Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dog-Camp: Part Four: Chicken-Shit

Jozsi is starting to look like he actually knows what he wants to do, but hasn't quite reined himself in yet. Over the last year, I've been trying to figure out why he started flagging on some birds and why he would suddenly come un-broke (and try to rip out birds). And while this post is largely about our first attempts to bring him back, it's also about why professionals can be a real asset to amateurs: first, because they should have experience and, second, because your dog is not 'their dog' -- and they don't carry all the emotional baggage about our pets that we do.

This is not to say that professional trainers benefit from being cold-hearted, or callous, or cruel -- but it is to say they can be more objective with your dog than you probably can. And I imagine this is more prominent with some breed owners than others -- I'll even go as far as to say that I imagine there may be a higher percentage of vizsla owners who use their dogs' 'soft' reputation as an excuse not to enforce or maintain a certain standard of behavior. I don't think I'm one of those, but getting Jozsi broke and quitting his flagging seem to be related -- and that may be because I have been chicken-shit. (Before we get into the meat of it, here's a gratuitous double rainbow picture.)

I wish I had known about the West method before I started training Jozsi -- because if I'd known how to establish and build upon a solid skill foundation earlier, it would have been a smoother transition from talented Derby dog to reliable broke dog. But I didn't -- and I knew I had done some things with Momo that now I just cringe thinking about, and so I tried to merely channel Jozsi's huge natural ability. And so here is where we find ourselves.

When Jozsi had grabbed birds in the past, I had shocked him pretty good when he did that -- but I wasn't entirely clear what I'd do next. I'd also get paranoid that I'd shock him too much, and so would often switch to trying something else. Ironically, though, it seemed as though after I'd given him a dressing down, he come back just as fired up, but solid as a rock... and so the flagging did not seem to be related to the pressure of the discipline. But being nervous about letting him repeat a mistake (and having limited training resources), I wouldn't repeat the opportunity.

Now that we've completed two cycles with Jozsi, I feel more comfortable sharing what we've been doing with him. I should say that he is broke on pigeons, although he would still periodically flag even with them in plain sight (until I got in front of him). Along with several other dogs, we've taken Jozsi out to one of the quail johnny-houses, released 6-8 birds, and turned him loose. The following is a synthesis: he would run over the first couple but would stop-to-flush nicely without correction, then point one with a strong tail (which I blanked) -- but then we'd keep going and even send him after birds he'd just stopped-to-flush on. If he flagged, I sent him on until he either pointed staunchly, bumped it and stopped-to-flush, or went it to grab it. If he tried to grab it, he would get shocked -- but just enough to stop him in his tracks (and not to make him squeal, yelp, or come back to me). And we would keep going.

Now, Bill would tell me when to stop (in part so we didn't get into some kind of non-productive cycle) -- but more importantly, he wouldn't let me stop too soon. And that's one difference between a pro and an amateur. Where I imagine many of us amateurs cringe or get frustrated at a bird that isn't pointed, but is either bumped or flushes wild in front of a moving dog, a core element of the West method is that the bird teaches the dog. While a dog that learns how to catch hand-planted birds can become a nightmare, ripping a bird out isn't necessarily bad if you can correct him just enough to stop that action (but not make him scared of birds). If the dog either stops-to-flush or gets a hard point (that earns a flush, a gunshot, and a pat on the back), he'll know that the bird was there and that will hopefully firm him up. But Bill's other general practice (which I've seen him successfully apply to a dog that was blinking) is to keep on with a task till it's done right and the dog can be praised. (There are obvious caveats and exceptions -- and keep in mind that Bill believes that the more stress or force a dog experiences, the less stylish it will appear.)


Vizslas vs. Setters

As great as the boys look here, I have to admit that especially when you consider the body-weight to power ratio, Jack + Jill pull like fiends. There is no let-up for the 45mins we're out and they love roading from the ATV. I don't know much about setters, but I'm guessing their intensity might come from their father. 8-)


Rod Michaelson said...

Could be that pros are like drill sergeants at bootcamps far away from home with teenage boys and girls.

Get the dog away from the comfort of home. Allow no bull-shit. The dog is told to do something and it does it. No option.

Learning to let go of the idea that "I have to do it myself."

So much too learn. Hope Bailey can run in a brace wiht one of your boys one day.

Melissa said...

Enjoy your time in the White Mountains.
If Bill has said it once, you'll hear him say it again, "make some memories and enjoy your dog".

Tell Leon, Harold and Bill I said "howdy".. Melissa Thomas

Daniela said...

Awesome blog!!

Andrew Campbell said...

Melissa: your name came up in recent conversation, so your timing is perfect. I gather that you and Cindy may have taken a trip to Canada -- and with some success! Congratulations!