Constantly Learning

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Just inside the door of my kennel building is a whiteboard where I write down important stuff that I need to remember about my clients, the dogs, that is.  Sometimes it’s a reminder to administer meds or supplements.  Other times I might have a reminder that Fido, in kennel 6, needs extra attention for some reason.  One thing I wrote on the board has stayed there for months now.  I read it every day and think about it.

Dogs are constantly learning.  What are you constantly teaching?

One of the big advantages of placing a dog at a kennel for training is that the trainer gets significant control over the dog’s environment.  Many of the canine behaviors that humans find most troublesome are actually behaviors they have inadvertently taught them.  Sometimes half of the battle of training a wild young dog is just getting him out of his current environment and into the kennel where his life becomes very structured and chaos is kept to a minimum.

A typical scenario is the young dog that gets out of control simply because he was too cute for his own good as a puppy.  His guardians have allowed him to pretty much run the house until they got tired of the jumping/chewing/counter-surfing.  Then they threw him in the back yard and he started working his magic on the landscaping.  This might be a good time for them to consider having their dog boarded and trained (unless they want to wait while he finishes eating the siding off the garage).

In the kennel, we can provide structure in the form of well-defined spaces, consistent schedules, outdoor exercise and training.  While Fido is at boot camp you can do damage control at home and adjust your habits to help keep him successful when he returns.

Thank you for reading this shameless plug for boarded training in general and boarded training at Muck Creek Kennels in particular. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming which includes an update on wonder dog, DIESEL!  Stay Tuned!

What a Bunch of Sit!

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Diesel’s training is progressing nicely.  We have a Front-Sit that’s working well.  In the coming days we’ll try to build a Heel-Sit too.  First I think we need to work on steadying his Front Sit so that I can walk away and trust him to hold Sit reliably.  I begin this phase by stepping carefully to the right or left while he is in Sit, then returning to my position and reinforcing his steady Sit with a click and treat.  As he becomes more reliable I will stretch my movement until I can walk completely around him while he holds the Sit position without moving his furry little bottom.

I don’t normally train a “Stay”.  I think Stay is a goofy command because its meaning is so arbitrary.  Want the dog to stay in the car while you run in the store for a minute?  You tell him Stay, right?  Want him to keep sitting next to you while you fumble with your house keys? Tell him Stay!  And what do you tell him as you walk out the door and want him to remain in the house?  Stay, right?  Each one of those Stays means something different to the dog.  In many cases he can be expected to break the command because you really can’t expect him to remain on Stay for 4 hours until you get back, so he breaks stay the minute you’re out of sight.  If you’ve used Sit and Stay, he now gets to blow off 2 of your commands in one fell swoop!

What does Stay mean?  And, since your Stay command is arbitrary to the point of being almost meaningless, why should he listen with rapt attention to your other cues/commands?

So, Sit is a big deal in my program because it’s the cue/command that replaces Stay. 

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I Hope This Clicks!

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Diesel’s training is underway!  Before we could really get started I wanted him to have a day or two to settle into our routine.  I also needed time to observe and make some decisions about methods and tools.

I decided to employ positive reinforcement and clicker training with Diesel.  Those who know me will already know that I use traditional methods with some dogs and clicker training with others.  I try to let the dogs tell me what is going to work best with them.

Diesel showed some timidity when I approached him with a training lead in my hand.  He also showed some other signs of subordination and/or submission that didn’t seem appropriate to the situation.  Basically, we’re dealing with some fear issues.  When I play with Diesel and get him in the mood for some rough-housing, the timidity goes away and he shows a bolder, more confident side.

Of course I could use traditional training methods to develop obedience in Diesel, but I would risk losing that happy, playful demeanor he shows when we’re just goofing off.  The trick here will be to get him to a place where he is making good decisions about obedience and still keep that happy-go-lucky attitude that makes him such a fun guy to be around.

Wish me luck!

That was FUN, but it’s time to get back to work.

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The kennel re-opens today after being closed for 2 months.  The first dogs show up this evening and more are coming throughout the week. 

It’s been a glorious sabbatical! I’ve had plenty of time to work with my own dogs.  We’ve been hunting in Eastern Washington, the Olympic National Forest and some local areas that must remain secret!  Kaia is hunting better than ever and Peck, who was just a bumbling puppy last season, has become a hard charging little bird maniac. 

The re-opening of the kennel doesn’t end our hunting season, but it reduces it to a series of short, local hunts rather than the 3 week epic bird-a-thons we’ve been enjoying on the other side of the Cascades.

 

I’m glad to be getting back to work.  All this time off is great, but I miss having all the dogs around.  I’ve had a chance to recharge and I’m ready to take on the wild beasts again! 

I have a class starting at Sprinker Center called “Click It, Don’t Kick It!”  This is a positive reinforcement training class that runs for 6 weeks.  We start up on Tuesday 11/5.  You can get details and sign up info HERE.  

Or just call Sprinker Recreation Center at 253 798 4000

Next, on Saturday Nov. 9 we begin our next series of Beginning Obedience for Sporting Dogs.  This is a traditional training class primarily for young sporting breeds, Labs, Pointers, Setters, Goldens, Chessies, etc.  This class runs every Saturday for 6 weeks, from 10 to 11:30 AM here at Muck Creek Kennels.  To sign up for this class, just call Muck Creek Kennels at 253 442 9625

See you in class! 

Oh…. I almost forgot…  Don’t forget to bring your human!

Up the Creek

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We headed up the creek.

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We saw some teal

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Kaia likes them.  alot.

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But they fly away.

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… and we have no gun with us because this is just a little training and recon today.

WE’LL BE BACK!!!

We found a couple of new hazards to mark on the GPS so we don’t run into stuff in the dark.

These aren’t new but, have the flashlight handy when you go through here at 5AM:

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Peck would like to hunt here.  now.  please.

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Maybe this weekend, Peck.  maybe.  😉

Delta Recon Run

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This will be a short post this morning.  I spent a couple of hours yesterday getting my duck boat ready.  I’m planning to take Peck and Kaia on a little recon run this morning.  We hunt an area in the South end of Puget Sound.  I need to check all our routes and waypoints to make sure nothing has changed too much since last year.  I wouldn’t want to set out all our decoys and get the boat anchored in the pre-dawn only to find as the sun rises, that the boundaries of the refuge have changed or a new building is in place or perhaps someone has set out an anchor buoy and moored a boat in the middle of our hunting spot. 

In preparation for boat hunting, I’ve trained Peck to enter and exit via the platform on the side of the boat.  We did all this in small stages over several days.  The training began with our trusty old canoe because it’s easy to get in and out of.  Later we progressed to the duck boat on land at first, then moved to a nearby lake.  By the way, all this training was done in the summer when the air and water were much warmer.  All of this is “old hat” to Kaia who watches with a bored look as Peck is going through his paces.  She does get excited when we finally move the training to the lake where she can enjoy a good swim.

I’ll bring along a few bumpers so I can throw them a retrieve or 2.  I’m tempted to bring along a fishing rod as well.  Neither of the dogs gets too excited about fishing though, so perhaps it’s better if I limit the “mission creep” and just stick to recon and a few marked retrieves with bumpers.  We’ll see!

Just A Hunting Dog?

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I was attending a dog event last summer and overheard a conversation that I found mildly annoying if not outright insulting.  The gentleman doing most of the talking was asking a small group of dog-people if they knew of a young dog that might be suitable for his friend who “just needed a hunting dog”. 

This gentleman went even further to say that a “field trial washout” might make a good prospect for his friend who was only interested in hunting, not competing in field trials or hunt tests.  The implication being, of course, that hunting dogs were somehow inferior to field trial dogs.  The term, “field trial washout” refers to a dog that has not performed well in his training or in any field trials and could therefore be relegated to the subordinate duty of hunting.

The person making this comment was an experienced handler and participated in both AKC field trials and HRC hunt tests with his dogs.  There is no question that he understands the rules, requirements and rigors that challenge the participants at these events.  What I question is how much he knows about hunting in real-life field situations.

Hunt tests and field trials both have their origins in hunting.  The seminal idea behind both of these sports was to provide some form of objectivity in the measurement of a dog’s ability to do his work.  Unfortunately, the longer these sports exist, the farther they drift from their original intent.  Humans’ egos and fierce competition have driven these games to a place where they are no longer so much a measure of a dog’s abilities as they are a training contest.

This is not to say that these events no longer have value in measuring a dog’s abilities, especially in the lower ranks where the youngest dogs participate.  Here the performance of the dog is a more reliable indicator of his or her natural ability because the dogs haven’t lived long enough to acquire all the training and experience that goes into a 3 or 4 year old dog. 

In the upper ranks of these endeavors, money and human ego become more relevant factors.  The top echelons of these sports are filled with wealthy owners, professional trainers, and professional handlers.  The dogs are carted from one event to the next in large, air conditioned trailers.  With each new title or win these dogs become more valuable.  The pages of dog sport journals are filled with glossy, two-page ads offering fresh or frozen semen for artificial insemination to produce the next generation of super pups that can further the legacy of the sire and stoke the ego of the proud owner.

It is perhaps no wonder that the owner of such a dog would look askance at a mere “hunting dog”.  Having invested thousands upon thousands of dollars in breeding, raising, training and campaigning his champion, he is unable to see the value in a good hunting dog.  This fellow’s idea of hunting is a day spent “afield” at a game farm where there is no competition from the public and risk of injury is carefully assessed and managed by the game-farm owner who is acutely aware of his liability as hundred thousand dollar dogs slash across his field in search of planted birds.

The lowly hunting dog, on the other hand, is cast forth on public land where he and his handler have to deal with other hunters of varying ethics and skill level.  The birds are not planted.  They live in that habitat and they fully intend to continue living there.  Having already escaped coyotes, hawks and other predators, these birds don’t give up easy.  There are hazards everywhere and the hunting dog needs to understand and manage risks like barbed wire, hidden ditches, cliffs, shale slides, raging rivers and wild predators just to name a few of the obvious pitfalls.  None of these hazards are a factor on the trial or test grounds.

About a year ago I was present at an AKC event where I witnessed several dogs run a blind retrieve that was in excess of 250 yards.  For those of you not familiar with the terminology, a blind retrieve, in field trial parlance, is a dead bird planted out of sight before the dog comes to the retrieving line.  The dog must then take an initial line towards the blind and accept direction via hand signals from his handler.  I was very impressed to see several dogs in succession that took the initial line and flew like rockets straight to the blind and returned with equal speed and intensity.  As a measure of training ability, this was an impressive display.  It’s also worthy to note that in over 35 years of bird hunting I have never seen a situation that called for a 250 yard blind retrieve.

My dogs and I find that most of our retrieving happens inside of 50 yards with an occasional bird landing outside 100 yards.  Our biggest challenges come in the form of birds that fall in heavy cover, rivers or creeks, tidewater or below cliffs or other hazards.  Those of us who regularly hunt wild birds expect our dogs to be able to negotiate these and other hazards, with or without our assistance.  On nearly every hunt I find my dogs making retrieves where they are completely out of my sight.  In the areas that I hunt, the cover is so heavy that I cannot imagine being able to see either the bird or the dog at 250 yards.

On a recent hunt, Kaia flushed a ruffed grouse that I shot just as it crossed a good sized stream.  The bird fell in heavy cover on the other side of the creek.  She stopped immediately at the sound of my shot.  When sent for the retrieve, she had to get through a barbed wire fence, crawl down a steep bank, thread her way through some nasty sticker bushes, cross the creek, and find the bird in thick brush without my help.  Her return was just as smart and graceful as she once again negotiated each hazard while carefully holding our prize.  Upon reaching me she went to the heel position and held the bird up for me to take as she looked me straight in the eyes.

Of course it would be an impressive display of dog talent and training ability to run 250 yard blinds on a regular basis.  But we’re just “hunters” or perhaps “field trial washouts”.  Of course there are other ways to look at this so, as always, your comments are welcome whether you’re a field trial veteran or “just a hunter”.

Safety Vest Fail!

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One of the things that appeared to be a fiasco during our recent hunting trip was the “Quick Spot Safety Vest” that I purchased for both of my dogs just prior to the grouse opener in September.  I bought the vests from a popular online supplier of equipment for hunting dogs.  I’ve had good experience with the company before so I had no reason to expect anything but good quality stuff from them.  These vests may prove to be an exception to that rule, but I haven’t completely made up my mind yet. 

The picture above shows Peck in his vest after we returned from the first hunt in which the vest was used.  I didn’t put the vests on the dogs until the day before the deer hunting season began.  The area we hunt tends to attract a lot of deer hunters.  Most of these folks are good, competent, experienced hunters, but it only takes one stupid mistake to turn a good hunt into a tragedy.  That’s why I always outfit the dogs and myself with blaze orange vests as soon as the woods start to fill up with deer hunters.

Several times during our hunts I found Peck running through the brush without his vest so I had to go back and find the vest and reattach it to the dog.  I actually like this because I would rather see the vest come off than have it trap the dog in some briars or a fence.  On the other hand, the shredding of the fabric was a constant annoyance as it made the vest even more likely to hang up on every bush, branch and stick that the dog brushed up against.

Three days after the picture above was snapped, Peck’s vest was completely shredded and no longer useable.  I dug out an old vest from my hunting stuff and he made it through the rest of deer season with a 3 year old vest that was made of stronger material.  Unfortunately this vest is no longer available and its Velcro is almost worn out.

I really liked the increased visibility both for the dog’s safety and for my convenience in keeping track of 2 flushing dogs in thick brush.  I could definitely be interested in using the vests on all our hunts if I could find the right combination of availability, affordability and durability.  The vest pictured above cost $14.95 plus shipping so it may be inexpensive but, it’s not really cheap enough for me to consider it disposable.

To be fair I have to mention that Kaia’s vest made it through the whole trip.  It’s definitely ripped up a bit, but I think Kaia considers it a fashion statement.  I guess I could sew some new Velcro on that old vest that Peck was using.  The girls at Woofers Grooming have already offered to dye him bright orange, but I’m not willing to try that… yet.

Seriously, if you have some really great safety vest or other visibility enhancing solution, I’d love to hear about.  Post up the name of the product and a pic if you have one.  Thanks in advance!

Jon

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