Quling goes to Flush school, part 1

A year ago Quling started Flush school and now I’ll tell you how it went!

This means that we have gone from the simplest basics of working on the flush (for example throwing stuff) to him sitting down when a bird flushes. I have Tomas Lindh at Knektagården and his pigeons as my helpers. Tomas is an experienced dog trainer, hunter and instructor and has a good eye for what’s going on and is good at describing what I’m actually doing. I come up with the plan for our training, and then we discuss how we’re going to go about it all in detail. Tomas is good at telling me when I get to wimpy and for example want to hold on to the leash at bit too much. Or when I make other completely unnecessary and not well thought through things 🙂 😉 But he is also very good at seeing the good. We both work from the understanding of not making it too difficult but instead increase the difficulty of the training slowly, so that Quling feels that he can handle what we’re asking of him – and so I can get to reward him for doing the right thing. But we also both have the idea of sometimes challenging him a little and seeing what happens, and not staying with the easy stuff for too long. We simply have very fun training moments, reasoning a lot about what is and what is not happening – the kind of training I love! 🙂

I’m going to blog about Quling’s time at Flush school this spring and how I have gone from him offering to sit when a ball is thrown to him offering (preferably without a whistle) offers the sit when a bird flushes. Join me! 🙂

We begin with playing

The characteristic of my training is that I want the dog to be “co-creator” in his own learning. This means that I work hard on reinforcing the offered behaviors that I want. If I want to teach the dog to sit down, I’ll reward the dog as he sits down. If I’m using a reward that my dog really wants, he’ll repeat the behavior because he wants his reward.

I next to always begin my training from playing with my dog. Flush school is no exception. This was the very first training session I did with Quling when he was a puppy:

Here he learns that if he stops – and sits down – he gets what he wants, that is, to get to run after the ball.

When he understands this game, I gradually make it more and more challenging. I want his cue to sit down to be something taking off in front of him. In the beginning of the training, that something will be a ball or some fuzzy or flappy toy.

I also work a great deal on the steadiness part of the behaviour. This is what that will look like when we’ve advanced a bit in our training:

After a while I combine this behaviour with the stop signal – which I’ve also trained through play. But my goal is not to have to whistle for the dog to sit down.I want him to sit down as the bird flushes. I’ll reserve the whistle for when the situation is really difficult and challenging for the dog.

Something flushing means sit

Quling has now done many basic exercises and it’s time for him to learn that something flushing means sit. Last year, Quling got to watch some pigeons fly away and he really wasn’t ready for that. He was completely over threshold, there was no way to get in touch with him and he just threw his body about trying to get out of the harness. It was far too difficult at that time. Both his immaturity and the tummy troubles he was having at the time got the better of him. He’s also a complete hunting maniac (which I of course really like). Although it makes things very challenging at times. He’s matured now and his tummy troubles are gone, so it was time for another try. I continued the basic training of throwing things and him sitting down during the autumn, so that is a game that he’s thoroughly familiar with at this point.

We begun this training session with me throwing things the way I usually do and he sat down immediately every time. Then Tomas got to throw a few times and that was a bit more challenging. Especially when he made noises like a crow. 😉 Then we got the pigeons out. The pigeons are handled with great care and usually fly into their nest after they are released.

I don’t say or do anything in particular if Quling makes a mistake. We’ll simply try again, altering the setup or my behavior a bit so that Quling succeeds the next time. It’s very important to me to focus on finding things to reward, as opposed to finding faults to correct. I want as many correct responses as possible to reward, but mistakes aren’t the end of the world and if Quling should run in some time, that’s no big deal. We’ll just try again and set up the training to help him succeed.

This training session lasted for 30 minutes and I have almost all the repetitions on video (this one is bit more than five minutes long):

I am very pleased with that session and how Quling’s behavior developed. I’m happy with how I remembered to make the situation after the flush very calm. He got to remain steady in his sit for quite some time after each flush. I deliberately praised him with a deep voice and not too much of a party. I moved calmly. I also let Quling eat food out of a small jar as a reward. What became clear to me here was that that reward almost disturbed him. He got a little distracted and moved when I rewarded him with the food. It’s most likely rewarding enough to just get to sit there and watch the birds fly off. An important thing here was that I occasionally let him get to run and worked on casting or threw a mark, so that he got to run for a bit. I don’t believe in just trying to calm the dog down – it just creates a pressure cooker.

I’m a little annoyed at myself that I didn’t have a harness on him. I don’t want it to risk jerking his neck, should he run in. I’ll make sure to have him wear a harness the next time.

In the video, you’ll see how everything is going well and then we suddenly get a setback in the middle of everything (around 3.30). To me, that’s a tell tale sign that I had been working for too long without letting him get rid of some steam. We were back on track again straight afterwards. It will be very exciting to see how this develops.

By the way, next time I promised Tomas to completely lose the leash. 😉 And I already know how things went (cliffhanger! ;)) To be continued!

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