Thursday, 24 April 2014

Training at Rockstead Farm

As the gravel grey clouds  dissolved and a soft ray of sunshine fell upon Rockstead Farm I felt our training session was going to be a dry and constructive one! 
We started the evening with a marked retrieve using the fence as a natural line to encourage the dogs to keep straight. I sent Ivy out and she seemed hesitate even though she had marked the dummy. I used the 'back' command to encourage her to continue and pick the dummy which she delivered back to hand nicely.  I then did the same exercise again but this time a blind retrieve in the same area. Ivy went out slowly and stopped looking back for guidance/reassurance. I used the 'back' command and then the whistle to ask her to hunt which helped her to find the dummy and deliver back to hand. After a couple more marked retrieves through cover and across the field our final challenge of the evening was a marked split retrieve. One dummy thrown to the right hand corner of the field and the second to the left hand corner of the field. I decided to send Ivy out to the left hand corner of the field which was the last dummy thrown. Again she was slow and hesitate to go out but once I gave her the back command several times she continued to the area of the dummy and delivered back to hand. When I sent her out for the 2nd retrieve I decided to push her far right so she ran alongside the edge of the cover and headed for the correct area. Once I gave the hunt whistle she found the dummy and retrieved to hand nicely. As the evening progressed I observed a distinct lack of drive or desire with Ivy. I'm not sure why and I don't have the experience to offer a reason for this behaviour but I do realize a dog's drive is vulnerable and can be easily damaged so it is important to nurture and protect her desire to retrieve.  I will put the dummies away for a few days and try again at the weekend.
Lessons learnt and reflection:
  • Ivy went out in a straight line but on several retrieves she didn’t return in a straight line. She found the easy route to return rather than returning through cover in a straight line. Does it matter if Ivy picks her own retrieving path, particularly on the return?  I believe it could cost points  if a  dog fails to hold a straight line in a working test. There are also safety issues which could arise if the dog chooses their own route. Out trainer made a useful suggestion that in the early days, particularly with a young dog it's important to walk the route (with your dog) to where you want your dog to go out in a straight line, place the dummy down and walk your dog back in a straight line so the dog knows this is the route it needs to take. If I allow Ivy to choose her return route it may become a learned behaviour which could lead to further problems down the line.
  • On several occasions Ivy showed a lack of confidence in going out on a straight marked and blind retrieve. 50 yards after being sent out she stopped, turned and looked at me for guidance/reassurance. Instead of using the ‘back’ command to encourage her to continue  a suggestion was made to call her back in and send her out again. I need to make sure my physical and verbal commands are consistent, keep the task simple and set her up to succeed.
As the last of the sun cast its slanted beams of light across the field I enjoyed watching the other handlers in the group work their dogs. Observing the bond growing between dog and handler. I’m in no doubt that a strong bond forms the foundation of my  relationship with my dogs. Gun dog training is part of my commitment to nurturing a positive relationship with them. The process is on going and sometimes I feel like it’s two steps forward and one step back but knowing I’m making progress is rewarding in itself. This was an enjoyable training session with a group who are keen and supportive and most of all display a positive passion for this pursuit.

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