It would be nice to think that practice makes perfect, but that’s just not true. Good practice, however, especially if it’s regular and frequent, can make much, much better.
The lack of regular and frequent has been my biggest handicap in training Carlin for fieldwork — I work a Monday through Friday, 8 to 5 job, so my daylight time is very limited. And I don’t live anywhere close to training grounds with varied cover and ponds, where I can train my dog on birds. And I don’t have anyone to work with regularly, to help set up scenarios, tell me when I’m doing well or poorly, throw bumpers, and all the other parts of putting together a training session.
I do have pieces of what I need, though. Russ takes the dogs out in the morning to a large, closely mown field. He can work with them on their marking short retrieves using bumpers. I work them on heeling at home and on waiting for things they want, like meals and going out doors. When we have time, Russ and I will drive out on a weekend morning to a local training field, where lately the ponds have been all dried up. And on some Saturdays over the last several months (not during hunting season), I’ve been able to go up to Washington state and work with Richard.
This week I am enormously fortunate. Russ and I have been able to work three days in a row on some fabulous training grounds in Montana with Richard of Tuxedo Kennels. Tuxedo Kennels has facilities in both Washington (not during hunting season) and Montana (during hunting season), and through good fortune and my regular and frequent asking, we were invited to come train this week. (Actually, I think Richard just likes Carlin and wants him to do well, and I come along as part of that package.) Every day so far, Richard has set up hunting scenarios, provided birds, and most of all, provided timely, pertinent training for this newbie dog-handler team.
Today, things came together. Carlin heeled nicely out to the field. He quartered the field beautifully, and my handling flowed along with him. When he got too far or too wide, I noticed it in good time and called him back in. I actually saw when Carlin scented the bird, and sped up my pace to catch up with him. Carlin trapped all his birds this morning, so Richard threw the birds for him to retrieve. Carlin was steady until sent, retrieved the birds, and then brought them to hand in really close to heel position. It was a thing of beauty.
Richard pointing out the course while Carlin waits
Carlin bringing back the bird
Carlin delivering the bird to hand from heel position
And Carlin’s water work was equally as beautiful. He had a 65-yard swim across the pond to retrieve a duck that had landed into some tall grass on the shore. I think that’s the longest water retrieve he’s attempted, and about half way across, he popped (turned around and looked at me). I repeated his “Take it” command, and he turned back toward the duck, got to shore, hunted around a bit, found it, and got a nice firm grip on the body of the duck. He swam almost straight back to me, got into near-heel position, and delivered the duck.
With all the challenges of this scenario, everyone watching was amazed. Carlin has a hard time being steady at the water, but this time he was mostly steady, just lifting his butt about an inch off the ground. He had a long swim back and forth through milfoil weeds in the water. The duck’s location in the grass on the shore was not immediately obvious, but Carlin was persistent in his hunt. When he found it, he brought it directly back and delivered it beautifully at my side.
I had my part, too, which I did pretty well, if I do say so myself. When he popped, I stepped forward, raised my arm, and repeated his “take it” command. When he was coming back, it appeared that he might come back a little off the straight line back, so I stepped sideways to redirect his gaze to the right spot. And I reminded him to hold his bird just before he got to the spot where he was most likely to drop it.
Carlin at the line; Laura playing judge
Carlin swimming through the milfoil weeds
Carlin searching for the duck
Re-entering the water for the swim back
Swimming back with the duck
Holding the duck
We were a team today, and it was beautiful.
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