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Posts Tagged ‘whoa training’

Along with the other things we’re practicing, Manny is now learning that a gun shot means “whoa.” Yep, I sometimes shoot birds that fly wild, nowhere near my dogs, especially on a slow day, the first day, the last day, or any day when adrenaline is flowing faster than wisdom. If and when I actually hit something, I want my dogs to find it.

By stopping to the shot (or a flush, or a command or a whistle) Manny and Buddy might actually see the bird drop. If not, at least they are ready for the fetch command and a hand signal assist to the general area. When a chukar tumbles among the rockfall, I like to think they appreciate the heads-up – literally.

In the NAVHDA Utility Test, there are several instances where a shot-equals-whoa sequence will come in handy: after pointing birds in the field, sure. But also when standing at the duck blind, watching birds fly and hearing shots from several directions. The duck search also includes a shot and a pause prior to sending him to the water.

As an aside, I’ve found many uses for a long whistle as another “whoa” command, much like the retriever guys use. Last night, Manny did me proud – 150 yards from me, he locked up tight when I trilled. Good boy!

Bang, tweet, whirr ... all mean "whoa"

Bang, tweet, whirr … all mean “whoa”

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What, if anything, do you say now?

What, if anything, do you say now?

I’m pretty well whoa-trained. When telling a dog to stop, I slam on the brakes too. It’s one of the funny things about that word that got me wondering how differently we think – and act – about the whoa command than we do about other commands.

Along with the barrel, gut hitch, place board, half-hitch, training table, pinch collar, e-collar on the flank or whatever strategy you use, something often gets lost – our ability to speak. If you subscribe to the belief that once a dog scents a bird “whoa” is an obedience command, why do we clam up once the dog obeys?

Check yourself: Fido is coursing a field and slams into a point. If you’re me, you’d also lock up, eventually realizing you’re in charge and need to do something – hopefully while the dog remains staunch. You might skulk toward the dog and bird, or stride purposefully, but how many of us proceed silently, hoping against hope that our dog holds still?

Meanwhile, the dog considers his options: he’s done what comes naturally (point) and wants to do what next comes naturally (pounce). He might have been taught a pounce is verboten, but without feedback, there’s a fifty-fifty chance he’ll get what he wants.

Is that okay with you?

Instead, quit expecting your mouth to “whoa” when he does. After all, Gunner heels in the yard, you praise. Coming back with a bird in his (soft) mouth merits a scratch behind the ears. But that end-swapping point on sketchy bobwhites is met by a silence as heavy as the moment between sermon‘s conclusion and congregation’s “amen.”

To a young dog torn between primitive passion and desire to please you, a word of praise may mean all the difference. I know Manny’s steadiness improved once I began delivering positive feedback instead of zipping my lips.

How about you? Does a cat get your tongue when your dog scents a bird?

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The end result (starring Buddy here), I hope.

Electronic training collars have many uses, but until recently I avoided using one around birds like a dog avoids baths. But once you figure out that steadiness on birds is a two-part process, your outlook might change. Mine did. First, a dog instinctively slams into a tail-stiffening point. That part, we all get. A whiff of bird scent or sight of a bird should take care of that unless your dog’s pedigree included a cardboard box and hand-lettered “you pick” sign.

The second part of the sequence (“steadiness”) is where I’ve just become enlightened, thanks again to Bob Farris, trainer and NAVHDA judge.  In the hunt test judging process, the point is the first stage of judging – i.e., does the dog have the genetic programming to point when prey is upwind of him. But the judging criteria change the moment the dog sees you in the picture, literally or figuratively. That is where the canine rubber meets the obedience road.

Manny (and I’d bet, all “finished” dogs) needs training to stay on point until I want him to 1) see the bird drop, getting ready for the retrieve or 2) continue to hunt after my release, because I missed again. When he enters a scent cone, Manny assumes an elegant point , leg up and forward a bit. But a few moments of staring at the source of enticing smell, a walking, flapping bird or – worse – a flushing bird, will test any dog’s resolve. It’s just natural to chase, so the key is making it clear he’s been ordered to stand still.

Some use the usual verbal or hand signal. Some transition to a secret code heel shuffle, other noise or gesture. I’m figuring that for us the key is treating that part of the point-steady drill for what it is: an obedience situation. Until this revelation, I was loathe to use any “enforcer” stronger than a checkcord, gut hitch or tap on Manny’s flank. I feared an e-collar might sour a dog to birds – especially if I had to use it.

But if he’s been thoroughly drilled in “whoa” with many and different distractions, birds simply become another distraction from the command he knows so well.  Tempting, sure, but just a sidebar to an obedience test. Now that I’ve gotten over that, we’ve made some quantum leaps.

So far, Manny’s only been lit up (gently) a couple times. These days, merely seeing me holding the transmitter is enough to keep him steady during birds flapping in his face, “covey flushes” at his feet, and even birds perching on his back. Today, twice, we had flawless training sessions. Tomorrow, who knows? But I feel like we’re on the right track.

Have you worked through this?

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Now, it becomes a “whoa” command.

Thanks to NAVHDA trainer, judge and Pudelpointer breeder Bob Farris, my eyes have been opened so wide, I’m gonna need Visine! Of the many things he’s enlightened me about, steadiness while on birds was perhaps the most useful to me, and maybe to you.

We all have our methods for teaching staunchness. Barrel, table, half-hitch, collar, place board, winch, tow truck … all have their merits. But those are merely practical applications of a theory I’d never quite grasped.

Think about the temptation, the challenge, the genetic motivators for breaking point. After all, a point is merely a pause prior to pouncing on prey (just watch a coyote working a field for mice). Sure, we can stretch the length of that pause, but at some point we must overcome instinct alone or he will pounce.

As a judge, Bob is asked to evaluate every piece of the point-flush-shot-fall-retrieve process. There are different goals for each, the most important being the separation of instinct (the moment a dog smells the bird and points) from obedience (when he’s led to understand he must hold that point, indefinitely).

So, Bob says break the sequence into those two pieces: 1) the point … instinct; 2) staying staunch … obedience. That’s how they’re judged in a NAVHDA Utility Test, because that’s a good way to ensure reliable performance in the field (a dog that’s steady to wing-shot-fall).

Manny is catching on … now, if his handler can! He’s learning that a whiff of bird equals point. But he’s also learning that once I’m in the picture giving the whoa command, instinct is out, obedience is in. Eventually, the verbal command will become a hand signal, then simply a “look.” But by then, he’ll understand that a human that walks to the bird means the same thing as “whoa,” a hand signal, the sound of a flush, a gunshot or long whistle: do not move.

We love our dogs for their instinctive skills and how we can join them in the hunt, the two of us making a team that is stronger than either individual. There are plenty of times when the dog’s instincts are paramount. Others, when obedience and cooperation must trump those genetic signals.

What’s worked for you?

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When the training fun begins

“Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” While not originally coined for dog trainers, it is a worthy axiom, especially in the area of steadiness to wing, shot, and fall. Every step, every cracked twig or ruffling wing feather is an invitation to Manny. As if a bird were saying “C’mon, pup, I dare you to flush me.”

In getting him ready for a fall NAVHDA Utility Test this may be the ultimate bugaboo. See, he’s had two television seasons of solid points and backs, then olley-olley-oxen free once the bird flies.

I’m liking the general idea of centering his steadiness training on stop-to-flush. It seems to be the method of choice for my online friends who train a lot of dogs. But more importantly, it embodies the entire best-worst philosophy. Ultimately, every bird flies. If that act is the “command” for whoa, how can you go wrong? (You tell me!)

Several trainers I respect start with the concluding portion of any command (“hold” then the rest of the retrieve, for example). The flush corresponds nicely to this. Then, everything leading up to the whoa-to-flush becomes natural.

Manny is already a staunch pointer. It’s the next steps that will need diligence on both our parts. What say you?

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