Wednesday, January 21, 2009

another training update

We had another beautiful day of training up at TMT today with the snow still relatively light and ice-free. We are genuinely blessed to have access to Tom's property when he's closed to run the two monsters, put out some training birds, and maybe get lucky and round up something that a previous set of clients has missed.

As usual, I put the Mominator down first to let him stretch his legs -- doubting that we'd find anything that previous guests and the hawk population had left behind. He'd been out the car for 2 mins before he froze up. And I'm looking and looking. And realize that for one of the very few times, he's actually false-pointing a hotspot that had housed a bird relatively recently (complete with a few small feathers and some fairly fresh blood; the cold and the small depression the bird had been in were clearly holding some pretty dense scent.). And so after I release him, he is like a dog-possessed. Now Momo is always hunting, but it would be unusual for him to ever score a '10' on a hunt test for his hunting drive. But he was clearly now on a '9'. We trogged up a hill and I found him standing tall on a rooster pheasant in a brushpile which, once it saw me, bolted on foot. Sadly, we never found it again. But the Mominator was most definitely in the mood. But we came back around to the truck and I started to load the blank-pistol and assemble various bits-and-bobs before getting Mr. Enthusiasm out for his sprintfest. And I see this, 10 yards from the truck... Mominator all stretched out pointing a chukar. So I grabbed my gun again and Momo was steady-to-fall and brought the bird right back to hand. Awesome. Actually his biggest hurdle in bringing it back directly to hand is that his butt is wiggling so much with excitement that his head moves, too.

After last week's experiment with pigeon poles and (broken) fishing line, I had decided to try some flight limiters (string tresses and a 1ft length of rubber house for weight) on the chukar we brought out with hopefully just enough weight to hopefully get them to fly a dozen yards or so. Needless to say, all chukars are not created equal and some flew further than others. None were lost however. I decided to get Jozsi on a check-cord and pinch-collar again instead of jumping back directly into the e-collar and he handled his first two birds great -- and as importantly he seemed to have internalized that once he's cast off again in a different direction, he was not to come back around and try and work the bird he'd just been on. Progress. But one thing I did notice was that when he was brought back to locate one of those two initial birds he'd already worked, even though it had flushed and was now someplace else, he was flagging his points and may even have blinked one of those birds (whereas he'd then go ahead and set up nicely on a third bird he'd never pointed before). And so while I had only 'toned' him once all day, I was feeling like I'd just screwed up my dog from a week ago.

So I put him up, took the limiters off the three birds, resolving to return one to the coop, and put the other two down again for Mominator to run. But I also figured that I should just get Mr. Enthusiasm out and let him run around and at least have his day end enthusiastically -- and if it went well, great. And so off they went... and perhaps, of course, Jozsi found the first bird and stood just fine. The picture is of a poor, slightly torn Momo... I hadn't called 'whoa' for him, but to reassure Jozsi about his point... but he had stopped, caught sight of Jozsi's point behind him, but knew he wasn't supposed to move. (If you can see it in the picture, Jozsi was wearing his roading harness from Christies for the first time just to get used to it before we start asking him to drag some cables.The bird, incidentally, is about 2ft in front of Jozsi's nose; he is actually making a really cool sideways downward glance without moving his head.) I got the bird up, and brought it down, also figuring that if necessary I would let Jozsi go hunt dead and mouth it to keep him psyched. But he saw that bird hit the snow and was off after it.

We then worked the second bird and while I was little nervous that Jozsi had come close to it but not given any indication of scenting it, I was at least a little happier that he hadn't obviously blinked it. Momo ran right up alongside it and came to an immediate frosty-frozen U-turn. This caught Jozsi's attention who then barreled up and managed to catch himself before blowing the bird. To his credit, Momo held solid despite the incoming vizsla-missile. Again, Momo stood still while Jozsi bolted as the bird hit the snow... but overshot it on the way out and Momo got in a speedy retrieve. It was good to end the day seeing evidence that Jozsi was clearly not entirely turned off by gamebirds and that, in fact, a little unintentional fraternal competition might have improved things for both boys.

The thing I realised in the truck on the way home was that I had seen Jozsi's flagging points elsewhere... when we had used birds in launchers. And so I am beginning to believe that he is a smart enough dog with a good enough nose to realise that if a gamebird also smells of fishing line or duct-tape or aluminum something isn't quite right and so it doesn't trigger his rigid point instinct. Now we need to get some training time on quail so he can point a bunch of birds that won't fly super far away.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

training update + thank you

We're back! We weren't really away, in fact we already had a day up TMT on the 3rd with Bob + Belle. It was the first day we had been back on birds since Jozsi's trial on December 6th. And holy heck, it was like unleashing the beasts from hell. Not quite that bad, but Jozsi is certainly not intimidated by pheasants and any bird that thinks running is an option has misunderstood the odds of survival. He got three... all quick flash-points before the bird moved, and then it was all over. To be fair to Jozsi, he surprised one bird so completely that it flushed and flew straight into a tree breaking its own neck. It was the first time Bob had really seen Jozsi run up at TMT since the fall and he was floored. The boy eats up ground... but desperately needs to re-acquire his bird manners.

We had hoped to get up to see Jen, Dennis, and Sally today and tomorrow, but they have gnarly icy crust on the ground completely unsuitable for hard-running dogs. But they just have snow up at TMT and even though they are closed mid-week, we were able to use the grounds and a couple of chukar to train with. It's clear to me that Jozsi knows what he's supposed to be doing, but not being able to correct him forcefully in trials has made him a little too sure of himself. I decided to rig some tethers and lines so we could re-work the chukar we had. If I'd had the supplies and the ground wasn't frozen, I'd have prefered to use a proper 'pigeon pole' (ie. a 8-10ft pole instead of two tie-out stakes). The nice part about pigeon poles is that if you have enough low cover and enough line (I use 20-30ft of 30lb test fishing line), you simply slip some tresses on the bird, clip it on, and from that point on the bird is getting air-washed and less and less scented with you, the handler. Obviously, you only flush each bird two or three times before changing it out for another -- but depending what your end goal is you can then in theory place it back in its coop.

So, while I would have preferred to have had a second person so that we could have more easily gone through the progression from check-cord, to pinch-collar, and then the e-collar, I know that he knows what he's supposed to do and so felt fairly confident going directly back to his e-collar alone. The picture shows him doing exactly the right thing on the first bird; the second bird, though, he took one too many steps and it flushed. And although he stopped-to-flush, when I heeled him away and cast him off he went back around and chased it. Mr. Sparky called his name as he was about to grab the bird in his mouth. He then tried to grab bird #3 -- Mr. Sparky was now hollering his name. Bird #4 went great -- probably because a) he had somehow scented it from about 30ft and b) the line broke right at the stake and despite trailing 30ft of line, the chukar was out of there. Bird #5 was also good, despite the bird being a little tangled somewhere down the line and unable to really flush more than a few feet.

I then unclipped the one remaining bird and put out another fresh one to see if I could keep Momo steady-to-fall while I shot them. And he did great bringing it to hand, his entire body wiggling with excitement. He probably did so well on the first because it was slightly hidden from sight by a small hummock; the second bird literally popped its head out of cover as Momo was closing in on it and immediately flushed -- for which he stopped nicely. I thought I'd marked it down well, but after 10 mins of Momo fruitlessly dashing around I decided to call it a day. So while I was getting my gun case out and sorting stuff, I let both boys out together. Needless to say after a couple of minutes I saw Jozsi angling his way back down towards me and the truck clearly following scent -- and then I see the bird 6ft from me. Both dogs stop as I'm hollering 'whoa' -- and I go find my shotgun again. Both dogs held as I got the bird in the air and brought it down. Momo hadn't really had the opportunity to honor in this situation, but we do the drill enough times on our morning walk that he knows not to break when he's behind Jozsi. But Jozsi held his stance, despite having the additional distraction of having the bird drop 20yds away in plain view. After a scrappy start, he is starting look like a bird-dog again.


In some ways the second half of this blog entry is a thank-you to a bunch of folks who made 2008 a great year for us and the dogs -- especially since we started trialing Mr. Enthusiasm.

The first segment, though, is an endorsement. I have been a loyal GunDogSupply customer for three years, but after seeing their sponsor banner at Strideaway, I clicked on the DogsUnlimited catalogue and was excited to see canine models and a selection of training books that were geared toward those of us who have something other than German Shorthairs, Pointers, Labradors, or English Setters. (Don't get me wrong, these are also awesome dogs... some of our best friends are GSPs and ESs.) The reason I still shop with GunDogSupply is that I know I can always speak directly to Steve Snell, the owner of Gun Dog Supply, and get his opinion; I know now that I can always get the same kind of informed opinion from Alan Davison at Dogs Unlimited. And so, while many of us lament the loss of customer service in corporate America, I'd encourage you to try either of these places.

Incidentally, while I think I may have seen the headline this spring, speaking to the folks at DogsUnlimited reminded me that approximately 230 people lost their jobs at New England Firearms (NEF) in Gardner, MA, this holiday season. NEF is the imprint of Harrington & Richardson who makes the 1871 starter pistol; H&R was owned by Marlin, which in turn was bought by Remington in December 2007, and was promptly put into mothballs pending "manufacturing consolidation." It's hard to imagine the dog training world without the H&R 1871 pistol -- and be aware that, for now, Remington is not shipping any new guns or spare parts to dealers.

In the meantime, here's a quick thank-you to some of the folks who've given their time and opinions freely as we've dived in to trialing: Kim Sampson at Upland Equations and Strideaway, Katrina Sullivan, Bill Felins, Bob Seelye, Joan Heimbach, Mike Spies at Living with Birddogs and Dale Hernden at LoBank. If something will ensure the long tradition of field trialing in the U.S., it's the kind of enthusiasm and encouragement you've shared with me and my two lunatics.


For now, Jozsi will run one more Open Derby stake -- most likely in late February -- and will then spend however long getting absolutely steady, going from 'green-broke' to just plain 'broke'. He needs a lot more training time before we put him in an adult stake -- and there's no sense in letting him unlearn by putting him in Derby stakes for the heck of it.

We'll continue training with Momo, too, so that hopefully he can try out for MH in May.