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