Friday, 9 April 2010

You win some, you lose some

I'm no dog training expert. That is not false modesty, believe me. When I married Mike, my new wifely duties included responsibility for our 8 dogs. I'm learning on my feet.

I read books, and get advice when I'm stuck, but I inherited a pack of full-grown, half-wild spaniels, many re-homed to Mike with behavioural "quirks". Jazz is afraid of people (unless it's a shoot day), Nellie simply walks home if she doesn't like something, or she feels she's done enough for the day. Pip smiles, Dakota likes to body check other dogs when she meets them, Podge had terrible recall. I could go on.

Most of my dog training has been behaviour modification and re-direction. Trying to fix problems rather than prevent them. A certain amount of acceptance goes along with this kind of training. Does the spaniel work in the field? Does she reliably bring back game? Does she come back when you call her? Good enough. Ok, so she pulls on the lead a bit, or she doesn't sit to the gunshot. Or she works a bit farther away than you'd like. The birds are found and counted, and the dogs are happy in their work.

Spud the flatcoat is my first puppy, bought and paid for new out of the showroom. She's 13 months old now and I've been working on just obedience training with her. Now she's ready for the next stage, and the start of her working training. So when I was invited to join the local Flatcoat Retriever Training Group (we have small specialist groups for everything in England) I jumped at the chance. Especially as the email said "all ages and levels welcome".

There were 10 participants plus dogs, and we met yesterday evening in a farmer's field. Having never trained a puppy from scratch I had no idea of what to expect. I was the least experienced, and Spud was the only puppy - it was the ignorant leading the young. With an audience.

A flatcoat party (with a few cocker crashers)

Well, Spud did wonderfully. A dummy was thrown, she marked it, retrieved it to hand and even held it until I took it from her. When I whistled, she came back and sat next to me. There were lots of ohs and ahs and well dones all around. She practiced this exercise a few times and seemed to enjoy herself. The group gave me some coaching and ideas for improvement, but Spud got an A for her first class. And, she didn't get car sick on the half hour drive - first time!

An experienced dog and handler show us how it's done

But it's never that easy. I woke up this morning and before I'd even had my first cup of tea, Mike came in to tell me Hazel had run off. Hazel only ever runs off when Mike walks her. So I had to pull on some clothes and get on the quad bike and head off in the direction of 'last seen running'. I bumped into neighbors walking dogs, driving tractors, and trimming sheep and asked them to keep an eye out.

Two hours later, farmer's son shows up at the back door with a happy, dirty, and tired Hazel on a piece of rope. I think some more behavior modification training is in order - fetching, recall, praise. But if I get an invite to the local Spaniel Training Group, I might have to decline for awhile. All ages and levels is fine, but only if you can find your spaniel.

If I had to write a dog training book, here are some appropriate titles:

"Bloody dog, would you come HERE!!" - Training the Montero Way

Coming Back from Your Walk with As Many Dogs as You Started With

"Seriously, I'm Going to Tie a Log to That Thing to Slow Her Down" and Other Hints to Get Your Dog to Listen

Number Your Dogs and Name Them All 'Oi!' - Top Tips for Organising Your Kennel


martha in mobile said...

This is very funny! Truly, I think you have the chapter headings of a great book.

Paula said...

You remind me that I was thinking this week, while watching my extremely obedient thirteen-year-old dog come in from outside, that when he's gone, and we have to get a new dog, we're going to have to start all over in the training department, and that Rufus has us thoroughly spoiled.

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

I would like to invite you to take a look at some of my posts at Gordon Setter Crossing. Go to the "Training" posts and also "Our Gordons". You may find a few helpful posts about training for bird dogs. Another resource would be "my favorite blogs" These in particular may be helpful: For Love of dogs and birds, Upland Equations, A Bird Hunters Thoughts, The Black and Tan Bombshell, and an Upland Odyssey, all are bird dog blogs. Hope this helps!

Jennifer Montero said...

Martha - Chapter heading for a book no one should have to read! But I'm glad it made you laugh

Paula - I know SO many people who've said "We got another [insert breed here] because our last one was so lovely and well trained, but THIS one..." At least you sound prepared. Rufus sounds like a very special dog.

Karen - I certainly will check out those links, thank you. It helps to see how others with more experience approach their training programs.

I am finding it much easier to train a pup from the beginning, rather than retrain ones with bad habits. Blame my husband for the half-trained pack!

Colette said...

You really should write a book Jen. (also do you want Lily to train. So far we have the 'Mummy is cross with you so roll on your back and look all lovvey dovvey. Whoops!! How did that food jump off the side onto the floor next to me look!!'

Off to see sheep tomorrow!!!!!!!!! Things I do for a fleece!! (Shame he isn't taller and not so 'in need' if you get my drift!!)

Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - Sounds like you have the title for your first book on training Goldies. Enjoy the fleece show, come back with lots of info to share with the knitting group. And I'm still keeping my eye out for a taller model for you.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Congratulations on Spud's first day! But don't give Spud all the credit -- YOU trained him.

There are a couple of animal training books by the late Vicki Hearne that I think are very lucid and useful. (Forgive me if I already mentioned her on your blog ... I repeat myself WAY too much.) Her approach to dogs and horses seemed smart and effective, never doctrinaire. Her basic philosophy was that you needed to make the animal understand -- clearly and unequivocally -- what was expected, and make doing it worth its while, either with something pleasant for doing it or something unpleasant for not doing it. I know your reading list is already long ...

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - No, you're not repeating yourself and I am grateful for the info. I try to keep up with training philosophies and yet I'd never heard of Vicki Hearne. I trust your recommendations so I'm heading over to amazon now. There's always room on the reading list!