Have a Frosty Rainier!

We try to get out every morning for a walk.  It was a little chilly yesterday.  That doesn’t bother us at all.

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Sometimes I hunt with a shotgun and sometimes I hunt with a camera, but we’re always hunting as far as Kaia and Peck are concerned.  I enjoy the scenery and they enjoy the “smellery”.

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When the temperature gets this low there is always ice to contend with.  Ice can be a very dangerous element for retrievers.  There’s really no way to teach them how to handle ice other than to expose them carefully and allow them to figure it out.  There are many different kinds of ice that a retriever needs to be able to navigate.  There’s solid ice, wet slippery ice,  thin cracking ice, cutting ice, slushy ice, ice breaking at the edge, and on and on.  If a dog’s first encounter with ice occurs while he is running a retrieve, the odds of injury increase exponentially.  It’s far better to allow a dog to learn about ice while he can approach it with some caution.

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In the photo above you can see Peck’s trail through the ice near the top of the photo.  He charged through a thin layer and I think he was surprised to find it rather uncomfortable.  After charging through the thin layer he turned around to go back and check it out.  I could almost hear the wheels turning in his doggy brain as he stored the data for future encounters with the cold, hard stuff.

This is how dogs learn to deal with a lot of things they encounter.  All we have to do as trainers is get them out into the wilds where they can gather these experiences.  No amount of classes or training programs, books or DVDs can ever replace the simple act of getting out there and doing it.

The dogs and I were walking through a field of mowed Scotch Broom the other day.  I was thinking about a friend who was deathly afraid of allowing his dog to run through the stubble.  It seems his dog had sustained a foot injury on a previous jaunt through the field of sticks.  He didn’t want to let his dog run there, ever again.  My dogs have been running through stubble since they were puppies.  We’ve never seen a foot injury resulting from this. (Knock on wood!)  I believe they have a way of paying attention to their feet that allows them to trot right through this stuff without a problem.  They only learned it by doing it.

Obviously you have to pick your poison carefully.  I would not have chosen to let the dogs learn about porcupines by attacking one.  Unfortunately they made that decision on their own.  But, other things like ice, streams, stubble fields, and numerous other hazards can be learned by the  dogs through repeated exposure.  You don’t want your dog to learn about moving water by having him swim for a 40 yards retrieve across a raging river.  The hazards need to be introduced gradually, beginning with the easy stuff, so the dog avoids injury and fear.

Labrador Retrievers aren’t the only dogs that conquer hazards in this fashion.  They’re just the first breed that comes to my mind because I work with them every day.  Please help me broaden my horizons by sharing how your dogs learn to navigate hazards through repeated exposure.

Slack Leads to you all!

Diesel Makes a New Friend!

Bailey is a really sweet Golden Doodle who is staying at Muck Creek Kennels over Thanksgiving.  Diesel was pretty skeptical about her at first.  He has some fear of other dogs that could stem from being bullied as a puppy.  It’s not really very helpful for us to make assumptions though.  It’s much more important for Diesel that we move on and learn to interact courteously with other dogs.

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Bailey is the perfect pal for our boy, Diesel, because she’s around his age, she’s female and she’s about as sweet and friendly as a dog can be.  Naturally I took all the necessary precautions when I introduced them.  I didn’t expect any trouble, but we can’t be too careful either.

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We were hearing a lot of frustration-barking from the kennel because they were both curious about each other and they couldn’t wait to get a good game of “chase-me-chase-you” going.  I let them run around in the exercise yard together for about a half hour under my close supervision.  The pictures speak for themselves.  They had a blast!

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I just put them back in the kennel a little while ago and the kennel is finally quiet for the first time today.  I think they wore each other out!

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Enjoy this sunshine and Slack Leads to you all!

Another Sunday in the Church of Dog

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We decided to take the shotgun for a walk so the dogs and I headed toward Mt Rainier.

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..and we drove up in the boonies near Morton.

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Peck is pretty sure there’s a grouse up here somewhere:

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C’mon, we’re almost to the top!

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Hmmm. No bird on that hill either!

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There was lots of time to take pictures and I could have left the shotgun at home.  We didn’t see a single grouse.  None of God’s innocent little creatures were harmed in the making of this blog post, but I must confess that we had mayhem in our hearts and minds!  We just couldn’t find any birds that wanted to cooperate.  It was a beautiful day and everybody agreed that the air was fresh and the sun was bright. We were thankful for that!

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

Book Report: Positive Gun Dogs

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Positive Gun Dogs By: Jim Barry, Mary Emmen and Susan Smith

This book is the result of a collaboration between members of a yahoo discussion group dealing with clicker training.  It is published by Sunshine Books which is part of Karen Pryor’s clicker training empire. 

Jean Donaldson’s blurb on the back cover states that this book is never preachy in tone.  Apparently being a clicker trainer herself has made Jean tone-deaf because this book is preachy as hell right from the get-go.  Already on page one of the introduction the authors describe “force fetch” as if it were some kind of torture carried out by medieval henchman in dark dungeons.  By the time you finish the first page of chapter one you will read:

If you were to ask the average gun dog trainer to explain learning theory, he or she would not be able to do so and might even scoff at the idea of needing to understand such a thing.

Blanket statements such as the quote above do nothing to enhance the view of clicker training in the eyes of the “traditional trainer”.  Rather, these kinds of derisive comments serve only to alienate so-called traditional trainers and boost the egos of the authors who apparently harbor a sacrosanct belief that theirs is the only “right” method.

My question is this: If you truly believe in positive reinforcement then why don’t you just present the positive and effective aspects of your methods rather than using so much space to criticize and impugn the methods of others?  In a book as short as this (100 pages) it seems that all the space used to denigrate other methods is a product of the authors’ insecurity with their own techniques.

On pg. 13 the authors tell us the one area in which they use traditional training methods is in “snake avoidance training”.  For this kind of training the authors grudgingly admit, “electronic collar training is the most reliable.”  Apparently they don’t want this kind of reliability unless it’s a life or death situation involving a reptile.  Many trainers prefer to have this same degree of reliability in other situations as well.  We’ve never hunted around snakes, but having a 100 percent reliable remote-sit has saved my dogs from peril more than once. 

The chapter on basic learning theory is helpful if you’ve never read anything about operant conditioning. The information is straightforward and well presented. There are some good explanations of the operant conditioning quadrant, the Premack Principle and other learning basics. 

The next two chapters go on to explain more detail about the practical use of positive reinforcement and how to keep records of training progress.  Here the book shares a problem typical of clicker training literature, namely the seemingly endless use of jargon and acronyms.  One would think that a tome espousing the wonders of learning theory would find some way to make its contents easier to digest without all the alphabet soup.

In Chapter 4, Obedience Fundamentals, I was dismayed to find:

…,in hunting the dog can drop the bird on the ground rather than delivering to hand as the dog must for tests and trials.

This statement indicates a lack of familiarity with hunting retrievers and the job they perform in the field.  All of the bird hunters I know require their retrievers to deliver to hand.  Dropping a bird at the hunter’s feet is a sure way to cause unsafe situations in the field because wounded birds can create quite a disturbance in a duck blind or a small boat.  A quick game of “chase the bird” in a crowded duck blind is never a good idea.  Loaded shotguns and wild bird chases in a confined space are a recipe for disaster.

Another thing I find disappointing is the attitude that hunt test and field trial dogs are somehow superior to hunting dogs.  As in the example above, such attitudes are often based on deeply flawed assumptions about the role of a hunting dog in the field.

What follows in the next 4 chapters is basically an adaptation of Rex Carr’s training system that has been used to train retrievers for 50 years.  The system has been adapted to focus more on the carrot and ignore the stick, so to speak, but most of the underlying structure and drills are the same.

I must admit that I experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance as I read the book.  I attribute this to the unusual combination of its condescending tone, and political correctness combined with the fact that parts of the book actually mention bird hunting as if it were acceptable to the authors.  In one paragraph the reader is admonished on the horrors of inhumane training and in the next we read about the importance of retrieving “crippled birds” quickly before they get away.  All the while the book consistently uses the female pronoun for dogs; her, she, etc., as if the authors thought they were addressing a group of feminist duck hunters.  Odd, perhaps that was their target demographic?

While the authors admit that virtually ALL the dogs performing at the top levels of gundog sports have been trained using traditional methods; they claim this is simply because the science of clicker training is so new that it hasn’t had time to reach the top levels of these sports.  I seem to recall Karen Pryor making similar claims in the 80’s.

I spent a considerable amount of time and money to learn what I know about clicker training.  I’m very glad that I did.  Within the realm of positive reinforcement are some very powerful tools to help learning and behavior change.  What I’ve also learned is that they are not always the best or most effective tools for every dog in every situation. 

Nothing in this book has changed my view which can be summarized as follows:  Traditional methods work.  Clicker training works.  If you observe carefully, a dog will show you what approach or combination of methods works best for him or her.  If you decide what approach to use based on human traditions or your own ideological convictions, you have ignored the dog.

In closing I would like to add that $24.95 (plus $5 shipping) is entirely too much to pay for this book. 

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!