My apologies to my loyal readership. (The Regal Vizsla does have 13 Followers, so I think that counts for some measure of loyalty.) I have been fretting a little over what to do with my dogglers, The Mominator and Mr. Enthusiasm.
There's an adage that says that the owner-trainer-handler will screw up their first bird-dog just because, well, it's your first bird-dog. And Momo's tendency to get a little creepy at times is, when I'm honest with myself, the product of my ignorance and mixed messages. And trying to repeat the same command simply louder only makes his skin thicker.
And so I've been trying to be mindful of that as Jozsi grows up, trying to keep things light but clear and firm, trying to find the line between over-training and under-training, and trying to channel all his energy and application without curbing it. As folks who do read this blog regularly will know, I've been trying to figure out why he had started to creep a little and occasionally pop birds. And along the way, he started to flag on point. And while I initially thought it might be over-confidence (him just sooo excited to go in for a bird), I now think it might be a lack of confidence (because if I find him standing completely rigid, it's because he has the bird in view, too). A lack of confidence as a result of what, I have genuinely no idea. And the answer might just be developmental.
This fall I spent time getting him on wild birds that wouldn't sit still for his creeping, using launchers, and then settling on using Higgins Remote Releasers instead. These allow me to keep a bird in a spot I want him to find one in, to have the bird be fully awake (and not dizzied or slept) and therefore able to flush whenever it feels pressured, and my timing with the remote doesn't have to be quite as spot-on as it does with a launcher. And, unlike a launcher, it is completely quiet. With both devices, you do also need to be sure to find birds that can fly.
But in the last month or so, I've decided to come even further back to basics with him: the checkcord and the no-hurt collar, overlayed with the e-collar. The point of all of these tools, at least in the West-Gibbons method (as illustrated by the Steady with Style blog), is communication not necessarily correction, per se. The blunt brads on the no-hurt collar serve to provide a leverage point so you can pop the strap and buckle and create an acoustic as well as a tactile cue; while it does use electric stimulation or 'shock,' the e-collar is used at a level to merely get the dog's attention rather than apply corrective pressure -- and obviously liberates the dog and handler from the checkcord. Perhaps I should just have re-read The Bird Dog Training Manual. As Bill West student, Dave Walker writes in his foreword: "Repetition and consistency are essential. The training is not linear; it is cyclic... You must constantly go over previously learned experiences as you introduce new ones." (p.xv) And so, I've been going back over heeling with the collar and e-collar, and getting Jozsi reacquainted to the cues.
The first picture is of Jozsi from last Thursday, standing tall in a snowstorm. He's not wearing his collar and checkcord because we'd successfully completed two repetitions beforehand and I wanted him to both test him slightly and reward him by letting him run free. And he did his job beautifully, despite the weather and his father messing with a camera.
The next picture is from this morning. I had gone up to TMT with three friends from work, to serve as their guide and to get in some training with both boys. And while I would love Momo to stand still and not anticipate the flush, the fact remains that despite being 'our first birddog,' he does all kinds of things really well. And he looks lovely here.
And while Momo hauled in a bushel of birds, the highlight of the day was taking Jozsi out for a little structured training. In an attempt to keep him fired up and hopefully settle his tail, I wanted one of my friends to shoot a bird, to see if he'd stay steady-to-fall, and to send him out as if for a retrieve. (I say 'as if' because I haven't done hardly anything with him.) And all I can say is it felt like almost two years ago, that moment when I realised I might have something really special on my hands. He was in full uniform -- no-hurt collar, e-collar and checkcord -- and stopped nicely with only scent and no clear view of the Releaser. I styled him up, dropped the cord, and flushed the chukar. Ed knocked it down mostly dead and there was Jozsi, still standing, rapt. And probably to his surprise, I told him to 'bring it'. And he did, even after bobbling the kicking bird. It was like watching that almost-5mos old puppy all over again.
And I had the brains to listen the voice in my head that said, 'Stop now. He was perfect. Let him hold that as his last memory of the day.' Here's hoping that this was the first of many perfect days.