So. Angus is now reliably (more or less) tri-lingual. Voice, whistle and hand commands. His vocabulary includes everything I currently need him to understand to go where I want him to go and do what I want him to do. Mostly. He is still very young and has the concentration of a hyper active gnat on Red Bull. Our training is now geared toward focus and repeatability and we're adding new things slowly. On this day we did add something new; Doubles. Doubles is two birds (note: I use bumpers and birds interchangeably. It's a quirk) in more or less a line with one near and one far. He must retrieve one, deliver, sit and then retrieve the other. We've also introduced him to OVER, which is similar to BACK except given away from the handler and it sends him to the side instead of straight back. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
First up a warm up. remember that the dog has a very short attention span. He must be taken back to Kindergarten from time to time just to keep him sharp. In Angus' case we do some Kindergarten work every time we train. I also keep the training time limited to 5 or 10 minutes per exercise and no more than 20 to 30 minutes total. At this age (he's 9 months) anything longer and he tends to lose interest and goof off. That's bad because I want his natural energy and enthusiasm to be at the forefront. Control is easy when he's ready and nearly impossible when he's not. As he progresses that control will become a natural part of his retrieving life but at this stage everything is fun and wonderful and happy with limited corrections done as gently as possible. YMMV, this is just how I do it. First we go through the basic commands in all three 'languages'. Then he gets some free retrieves where he's allowed to just go get the bumper with almost no control, just a simple BACK command. When he's all nice and warm and eager for the festivities we begin.
We started the day with practicing his OVER. This set up is called the Infield. I have bumpers at First Base, Second Base and Third Base. Angus is placed at SIT on the pitchers mound and I'm at Home. Here's what it looks like. Note that I'm still keeping everything very short. I want him to get the basics before we spread things out and really challenge him.
The command OVER is given with a clear arm movement toward the correct dummy. Here he is doing it very well.
After the retrieve I took him back out to the pitchers mound and a SIT. Then the command BACK and my arm straight up. This picture is fabulous because it shows a behavior I badly want but that is often hard to train for. On the BACK command Angus turned and went back but he'd either lost the bumper or gotten confused. He 'Popped", that is he stopped but he did exactly what I want, no need, him to do. He stopped, faced me and waited for a command. He looked to me for guidance. This shows that he is getting the whole command thing and trusts me to guide him to the prize. This trust is critical for success.
I gave him the BACK command and arm movement again and.....Success!!! I did the happy dance. He did this exercise as perfectly as any 9 month old dog could. I am sooo happy.
And now a quiet interlude with the obligatory artsy picture. My camera person was the lovely Lu. In this photo we can see the ultimate folly of man in his relationship with the world. It might just be Lu feet and fingers with an Angus leg. With Artistes one can never be sure.
A quick word on being flexible in your training and smarter than your dog. Don't get pigeonholed by trainers and books and how everyone else does it. There are times to be creative. You are (probably) smarter than your dog, Use that to your advantage. Case in point. Angus loves to retrieve. He's a stylish and enthusiastic retriever. But. In his enthusiasm he tends to over run, both on the retrieve and in the delivery. When he delivers he runs past me (approximately to Fresno) before turning back. It's a little frustrating and a No No in the retriever world. I want him to come to me, circle behind me and come back to heel. What to do?
I set up with a fence behind me. In order to keep him from crashing into it I gave him some free retrieves and slowly worked us back until the fence was just a few feet behind me. By that time Angus could see it, knew it was there and had to compensate for it.
The result? Better. He wanted to veer off but a quick COME command and HEEL brought him to where he was supposed to be and he got the message. Slow down, focus and think.
Now it was time for Doubles. Remember, I'm keeping things short and fun. In between evolutions he's getting to run, free retrieve and generally play. Lu was there with the kids so he had plenty to do in between rounds.
Here's the set up. If you look closely you'll see two bumpers in this picture, one long and one short. The short is just to the left of the center of the pic and the long just to the right of that and a little further out. I threw the long bird second for a couple of reasons. I want Angus to focus and he needs to be able to bypass a bird or bumper to concentrate on the one he's being sent for. At this stage and age he'll naturally mark the last bird he's seen better than the first one. By throwing the long second he'll more naturally tend toward it when he's sent and it'll give him chance to see but ignore the short bird. The short bird is then an easier mark precisely because it's short and I'll be better able to direct his focus there and not confuse him. Less chance of a Pop. Make sense?
And here we go. Angus after the long bird. He completely ignored the short bird. Joy! You can see the over run on the retrieve here. It's something I'll address as he progresses but for now I give his enthusiasm and energy a freer hand. Better an over enthusiastic but lesser controlled dog than an over controlled dog who's had the joy beaten out of him. Want to ruin a good dog and crush his potential? Excess control, correction, discipline and training at this stage will do it right quick.
Here's something I learned and highly recommend. When your dog is delivering, or when you're teaching COME, kneel down. You are so much taller and bigger than he is that it's natural for them to be a bit intimidated, especially if they've done something wrong and know it. Kneeling down brings you to their level and makes them far more comfortable. Remember, Angus is still very much a puppy. As he matures and progresses this will be less and less necessary but for now the watchwords are FUN, HAPPY and NONTHREATENING and having Daddy kneeling down on his level sends that message loud and clear in a language all dogs understand.
Here you can see Angus passing the short bird (look just below his neck), ignoring it completely and focusing on me. This is where the whistle can pay big dividends. I whistled him all the way in. If he had paused or veered I'd have waved my arms, jumped up and down and increased my whistling from COME to FRANTIC. Anything to focus him away from the short bird and onto COME. Fortunately Angus handled it like a champ.
Success and on to the short bird quickly. I heeled Angus, refocused him and sent him. He picked up the short like he'd been doing it all his life.
After some Doubles I wanted to work some longer retrieves, as long as I could throw them. At some point I'll have to use my lovely assistant to throw bumpers while out from us but for now my throws are long enough.
Angus is fairly fast and runs after a retrieve like there's no tomorrow. That's something that cannot be taught, he either has enthusiasm for his calling or he doesn't. Pick your breeder carefully.
The catch. Again, the 'come hither' posture from the semi-competent trainer.
And the delivery to heel. What a Good Dog!! Praise and love at this stage is also critical. Do it every chance you get.
Remember, all work and no play makes Angus an unhappy boy. Besides, are there two more suitable companions than a dog and a child? The Girl is learning the ropes of dog training. She's mostly just watching and asking questions for the nonce but I include her whenever I can and that will increase as Angus and she progress. She's already a fine handler and developing her command voice. Hey, gotta pass along the love whenever you can. For Angus, he considers play a natural part of training. It's all the same to him and that's the environment we're trying to foster. If he feels pressure he'll be more likely to fold. If he sees the whole thing as fun he's much more likely to rise to his potential. Give him the tools to succeed and watch him perform.
What's next? We'll be working many of the same exercises until Angus gets the concepts down pat. I'll be adding some complexity and distance as we go but slowly and always going back to Kindergarten from time to time. The next thing for him to learn will be blinds. A blind retrieve is one where he neither sees the mark nor fall. He has no idea anything is out there. That's where the bond and trust we've built up will come in. He'll learn to trust me completely. If I send him after a retrieve he'll go, confidant that Daddy will find him a bird. And that's the reward for a good retriever, that bird. We started him down that trail with the doubles. We'll also start spreading out the doubles so we have to re-position for the second retrieve.
I'm excited. Angus is learning and performing beyond my expectations and hopes. He's fast becoming a stylish and competent retriever. I may even go back on my oath and find a Retriever Field Trial and enter him as a Derby Dog. I think he could do very well right now. We'll see.
I hope you find these posts of value. I admit to being a bit obsessive/compulsive where it comes to my dogs and training. It's fun for both of us and I've always said that a dog employed doing what he was bred for is a happy and content dog.