Since I haven’t been able to hunt with Tassla this season due to her injury and rehabilitation, I instead went through my training archive and found some notes that I made when I was preparing for the trial and hunting season 2017.
Last season, Tassla and I only had the opportunity to start at two trials. Either I was sick, or she was. We didn’t manage to start until late in the autumn and there weren’t that many birds around.
Before the trial, I had consistently said no to hunts because I wanted to be able to control the training as much as possible and that’s not always the case on a hunt. Naturally, the birds can’t ever be controlled, but in a training situation I at least get to decide how long she gets to hunt, if she gets to retrieve, etc. And if I want to work on something specific, most of the time I can arrange the situation pretty well. Of course, that’s not possible at a hunt. A hunt is mainly about finding and flushing birds. Very long stretches of hunting and long days are fairly common. Great fun, but also a situation in which it’s easy to let the dog rehearse the wrong things, from a trial result point of view. The dog might run in far too large patterns, might not be completely in hand, not showing great steadiness, etc. If you want to get good results at trials, hunting can be “mistraining”. My line of thinking was “we’ll trial first and then we can hunt to our hearts content”.
The trial was interesting in many ways. I had decided on three things to focus on:
- Observing my dog ALL the time and not let myself be disturbed by, for example, judges and shooters starting to discuss where to go, etc. (Things that have distracted me before, causing me to lose my focus on my dog).
- Keep Tassla in hand and settle into the situations that arise and ACT within the framework of what is allowed when needed.
- Observe the wind.
The latter should be obvious and it’s the absolute first thing I do when I’m about to release her to hunt. Where is the wind coming from? However, at times I’ve been late in my reactions when it comes to observing the wind and thus handling Tassla accordingly. The wind also changes directions while you’re out there and it is important to keep an eye on it all the time.
Number 1 is my biggest challenge – observing my dog at all times, not getting distracted. It all goes so terribly fast sometimes and if I am not 100 percent present all the time, all of a sudden, she’ll have flushed a bird and if I’m not paying close attention, I risk ger going out of hand.
Number 2 is linked to number 1 because if I am present, I usually react to the correct things, and in time too. But sometimes I freeze a little bit, watching what’s going on in front of me. It’s an annoying behavior that I think has to do with a lack of experience. The more experienced I get, the less times I feel perplexed. It was the same in competition obedience and that passed with experience.
So, did I meet my criteria on the test? Yes! 😉 I let her run a little large a few times, but I made several conscious choices that I thought were right in the moment. We also set a new personal best in how long we got to stay in at a trial. (The shortest time we’ve been in I believe is under a minute – that was the time that she disappeared in a 1.5 meter high cabbage field in a lovely tailwind hunt where I lost control almost straight away 😉 ) I got to release her to hunt THREE times on this trial, but unfortunately the reason was that there weren’t any birds in our hunting area. Because of this, we couldn’t be scored.
The areas for the first two runs didn’t hold any scent either. Tassla is not experienced enough to be able to hunt well in that situation. She has rarely or actually never gained the experience that where there’s zero scent, you might suddenly encounter a bird. She would have needed that experience. Instead, she has the experience that says that no scent means that no bird will turn up, but if there’s scent, then a bird might turn up. Since she has never been a dog with a lot of oomph in her hunting, what oomph she has diminishes considerably in this kind of situation.
Our first run took place in a ditch that started out quite wide, but then got more and more narrow. In the end it was pretty steep. There were a lot of branches at the bottom of the ditch, making the terrain challenging. Tassla was at times basically just climbing around in it all, and claiming that the hunting went smoothly would have been a lie…
She started out ok, but I could see how she got tired of it and began running around peeking at me and the shooters. Like she was saying: Hey, are you going to make anything happen or not?!? When I saw her doing this, I began pushing her harder in front of me and I also let her run a bit farther. I was criticized for this decision, and rightly so, but I knew where we were heading, and I just wanted to end this run as quickly as possible. I know that if she gets really frustrated, there will be vocalization and THAT will get you thrown out, headfirst, and I really didn’t want that.
I am pleased that I was on top of the situation, because we got one more run. However, this one was even worse… In the beginning of our first run, Tassla was all ready to go since we had a late starting number and she had both seen and heard birds being flushed and shots. But in our second run, in yet another place without scent, the hunting was just miserable. It was so bad, I almost asked to stop. I pushed her here too, actually even harder than in the first hunt, to see if I could get her to speed up, but to no avail. And yep, I think we had vocalization. Not loudly, but I thought I heard a bark. The judge, however, did not. 😉 So, we were still in for a third run.
And, finally, scent! It might not have been her best hunting, but better than the first two runs. A lot more “oomph”. But. Unfortunately, no birds.
I was happy with the day anyway. I managed myself well and we gained more experience to draw from in the future.
After this trial, I altered my strategy and began saying yes to the remaining hunts. I now had a dog that needed to find her spark, her desire to hunt. This turned out to be a successful strategy. We joined a couple of larger hunts where Tassla got to flush perhaps 100 pheasants in a day, and all of a sudden, I had a hunting maniac! I estimate that she showed complete steadiness in 85 percent of the flushes and when she ran in, it was just a couple of yards. And! After seeing and flushing so many birds, her tendencies to become overwhelmed (when for example 20 birds take off at the same time) and to then vocalization completely disappeared! Great!
In January, a late trial showed up and I jumped on the chance. Tassla hunted like a dream for about 20 minutes, and just when we were about to stop and I checked out a bit and too soon, she flushed a pheasant and ran in. All my fault – had I been in the right position and more in contact with her, I believe she would have stopped. But at the same time, she unfortunately had been reinforced for running in in situations with injured birds that needed to be taken care of. Something she’s very good at.
A great thing about this trial is that Tassla still received the shooters’ prize. 🙂 I was probably as happy as if I had won the trial. 😉 Her hunting has developed in a lovely way!
This year we have gone back to basics. We have released pigeons in a controlled fashion, she has received a lot of rewards for stopping and holding her sit. Things are looking great and now I REALLY keep this little lady in hand. She hunts like a dream but tends to go wide, and when that happens, she goes out of hand. This has really been a challenge and a learning experience. First, I had a dog that I needed to push a bit, and that I let run because I wanted her to be daring and take on the situation. She’s a completely different dog now. Now I need to bring her back in hand and be very careful about ever letting her go wide. Challenging!
But I look forward to the fall and my hope is to get to start at many fun trials and at least get into a couple of hunts. But the hunts might have to wait until we’ve placed in Open. 😉
Let’s end this blog post with some videos of Tassla hunting last winter: