It was going to be a lovely day, warm with a light dusting of cloud and the slight chance of rain. Perfect for training dogs. I had heard much in recent months about Norman Onen and his wife Sandra. They had offered a Chesapeake training day in the Spring and judged the working test the following day. Jason, our working test secretary, had organised a competitve training day in July which also got great reviews from all who attended. So it was with much anticipation and excitement that I had been looking forward to this day.
We don’t get opportunities like this in Ireland. Ground to train dogs on is hard to find but ground specifically set up to train gundogs with a professional trainer is even more elusive.
I was impressed when we first drove onto the property. The training grounds are laid out within a small shoot. Fields of beet and game crop with partridge pens flanked either side of the laneway as we drove down to where the other vehicles were parked.
The main training field that was to be used for the day was wide and flat with shortish pasture grass. Enough to make the dogs hunt a little but not too heavy that they might struggle and lose confidence. In the center of the field was a large fenced off square spanning about half an acre. The fence was about mid thigh level and topped with thin wood. Designed to help and teach dogs to jump.
The day was planned to help us work and concentrate on ‘close work’. This is an aspect of training to which I have to admit I am sloppy about. Unfortunatley I have experienced the consequences of it this year when I attended the mock walk up with Bertie in March. I spent that day constantly pulling him back in line and although he picked his retrieves easily he lost easy points due to poor line manners.
It is an area I have worked on throughout the Summer but in truth we do not have to contend with walk ups very often when competing in working tests in Ireland so it is an easy thing to let slide. If Norman could offer me guidelines to improve Bertie’s ‘creeping’ in line it would be money well spent for the day.
..And so we started. Dogs sat in line and dummies thrown, some with gunshot. Very soon as the excitement level grew various problems began to emerge with each of our dogs. This is exactly what you hope to achieve when you attend a training day. No point in spending the whole day with a perfect dog and nothing to work on.
Most of the problems that cropped up were solvable and most were very simple solutions. Norman was strict on the handlers but extremely fair and patient with the dogs. Solutions were inevitably offered through encouraging our dogs. Areas we worked on went from creeping in line, running in, slow return, squeaking in line to basic handler error as in where and when to give commands, and when and how to use the whistle.
Small things to help the dog such as taking a step forward in line after we cast our dog so it’s easier for our dog to spot us from a distance if they need help; guiding our dogs into us when they return to aid their delivery. Never to use the whistle for correction just for direction. My favourite though, as I run male dogs and hope this one is taken on board by judges, is Norman’s theory that if a dog stops to pee for more than three seconds then they’re emptying their bladder and NOT scenting as is commonly believed.
The morning session was intense but I could see improvement in my own dog even in that space of time.The afternoon session was set up to concentrate on problems in and around water. The stretch of water we used was along the river Avon, slow moving and mostly high steep banks, one section had a gradual slope into shallow water which was used to demonstrate how to correct the problem of shaking and dropping coming out of water.
The problem I was hoping he could help me with here was Mossy’s big water entry. They look impressive but I don’t like them and not from the point of view of disturbing game but more that someday he may do himself a serious injury if he lands in water that’s not as deep as he thinks. It was with great relief that again Norman came up trumps and showed us all a very simple way of teaching a dog to enter water with care. By using the steep banks he sat the dog at the edge and rolled the dummy down the bank and into the water..it worked..for the first time in a long time Mossy entered the water by using the bank instead of leaping from it.
The day ended too quickly. Always a sign that it’s been a success. There was a feeling of great camaradarie that we had all achieved something positive with our dogs. The day was run with a sense of fun and good humour which breaks the tension we often experience when trying to teach our dogs. One thing Norman was very clear on was that anger has no place in the training field.
There is one point he still has to convince me on and that is his assumption that dogs are not inelligent creatures and that I do not need a dog that can think for himself. This is something I not only feel I have in my dog but I know is an absolute necessity in the area of dog work I use him for.