Chaining Exercises

The other day I was out training with the three musketeers. To qualify as a musketeer you have to be a black Cocker Spaniel at the age of one year. From the left: Tassla, Jagger, and Bonnie.
The other day I was out training with the three musketeers. To qualify as a musketeer you have to be a black Cocker Spaniel at the age of one year. From the left: Tassla, Jagger, and Bonnie.

Quite often, I can’t stop myself from digging into details. It’s great fun, of course. But then I have to put all these details together to a chain, otherwise there is nothing. (I actually mean that I have to put several different behaviors together in a chain so that they can result in a field trail).

We made a flying start with one long sequence that looked like this:

  • The assistant throws a marked retrieve
  • Turn in the opposite direction and have the dog walk at heel about ten yards in the other direction
  • Place a dummy on the ground with the dog at your side
  • Then, walk about twenty yards back in the same direction that you came, and cast the dog back to the retrieve which you just put on the ground
  • During that time the assistant picks up the dummy he or she threw earlier and instead puts a small dummy or a toy at the same place, but hidden in the grass
  • Then cast the dog to the place where the dog saw the marked retrieve fall and blow the stop whistle when the dog arrives at the location
  • Blow the hunt whistle when the dog sits down after the stop whistle
  • Let the dog hunt until it finds the dummy and returns to you
  • Take the dummy or toy and reward the dog

As usual, these types of long chains show you what your dog has learned and what she needs to train more. I am happy with Tassla’s casting, she knows how to do this. She can let go of the thrown dummy, even if she is a little unwilling, and she is happy to follow me in the opposite direction. We need to work more on casting though, so that they can be completely unseen/blind. The deliveries to hand are quite okay. But it was impossible to cast Tassla to an area that was so interesting (a marked retrieve landed there before) and blow the stop whistle. She didn’t listen to the stop whistle until I had run almost all the way up to her and blew the stop whistle there.

So, we needed to train that during the rest of the day. We had to go back to the basics so that she could understand what I wanted. And that wasn’t at all surprising, because we haven’t done exactly this type of exercise before. I know that some handlers don’t blow the stop whistle before the dog should hold an area, but instead let the dog hold the area at once (and some handlers don’t even blow the hunt whistle). I like to have some control, however. I want us to work together all the time. If she learns that from the beginning, I think it will be easier to get contact with her later in more difficult situations.

Later we made the exercise a little more difficult:

  1. I thought that I at first needed to remind her of the stop signal. I cast her out to nowhere, then I blew the stop whistle and when she sat down my friend Lisa threw a small dummy (a toy would have worked as well) close to her so that she could hunt for it as a reward.
    2. After that Lisa put scent on the ground by pressing the dummy on the ground in several different places, but she didn’t put the dummy there. I cast Tassla to that area and then blow the stop whistle. In this exercise we worked at about five yards distance.
  2. Then Lisa threw the dummy as a marked retrieve, walked out and picked it up, carefully so that Tassla didn’t see it, and at the same time Lisa touched the grass here and there to add some more scent. I then cast Tassla, blew the stop whistle, and when she sat down Lisa rewarded her by throwing a dummy to her. I rewarded her with treats a few times too.
  3. The last step was that Lisa hid the dummy and put scent on the grass with her hands, and then I cast Tassla, blew the stop whistle, blew the hunt whistle, and she found the dummy and delivered it to my hand.

The exercises went very well after a while. At first we made it too difficult for Tassla, because we started at step 3, but then we did step 1 and 2 first. After that it was no problem for Tassla and everything was great.

We took a break after that.

I filmed while Lisa and Bonnie did an exercise. Bonnie should choose the first dummy and not pay any attention to the second dummy, which was placed a little further away on the ground. Bonnie thought that it was a little bit tempting, but she chose the right one and retrieved it to Lisa:

IMG_1601As usual, the dogs trained steadiness while we had coffee and cake. We decided to sit down next to a pond because all our dogs love to swim. Lately I have “antitrained” water, which means that I haven’t done marked retrieves on water, instead I have trained next to water and only used water as a place for her to swim a little, either after or in the middle of the training.

During this long break we sat down and looked at a few ducks that swam around in the water and once in a while we threw a couple of stones into the water – they flopped into the water. In the beginning Tassla had difficulty to focus on anything but this flopping, and she also whined a little. I then started to put treats around her feet every time a stone flopped into the water, and after only a few times, she was silent and stopped focusing on the water right after the flopping sound.

After the break, I decided to let Tassla do some water work. Tassla and I went away to train for a while; I didn’t want Tassla to see that Lisa and Jonas placed a dummy among the water lilies. Tassla walked at heel to the water, but it was so very tempting that during the last few yards she ran to the water and walked around in it. So I recalled her and just walked away from the water and instead I let her hold a small area a little further away. I don’t want her to work when she stars before my cue.

Next time I rewarded her for walking at heel to the water, and now it was no problem for us to walk close to the water. I stopped there and then I cast her straight out to the blind retrieve, which she hadn’t seen. She only swam a couple of yards before she turned around and looked at me as if she was asking, if I was really sure. And I was. I pushed her further back with a hand sign and my cue “go back”, and she turned around and swam a little bit, and then she suddenly saw the dummy. BINGO! This was a great experience for her: When she listens to me she will be rewarded.

Tassla swam to the dummy, took it and held it, and when she came up from the water with the dummy I had taken a couple of steps away from the water, but she ran without hesitation to me and delivered the dummy to hand and then she shook herself.

Later she swam a little further away, past the water lilies and some reed, to retrieve a dummy. She did this in an excellent way; she was steady and quite. When I gave my cue she ran off as if she was shot out of a cannon, but that is not a bad thing at all.


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