it worked for you; I bet it’ll work for him.

(This is an excerpt from my upcoming book What the Dogs Taught Me, to be published in fall 2013 by Skyhorse Publishing of New York. Receive these regularly by subscribing to my emailed newsletter.)

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This is top candidate for the cover illustration.

This is the top candidate for the cover illustration.

Well, 59,457 words are in the right order, spell-checked and double-checked. The manuscript for my new book  “What the Dogs Taught Me” goes to Skyhorse Publishing in New York late this week. All that’s left is a final look at all the photos and illustrations, then a long wait.

Publication date (with any luck) is just before hunting season next year.

If you want a sneak peek, stay tuned here, or subscribe to my Upland Nation newsletter as I’ll be sharing bits and pieces between now and publication.

What do you think of the photo? It’s me and Buddy, shot at dawn by David LaBelle on Coyote Butte near my house.

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Got a couple hours on July 28? Near Portland, Oregon? Let’s get together at the Filson store in the Pearl District and talk dogs!

In my “What the Dogs Taught Me” seminar I ask:  Sure, we can train our hunting dogs, but can they train us?

My hope is the seminar will shave two years off the learning curve, empowering newcomers to better enjoy and stick with bird hunting and dog training. I may not be a very good shooter, but I am pretty good at paying attention to what dogs do, in the field, yard, and while lounging on the couch at home. Those observations are soon to become ‘201-level’ handbook for bird hunters as a book published by Skyhorse Publishing of New York. You can get it well before publication at the Filson store on July 28.

Hope you’ll join me! It’s free. Make reservations at rsvp@filson.com.

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A sneak preview, from behind the camera

A sneak preview from behind the camera

Raw footage? Check.

Network deals done? Check.

Sponsors committed? Check, check, and double check. (Though if you’re an advertiser who wants to reach bird hunters and dog owners, feel free to inquire as to remaining sponsorship opportunities on Wingshooting USA.)

So now the real work begins: Writing, planning, laying out the format for the show, for example. Pity the poor editor who must watch every minute of every disk and tape, logging the good stuff for use in each episode. I figure about 10 hours in the office and editing suite for every hour of field work (hunting). No glory there, until you consider that’s where the real education and entertainment takes place. (For a more complete rundown on the show, go here.)

You see, anyone can carry a camera, hold it relatively steady, and probably get a few good shots. But getting more than a few birds in the air, shots taken, and hitting the dirt, literally, to get excellent dog work on tape take more effort. Then, translating it digitally to the small screen so that you’ll watch it becomes the challenge. I’ve just given Tad, my editor, a rundown on what material should make up what episodes. While he’s logging it all in and turning it into bits and bytes, I’m drafting scripts for the “Buddy & Me” segments that were so popular on What the Dogs Taught Me, my last series.

We’re both looking at music options and Tad is working up examples of a graphics package (the colors, design and overall look of identifiers, credits, even the show logo need to be fully defined down to the exact frequency/wavelength of each color).

As things firm up, I’ll try to keep you posted, here.

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You want me to HOLD it, too?

Buddy: "Hold it!"

Once Buddy is solid on retrieving and holding a bird or bumper, it will be a matter of extending that hold indefinitely. Again, this is critical in almost every hunt test or field trial situation but more importantly in the field. Wing-clipped birds are highly motivated to scoot away given the chance, when a dog puts it down before the handler has his hands on it.

So, how have Buddy and I worked through this? Well, we are making progress. And as I said in an earlier post, it’s often more a test of my will than Buddy’s.

I have to resist giving the release command too soon, trying to pre-empt Buddy from a dropped bird. If he beats me, I give it back without repeating the retrieve command.

He’s to the point where when he drops early, a stink-eye look from me is enough to clue him into picking up again. I move away to encourage the pickup and a completed retrieve.

When Buddy is holding well, it’s my job to help by minimizing distractions or confusion. Confusion comes in many forms: leaning forward, premature praise (even reaching into the pocket I hide treats in), reaching for the bird, extending a hand, even if to praise with a stroke.

Instead, I’m using gestures to encourage holding, and distract Buddy from releasing until he hears that command. I will back up slowly, so he never knows when the retrieve is actually completed. I stand up straight, show empty hands (no treats, keep your mouth closed on the bird). I’ll wave one hand high to keep his head up (encourages holding). The other hand is ready below Buddy’s mouth for a surprise “thanks” when he least expects it.

I know professional dog trainers have other techniques, from toe pinch to e-collar “stimulation,” but I’m inclined to distance a bird in the mouth from any pain, emotional or physical

To this point, the jury’s still out. We’re getting closer by the day and that’s pretty good for us.

How about you? Especially when it’s time to “just add water,” and get a dog to hold once he’s emerged from a pond. Any suggestions?

Hey, some great shorthair-Lab tag team work at this excerpt from my show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSQ5OyCCjW4

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