When we had made some progress in writing the book (Retrieving for All Occasions), we played around with creating a summary under the caption ”The Seven Deadly Sins”. Unfortunately the text couldn’t fit into the printed version of the book, so we’re publishing it here instead. We’re very curious to hear your solutions to and experiences of the ”deadly sins”, so please leave us comments!
In the world of field trials and gun dog training there are a great many things that the dog should do. And then there are certain things that the dog really should not do. This is a short summary of our solutions to problems that sometimes are viewed as the deadly sins of Spaniels and Retrievers. If any of these things occur during a trial, the judge has the right to stop the team with a zero or elimination as a result.
The dog should, as efficiently as possible, hunt the area and retrieve the game. To keep hunting while carrying game, switching game or refusing to pick up game is not efficient. A Spaniel that doesn’t flush game is seen as lacking in desire to hunt.
We teach the dog to refrain from continuing to hunt while carrying game or switching the game by training it to always come straight back to us as soon as it has anything in its mouth, despite the distractions of more game. In other words, we teach the dog what to do instead – deliveries.
Some dogs are interested in game from the start, while others aren’t. If the dog isn’t interested, we train that interest with the game close and teach the dog to carry the game by our side, before we let the dog hunt for it. You can read more about this under Getting used to game here on the blog, and under ”Taking and holding” and ”Hunting” in the book.
A hold that is too hard and breaks the game
We want the dog to carry the game with a firm hold, preventing the dog from dropping it. But the grip should not be so hard that it damages the game. In other words, the dog’s mouth should not be so hard that it breaks the game.
The issue often arises when the dog is too excited and the speed is too great. We then begin by choosing an object that we know that the dog carries well, rewarding the dog for doing so a couple of times, and then moving on to the more difficult object. More on this in the chapter ”Taking and Holding” in the book.
Excited beyond control
When you have been training for a while, the dog most often finds retrieving spectacular fun. At this point, the dog might get so excited that it begins to whine.
The most important thing to keep in mind is to not let the dog work if it’s whining, only when it’s quiet. Through calmness training we teach the dog to relax and to hit the correct arousal level to be able to do the work. Read more on this in Calmness Training.
A great many gunshots will be fired during a hunt and the dog has to be ok with this and not become so scared that it can’t work. The gunfire should instead make the dog anticipate fun things, because it means it’s time to get to work.
If your dog shows signs of finding gunshyness, make sure not to subject it to situations where the gunshots become too much for the dog or where it becomes scared. Keep such a distance to the gunfire so that you can reward the dog during and after the shot, teaching the dog that gunfire means nice things.
Hesitance to enter water
Most Spaniels and Retrievers love the water and enjoy swimming, but there are certainly those who prefer just pottering about at the water’s edge, splashing around. Make sure to give your puppy positive experiences of the water and don’t force it. Take it easy, go into the water with the puppy and let it discover the water in its own pace.
The out of control dog
Your dog must be under control at all times, so that you can send it where you need it to go. During a field trial the steadiness and your cooperation are both really put through the test. Your dog can’t run in, that is leave your side as the shot falls, but has to wait for your cue. Nor can your dog get too caught up in what it’s doing so that you can’t call it, cast it or make it work in the correct area. If you have a Spaniel, lack of steadiness is a security risk. If the Spaniel chases the game it just flushed, it can get shot.
Flushing game out of the shooter’s reach is also one of the deadly sins for a Spaniel. You hunt with Spaniels using a shotgun and it has a maximum range of about 32 yards. If the dog flushes game further out than approximately 16 yards, the shooter has less chance of making the shot (since the shooter needs time to react and pull the trigger).
In order to get steadiness, we work a lot with different distractions so that the dog learns to always wait for the cue. If the dog should run in anyway, we make sure to remove the fun by for example having a helper remove the object or through putting a leash on the dog. You can read more about this in the blog, under the caption Steadiness.
When it comes to the dog getting out of control, i.e. not listening and paying attention, we are very careful to only let the dog work when its arousal level is suitable and when it’s still paying attention to us. Should the dog get out of control, we try simply calmly picking it up, ponder what went wrong and give it another try where the dog can be successful. A well-trained and positive stop whistle that the dog always responds to is very important. Read more on this under Stop whistle.
In order to get the dog to work at the correct distance, we teach it to pay attention to the handler and make sure to reward when it maintains the correct distance.
Aggression towards another dog
The dog has to be able to work at the same time as numerous other dogs during a hunt. Depending on the class, retrievers work either solo or in pairs at field trials, and Spaniels also hunt in pairs depending on the class. Teach your dog to work with you even though there are other dogs present from the start. As usual, begin with play. Play around other dogs and then continue on to other exercises: Hand target, deliveries, tricks, heeling, and so on. Make sure that your dog gets lots of good experience of other dogs in different circumstances, both during work and when ”off duty”.
Naturally, this is just a summary over what your dog should and should not do at field trials, and we prefer to focus on what the dog SHOULD be doing. But sometimes it’s easier to spot the important things by taking a look at what you want to avoid… We have made more of a deep dive into all the subjects in the book, and we’ve tried to be very specific. But we hope that this post makes you think about what you have and what you need to work at. Please send us your comments!