Monday, July 21, 2014
This summer I had an opportunity to work a two-year old English setter named Molly. Molly was the type of dog that had been allowed to do her own thing for most of her life. A friend described her perfectly when he said she was self-employed. She was self-employed so the first thing I did was teach her that I was part of the team. Besides introducing the e-collar and teaching her to go with me, the stand command gave me a way to gain her attention in the training field.
I used two cues to teach the stand command, a tug of the pinch-collar and a nick (momentary stimulation) with the e-collar and I used them at the same time. Once Molly stopped and I was standing next to her, I showed her that this command also meant all four feet had to be planted on the ground until I released her with a tap on the side. As I watched her feet for any movement, I worked at stepping behind her and in front of her. If she took a step, I combined the nick and tug to ask her to stop. After a couple of workouts it was clear Molly wasn’t paying attention to me. While I could get her to stop and stand, her tail wagged back-and-forth in rapid beats and she was focused on the horizon instead of me.
I needed to do more to get into her head so I began to pick her up by the pinch-collar and tail and set her back about 6 inches for taking a step. If she took another step, I got hold of the pinch-collar and spun her in a circle. The spin didn’t hurt her but it disoriented her.
After a couple of weeks with little progress, I decided to use the nick cue by itself without the pinch-collar tug. By now I was 90% sure Molly knew how to stand still—she just didn’t want to do it. In the next workout and once Molly was stopped, I started to walk in front of her, and when she took a step, I nicked her. I guessed right and she stopped. I continued to walk and as I turned and started back towards her, she looked me right in the eyes. It was the first time she gave me eye contact, and as I petted her up, I chuckled at how pleased she was with herself. While there was still lots to do, she was working for me now and training would be easier and more fun.
Once I had Molly’s attention and she understood the stand command, I was ready to use this command to teach her not to chase pigeons. Molly loved to point a pigeon in a releaser but she also loved to chase it when it flew. Her point was natural, but standing still and letting me walk in front of her to flush the bird went against her every instinct to survive. She saw the bird as hers and my job was to teach her it was mine. When pointing pigeons in releasers, I had let her chase to the end of the check-cord, but now I began to stop her earlier and I set her back about 6 inches and walked in front of her. If she took a step, I spun her and set her back and kept at it until she let me walk in front of her. It didn’t take long before she realized she already knew what I was asking her to do. It was the stand command. The only difference between what I was doing around birds and how I’d taught the stand command was I avoided using the e-collar since the releaser was still on the ground and I didn’t want her associating the e-collar with the releaser.
Molly isn’t steady on birds yet but I’m already imagining the problems I might encounter with her. As training advances, dogs like Molly that don’t readily give you their attention may start to challenge you for the bird. These dogs stand solid on point but start to creep or charge in just as you walk past them to flush. Any time a dog competes with you, chances are he doesn’t respect you and often this lack of respect can be traced back to the stand command and the trainer not being demanding enough. Once a dog accepts training and allows you to walk in front of him, he is giving you respect. If your dog is having problems during the steadying process, many of these problems can be fixed by reviewing the stand command, even with older dogs that have started knocking birds. Maurice Lindley describes the stand command as the glue that holds the West method together. It certainly does and it holds this method together on multiple levels. By making sure you do a good job teaching this command, your dog will understand what you expect of him around birds and you will experience the joy of working a dog that respects you.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Maurice Lindley developed a method using remote launchers and homing pigeons for steadying dogs (see Training with Mo: How Maurice Lindley Trains Pointing Dogs by Martha Greenlee). Launchers work best for training setups such as stop-to-flush and backing where the dog doesn’t have scent of the bird. If you want your dog to point a launcher, you need to be careful. If your dog gets too close, the launcher may scare him when the bird is ejected. Another problem is the dog knows the launcher is unnatural and he quickly figures out the bird isn’t free to move around. If you let your dog point too many launchers, he can turn them into a game filled with bad habits. I had a training buddy whose dog started out pointing launchers, but because she trained on them too long, her dog stopped pointing and started charging as soon as he smelled one. He wanted to make the bird fly.
A Higgin’s remote releaser works best for pointing setups. It is a metal cage with a lid that opens remotely so the bird is free to go when pressured by a dog. Dogs relate to releasers differently than launchers. While a launcher is usually planted in thick cover so the dog can’t see it, a releaser is planted in lighter cover. The bird can see the dog coming and the dog can see the bird, usually when the lid opens, and realizes he can catch it. The bird knows it better fly or else and if the dog makes a dive for the bird, he knows he’s the one putting it in the air.
In Maurice’s method, you use homing pigeons to develop your dog’s point, teach basic commands and introduce the e-collar during the first couple of months of the steadying process. You are building the foundation and all of the hours you spend in the training field will boil down to achieving one major accomplishment—teaching your dog the e-collar. You should be able to stop your dog with the e-collar as he is chasing a bird, and once he stops, you should be able to walk out in front of him while he remains standing. Once this accomplishment is achieved, your dog is ready to advance to loose birds.
The hardest part of training with homing pigeons is giving them up. Maurice puts it this way, “Launchers are great tools for a very short period of time.” Unfortunately, some amateur trainers get so comfortable with the control pigeons offer that they continue to train on them to the detriment of their dogs; or they return to pigeons after their dogs have already advanced to quail. Last month I watched a dog barely indicate a pigeon in a releaser. The dog looked miserable as his tail slowly wagged back and forth, his head turned away. The owner couldn’t understand why the dog looked so bad and described how beautiful he had looked pointing wild quail earlier in the year. I tried to explain that his dog was beyond pigeon work.
Once you move to loose birds, you don’t go back. Loose birds, usually quail, are more challenging to use and the training gets harder. More things have to go right to have success. You need good flying birds, proper cover, fast reflexes and skill with the e-collar. You no longer control the flush—the bird does. And you are going to make mistakes, lots of them, but your dog is going to handle them because you’ve already built a good foundation with homing pigeons. It’s easy to understand why some amateurs hesitate moving their dogs forward or they return to pigeons after their dogs have advanced to quail, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet. Sometimes you have to think about what is best for your dog and leave your comfort zone and the bad habits that result from training with pigeons too long. When your dog is ready to advance, you need to advance with him. It may be hard to do, no doubt about it, and you’ll miss the control you had with homing pigeons, but loose birds will make you a better trainer and your dog a better bird dog.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Good pointing dog trainers have an overview of the steadying process. They think less about specific training steps and more about training in broader terms. A good example is Bill West. If you ever spent time around Bill, you heard the terms on birds and around birds. When a dog was on birds, the dog had scent of a bird. When a dog was around birds, the dog knew birds were in the area or he saw birds fly, but no scent was involved. The difference between on birds and around birds may seem insignificant, but if you think about it, most training situations take place either on birds or around birds, and you may be surprised at how these two simple terms can help keep your dog happy and manage his level of excitement as you go through formal training.
One of the first rules in the Bill West method is to train a dog in a field where the dog is around birds. The dog thinks he can find birds so he is happy to be out there and in a good frame of mind to learn. When he does a good job, he is rewarded by being worked on birds. This bird contact increases his level of excitement, and he will look for birds in the next workout. Unfortunately, dogs that are worked in the backyard, where they haven’t found birds, rarely enjoy training and some lose interest altogether.
As training progresses, these two terms help you manage your dog’s level of excitement the same way you adjust a thermostat. Not hot enough, you work him on birds. Too hot, you work him around birds. Anytime your dog is around birds, he is calmer and you need less pressure to gain his attention. Here is where the majority of teaching takes place and where your dog learns to be obedient to your commands. Take the stand command. Teaching this command is basic obedience work, which most dogs find boring, but if your dog is worked around birds, he is in a good state of mind to learn and he stays relatively calm. And because he’s not on birds, you can get your hands on him, set him back, spin him or stroke him and you’re not coming between him and the bird.
If you make a mistake or notice your dog is less excited about being out there, you can work him on birds and quickly build back his excitement. Just last week, I was working a young dog and teaching him the e-collar cue for the stand command. About the third time I nicked him with the e-collar, he became concerned. As soon as I saw this change, I took him right to a bird and let him point it, and he became excited again.
Sometimes you have a dog on the end of a check-cord that is dragging you around and too excited to focus on training. You can lower his excitement level by working on obedience around birds, not on birds. It may take a couple of weeks of simply asking him to go with you and come to you on the check-cord, but until you gain his focus, he isn’t ready to work on birds. If you begin bird work before your dog is focused on training, you will have to use more pressure to teach him and this extra pressure often shows up as problems later on.
Bill West had two well-known students, pro trainers Bill Gibbons and Maurice Lindley, that developed their own unique methods for working dogs on birds and around birds. Bill Gibbons worked dogs in a procession where each dog, guided with a check-cord by a handler, followed behind another dog. The dog in front was brought in to point a bird while the other dogs were stopped and allowed to watch from behind. These dogs were around birds and this is where the basic obedience commands were taught. Maurice Lindley brought Bill to South Carolina to teach a seminar, and after watching Bill’s procession, he developed a launcher program to simulate Bill’s method of working around birds. (See Training with Mo: How Maurice Lindley Trains Pointing Dogs by Martha Greenlee).
As you gain a better understanding of the terms on birds and around birds, you’ll see how managing your dog’s energy level gives you a broader view of the steadying process. Whenever your dog seems too excited, you can work him on obedience around birds to regain his focus so you need less pressure to teach him, and if your dog seems bored or isn’t up for training, you can work him on birds to rekindle his excitement. During each workout, you are constantly making adjustments to the thermostat, turning it up or down, as you react to what your dog did or anticipate what he’s about to do. And as you learn to keep him happy and manage his energy level, you will discover that you are leaving far fewer fingerprints on your dog than ever before.
Monday, July 1, 2013
Understanding a dog’s body language separates good trainers from mediocre ones. A dog’s tail is one of the most expressive parts of his body and knowing how to read the tail is like looking through a window into his mind. Recently, I had an opportunity to observe a variety of tails when Maurice Lindley presented a pointing dog seminar at our kennel in Virginia. For three days, I watched Mo work a total of twenty dogs of different breeds, ages, sexes and levels of experience, and while their looks and actions were varied, their body language was the same. It was the universal language of pointing dogs.