Tuesday, December 11, 2018

When Doing Nothing Is Something

Last winter I pulled out of Virginia for a month of field trials in North Carolina and Georgia. I was hauling a horse trailer with four dogs and one horse. First stop was Hoffman, NC, for ten days of trials. During this time I ran one dog in an Open Derby stake. Two weeks later with a short trip to South Carolina to do laundry and buy supplies, I was on the road to DiLane Plantation in Waynesboro, GA. Another week of trials and none of the dogs I carried were run. From Waynesboro I headed to Albany, GA and another week of field trials followed by a return to South Carolina and finally back home to Virginia.

During these four weeks my dogs lived on a stake-out chain or in individual crates in the horse trailer. Their routine was to go from trailer to stakeout chain every morning. They would stretch, drink some water and do their business. Then back in the trailer until noon when they were let out again and back in the trailer until late afternoon when they were again let out, fed and put back in the trailer for the night. The next morning the process began all over again.

When I got home from this trip, I discovered I had four extremely well-mannered dogs. It was like someone had been training them and yet I had done nothing or at least I thought I had done nothing with them. How could four weeks on the road produce four well-mannered dogs? I told a pro-trainer friend about my experience and he laughed. He told me about a similar experience he had after losing his training grounds that adjoined his property. He had always taken a dog out of the kennel, mounted his horse and roaded or heeled the dog a short distance before getting down to work. Now he had to drive to his new training grounds so every morning he loaded dogs and horses in the horse trailer and drove 20 minutes to the new grounds. And once he got to the grounds, the dogs pretty much stayed in their crates until it was their turn to run. What he did not expect was the dogs took training better and not just better—much better. Something definitely happened mentally to his dogs when they were confined.

This idea of keeping dogs in their crates stirred up a long forgotten memory from one of the first dog training books I read. The book was The Koehler Method of Dog Training by William Koehler. Koehler was the chief trainer for Walk Disney Studios and in the book he recommend s confining a dog in a crate for two hours prior to training. Koehler felt that confinement before training made training a more positive option in the dog’s mind and thus the dog was more likely to want to comply with the trainer.

I spoke to my friend Mo Lindley who told me about a well-bred Vizsla that had come in for training. She was blinking birds and became scared if she saw another dog on point. Mo said he worked and worked trying to fix her but after a couple of months, he had made no progress and decided to give up on her. She sat in his kennel for a couple of weeks and then for some reason he decided to try her again. He took her out, worked her on a bird and to his surprise she pointed it. When he killed it, she broke at shot and retrieved it to him. Laying her up did something for her mentally that he could not explain.

Will we every understand dogs? I doubt it but being observant can help us unravel some of the things dogs do that often appear to be counter-intuitive to us. Last spring I had a dog that was bound and determined to delay-chase (go back to the bird) after a find. One day she and I really got into it and I realized I was on my way to creating a bigger problem than the one I already had and quit working her. This fall I thought—what the heck, I’ll take her out. Darned if she did not walk at heel and stand still to be released. How did this happen when all she had was time off? Most trainers want to fix a dog’s problems and sometimes this works but sometimes it does not. The natural human instinct is to press forward, train more, work harder but what the dogs are showing us is that sometimes time off, whether it is in a crate or kennel, is the solution. Sometimes doing nothing is something.