I continue at a rather slow pace to get my puppies used to game. Last time when I wrote about my training with Tassla, I was a little further on my way after the first few faltering steps (when she did not take the game in her mouth, but instead just sniffed at it, or maybe grabbed a wing).
Since then I have (not as often as I should though) at all different times walked around with a bird in my game bag, for instance when we train and take our evening walks. (I sometimes wonder what the neighbours might think when they see me walk around on the street with a Cocker Spaniel in one hand and a large, dead bird in the other.)
While Tassla ran around, I stood there and held the dead bird, and then we continued our walk. Tassla has often wanted to carry the bird, and then I have almost always asked her to do that. And I have also asked her to retrieve the bird sometimes and then, after that, we have returned home. Sometimes I have stopped, taken a few steps back, and as Tassla is on a leash she has to follow me, and then I have trained the hand target (shown her my hand which is a signal for delivery to hand) and then she has delivered the bird, but she has done that in quite a sloppy way.
The other day Tassla understood that delivery to hand also applies for game. She has been a little too excited about game, she gets so energized that she chews both very hard and a lot on the bird, and because of that delivery to hand has been too difficult for her. I have just ignored that and instead I have had her on a leash and walked away. If she then wants so carry the game she must hold on to it and she can’t chew on the bird without dropping it. In addition, I have used a few birds where I first cut off the wings, and that makes it a lot easier for her to hold the bird in a firm grip. Otherwise, she easily starts to fiddle with bird and drag it in one wing, and then, whoops, the bird lies on the ground, and, whoops, she starts to chew on the bird, and so on.
A couple of days ago I put a bird, without wings and therefore easy to hold on to, in the tall grass, and asked her to hunt for it and retrieve it (it wasn’t a blind retrieve, she had to hunt). Right before that I asked her retrieve a couple of dummies in the same way. The first time she put the bird on the ground and then she took it again (but first she chewed a little on it) but then she delivered it nicely to my hand – exactly the same way as she had done with the dummies before. I was still very pleased with the delivery to hand, because it seemed as if she were very conscious about it, she knew what she was doing. The next time she took the game directly, immediately turned around, and delivered it nicely right to my hand. Bingo!
It definitely felt as if we took a step over the threshold this time. We are now one step closer to a perfect delivery to hand with game. I often think of our training as various steps in a staircase. You always have to take one step at a time to move forward. Sometimes we need to stay a long time at one step before we can take a step forward – towards the final behaviour. Sometimes we also have to take one step back, if I have pushed my dog too much. And sometimes everything just clicks, and we are suddenly able to take several steps up the stairs at one time.
I intend to continue train Tassla to be cool around game and try to make game a normal part of our training and daily life. And then, after a while, I will check and see, if she still is really good at delivery to hand and if I can do the training in more difficult environments and with other types of birds. So now we have come a little further in our training, nice!