As the title and delay in posting would suggest, it has been six weeks of frustration waiting for some kind of clear plan or purpose for the remainder of the summer and fall to develop. Here in New York, all the moisture that you might have presumed to have appeared in January and February and coated the ground in ice and snow waited till May and June. And so we've had to try and slot things in between thunder storms and increasingly tall covers on our training grounds.
We did manage to fit in another group training day at TMT in the third week of May with Jack, Juli, Scotch, Dustin, Lyric, Gabi, Paige, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It was nice to see friends again -- and we were blessed with good weather although a little more breeze would have made it perfect. But we got everyone run and everyone had fun. The top picture is of Scotch on just his second set of birds -- as I said to Josh, he's still very young and the fire needs stoking but when he gets scent, he knows what to do. Look at the tail on that dog! Fabulous. For young dogs, I prefer to use birds that are fully awake and placed in spots that require the dog to use its nose. For younger dogs with less prey drive, I think there's a lot of merit in a handler 'taking the dog for a walk' close to a planted bird -- in part because the young dog associates going with his handler with the excitement of finding birds. And as the dog associates going for that particular kind of walk, that will also build drive as well as reinforce the desire to work with his handler.
After a great winter starting the breaking process with Jake, we lost our rhythm due to crappy weather coinciding with my days off. He has been at the point of making the transition from the pinch collar to the e-collar for correcting him when he makes a mistake (ie. fails to stop or needs to be re-cued to stop) for some time -- and my challenge has been that he was simply not making very many mistakes. Jake seems to have internalized all the external cues for stopping -- pointing, stopping to flush, and honoring -- and was standing very nicely through each of those things while either someone else flushed for him or the dog he was working behind. In short, he wasn't doing anything to merit being re-cued to stop and stand still.
As I wrote two summers ago about knowing when to stop and when to keep going, my dilemma has been whether to assume he does know it and potentially create a problem by going too fast or to potentially lose style by boring the dog with lessons he knows he knows. One nice part about the West method is that you're essentially teaching the dog the same skill in a variety of scenarios -- which is to say, you don't break the dog pointing birds, then teach the honor, or the stop-to-flush -- and so in that sense, you can mix things up with the dog by asking him to the same thing, albeit in a different (and hopefully interesting) set of circumstances. Maurice Lindley had suggested that I use the stop-to-flush as the means to test whether he'd internalized the e-collar cue to stop -- in part because I could do it by myself using a launcher while still keeping myself in a position to correct him with the pinch if the e-collar didn't register. The challenge remained that he would stop himself properly and then, very often, make little or no effort to move after the bird. Nevertheless, the advice was sound. What I've also seen with him is that he seems most reliable on birds he's not pointing, whereas having scent drives him that little bit crazier even if I'm standing by him with the pinch collar and someone else is flushing for me.
Today's silver lining was that I got up to TMT to feed my birds and hopefully get some training in on pigeons with Jake and discovered that, of the five checkcords that I can think of that I own, I didn't have a single one with me -- and certainly not the one with the pinch-collar on it. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. So I cursed. I had been tidying up all the stuff in the back of the truck and in the trailer and had just plain forgotten to make sure I had one or the other in the truck again. I had already put out one pigeon in a launcher and two on cards but debated what to do. The short answer is that part of me wishes I'd brought a camera with me to get some nice pictures of me in front of a high and tight Jake, but then again anyone who reads this blog would have laughed their butt off if they'd seen his regular purple nylon leash hanging off his collar. He handled his stop-to-flush perfectly, broke on the first pointed pigeon after I'd flushed but I managed to stop him with the e-collar to style him up and reflush the bird, and he handled the final pointed bird really nicely. And this is one reason I have been frustrated by our intermittent training schedule -- because he handles corrections really nicely -- and wish we could have gotten a bunch of nice even repetitions in. This is largely what you pay a pro for: the time to establish a routine of (hopefully) productive behaviors.
But the real silver lining wasn't that Jake did well, but that forgetting a key piece of equipment that I would have otherwise used as a psychological crutch in the name of 'taking it slow and steady' forced me to take a chance. Sometimes you need to have faith in yourself, in the training time you already have in, and of course in your dog. This picture is actually from a couple of days ago, but he's a pretty happy chappy.
In other news: Craig Doherty at Wild Apple Kennel has written a series of five blogposts on grouse trialing. Whether you do grouse trials or not, there's a lot of really useful and interesting stuff for trialers in here.
And: I had a nice time judging SH/MH at the Nutmeg GSP Club hunt test a couple of weekends ago and was pleased to watch another set of really nice Spinones. I realize I'm admitting to a stereotype-proven-wrong, but if there was a breed that has genuinely impressed me in the last year of judging hunt tests it has been these mostly white Spinones. And not because they performed the skills well enough, but because they looked animated and excited to be doing it.
Also: if you ever send something back to Garmin to get fixed, remember to take out your memory cards or the after-market extended antenna. I remembered the first but figured they'd just repair the busted screen on my Astro 220... no. They sent me a whole, newly refurbished 220 back instead. Fortunately, this is now my back-up unit and the 320 comes with an extended antenna in the box.