I had a major breakthrough a couple of weeks ago when i suddenly came to a conclusion: I am not having difficulties training Hunter as such, I see the difficulties more with myself being torn between the people around me (handlers with their dogs also Hunter's littermates), my previous methods of training hunting dogs and being in the process of finally crossing over to using positive methods in the field only.
Some of you know our story so far and are waiting for an update. Heres a very quick briefing for those that missed our puppy posts: Hunter: a german wirehaired pointer (versatile hunting dog), male, now 7 months, very big dog and still growing! Puppy clicker trained nearly 100% (the rest using positive reinforcement only) an absolute sweetheart of a dog. Went to puppy classes, is very well socialised, loves to play with all his dog buddies and charms all two legged beings after only seconds! With about 5 months he started to discover what he was actually bred to do: use his nose to find prey and hunt! At the time I thought it was time to start training using prey etc. and promised many on this list for a regular update on hunters field training.
Well, I was very confused, unsure, frustrated and felt like an absolute beginner with her first ever dog! I am going to snip parts of a post I sent to carol whitney just a few days ago, it really sums up how I was feeling:
"Wasn't it over a month ago when I wanted to start posting about hunters field work? Well, the reason I haven't posted is because I decided to wait, I felt we weren't ready for it. I felt if I was going to start working with prey I would have to use a certain amount of force or should I say discipline for hunter to understand what he was allowed to do and what not this took me exactly a week to realise coz in that week I had major fallbacks with training. I felt pressured by the people around me, the owners of hunters littermates were all (apparently) retrieving etc. working on their first rabbit tracks, doing field searches and so on. I thought for a moment I had been doing everything wrong. I even caught myself putting the dumbbell in hunters mouth and holding his chin up :-( I felt awful. And do you know what made me feel worst of all. I was loosing hunter. I felt we had no contact. Our walks outside were a catastrophe. I caught myself pulling him out of the bushes and I even got loud with him once. That's when I realised I was really loosing him. that day he ignored me the whole walk, didn't even give me a glance. He made me snap out of it. it was as if he hit me in the face telling me what to do. I was going to work with him but slowly and with an endless amount of kindness. No more loud voice from then on. This was about a month an a half ago after I came out of hospital.
After I found out that the others were using spike prong collars to train the littermates to retrieve, I knew what I had decided was the way to go! We have until april next spring to learn how to retrieve and I am sure we will get there doing it our way. Just last week we had what I felt a major breakthrough. Its since that evening our bond has really tightened. This knot is getting difficult to loosen! Hunter was laying on the floor next to me while I was watching tv. He had his head resting on the sofa just looking at me, waiting for me to say something, praise, stroke him, I don't know. I just felt he wanted contact. I looked at him, stroked his fat nose with my finger tip. In return I got my whole hand licked ..hmmmmnnnnnn, I turned my face close to his and said, shall we play some dummy??? Making it sound out of this world. I couldn't pull my face back fast enough before I got a complete facial, and that free of charge!! We got up slowly walking to the kitchen building up his enthusiasm along the way, whispering wonderful things, praising him for looking at me. I got out the boiled turkey, he nearly freaked, did a drop, down, relax, sit, charged into his kennel, gave me a paw and then started the routine all over. Hmmmmnnnnnnn, no treat yet, boy, was he full of question marks! I got the dummy off the shelf and asked hunter for a sit. Held the dummy in front of his nose, he grabbed and held, I added my cue hold and he actually held for a few seconds. I wasn't going to push my luck and asked him to give it. he dropped it into my hand. Well, you can imagine what a turkey party we had!!!! I have been repeating this every day since then with everything he picks up in the house. Sometimes I don't have any treats so once he has given the object to me we run to the fridge and get the turkey out! Hunter just loves it!"
much to my surprise it even worked outside the other day when he found the front limb of a deer. He doesn't quite know the picking up of the objects but once I ask him to sit he`ll take anything and hold it. we played our game with this stinking limb and we had so much fun. He didn't need any treats for holding this yucky thing, it was treat enough just to get it back again for him!
"The most important thing and I think this is a major result of the positive approach, is that hunter will look at me with whatever he is holding in his mouth. Even if its only seconds for now, this is great! For me this is working together as a team. Many hunting dogs will retrieve objects without a problem but once it comes to prey they want to keep it, instinct takes over. I believe the strength of the relationship and trust between handler and dog is what counts when it comes to working with prey. This is why I had decided to wait with our field training a little while longer, to build a stronger bond. I am so glad that I decided this way."
No, I don't always use the clicker but I feel having treats and a smile ready at all times especially outside in the fields and forest, are definitely okay to keep us going when it gets difficult to handle a clicker besides holding the long leash, finding the whistle amongst the layers of rain coat, getting the treat ready to and reward a spontaneous recall (while watching a bird fly off etc.) that is about to be 100% successful! It's a handful believe me!
What gets me so down is talking to other handlers with their dogs and also the breeder. They all put this unnecessary pressure on me, telling me to be harder on the dog coz he should be retrieving by now or doing this and that. Just yesterday the breeder told me that I must start using force to get him into the down now. He said I should do it now before the dog is fully grown otherwise I wouldn't be able to handle him anymore. This telephone call was a total waste of time and money. All I wanted to tell him was that hunter was doing very well and was turning into a very handsome male. Hunters down is the most wonderful behaviour totally clicker trained, when he´s in doubt he will always throw in a down! And I just love it!
So, as you can see we are not yet into field work really, we are still getting to know eachother better. we are taking one step at a time. Do you know? Hunter has the rest of his doggy life to hunt, I don't think he´s missing out on anything just yet.
We are working hard on LLW and heeling and we are getting really good. I leash him onto the short leash once during every walk, usually when we are in the deepest part of the forest where it smells the best, and we train heel. We are up to 10 mins of perfect heeling with a few sits and downs in between. I still use turids method of being a tree and I find that it suits me fine. It takes hunter about three to five stops / feezes, when I feel he starts to pull the leash tight, for him to catch on, swing his head round and come back to my knee, collect his treat and stay close. Our recalls are about 3 to five per walk and are near perfect. When hunter is on the long leash I allow him to sniffle and check out everything that is in his space. He points every thing that lives! In time he will make choices and point only the interesting things like real birds and rabbits and hares and foxes etc. this is only a matter of time and routine.
Guess what! Remember how hunter used to bite into my hands and towel after a walk in the rain when I had to towel him dry? I decided to ignore this and its all gone. He is very good about being handled. I gave him time to get used to it and made him feel it was no big deal and just a part of daily routine.
Just a quick drift back into the past: I started Estons (my previous gwp) training in a very positive way many years ago and actually got a long way into teenage training. I began field work when he was five months old, we earned our first field titles when he was only 7 months old and continued this high level of training and hunting throughout his second and third year. Again we came in first in every single test we entered, eston was a very passionate hunting dog and lived for really nothing else. I was a first time handler then (with gwps, I had trained my two retrievers for fieldwork prior to eston) and one of the very few women around in this field of training. Needless to say eston had an above average natural hunting ability and was extremely passionate and I did use traditional methods. I made a promise to myself even before estons death that I was never going to be so fanatic ever again. I want a dog to be dog too. and most of all I want to have fun training my dog without feeling pressure from around me or even creating my own training pressure. I believe that these ups and downs will certainly continue for a while. But as long as the ups do come in, I am very sure that I will pull this through.
Thank you for reading this far! :-) Love to everyone
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