The other day I discovered that my dog Tassla has very high expectations to retrieve when I throw something. It is, of course, great to have a dog that loves to retrieve, but sometimes it can be a little too much. It is important to find the golden mean; the dog should love to do what she does, but she shouldn’t be so overexcited that I can’t guide her.
I have asked Tassla to retrieve almost everything that I throw – often as a reward when she stops running on the spot when I throw an object. The other day she made her first false start, only a second before I managed to give her the cue. Then I realized that her expectations to retrieve were too high and that I have to find a way to change that.
Yesterday was also the first time that I lost contact with her and that I couldn’t control her. We were on our way to a meadow where we often train and Tassla run off too much on the way there. Once we got to the meadow it was obvious that she could scent game in the area. Tassla who usually pays a lot of attention to me, who wants to know where I am, and who listens to all my different signals, disappeared into her own world. When I after a while noticed that I still couldn’t get in contact with her I called her (yes, she always comes when I blow the whistle) and I put her on a leash. I don’t want my dog to train “being in another world”. Then we trained on just sitting down with a cup of coffee for a while.
When she was calmer I started the training. Then she had returned to her fine, focused self. This day we trained, among other things, steadiness when a bird flies up. I used one of those small artificial birds that are like a slingshot – you kind of shot the bird away and it flutters its wings and wobbles on its way through the air. (I bought mine at a the Swedish webshop Settern – it’s called Flying Duck).
When Tassla stopped (now she stops when I throw the bird so I don’t need to blow the whistle) and the bird landed, I went up to her and gave her liverwurst while I spoke encouraging to her. Then I asked her to wait, and then I walked away to pick up the bird myself and when I came back to her I rewarded her again because she sat and waited. The first time she didn’t manage to sit when I walked away, she ran after me, but then I just asked her to sit again, showed her my hand sign that means stay and then I rewarded her for sitting, before I walked away again.
Next time when I trained with her I picked up the toy bird myself and gave it to her, so we could play with it together. A couple of days later I picked up the bird, walked to Tassla, put tidbits in a small area behind her, and I let her hunt for them as a reward for sitting still and waiting.
It was simply time to move her expectations from one point to another. If she thinks that she can retrieve every time that a bird flies up I will have a dog that works without my involvement so to speak … It is extremely important that your dog loves to work, of course, but that you still can maintain the control and in my way of dog training it means that I have to offer my dog really great rewards, something that Tassla thinks is as good as retrieving.
And, although I may not have any reward that really can compete with retrieving, I still build value for Tassla’s behavior “sit still and wait”, if I reward that behavior very often – and as good as I possibly can.
It must not be boring – that is, she can’t just sit there and do nothing after seeing the toy fly away – WE have to do something fun together. As I want to reward her a lot for steadiness and for sitting a long time and just wait, I avoid doing a lot of running to and fro because it is great, when both the dog and the handler have time to breathe.