Since I last wrote, we've only been able to get out and train a couple of times with the League. Between trying to find windows in the weather and coordinating various friends, it's been a challenge. Arguably the biggest hurdle to training using the West method is one of manpower -- and it is no wonder that a lot of folks migrate to something like the Rick & Ronnie Smith method with its utilization of 'whoa posts' and such. And I mean no disrespect to the Smith family who have trained more great dogs than I ever will -- but I have seen the West method and it makes sense to me. Even though Maurice Lindley has figured out ways to train dogs by himself using the West method by using launchers, I know that he prefers to work dogs with a group. Fortunately I have been blessed to have found friends with broke dogs to work behind and others with puppies who can also flush and shoot.
I recently wrote a small piece for a Vizsla Club of Long Island newsletter which, in short, hopefully encouraged folks to get their dogs out and do fieldwork with them. One of the highlights of our training trips has been watching Jeremy and his puppy, Jackson, really come along as a tag-team. Jackson is from the most recent litter out of our friends', Jen + Dennis Hazel's, Sally. His whole litter are looking like bird-finding machines and there is no shortage of drive in this little dog to the extent that I asked Jeremy what he wanted to do with his dog -- did he want to play the field trial game? did he want him to be a hunting dog? These aren't exclusive categories, but to my mind I'd develop a pup a little differently if I knew I wasn't going to play the trial game. As I've said in previous posts, my goal with Jake was to establish a handle on him -- but if I had also intended him to be primarily a hunting dog, I'd also be working on limiting his range when I turned him loose. (And so, for example, when Jake lights out on a cast when we're out for a walk, I keep singing him out and only really reel him in if he's headed off in a drastic tangent or headed behind me.) I think it's also easier to encourage a dog with drive to stretch once they're broke, than it is to try and hunt with a free-running, green-broke dog. And so Jeremy and Jackson have been doing long-line work to really encourage the pup to go with him and not hunt independently -- and in doing so, to be rewarded by bird contacts.
We had run Jackson on johnny-house quail and after still managing to catch a couple and seeing his intensity, we decided it was time to get him on a checkcord to develop his handle and nurture the idea of working with his handler. The last time we got together (which may have been two weeks ago), we tried using chukar with flight limiters -- but the challenge I've had doing that is that there is a huge variance in the relative strength of chukar and if you weight the limiter too much they can barely fly and then you end up with a very expensive, dead training bird, too little and you lose both the limiter and the bird. And to my mind, the goal at this point is to have birds that will fly promptly when a pup charges in on them (and have the checkcord stop them after the flush, not before). Because Tom's property is much more wooded than the desert plains of Arizona, I was wary of using carded pigeons -- but decided we would give it a go. Now sometimes it's important to make your own mistakes so you know why the guy you've spent three months apprenticing with in the last year does something the way he does. And that thing is: don't sleep the pigeons. We had some concern the pigeons might disappear before Jackson and John & Linda Morris's pup, Dustin (whose handsome picture is alongside), or that if the pups came across the birds walking in the open they might be less inclined to point and more inclined to chase. But here's the thing: if a dog tries to chase up a healthy bird and it flies when the dog gets too close, the bird will get away and then the dog will get checked by the cord; if the bird can't escape quickly enough because it's dizzy, the dog maintains the hope that it can grab a bird on the ground and will probably keep trying longer.
This was where I was with Jackson, concerned that he might be turning into a diver, emboldened by his successes. And I mean this as no slight on him or his owner, but this is a young dog with a ton of drive and if others will read this and see parallels in developing their own dogs and so avoid a few hiccups, then all of this disclosure will have served its purpose. And so, Jackson got to run on fully awake carded birds -- and as much as I will try to encourage young dogs to find their first birds with their noses, the important thing to consider when beginning to encourage a younger dog to establish a solid point and stand is that whether it's a hunt test or a hunting situation, if it comes across a bird in the open, it is still expected to sight-point. But whatever it was about the pigeons, whether they were deep in tall grass or walking in the road, they stopped Jackson in his tracks. And he stood really nicely all the way to the flush. I was so very pleased with both Jeremy and Jackson. The next question for Jeremy is how he wants to break his dog now that we've started down this path.
By contrast, Jake has started down the West method path and is doing great. This was his third time being worked behind John's Juli -- a very pretty dog I have been braced with and who I was fortunate to judge in both SH and MH. And it was great to have Jeremy there to be the designated gunner so that Juli could also get a nice chukar retrieve or two. The amazing thing with the little white demon (who has now weighed in heavier than Jozsi!) is his natural inclination to honor -- and sometimes from so far away that he has already figured out the context for a situational honor. Again, while a judge might ask him to move up in a hunt test sensing it was not a true honor of another dog's point, in a field trial a situational honor is as good as any other -- and I'll take it. What I hope this picture (courtesy of Linda) illustrates is multifold: first, this dog has style; second, he is wearing all his work clothes -- his e-collar and his pinch-collar; third, that there is very little tension in the actual checkcord and collar as evidenced by my loose grip; and fourth, that he is being rewarded by two things for standing still -- the sight of a bird being flushed and a gentle reassuring pet before being moved on. At this point, I touch him more than Bill does, meaning that if a backing situation is becoming complicated and taking time, I will gently stroke his side in the middle of it in addition to petting him and tapping him on the side to move him on once we're done with a situation.
To round out things: I've been trying a new twist on things with Jozsi, adding a little more pressure and adding a much bigger reward. If it works out, I'll post specific details -- but suffice to say, he's being kept to a higher degree of honesty and in return, he gets birds shot for him which he then gets to retrieve. He is broke in practice, but I think that once he's actually broke in his head then all his tail issues will disappear -- which is to say that I think while he knows what I want, he hasn't settled the issue in his own mind that this is also what he wants to do. On the upside, while it's not quite a Master Hunter quality retrieve, his retrieve is solid, to-hand, and will hopefully satisfy field trial judges should he get called back.
Like Bill said to me, two summers ago, "If you can get him straightened out, you'll be able to genuinely call yourself a dog-trainer." If breaking Jake is all about starting a dog right the first time, then Jozsi is a conundrum that is so very worth the challenge. I love all three of the Gentlemen albeit for different reasons, but Jozsi is such a goober that you can't help want him to be fantastic.