Posts Tagged ‘What the Dogs Taught Me’

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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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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