One of my dog training mentors has patiently helped me understand not only how to get a dog to do something, but more so the why behind the training. Prime example is when Manny was struggling early last fall on roosters. We were just coming off an amazing Montana hunt, and an even better Idaho and Washington Chukar opener. Manny was doing extremely well. Then we hit Pheasant season and the wheels fell off. I was so frustrated I called my buddy, who we will refer to as COF (Crusty Old Fart as he would not want me using his given name lol). COF was at a national level field trial back east somewhere and took the time to break down what was going on. At the end of the conversation, I realized (read: he bluntly pointed out) there were several micro level things I had been allowing Manny to do that when added up, made for the perfect storm of Manny saying "Hey Boss, go F. Yourself!!!" Humbling to say the least. I immediately changed some practices and had instant results. The moral of the story is that I was trying to figure out why my dog was misbehaving around birds instead of analyzing my actions which led to this rogue teenage machismo in my otherwise sweet hunting partner.
Back to observing clients and their dogs. I always like to get my hunters in the truck with me to and fro the hunting location if I can. It's a good time to converse with the hunter and see what their goals for the day are, and to really dive into their relationship with their pup. I usually make a joke about how some people can get pretty hot under the collar when discussing shortcomings of their hunting dog which is code for their deficiencies as a dog handler. I talk about me being a pretty transparent fella and if desired, I will give them feedback. Easier said than done.
On one outing this winter, my client spoke of his young setter and his desire to get her into more birds. He also mentioned that she had a trainer who had maybe been a little harsh and/or rushed her training and she was blinking birds. Additionally, he had brought his significant other along as she was going to be working on being the dog handler of the team. Cool beans. We did a slight briefing for our fist covey find. It went like clockwork. Manny pointed a covey, dog handler walked the young setter a few yards to the side and behind Manny and restrained her. Client walked past Manny about 40 yards and rose a covey giving him three solid shot opportunities. We high fived, debriefed and discussed how the young Setter reacted. We did this all day long while giving the client's dog more and more freedom. We talked range, line of sight, trust, boldness, and cooperation all day. Over the course of the day there were seven covey finds, two pairs and a single chukar found. On the very last covey, Manny was on point, and 50 yards to his right the Setter was on point. Both dogs held perfectly and allowed the hunter to calmly walk right into the covey and smoke a single bird. His first wild first wild chukar, on point over his own dog. Money.
When we debriefed our day, we talked about setting clear expectations for his young dog, holding her to those expectations, but also understanding she is a young pup and will make mistakes. The biggest win, is getting out of her way and letting her do what she needs to do. As is with most hunters.
If you are having issues with your canine while afield. Take a step back and try to look at the root of the issue. 90% of the time, it's you. WWCOFD
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