When mistakes in training, or the field, take place, we often blame the dog. In reality it’s almost always our fault. The sooner you can accept that, the sooner you can get beyond it and begin to think through your lesson plan.
Here are a few of the mistakes that I’ve made, and what I should have done instead. What are some of your screw ups, Gun Doggers?
Jesus on the Lawn: When Kona was about nine-months old, I wanted to work on steadying drills. He’s always been a pretty high-powered dog and he loves a tennis ball almost as much as birds.
To desensitize him some and to work on his steadiness, my plan was to bounce a tennis ball against the house while he was on sit in the yard. I knew that I’d have trouble keeping track of the ball and Kona, should he break, and then making a correction if needed.
My idea was to attach one end of his tie-out cable to the fence and the other end to his collar. The theory was that he if he broke, it would be a self-imposed correction. That was the theory anyway.
In reality, what happened was: when Kona finally couldn’t resist the bouncing ball any longer, he broke. I’m not sure if I heard the whizzing sound of the cable cutting through the air or felt the sting of that cable slicing into the back of my legs.
All I know for sure is that when I opened my eyes after all was said and done, I was laying flat on my back, arms out to the side and legs bound tightly together by the cable. I must have looked like a crucified Jesus laying on my lawn (thankfully it was in the backyard).
Opening my eyes, Kona was standing above me with the tennis ball in his mouth, ears perked up as if to say: “whatcha doing down there?”
What I should have done: Instead of continuing to throw the ball against the house until Kona couldn’t stand it any longer and broke, I should have stopped and rewarded him after a few repetitions for not doing so.
Alzheimer’s Moment: While a pretty common mistake, I hate it every time I forget where I placed a blind. Once, when Kona was pretty young and had just started running cold blinds, I forgot, or didn’t realize, where the blind was hidden.
Kona was handling fairly well but I was directing him to an area nowhere near where the bumpers were tucked away. He was confused and his patience was growing thin and some training partners were wondering what I was doing.
What I should have done: Well, instead of continuing to handle, I should have asked where the blind was exactly. I thought I was handling him to the area of the bumpers, and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t picking up any scent. I eventually did this and found out it was farther back and up a small rise. By this time, however, Kona was starting to get loose and lose confidence in me as a handler. I had to shorten up the distance between us and re-establish control. When working alone, use a landmark (like a tree, fence post or equipment) to orientate yourself. You can also use surveyor’s tape or an orange stake to mark its location.
Horizon Run: As a member of Three Rivers HRC when I lived in Oklahoma, we often would “pick up” at a nearby tower shoot. When the pay-to-play event was over, the owner of the property allowed us to clean-up the birds that evaded the shooter’s loads.
Kona did great picking up but when we worked our way through the woods pushing up birds, his steady to wing, shot and fall was, let’s be kind and say “less than perfect.”
In fact, one hen jumped up in the trees and I missed. Kona, like a good, high-prey-drive dog with unfinished training, gave chase. I stood blowing my whistle (I hadn’t started using a collar yet) while watching the hen pheasant attempt to break through the thick wooded canopy. She would flap and flutter noisily to the under-canopy and then bounce off that and downwards just in front of Kona, only to try and break through the trees again. Off she went through the woods, trying to break free to blue skies while simultaneously fluttering right in front of Kona’s nose. When it came to prey drive or my whistle, the bird won. All I could do was watch him disappear into the dark woods.
About five minutes later my black Lab came trotting back, with the hen pheasant in mouth.
What I should have done: Well…not take him out until his sit-to-flush was solid would have been one start. Another would have been to ensure some way of enforcing that training (like an e-collar) or making damn sure I didn’t miss the bird! We all know not missing a bird isn’t going to happen, so I shouldn’t have had him out there until I was sure I could stop and recall under any circumstances. Not only did I teach him that moment that he could disregard my command, I also taught him that he would be rewarded for doing so!
It all worked out okay, as it usually does with dogs. They’re usually smart enough and have a high enough prey drive to overcome our mistakes as handlers and figure out how the game works. Even with very little formal training.
There are many, many more mistakes I’ve made (like the “Dead Dog Moment” and the “Do as I Say…” training mistake), but I’m interested in hearing (if you’re willing to share them) some of your mistakes Gun Doggers.