Train one thing at a time

I continue my journey through the archives and found this training session with Tassla when she was quite young.

The other day I was out in the meadow training with Tassla. I placed Tassla on her pause station, a blanket by my backpack, walked out a bit and threw three objects in front of me to the right and three to the left, much like a corridor.

Then I went back to Tassla and sat down for a snack. She quickly quit focusing on the area where I had thrown out the stuff (which for today were dummies of different sizes, rabbit fur balls and a wing).

After a while, I brought Tassla with me and we worked on heeling to the beginning of the corridor. I put her in a sit and let her sit there and just wait for a while before sending her to hunt.

She hunts terribly fast. (I’ll make sure to get it on video as soon as I can drag a helper out with me.) She lowers her entire body towards the ground and then she runs off in circles across the ground. She begins in the direction I’ve sent her, turns beautifully after a bit and goes in the other direction. Despite her incredible speed, she doesn’t miss a single thing. She gets the objects and comes in with them at lightning speed. Good little cocker spaniel!

Three important lessons today:

  1. If she picks up the scent from one of the more interesting objects (the rabbit fur ball), she’ll pick that item first, even if there are other objects closer to her (and which she should have caught scent of first). At a trial, the area should be “covered”, i.e. the dog should hunt over the entire area without missing any parts of it, because missing a part could mean missing game. I need to consider how I place out objects in relation to the wind, creating a habit with her to always take whatever item that is the closest to her. I’m also considering making sure to get a lot of scent from the rabbit fur ball (just pressing it to the ground in a couple of places without putting the ball down there for her to find), so that she learns that scent can be everywhere and that she should check it out, but that she should continue to hunt.


2. I can’t stop her while she’s hunting. She’s so highly preoccupied with that task that I can’t reach her. This means that she doesn’t know the stop whistle well enough. I needed to stop her once when she ran in and I simply couldn’t. She had caught the scent of a dummy and ran in to retrieve it and delivered it to me. I just laughed at her a little and repeated the situation. After that we worked separately on that detail. First, we just repeated a couple of stops with Tassla just bouncing ahead of me like on a walk. I then placed out a dummy without Tassla looking, walked off a bit with her and then let her “walk” towards the dummy. When she was close to me, so that I was placed between the dummy and her (so that I could pick the dummy up if needed) I blew the stop whistle. I think that she had caught scent of it, because she was heading towards it. But she managed the stop and I reinforced that with some liver pate.

3. I’m not going to involve working on the flush into the hunt quite yet. It was far too difficult. I let Tassla make a turn in the hunting pattern she was in, and then threw a dummy away from her in the direction she was heading. I then blew a stop. However, Tassla jumped like a bunny through the high grass and happily retrieved the dummy… When this had failed twice, I took this detail out too and worked on her just sitting at the throw. That went well, but I could tell that it was quite challenging, she really had to hold herself back. I need to work on more challenging flushing games when she’s highly aroused before adding the flush to the hunt.

All the lessons I learned from this training session in my head come down to one thing – I was putting too many parts together at once. Train ONE thing at a time! If I’m working at hunting, let’s do that (well, that will also mean deliveries in my case, if those weren’t ready to be included, I would have rewarded in the spot where she found the object). Don’t put the different links in a chain together before they are really strong, that will cause the chain to break. Simple, but not easy…


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