October 1 is the unofficial kickoff of the hunting season, and, as a result, the season for training pointing dogs comes to an end. It is now time to reap the benefits of the training that has been poured into the dog. It is also time to do a hard evaluation of one's training techniques and how the dogs have responded.
As I have said many times, this blog is about training pointing dogs. Particularly, it is about Zeke. Zeke is a Llewellyn Setter that was born late January of this year. He is owned by a good friend and I have taken on the task of helping Zeke get trained into a solid bird dog. Zeke is my 4th attempt at training pointing dogs. Zeke's owner likes how my dogs have turned out, and that is why he chose me to train Zeke. That and I am cheap (i.e. free).
The goals for Zeke were simple: Get him pointing birds in training situations.
I also spent some time training Shiloh, my 3 year old Brittany. Shiloh is a more established bird dog. I have hunted over him a lot in the last few years. The goals for him are bigger and harder, but they are extra stuff to make hunting with him nicer. The goals for Shiloh were: retrieving, not chasing birds when they flush, and backing/honoring.
Each dog will be graded on the following:
Training: This is more of a judgement of the trainer. Did we run the dog through the paces? Did we time praise and correction properly? Basically, this grade judges us as to how well we did in executing the training.
Goals: This is a judgement of how well the dog has done in meeting the desired goals.
Suitability: This is an overall grade as to how suitable the dog currently is for hunting.
Painting in broad strokes, I would say that Zeke is progressing at about the same rate as Shiloh (my 3 year old Brittany) did at this age. However, there are some things that have conspired against us, which have caused the dog's grades to go down:
- No pigeons. Most of my homing pigeons have been eaten by neighborhood hawks. This has caused us to have to buy a lot of birds for training. The birds we have needed to buy have not been strong fliers, and are expensive. We've had to travel further in order to get these birds.
- No job. Zeke's owner is unemployed and simply cannot afford to buy birds and travel far to train.
For training, there has been a lot of good and a lot of bad. We had to buy a lot of birds which were not well flighted. As a result, a lot of these birds got caught, which is not a good lesson for the dog. In hind sight, we should have delayed some of his training, rather than persisting with crappy birds. The upside is that Zeke learned a lot when working with the launchers. And Zeke's owner has made lemonade by exposing Zeke to a lot of truly wild birds, which will have nothing but a positive impact on him.
Improvements for next year will be a new batch of pigeons with which to train, and a renewed focus on shooting or simulated shooting of birds. In other words, with Zeke's recent exposure to wild birds, he is learning what does not work well. He needs some exposure to demonstrate what does work; what the right behavior is and what benefits it will yield.
For goals, in spite of our sometimes crappy training, Zeke is doing quite well. When birds are planted in launchers, he is pointing quite well. With the wild birds, I've been told that he will hold a point as long as the bird does not move. Once the bird moves, the dog loses it and dives in. All in all, though, I am quite pleased, especially in light of what a crappy trainer I have been.
Improvement for next year will involve birds outside of the launchers, since the launchers are less important since there are at least two of us training. Also shooting birds for him is vitally important.
In the suitability category, the poor grade is a reflection of his age, not his potential. Even though he is not steady in pointing, he has some strengths even now. He is an instinctual backer, which is useful in the sense that he may not totally screw up a hunt. Furthermore, he shows some promise in retrieving. Both of these can be useful in a sidekick role.
In training, Shiloh got shafted. Much of my plans for him this summer were dependent upon him completing a force fetch program. When it became evident how much pressure I was going to have to put him under, I abandoned that plan. Much of the other goals for Shiloh needed gunfire, so I kept putting it off until Zeke got old enough to be made to the gun. I did not start any sort of steadiness training until around August. This was too late for the hunting trip I had planned in September.
In short, with the exception of some kinder/gentler fetch training, Shiloh got no training.
For next year, we will go at it again, and start a bit earlier so that there is enough time to get it all in. A new pigeon crop will help.
For his goals, when you don't train, you don't hit the goals. Hence the F. My fault, not his.
Shiloh continues to be a useful asset in the field. Birds pointed in Michigan and in Montana demonstrate that he has not forgotten earlier training. He does not get a higher grade because he does not honor other dogs pointing. He walked right in front of another dog on point. This will have to be worked on, especially since he will be spending more time with other dogs in the future.
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