I knew this was going to happen. I’ve been watching Russ training Cooper for 1.5 years, and the longer I’ve watched, the better I’ve gotten at watching.
I notice when Cooper’s spine is not straight in heel position, when he’s not marking the birds, when he’s veering off the straight line to the bird. Being a good wife, I offered my observations. And being a wife who is capable of learning, I’ve stopped doing that (mostly).
Now I get to be the one who is participating in training a dog for hunt tests. I’ve been watching Butch work with Tooey for the past several weeks. It’s a lot harder than it looks. I knew it would be. But knowing that didn’t stop me from suffering stage fright and making plenty of mistakes today, my first day handling Tooey. Fortunately, Tooey and I have a good trainer.
For our first task, the back to the pile drill, I managed to get Tooey out of the holding blind, into heel position, and to the line without too much drama. She did try to leave the blind several times without permission, her first of several tests to see if I’d let her get away with any misbehavior. (No is the answer, but Tooey wanted to find out for herself.)
Since the back to pile drill is a series of blind retrieves, I told her “Dead Bird,” said “Good!” when she pointed her nose in the right direction, and then sent off her with a “Back” command. Or at least I think I sent her. Perhaps she actually left a beat before I said “Back.” I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t know if I should correct her, so I let her go. And off she went, picked up a duck, and came happily back to me with it.
After retrieving 5 ducks from the back pile, we walked down to the lower field to do some marks. These were about 75 yard marks (where the dog gets to see the bird fall), and even included a live flyer and a real shotgun.
I did a couple of these with Tooey, but neither Tooey nor I were ready for this. She was so excited that, once again, she “forgot” her training. We got out of the holding blind and to the line just fine. But then, when Butch shot the gun and threw a bird, she leapt up with excitement instead staying butt-down in the heel position.
I got her to sit, and then sent her out after the bird. Which she did with a lot of enthusiasm.
In the photo below, Butch is standing next to the gunner’s blind, from which he just threw the bird. It’s about 75 yards from the line where I was waiting.
Not all went perfectly. Turns out Tooey didn’t particularly want to pick up the live flyer (a flying duck shot out of the sky). Too warm, too fuzzy, too squishy, too flappy. She did pick it up though, brought it back part way, and dropped it. I reminded her to “Fetch.” Which she did, held it for several yards, and then dropped it again.
This is not the desired behavior. I didn’t know what to do to correct it, so Butch took over for the last several marks.
It was a full day, and my head is stuffed in instructions about how to signal a heel, how to signal a sit, when to say “No!” and when to make this growling noise instead, how soon to say “Here,” what the count should be between “Dead bird” and “Back,” and how to move my body and arms while Tooey is coming back to the line with a bird.
So much to remember, and I have only just started. Tooey has 7 weeks on me, and with Cooper and Russ working so well together, I have a lot to live up to.
I’ll go back next week, and do it again.