For the past week or so, I have gone back to 'barrel' training with The Mominator -- although using a roughly 18" x 24" Rubbermaid storage tub as the barrel. It's small enough and light enough that he can't move any of his feet without tipping off -- and I have been both flushing and flying birds on tethers in front of him, as well as asking him to retrieve from it on command. I gather the use of either flat boards or carpet squares are used to much the same purpose in the retriever world. In any case, this was going to be his first time trying to take that lesson and applying it in the field. As with every piece of yardwork, making the transition from the backyard to the actual birdfield is the challenge -- how to help the dog transfer the learning from one situation to another.
Ottla's mom, Annabella, was kind enough to serve as training assistant for me, carrying my new favorite training accessory -- the lid off the Rubbermaid tub. In any case, the trick was to help Momo remember that while he wasn't perched on top of said tub, the expectation was the same. To summarize all his birdwork: each time he went on point, where possible, I picked up his front legs, stood them on the lid, then worked the bird -- coming back to praise him each time he did it well. Over the morning, he probably worked seven birds in this manner. Not quite perfect, but definitely better. (Although as you will read, that only solved half the problem so far.)
Jozsi is a work in progress -- but I'm hoping that I've turned a corner. And his wagging tail might be developmental after all. The previous week a friend had suggested telling him to relocate once he was on a bird but wagging his tail. And I tried that a couple of times while I was still coming up to him and he bumped the bird both times. On two other occasions, he also saw a bird in flight and chased it -- catching the first one. Thank heavens a) I don't have him in an e-collar, but b) had the presence of mind to tell him to bring me the bird (albeit in an angry tone). Which he did. That he would retrieve in a stressful situation is still a positive -- and reassuring that his retrieve while deliberately infrequently practiced on birds is probably more reliable than I think it is. But I think that by asking him to relocate I was just confusing him.
As you can see in this picture, we did try waiting out his tail a couple of times, too, which did work -- but seems to address a symptom not a cause. After he chased the second bird, though, and refused to leave it and come around, he got some old-time religion. I pinned his sorry ass on the ground and let him know I was not pleased. Nothing especially rough, but the message was clear and we got back to business.
And his next two birds were perfect, tail and all. Bizarre. Which is what makes me wonder if, in a much broader sense, this is developmental and he needed his ass kicked, metaphorically speaking. (That doesn't mean that that he hasn't also gotten confused messages from me and others which were contributing to the problem.) In any case, I also remembered that when I did barrel work ('tubwork') with him before, his tail never flagged. And so he has joined Momo, albeit on a bigger bench, getting birds flushed in front of him and flown around his head.
As ever, Ottla is the panacea to all the hard work that my two present me with. I wanted to take her round a relatively long set of edges to see if she'd be a little bolder and really hook on to the wind and the cover edge. The answer is 'not yet' -- but she is certainly an animated pup and most definitely a hunting dog. When she did get a bird in flight and chased it, I also fired my pistol at the point she was roughly 5yds away. By her second run, there was clearly no trepidation on her part.
As you can see from the pics, her tail set is getting a little higher -- and she's letting me style it higher when I can get there. The flipped ear seems to have been a theme for this time out! I forget which picture it is, but I was genuinely impressed by her willingness to stand a bird in plain sight -- now she may not have seen it when she first stacked up, but she sure as heck did after it started running away. It's a good sign though that her second instinct was not to merely break and rip it out.
Birds definitely fire her up though -- and by her second run, even though she'd already worked both sides of the hedgerow and had somewhere close to 5 or 6 finds, she was eager to keep going despite a couple of thorns to the face. This final pic is neat because Annabella managed to capture the bird in flush while Ottla stands in the thorns and brambles.
This past Sunday up at the CNEBC hunt test in Belchertown, MA, Momo was the recipient of some kind judging and passed his fourth MH leg. One more to go. But he was still creeping a little once I got up to him: however, I learned two more things.
- Let the judge judge your dog -- meaning that it is the judge's job to assess whether your dog is good enough to qualify in the test, not you. You might have a higher expectation for your dog and you may even be a qualified MH judge -- but on that given day, it is your job as your dog's handler to concentrate on getting the best from him.
- On that note, one judge was kind enough to point out to me that in a couple of those instances that he appeared to be taking small steps it was because, in his opinion, I, as the handler, was actually kicking cover into his face.
And so I have now transitioned Momo to the ground in our backyard, putting a stick in front of his front paws, in part so that he sees a barrier, in part so I have a clear visual marker. The best part is that he now has room to set up in one of his nice long points -- which in turn means that the real villains in his creepy feet technique are more obvious... his back legs. I felt bad for him because I could see him trying so very hard not to move -- but a dog that never makes a mistake, never gets a correction, and as a result doesn't also get a clear picture of what isn't acceptable.
I'll keep working him like this and hopefully he'll realize exactly what I want and how much love he's going to get when he does. Wish us luck for #5!