Piece of Cake

It took almost six months before the day came when Flippa did not listen to the recall whistle, but simply ran in the other direction – towards the cat poop. I was surprised – I had become so spoiled by almost everything coming so easily with this dog. Never before have I had a dog where I’ve felt like I’ve had so many things for free, simply capturing behaviors that she offers and after just a couple of rewards, she seems to know the behavior.  That what it’s felt like. I’m amazed at how easy it can be. And grateful.

I’ve probably never been more ready for a new puppy than I was this time either. It might not be the optimal situation, having a convalescent dog at the same time as the puppy, but as time passes everything becomes easier. The puppy begins to grow up and the convalescent dog heals. (Tassla had knee surgery and has 4-6 months of rehab.)

Nor have I ever been more sure of what I want and how I want it than this time. I know what I’m looking for and what I like and don’t like. And I have the focus and energy to work for it – although you’d always like more time for dog training. 😉

And how I like this dog! Even before I met her, the breeder said that she was the one to seek contact first of the puppies. She’d try to get eye contact with her breeder and in general just pay her a lot of attention. That was also something that stood out when she came to live with me. How she would focus on me, sitting down in front of me, silent, as if she was saying “I’m ready but I have time to wait”. Guess if I was quick to reward that?

Steadiness seems to come natural to her, as does moving with me, settling in different situations, hunting with her nose to the ground and the rest of her just going wherever the nose dictates. She picked up on the recall whistle straight away, and the stop signal too. Retrieving came pre-installed (although she would let go of everything about a yard away from me).Everything I ask her for happens at lightning speed and most often I only need to reward a behavior a couple of times for her to pick up on it.

Flippa is a dog full of energy, like a cross between a sparkler and a popcorn.   😉 I would say that she is a hot, but at the same time she has a focus and an off switch that I’ve tried to develop by constantly putting “off switch exercises” in the middle of training other, active, things. She also “has a lot of feelings”, where she barks and gets excited about things that bother her. That bucket sometimes overflows … We do have stuff to work on.  😉

The only thing that made me a little apprehensive at first was that I had never had such a noisy puppy.  She’d whine in all kinds of situations; when she was going to pee or poop, when she was just standing there watching something, when something happened, when something didn’t happen. And she’d bark when she was upset. Those vocalisations gradually calmed down as the weeks went by and now they are much better. In training, she might vocalise when she has no clear task or when she doesn’t understand what I mean.That kind of vocalisation doesn’t bother me much – it’s up to me to train her so they won’t come. But she mostly vocalises in everyday life and experienced breeders I spoke with testify to have met very noisy dogs in everyday life who didn’t vocalise at all while working – and vice versa.

She’s almost six months old now and we’ve worked on a lot of foundation skills, but naturally have a lot left. We have started with deliveries, the stop signal, all types of directional work , heeling and hunting.We have experimented with different rewards . The food rewards can’t be too good because then she can’t think – that’s why it took a whole month to get her to leave items in my hand, something I was very surprised at first because she is super smart. But then I realized that she was just too hungry and then we cracked the problem by training after dinner and with quite boring treats.

We have done simple flushing exercises – and this is probably the most challenging thing for her even though she shows great steadiness when she has sat down. I can train three dogs at the same time, throw some dummies and send the other two first – straight past her – while she sits waiting for her turn.

The hunting exercises have been the most fun – for the first time I know what I want and how my spaniel should hunt, and can create exercises based on that. She’s searched for treats and balls, very close to me and learned that when I snap my fingers to the side, her nose should go to the ground.

Of course, waiting for her turn is part of the important training of the on and off switch, but I have also trained a more specific signal for her to settle down and be still and calm. I put my hands on her shoulders and simply hold them there, calmly. In the beginning, I did this indoors with a more or less bouncy puppy, but soon she realized that if she settled down, she might get to work again.  That signal has now been brought outdoors and we practice it during every training sessiont , in increasingly more challenging situations, so that we don’t neglect this incredibly important and absolutely necessary part of the training. However, we need to keep working at it, not least together with others. We train a lot by ourselves and I’m noticing that she increases her activity level when there are others present.

The other day she encountered her first bird ( it was completely unplanned). When to let the puppy have it’s first experience of encountering game will depend on the puppy. I don’t think there is a good set rule like “at 6 months of age is a good time for the puppy to flush for the first time”.  Since Flippa is an energetic dog, I had planned to wait a bit with having her flush birds, but she took the matter into her own paws.  😉 I remember with horror how Quling when he’d got the thing about birds was then completely out of hand after that – and never quite recovered from that, if I’m to be honest. But Flippa and Quling are two totally different dogs that have had completely different conditions at the beginning of life (which is unfortunate for Quling). When Flippa now flushed a small bird (it might have been a woodcock) we were out training. I saw how she suddenly worked around a pile of twigs and had the time to think “does she have something?” before the bird flew up. It was interesting to see how clear she was before the flush. I hope that keeps, giving me the chance to keep up with her, haha. She spun around a bit after the flush but sat down nicely when I blew a stop. <3 I was very pleased.

But the best part is that she, like none of my other dogs, has had the chance to naturally participate in hunting situations from day one. I’ve been putting the rifle outside her crate in the car, so that the smell of gunpowder becomes part of everyday life. I’ve put game that I’ve shot outside her crate too, and in all the breaks on the hunts, she’s had the chance to come out and mingle.  She’s heard lots of shots and she has been allowed to retrieve warm game, but above all she’s simply been in the hunting environment . The first time she saw a dead duck, which a retriever trainer came carrying, she went straight to the bird and the trainer put the bird down on the ground. She picked it up without hesitation, and not with that usual usual puppy grip around the neck, but just the way you should pick up a duck. The duck looked about the same size as her, but she managed to bring it to me, very proudly.

The first time she encounters cold game – a month before the duck – she barked upset and performed a war dance around the game before persuading herself to pick it up, just to the throw it away like she was pitching a small ball … That’s very typical of her when she gets overwhelmed. But by the second time, the barking had ceased, and by the third time, the war dance was gone too. The first time she saw a live pheasant she stood on her hind legs (she was on leash) and barked in falsetto (oops!) but after that she joins me and feeds my pheasants and looks at them up close. She can sit there and watch them, even if she vibrates when doing so. 😉 Then she just lets it go when we leave. That’s an incredibly good trait that I’m especially grateful for.

It is inevitable ending up comparing your dogs. And while I enjoy how easy it is so far with Flippa, there is a thorn in my heart over Quling and how difficult almost everything has been with him. How I wished that our first year it was different, but there wasn’t much I could do about that, it was the year of personal disasters for me. He is also a completely different dog and a hunting madman without a hint of the ease in following me that Flippa has. Nor does he have her healthy self-confidence. But I do believe that if my conditions had been different, things would have improved and at this point, we might have been able to do the stuff I’d like to, but that we simply can’t handle now. But it is what it is and I try not to wallow in it, but just state that not everything turns out the way you wanted it to.

I am so happy to experience Flippa! “She seems to fit you” someone said and YES, her slightly crazy personality, her fast, smart brain, her popcorn style and her phenomenal attention paired with her good self-confidence suits me very well. But who wouldn’t want such a dog? 😉

By the way, did I reveal her real name? X-Paws Piece of Cake. Let’s hope her name is a good omen.

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