Quling is a dog that has proven to be what you traditionally call “a soft dog”. By that I mean a dog that for example becomes uneasy in certain environments, when meeting new people, who is gun shy, who is incredibly attentive and sensitive to my mood and who think that it might be safest not to do anything at all if something seems scary. A dog that very easily becomes stressed and who gets scared when someone raises their voice. I most certainly can’t show irritation or be in even the slightest of bad moods when I train him, because then he stops working – either by simply running away or by just lying down. If others around us are harsh with their dogs , the same thing happens.
In combination with this, he is a hunting maniac. He jumps over the fence at home to chase after blackbirds if he gets the chance. The second I open the front door, he begins to hunt with his eyes if he gets the chance. He rarely gets those chances anymore. ?
I have written about this in the blog, about how I tried to find the gray scales in a dog that is black or white. How I worked to build his self-confidence and our cooperation so we can hunt together.
The video shows a happy and secure Quling that hunts a little among the leaves and then just has to run a victory lap with his treasure ;).
There’s ups and downs with Quling, as with most other dogs. What makes training him so challenging is that we can really be on a roll with our training, and then I make a mistake and expose him to a situation that is too difficult and then we fall far back in our training again. And it takes time to get him back to where we were in our training again.
For the longest time I thought that if he just started to understand the spaniel work and how much fun hunting with me is, his fears would disappear. When he is in hunting mode, he is such a strong and tough dog. Nothing gets to him. I really thought that if we could just reach the point where I could shoot over him, he would get it and everything would be fine.
I also thought that he should live in an environment with birds and rabbits, making that a part of everyday life. So that he wouldn’t jump out of his own skin at the sight – or the sound – of a pheasant. If he could just learn to take it easy in an environment like that, and learn to work despite those kinds of distractions, then it would also be easier to just start hunting with him. Unfortunately I don’t have that kind of environment available. However, I’ve just moved out into the country side, to a farm, and I am making plans! ?
The video shows us working in a rabbit enclosure (the rabbits are inside their houses) with lots of scent and how he still manages to listen to me and make the right decision. (He just had to take a little peek in a pile of twigs. ;))
A few dog trainers and hunters have advised me to “turn him on”. They’ve only seen the dog who doesn’t dare to hunt, who shuts down when I try to get him started, who avoids the whole situation or is gun shy. I really do understand that the advice was well intended. “Release him and let him run, then bring him back.” But Quling has been turned on. He has already been allowed to run. He has been hunting like crazy on four occasions and flushed bird after bird – none of them were intentional and he was hunting 300 meters away from me … and no, that was not the plan… And to some, “bringing him back” means to correct him harshly a few times – something he might “stand” when he is in hunting mode. But walking down that path is completely out of the question for me. However, I have lost my temper a few times, which certainly wasn’t planned or something I wanted to do, nor did it help matters. It just hurt our relationship. I’m not sure how well it would work anyway, and as said, it really isn’t an option.
Someone advised me to “turn him on” and then continue to work with me in great control over the rewards, not letting him run wild. That’s what I try to do, but I don’t think my rewards are good enough. Because I don’t have the birds and the rabbits and although Quling loves hos rabbit fur balls, they are not really that valuable if he can choose a bird instead.Therefore, I would really like to get out and shoot for him. At the moment, however, it’s difficult because if he runs 100 meters away, it’s not possible to shoot for him. He is quite phenomenal about picking up scent on the ground and following it, and he runs a 100-meter race in two seconds. I really don’t want that…
The video shows the beginning of the training where Quling is supposed to think about “steadiness” when he sees or hears a bird flapping away. He’s great at that now. ?
As soon as I meet someone who has a careful and sensitive hunting dog, I usually interrogate them on how they work with their dogs. During the autumn hunts, I met a lot of people who had dogs that are similar to Quling, but most of those dogs don’t seem to be as great hunting maniacs but mostly cautious all the time. But some seem to match Quling and then I really try to pay attention to how they’re handling it.
One common thing that I’ve found is that they have begun hunting with their dogs early on. They have shot lots for them as young dogs. It has built the dogs’ self-confidence. Those with gun shy dogs have tried to work with that first in different ways, to make the dog confident around shots.
When I met a very skilled and qualified dog that hunts very nicely, the owner told me that he was so happy that the dog could hunt now, even though there were lots of people nearby. Of course, I was extra curious about what he had done to get that dog to get over its fears. People being close to us is Quling’s most difficult distraction. The dog’s handler had eased up on a lot of the every day life rules and hunted with the dog ever since it was 8 months. Slowly but surely its self-confidence had grown.
The video shows the first time I combined the stop whistle and the hunt whistle.
The time for letting Quling hunt at 8 months has passed. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever succeed in making him a hunting dog. I have felt quite down because of that, but I feel better now. I just had to kind of surrender. I’m learning a lot. We’ve begun training nose work; he likes agility, and I continue to train him for hunting just to see what will work and what won’t.
I’ve also had some painful insights about my temper. During my first ten years as a dog trainer, I would become quite frustrated when I didn’t understand why the things I tried to get the dog to do didn’t work. Then I got Tassla. I just quit becoming annoyed. Actually, I just decided to. I decided that whatever happened, it was just information for me. Information about what I needed to make sure to train more. Tassla was also a very bright dog, and it was easy to just laugh it off when something went wrong.
At the same time as Quling came into my life, my bad temper returned. For the most part, I actually don’t think it was due to him. But I had one of the worst years in my life with deaths, separations, houses that collapsed, etc. It turned me away from the analytical and focused person I can be, and made me lose my temper right away. The frustration has unfortunately remained in our relationship. Everything is a lot better, but I do relapse. At best, I then have training friends who simply tell me “Lena, do what you usually advise me to and …” or ask “should I take him for a while”. <3 This is the part I’m working on the hardest right now.Because this is simply not ok, my temper is not ok. As soon as I start to feel the slightest bit annoyed, I try to stop and remain in that feeling, observe it and then calmly lay it aside by breathing, looking at something in nature or walking for a bit. Slowly but steadily, it’s getting better.
Instructors whom I have met or attended classes for have become frustrated and in a bad mood in some situations. Some have been upset by me refusing to correct him harshly. That seems to really provoke a lot of people. But they havn’t been able to find the solution to the problem and believe that punishment is the answer. And then my refusal to do that annoys them. Some say: “If what you do isn’t working, then you MUST try something else”. And I agree with that! But I want to be a little more imaginative, there must be other things to try than punishment, surely? I’m probably a very annoying student. ?
Because of course dog training should be fun! There’s no point otherwise. And it’s NOT fun for me if I have to hurt my dog. I am also a rather purposeful person and stubborn as can be. Iif I really want something then I try again and again. I think this is a good thing, but there is also something good about deciding to let go. Completely different solutions and ideas show up in my head at that point. Other doors open.
And I’ve opened a couple of doors slightly now; doors that lead into rooms that feel really exciting. I will tell you more about them when I am absolutely sure that I will step into them.
Until then we’ll continue training in our own way. ? <3