Friday, July 9, 2010

Dog-Camp: Part Deux

It’s been a wild few days here at dog-camp watching Bill (and his two helpers, Leon and Harold) work dogs. I hope some day that I’ll be able to read dogs as well as these guys and know when to push through and when to back-off. I’ve seen Bill literally get one dog that was blatantly blinking birds all fired up and staying steady-to-shot in 30mins. And we ran that little dog again yesterday and he was all business. To celebrate here's a gratuitous scenery shot.

But here are a couple of neat things I’ve seen that just make sense: one related to honoring, the other to handling your dog as you get in front to work a bird. What I’m going to describe will make a lot more sense if you understand that the Bill West method – as practiced by Bill Gibbons, Dave Walker, Maurice Lindley, and others – begins with the foundational skill of ‘stop-and-stand-still’. I am sure that I will write more about the how, when, and why of this as the month goes on, but let’s assume that this is the first thing you’re actually going to teach your dog.

Initially the dog comes to understand the cue from the ‘no-hurt collar’ (as Dave Walker calls it) to stop-and-stand-still – at which point you begin to overlay the e-collar as the cueing method so that you can continue to work the dog without a checkline. As the dog gets more experienced, you add more scenarios and cues (such as a bird that flushes in front of it, or their own initiated point) – but you are still expecting the dog to stop-and-stand-still. At the point that a dog understands the cue from the ‘no-hurt collar’, Bill begins to bring less-experienced dogs ‘behind’ more experienced dogs. Whenever the more experienced dog is cued to stop, or points the training bird, the less-experienced dog is stopped with the collar cue when it has a view of the scenario. And while you are building the less-experienced dog’s self-discipline to stop-and-stand-still, you are also keeping it excited by letting it see a bird in flight. Depending on your timing, you are also, however, prepping the dog to honor and/or stop-to-flush – so that by the time the dog is recognizing the e-collar cue to stop, you can turn the dog loose and have these kinds of scenario not be novel to them when, or if, you need to use the e-collar.

As folks who read this blog know, I am trying to work Jozsi through some flagging issues. Again, because I haven’t recognized a pattern to the ‘when’ and ‘where’, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason why – although I suspect that me sending him mixed messages somewhere however unknowingly around the age of 18mos is largely at fault. But I did want to share this observation.

Bill said one thing really interesting to me after he saw me work Jozsi the first time -- that I was handling him and the birds like I didn't trust him, that I was handling scared. Which in a lot of ways, he's right on about -- and that may be adding to whatever anxiety is making his tail wag in some situations. And so this is what he told me to do: when Jozsi points, I should get up to him as quickly as possible, jog if necessary, concentrate on getting the bird in the air, fire the blank gun immediately, and without looking him directly in the eye, walk back to him slowly and calmly and to one side, pet him, style him up, and move on. So, try to minimize what might be uncertain and/or confrontational body language, be assertive and exciting about getting the bird in the air to keep the dog jazzed, but don't make them wait longer than absolutely necessary to get the birdwork done.

And if you have to kick around, do it vigorously; Bill even told me to use whatever the loudest gun/cartridge combo I have. At that time, I was trying to use up an old box of .22shorts in my NEF; tomorrow, I'll go back to the Alfa and the Ramset nail-gun cartridges. As he said, the excitement should be in front of the dog and the dog should be getting amped up by it.


Meg said...


sounds like you're learning quite a bit! I particularly like the "jog if necessary," part with Joszi and think that you should join me on the trails sometime! I love you, and keep on having fun there! Love, Meg

Rod Michaelson said...

"Bill said one thing really interesting to me after he saw me work Jozsi the first time -- that I was handling him and the birds like I didn't trust him, that I was handling scared."

This was great insight into how bird dog handlers have to trust our dogs and we have to find the trust zone where we truly believe in our dog. We as humans must believe we know better. Great post!

Rod "Redbirddog" in California

Mike Spies said...


As I have come to better understand the West System lately, I really like it. I like the way that the trainer builds experience with motivation and without a lot of pressure.

But, as Maurice Lindley told me earlier this week, "I am easy on the dogs but training a dog to be steady is totally not natural to dogs."

The graduated approach and low pressure applied to get the dog to understand clearly what is required/expected BEFORE applying any significant pressure is much less likely to spook the dog and sour him on training.

Enjoyed the posts on training camp a lot. Thanks.