I've been working on a couple of things: on Momo's tendency to creep a little when you walk in to flush a bird, and Jozsi crashing birds by getting too close, either because he's uncertain about a bird's location or because he wants to see it fly. And of course, he's two years old. Which is to say that I've been trying to figure out if its uncertainty or cockiness on his part. Here's Momo showing an unprecedented piece of self-discipline as the brace of quail ran from in front to directly behind him.
And so we've done some launcher work with both boys -- and been lucky to find a quail breeder fairly close by whose last two batches of birds have been energetic and spooky -- and as importantly fairly close to a friend's property that we can train on. The best part about our friend's property is that it used to be sown for arable crops and so while there are some really nice hedgerows and lines of cover, it is largely flat and open. So I can see Mr. Enthusiasm even when he's 300 yards away. No matter how carefully I handle them, Jozsi, though, is also smart enough that you can only do so much launcher work in a day before he'll just blink the launchers, knowing that they will rarely result in much fun for him.
I decided to put out quail in pairs without launchers this time -- and he made four awesome finds, standing off his birds a respectable distance with a nice high style. For every solid point, he gets lots of love and praise. I'm hoping this will just gently reinforce that a solid point, a flush, and a gunshot will come to equate 'good times' for him. On his second run after one good find, he then ripped out one bird in a hedgerow and then failed to stop-to-flush; after no praise, I sent him off in a different direction and watched him rip out a second bird 300yds away with no stop-to-flush. I called him to me and then made him stand in the middle of the field while I walked the 400yards back to the truck before calling him to me. In my frustration, it was the mildest thing I could think of that would be the least-fun for him. Wanting to end on a postive note, I put out another pair of birds for him. I think he inadvertently spooked the first bird, but stopped to flush, and I then worked the second bird for him without incident.
This is him waiting to be broken away for another cast. You can never fault his energy or application -- and heaven knows, he's kicked enough mud up in my face that I break him away from in front. But here are a few reflections:
- I realize that no matter how gifted he was as a young dog, Jozsi has still not had the volume of birds that Momo did by this point in his career. He needs birds to teach him his lessons.
- He is a great example of a dog almost spoiled by his Derby career. While he had at least one genuinely great broke-dog run as a Derby, he also got to pop a few birds here and there and that had to confuse him as to what the end-goals are.
- He therefore needs clear positive and negative signals -- and while I will use the e-collar to signal to him that he should have stopped-to-flush on a bumped bird, it will not be used as a punishment for a flushed bird. (I'm using the word 'signal' to mean that the e-collar sends a cue that is an extension of the snap of the buckle on the no-pinch collar.)
And while he is most definitely a work-in-progress, and as much as he can frustrate me, there is nothing like watching your dog sprint a field, break through a cover line and disappear, and then as you clear the same cover line, see him standing a bird in the next coverstrip. He breaks my heart, for better and for worse.