Jun 14, 2012, 2:02 PM EDT
By Jerry Sather
A well-socialized, trained dog isn’t tricky. It’s honest. It wants to please. When it encounters a situation in which it’s unsure of what the handler wants, it calls upon its mental Rolodex of experiences to try to remember something similar, then reacts based upon that experience. But if there’s nothing similar that can be a problem. That’s why we train – to build make that Rolodex as expansive as possible.
Use an actual hunt test as an example. Though we strive for realism in training, there is no way to duplicate every aspect of a hunt test or field trial outside of the events themselves. You can’t train on the exact location on the exact day. You can’t precisely anticipate what the judges will set for the test. You can’t assemble the size of the gallery or duplicate the other distractions of the event day. So even though you’ve been training your dog for steadiness through daily training sessions and drills, there’s still a high probability something about the situation is going to create different stimulus than the dog has ever encountered before.
And then there’s the test itself. Let’s say there’s an honor. But “honor” is a very generic term. Have you trained for a cold honor? Have you trained for a remote honor? Have you trained for an honor where you must sit in a chair, on a bucket or in a blind while the dog watches everything that’s going on? Have you trained your dog to honor from your left and from your right as well as in front of you? What about while you’re in the holding blind and the dog is out in front of you? Have you trained to honor thrown dead birds and well as fliers? Single pops versus multiple shots? The list is almost endless.
The best way to achieve success is to create a constant among all the scenarios, in this case, a constant in all honors. That constant gives the dog something to which it can flash back in trying to figure out what it’s supposed to do. So say you never send for a bird from the dog the “down” position– ever. Wouldn’t it give the dog an advantage in knowing that when you say “down” it’s not going to be moving until you say heel and walk back from the line? Hmmm….
But you have to remember creating this kind of constant has repercussions on the dog’s entire life. If you’re a waterfowl hunter who hunts lay out blinds in fields, you’ve probably trained the dog to retrieve from the “down” position. So suddenly trying to create this constant for events will do nothing but create confusion for that dog. You always have to look at the big picture of the dog’s life experience and stay a step ahead.
Sometimes you can use something new to your, and the dog’s, advantage.
A friend of mine had a dog that was nearly completed with her master title, but hadn’t reached this point until her later years. There’s been countless hours of training and nearly as many hunting trips leading up to this point. The dog had developed a mental block about releasing birds brought back to the line. It looked like it might prevent her from earning her title.
Then the day before a test my friend was building fence and pretty seriously injured his left hand. It required a bunch of stitches and a big wrap of bandages – nearly a cast – but he didn’t think much of it.
Next day at the test, he went to the test and took his dog to the line. The birds were thrown and the dog went out to pick up the flier first as she was supposed to. This freshly killed bird was always the worst for the dog to drop cleanly. But this time, she brought it back to the line and my buddy dropped his bandaged hand to take the bird from her mouth.
Having not been introduced to the bandage before, the dog had no idea what this new thing was. She looked at it and opened her mouth in what seemed like amazement, dropping the bird softly into his hand. She picked up and delivered all of the rest of the birds that day the same way and earned an orange ribbon – and an AKC MasterTitle.
Sometimes, we learn tricks of the trade, by accident!
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