The training day…

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our dogs will always try, we just need to show them the way..

If we ask the question when training our dogs ‘How can I help my dog now ?’ it changes our whole perspective and approach to training. Everything from the very basics of heelwork and steadiness to the very limits of teaching lines and blinds becomes more of a team effort rather than a push-me pull-me battle of wills.

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Mr Jason Mayhew with new friend Fred..

This question formed the core of Jason Mayhew’s training day on Saturday. He reminded us at each step and stage of training that:

1. We should look for the smallest try and work with it.

2. Ask ourselves what we can do to help our dogs ?

3. Investigate…does my dog know what I’ve asked …test it, and if it doesn’t then its okay to move back a step.

Subsequently you will find it allows both you and your dog breathing space, time to think about what we are asking of them, their understanding of that ask and perhaps most importantly realising that it is okay for our dogs to make mistakes when learning.

The training ground

The training ground.

The ground was provided for the day by Mr David Barron. David has always been generous with providing ground for clubs to run working tests during the summer and also as a venue for people to meet and train on Friday mornings. When I approached him and asked him earlier in the summer he set about building a professional level gundog training ground for the day….

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In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have envisaged what he was able to  create  in such a short time frame. Remarkably he had managed to procure possibly the only flat field on the top of a mountain!! Bordered by deciduous wood there was everything needed in relation to gundog training…white flat grass to start young dogs off on, then falling down into rushy cover. The field is a  wide rectangle, perfect for walk up. He had cut a winding channel through the middle and perpendicular to this runs a fence the whole width of the field, topped with timber and secured with sheep-wire. At intervals along the fence he has put slats of timber to enable the handler, when teaching a young dog to jump, to remove a level. He has left in the few willow trees scattered throughout the field which again are perfect for lining to a point and hunting an area of cover and all of this is set amongst the outstanding beauty of the Wicklow mountains.

Finding a trainer with an interest in all breeds and every level of handler is important.

Finding a trainer with an interest in all breeds and every level of handler is important.

I have known Jason for many years from when we started in Chesapeakes roughly around the same time. His main interest has always been in competitive working tests and field trials. He competed with his wonderful Chesapeake, Sage, to novice field trial level before taking the leap and buying a yellow Labrador, Georgie, to trial with…from here he has developed his training techniques and skill which is reflected in the success he is currently having with his young dog Flint on the working test circuit this summer. He has worked with most retriever breeds and spaniels. He has run breed specific training days for the UK Chesapeake club and also  training days to prepare gundogs aimed at passing their show gundog working certificate as well as tutoring individuals ambitious to field trial.

Building a relationship.

Building a relationship.

I had asked everyone attending if they had something they specifically wished Jason to focus on and problems ranged from lack of focus when in company with other dogs whether this was lunging or lack of interest in retrieving, dropping and shaking out of water, spinning when sent on a blind retrieve, running in, not listening to the whistle and from the handlers point of view they wished to know how they could improve their handling..

Helping a dog by improving handling.

Helping a dog by improving handling.

The morning was split into two novice groups where Jason was able to start at the very beginning of gundog work by reminding us that instilling strong foundations in close work such as heeling and lead control will pay dividends and is really vital in helping our dogs when progressing onto distance control.

teaching steadiness.

teaching steadiness.

The second group that morning were slightly more advanced dogs, dogs that may be running prelim/novice working tests. It was in this group he met Monty, a beautiful young yellow lab whose owner was struggling with him running in. Jason asked him to remove his lead and kneel beside his dog putting his hands lightly around the dog’s chest, just enough pressure to hold the dog still. Then a retrieve was thrown and as expected Monty tried to push through his handler’s hands. Only when his dog relaxed, just for a fraction of a second, was he allowed to let him go. When he did run in Jason asked him to simply follow his dog quietly, slip his lead back on, walk back to where they both started and begin again. He again challenged us to ask the question, ‘do I need this fight now?; when our dogs our learning should it be a battle? After three or four attempts Monty was sitting quietly with very little pressure and no lead as he watched other dogs work.

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The day brought together retriever breeds from all spheres.

We learnt how to use wind to our advantage by locating the channel of scent when a retrieve is thrown, we focussed on strengthening our casting and reading our dog’s body language when sent on a run out. There was a lot to take in but I felt time was given to everyone.

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We broke for lunch and David invited everyone, if they wished, up to his house or rather as most of the guys now lovingly refer to as ‘the Man Cave’, with its vaulted ceiling straddled with heavy timber joists, stone fireplace and a huge billiard table taking center stage surrounded by old comfortable couches it oozes masculinity…but immediately feels homely and welcoming , inviting you to sit down, stretch out your weary legs, relax and talk. It was a chance for everyone to mingle, reflect on what had been taught that morning and speak to Jason in relation to any queries they may have had in relation to what he spoke about.

Almost all the retriever breeds were represented.

Almost all the retriever breeds were represented.

The afternoon was an opportunity for everyone present to have a chance to try out the magnificent piece of ground which David had developed. I was able to hang back, watch and take in the wonderful sight of so many beautiful retriever breeds gathered and eager to learn on this single piece of ground. Goldens, a Flatcoat, a Curly coat, a Chesapeake and of course the noble Labrador were all accounted for. Each discipline was represented from the show dog, the picking up dog to the field trial contender and every level of handler from very novice to those from the trialling world.

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Making use of the jumping fence on the new ground.

These people and their dogs made the day and without their presence it would not have been possible. The numbers that attended showed a real need and desire among handlers in the working retriever world in Ireland to learn and progress. Gundog training is an evolving sport, constantly changing with new and better ways to get the best from both dogs and handlers. Although most gundogs will inevitably bring up the same problems in training, each individual breed needs to be handled in a different manner. This is where selecting a trainer becomes crucial. One who has a specific interest in dealing with all spectrums and levels of gundog and not just those aspiring to field trial. Perhaps just as importantly being able to engage and link in with the handler in communicating their message and in this therein lies the secret….

waterwork

waterwork

A huge thank you to my husband Des for acting as Jason’s assistant on the day as chief dummy thrower and launcher.

Safe water

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Uisce’s water problems were not yet sorted, there were still gaps in  her training that needed to be filled in. This was especially obvious when I took her, as Bertie’s travelling companion, to the UK last month.

Strange water and moving water proved most problematic as I discovered when we took a walk along the River Avon.  Her desire to retrieve was, and is, strong but the difficulty was her pick up in water. She would reach out for the retrieve then the splashing and circling would start, the retrieve forgotten and a lot of calling and encouragement from me on the bank was required to entice her back to shore. Bertie was then dispatched to retrieve. Back to the drawing board. At the same time there was progress,  she was easier to recall and although she splashed and circled there wasn’t the frenetic water biting that had been there previously.

It was Jason Mayhew who first suggested that part of her problem might be related to a fear and lack of confidence rather than an obedience issue. This would change my entire perspective and approach to her training going forward. We  met up with him on that Saturday afternoon and had the opportunity to do some training. For the most part Uisce sat and watched as I concentrated on Bertie. The afternoon was the first hot one of the year and at the end of the session we took the dogs to a small pond for a welcome cool off. It was a perfect set up for teaching young dogs how to enter water with confidence. Small, with gently sloping sides for easy entrance and exit.

 

 

After watching the other dogs in the group carry out their respective retrieves I set Uisce up for one also. I hoped she would repeat her behaviour as I wanted to see if Jason could perhaps look on it with fresh eyes. She did not disappoint. The retrieve was not difficult, in she went and once again when within touching distance of the dummy the splashing started. We watched in silence from the bank for a few moments.  His suggestion was to walk away, say nothing and see what would happen. Alas we were saved that trouble by a very territorial cobb swan who chased her back to shore with more speed than she could muster. We moved further downstream and threw a small dummy into very shallow water at the edge, just to get her confidence back. Today was not the day to push on with any more water work. We both needed to reassess and reflect.

As many of you may have figured by now, I think about things a lot, particularly in relation to dog training. I try to figure out where the dog is coming from in relation to a given situation and then try to work out a mutual meeting point for both of us. My main emphasis is to make training interesting and even fun for my dogs, after all much of what I ask of them is for my benefit and not theirs so I feel there has to be a pay back of sorts for them.

I knew I had reached a point in Uisce’s water work training though, where I had guided her as far as I could. It was now her turn to shoulder some of the responsibility in figuring out what she would gain from retrieving efficiently from water. To do this I needed two things – safe water and an experienced older dog to mop up any retrieves that she was likely to lose on this particular learning curve. DSC_1075     DSC_1053

The Ramparts in Navan is perfectly set up for what I had in mind. It is an eight kilometre walk with a grassy bank canal on one side and the river Boyne on the other. The Boyne is separated from the path by a wide bank of rushy vegetation so most young dogs, if they are very water focussed, will gravitate towards the canal as opposed to heading straight for the river. I intended to make use of both, eventually.

I took Chester along as my assistant picking up dog and he was fairly busy to begin with. The first morning I took them out I tried a short retrieve into the canal from a shallow sloping bank. I never allow a young dog a first retrieve or even a second…she sat and watched as Chester retrieved. Then I sent her and as expected she did her usual pirouette in the clear canal water, round and round she swam every now and then bobbing the ball with her paw. The time had come to hand the baton to her, so to speak. I sent Chester into the water to pick up the tennis ball and walked away without saying a word. As he made his way through the water to pick it up something happened…..Uisce beat him to it, picked the ball perfectly and swam to shore.

 

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An experienced dog is often required.

And that was all it took. There were times in the coming weeks when I presented her with new and challenging situations in water that she would panic and splash but the difference was I recognised it as that….lack of confidence and instead of shouting and correcting her I would simply send the old guy in for the retrieve and recall her to shore, trying again with a simpler retrieve until the splashing became almost non existent and Chester unemployed.

Today I took her to the Boyne. I had no helper in relation to Chester, as Uisce is in season so this was to be another step forward in her responsibility. The point I chose for her to retrieve from has a bank of bullrushes so she would have the challenge of coping with current as well as an obstacle. I threw the dummy beyond the rushes so she had to swim through to find the retrieve before it was swept down river. She succeeded every time and  thoroughly enjoyed it too.

 

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Uisce, being able to enjoy water again.

My walks along the ramparts also reaffirmed for me Jason’s suspicion that she may have been a young dog lacking confidence as opposed to a true water- freaker, as apart from sending her to water for a retrieve she is quite happy to amble along the path without entering water for the sheer hell of it.

Looking back I know the time invested early on in establishing a good recall on land first, then progressing to water was not wasted. In fact it became key when the point came for Uisce to choose which direction she took in relation to her training. I know in our breed in particular there are many owners struggling with young cheaspeakes to gain control in water. I hope by following our tale it may help you to look at a different approach to moving on past this sticking point in training.

 

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Galvins on the Ramparts….not the worst place in the world to train…