Have you ever gone mountain climbing? I have tried it a couple of times, both on indoor walls and up a (small) mountain (well, maybe more of a boulder…) It has been breathtaking. Not least because I am really scared of heights – I get dizzy from walking stairs… But I have overcome my fears and managed it even though it also felt really challenging. You stand there, with your body in contact with the rock and only a small part of the feet standing on some protruding part of the rock. Your hands are searching for something solid and safe to hold onto for you to be able to move on. It feels like time is standing still. You must think before, during and after your move. You’re a bit scared but can’t let your fears take over. You don’t know if you’ll make it, if you might slip in the next move. Afterwards, adrenaline surges and you feel high and invincible.
The followers of this blog have most likely figured out where I’m going with this… Yep, I’m talking about Quling, my tricky little dog. Training is going infinitely slow, I feel dizzy sometimes, I lose my footing. Sometimes I’m really afraid (that he’ll injure himself or cause injury, for example). I have to think clearly and regularly analyze the situation to be able to take the next step. It’s such a rush when something begins to work! ?
We’ve just been to a weekend seminar with Henrik Hansen, a new and pleasant acquaintance. 16 teams. Quling hasn’t even seen that many dogs in the same place before. One of dogs was in season. I didn’t notice it first, so he got the opportunity to drool over a spot she’s relieved herself on for quite some time, getting really excited. After that he was NOISY! Normally he’s really quiet. Well, there is obviously a first time for everything.
Initially, before I discovered the bitch in season, the situation was so difficult that Quling didn’t even manage the treat test. If my dog that normally loves food can’t chew and swallow a treat, he’s certainly capable of paying attention to me. And he certainly wasn’t. None of the usual default exercises worked. BUT – after a few minutes I got through to him and despite the difficulty of the bitch in heat (which, incidentally, I think you should work at as a male dog owner), I could break through his bubble and get the two of us into the same bubble again. Three times in 1.5 hours I lost him mentally, but with the help of my old well-known warm up exercises, I could get through and get him back. That is such a breakthrough that it alone is worth the cost of the seminar! And this was before I even had the chance to work for the instructor – that was when we waited for our turn…
When it was our turn, the first two minutes of the training went well. Quling was in hand all the time while hunting and I rewarded him by letting him find a ball after a while. I also chose to make the first session easy and pretended to hide balls in the ground – a baby exercise that I use in challenging situations. Before the next time, I didn’t do anything like that. The second before I was about to let Quling go, I see how he just briefly picks up scent to the left. “Did you see that?”, I said to the instructor. “That means he will pull to the left when I let him go”. He suggested to let Quling start to the right, that is in the opposite direction, which I did – and always do if Q wants to go in a certain direction. He managed two runs, one of which to the left, before he was out of hand. It happens so very fast! However, I was prepared, so I ran like a maniac through the grass and was lucky because he was stopped by shrubbery. Then I came so close that I could blow the stop whistle and he listened to it. That was also a great success!
Henrik had the idea that if I could see, already before letting Quling go, that he wanted to run in after a particular scent, that I should instead bring him to the place he wanted to go to and begin hunting from there. A really fun and creative idea that I haven’t heard from anyone else! The idea really reduces the odds of the dog failing. We were about to start Quling again from the position we were at, but just before letting him go, I could see in his eyes that this wasn’t going to work. He gets a certain sort of shut down look in his eyes, almost glossy and inaccessible. That’s the look he gets when he experiences some kind of pressure or when he seems conflicted about something. But then you find yourself standing there, with the 10 minutes you get with an instructor, and become all greedy. And of course, it didn’t work. He ran in, he skulked around with a crouching look and after ignoring two turn signals and a stop whistle, he ran away to the next hedge, disappeared but returned after ten seconds. Obviously, I should have reacted immediately when he didn’t respond to the first whistle and just quit.
Henrik and I were in total agreement that Quling is far from functioning as a hunting dog right now. I already knew that so that didn’t get me down. Rather, I felt quite happy. Seven months ago, I was sitting in the car, crying on the phone to Lisa, telling her how awful everything had been when we had been training for a visiting British instructor. Nothing had worked and Quling had just wanted to get away from the situation, he was so affected by the group that he didn’t even bring the dummy in. I couldn’t get through to him. By comparison, this was SO much better.
In the car home, Lisa and I made a new plan (for which time in order?). Focus now will be on being able to stop him, no matter the reason why he’s running off. And making it worthwhile for him to pay attention in all situations – whether he’s taking off on a scent (which is one of his specialties) or taking the easy way out of a difficult situation and choosing to run away – often on a scent of some kind.
- I will rig scents to blow in over the area we’re working in and reward like crazy when he listens to my command to ignore them. I’m also going to reward him by letting him run there.
- I intend to make worthwhile for him to hunt in the opposite direction from where he wants to go.
- I’ll work on this on our walks too (he’s never off leash but will try to hunt on the leash if I’m not paying attention). Reward for leaving a scent he wants to go check out.
- I’ll also consider when I can begin the hunt from the spot that he wants.
- IF he still runs off (which I now have to try and avoid even more) and I manage to stop him, I will reward with the BIGGEST PARTY ever. However, I should be aware that he can make this into a chain ? – of course – that he runs off to get rewarded.
- I will continue keeping our sessions short.
I guess most people would feel down after a training session like this, but I was full of joy and inspiration. ? Simply just keep the bar low and keep your expectations really, really low, ha-ha. In all honesty, it’s good to be realistic. This was what Quling was capable of now – in 6 months we’ve probably moved our positions further and made some progress on our climb up the mountain. We’ll just keep climbing! ?