Åsa Davidsson is an instructor with Klickerförlaget. She trains obedience and hunting, and participates in field trials with her two Labradors, Mio and Tod. She teaches foundation classes in retrieving and also online courses. In October of 2016, Åsa and Tod participated in their first cold game trial. This post lets you share Åsa’s thoughts on the set up and warm up routines, for both her young dog Tod and herself. Tod was around 18 months old at the time of the trial.
Was there something special about this trial?
Yes, that everyone was freezing to death, ha-ha! It was the first really chilly autumn day and I was probably not the only one who had made the mistake of not dressing warmly enough… Another thing that was kind of special was that it was the first cold game trial for all 16 participating dogs.
During the first gathering the judge Sören Swärdh noticed that there were many new handlers as well, so he explained the entire trial and the different parts very carefully. People also got the chance to ask questions, and things such as ”Am I allowed to reward my dog with treats?” and ”What does it mean when you say that all teams should be calm when watching the next team work at the end of their run?” came up. You aren’t allowed to reward your dog with treats during a trial and steadiness and calmness when another team works is the last part that each team shows before their trial is over. It’s done when the next team enters and begins their first part of the trial. The dog should sit a short distance and be able to be quiet and steady (on leash) while the other dog is working.
Did you do anything in particular after that first gathering?
We had number 13 out of the 16 dogs. I watched the first two dogs, to see the judge’s preferences and his actions, in order to make my plan for how to handle Tod even clearer. I then went to get Tod and we went for a walk and did some training. A couple of marked retrieves, a lot of heeling and recalls. I didn’t do any water work due to the cold. But we worked on holding the game for quite long stretches of time and I chose to reward a couple of deliveries a bit extra. The first retrieves in the trial were in water and the dogs needed to run quite a stretch on land. Especially in cold weather, the dogs are tempted to shake as soon as possible, but we don’t want them to do that until after delivering the game to us.
What we worked the most on was the heeling and just relaxing in the environment. Tod is an easily aroused dog and he can begin to vocalize if he gets too high. We have worked a lot on different strategies in order for him to be in the correct frame of mind. It’s important that I keep calm and relaxed, and that we hang around in the environment where the training or trial is taking place.
We had to wait from 8 am to 3 pm for our start, so he got to in turns rest in the car, go for walks, hang out by the entrance to the trial area (which is so far away so neither you nor the dog can actually see what happens, just hear the occasional gun shot) and train a short distance from the trialling area.
What were your expectations and goals for this trial?
I wanted to feel like he was with me and feel safe knowing that he could be completely steady and calm by my side. I wanted to be able to handle him quietly and simply. I didn’t want to have to remind him of small details and I wanted him to be attentive.
And I wanted him to be able to relax straight away as the trial was over. That was my biggest goal and I think we hit that one. As soon as I put him back on leash and the judge gave us his feedback and wrote down his notes, Tod was calm. He got a bit aroused again as the next dog and the shooter came in and we were to stand and be calm and steady after our trial. His tail started waving and he stood up. But when I ignored him and just stood there with my hands in my coat pockets, he realized it wasn’t his turn again and just settled down which I was very happy with.
The rest is really a bonus. Just about anything can happen at the first trial.
People sometimes ask you ”You’re so calm, how can you stay so calm?” How do you stay so calm?
Because that’s a skill that you can train, ha-ha! In the beginning it was “fake it till you make it”, but by now I feel quite comfortable. I was a bit nervous before the trial, but I can still act calm and stay in the bubble with my dog. If I move in a calm fashion, walk slowly and take deep breaths, I can trick my brain into believing that I’m calm.
It’s easy to get all caught up in ”oh, the trial’s about to start” and start to get wound up, move quicker and try too hard to follow the judge’s instructions. Naturally you should follow instructions, but I don’t want to rush through the trial. And if you have an easily aroused dog, it’s easy to just get pulled along. I don’t want a big difference of pace during our time by the entrance to the trial area or when we’re just moving around in the environment from when the trial has actually begun. We’re in this together and we’re doing it in a calm and steady fashion.
What were you the happiest with from the judge’s feedback?
That he commended Tod’s cooperation skills and attentiveness.
Congratulations on getting a first prize and qualifying for the next level! What’s next?
Thank you! Tod’s going to be hunting some more this autumn. I hope to develop that part some more; he’s been off to a great start. We’ve just been in England for two weeks, hunting and training in the amazing environment over there. We got a lot of great experiences there, being able to hunt next to more experienced dogs, doing just the parts that suited us. It’s important to pace oneself, so that the dog doesn’t get completely over aroused. A great deal of the time during the hunts, we walked in the line, watching the others work. So now we’re going to participate in some hunts here in Sweden this autumn. We’ll wait to participate in an open trial; we’re not in a hurry.
And you got another award?
Yes, that was really a great honour! I got the stewards’ award with the motivation that we showed the best cooperation between dog and handler. I was very pleased, because that was the part that I was happiest about myself.
Congratulations Åsa and Tod to a great autumn with lots of experiences from hunting, a great debut in the cold game trial and a 14th place out of 200 dogs in the working test derby for dogs up to two years! We’re looking forward to see what you do next!