The dogs are less impressed. Jazzy and Nellie, who have definite likes and dislikes in life, do not go for evening walks in very bad weather. I leave the door open in case they wish to nip out of their kennels and do their necessaries. The others are mostly immune, including Pip who is the wimpiest dog I've ever known. She came out with me to feed the horses and happily mooched around, checking out the rabbit holes in the hedges. They will work in this weather without complaint.
Hazel is another tough little spaniel; as long as you offer her a game of fetch with a tennis ball, she will follow you anywhere in any weather. But, there's a problem with Hazel. If she's hunting in cover, she will not come back when she's called. And very occasionally on a morning walk, she makes a beeline in a flat-out run to the corner of the field, across the road and into the neighboring woods to hunt. She's what's called a 'self-employed' spaniel.
It's made taking her out on shoot days a huge gamble. I can't afford to lose a dog and hold up the team, or fall behind and leave them to pick up my slack. But Hazel is a great retriever. She lives to retrieve. When she brings me back a bird, she doesn't want food, or praise. I reward her by giving her a tennis ball to carry. She sits, obeys hand signals at a distance, waits to be told to retrieve. It's just this running away thing, but it's a BIG thing.
Assorted dog training goodies hanging in the porch
Hazel was offered to us as a working dog that wouldn't retrieve. Mike needed a dog just to run birds home, no retrieving involved, so we thought we could give her a home and a job. We adopted her at 4 years old and she'd had a rough time until then. We put her in the kennel with Nellie and they have become firm friends. At the beginning Hazel was aloof but over time she has become a lot more affectionate and involved.
I've done nothing but be consistent with training based on positive reinforcement. Turns out she retrieves like a thing possessed when she's rewarded for the behavior. But unless she has something to bring me, I can't trust her to come back. Mike and I have had many discussions about rehoming her. A dog that won't come back is no good for chasing birds or retrieving them. I am running out of options to give her a good working life.
In desperation, I have bought a shock collar. I'm really conflicted about this. Hazel had a shock collar used in her training before we had her, and it was used on her with cruel intent . I feel like a heel even thinking about it.
Yet, under circumstances such as chasing deer or cars, or running off, these collars are said to be effective. I've seen it work - in one case I know it saved the dog's life. I charged it up and put it on setting 2 (1 is lowest, 8 is highest) and put it around my neck and stood barefoot on the carpet, and pushed the button. It made me squeal. This sucks.
My plan is to put it around her neck every time she comes out of the kennel, and just work on our basic training with positive reinforcement as usual. And I should never have to use the collar until that day she makes a break for it. I will blow the 'stop' whistle and if that doesn't stop her, I'll give her a #2 shock, and praise her when she comes back. In a perfect world, she will learn the first or second time. Even if she has to wear the collar as a 'just in case', it means I can take her out into the shooting field to work more. And she'll be happier doing what she's bred to do. Is this the end justifying the means?
It's been charged up, sat on my desk for a few days and I haven't had the heart or stomach to put it on the little dog. I don't want to re-home her, she's had enough upset in her life. And Nellie would be just as heartbroken to lose her.
Mike always says "No dog should be an only child". This was evident today when Dakota was sulking about the house by herself. It was too wet to be outside and all her playmates were in the kennel. She looked forlorn. I brought her favorite playmate Podge in the house for a bath and left them to play together for the afternoon while I made soup.
Podge makes use of the furniture to dry off on. She's found one of my homemade dog retrieving toys: a length of tubifast bandage stuffed with old socks and tied on each end. Much cheaper than buying the canvas dummies, especially at the rate we go through them. The other favorite toy is a pheasant, sans stuffing, which is great for a game of tug-of-war
One day I'll be bigger than you!
I fell for a gamekeeper which means I fell into a gamekeeper's life. Dogs are the remit of the 'keeper's wife. I'm trying to learn as fast as I can, to make sure the dogs have the best quality of life they can. I wholeheartly love these little dogs and it's hard when you think you fail one. I hope this chapter will have a happy ending, for the dogs first and for me second.