Train your dog with the scent of game as a distraction

A while ago I was in Finland a week with my dogs Quling and Tassla and visited Tassla’s breeder Anne. We hunted, ate good food, spent time together, and we also trained our dogs, of course. About fifty yards away from the house Anne has a huge rabbit enclosure. When I first came to this place, I decided that my goal would be that Quling at the end of the week should be able to train inside the rabbit enclosure, despite all the rabbits that he could smell and see.

I wanted him to continue to listen to me and work together with me in spite of the scent of the game, and that is one of Quling’s most difficult challenges. If he is to become a working gundog, this is, of course, absolutely necessary. I have already trained this a lot, but it is often very difficult to find scent of game because you hardly ever know where the game has been … So, it has been very difficult to get continuity in the training.

The first day when I was here, I trained on the other side of the fence. Quling was first completely blocked by the scent of the game and tried to escape from the garden and run to the enclosure, but he wasn’t so stressed that he couldn’t eat his treats. When we approached the enclosure, I started doing super simple exercises, for instance I walked backwards and he should follow me, but he wasn’t focused at all.

But then I was able to increase the difficulty very quickly, and I think that was possible because he is really good at these easy types of exercises. I have done hundreds of repetitions that have led to different rewards and all that training pays off now. Quling has taught me one very important thing and that is that it is essential to warm-up. I have to start with simple exercises and then slowly move on to more difficult challenges.

In the short film you can see two clips. The first clip shows the training during day one. I made the last clip when I placed dummies for him to retrieve alongside the enclosure. Note how he keeps his nose and eyes in the direction of the enclosure before I ask him to retrieve the dummy. Had the fence not been there, he might have chosen to run off. If there hadn’t been a fence, I probably wouldn’t have done that exercise.

When I started the training on day number two, it had snowed a lot during the night and the rabbits had buried themselves in their nests, so it probably didn’t smell that much of game that day, and that helped us. But the wind was strong, and it came a lot of game scent from the heaps of brushwood and the small “houses”, where the rabbits lived.

This time I was able to take off the leash immediately, train him to heel, and then work with marked retrieves, and after that I sent him on a semi-blind retrieve alongside the fence – he was amazing. So, then we went into the enclosure and I brought incredibly good rewards with me. We had been hunting ducks two days earlier, and we had boiled some of the meat from the ducks so that we could use it as treats for the dogs – and I had this meat with me when we entered the enclosure. Quling loved it! 🙂

I kept him of leash the whole time and I must say that the snow was helpful because he couldn’t just run off quickly. But he did the whole exercise even better than I had expected. He rushed off a little towards the rabbits’ “houses” a few times, but I managed to turn him around so that he ran back to me every time, except once, and then I just went to him and picked him up.

I know that it was difficult for him – he couldn’t stop sniffing and all the time he wanted to run off towards the rabbits, but he interrupted himself. In the end, I sent him for another semi-blind retrieve, but this time I made an exception, so that he saw where I put the dummy before I sent him to retrieve it – I wanted to make it easier for him. Behind the dummy there were small heaps of brushwood and although there were no rabbits above ground there may well have been rabbits under the heaps. So, this was an immense distraction for him and he just had to take a look at the heaps, but then he suddenly seemed to realize that he was out on a mission, and I could both stop him and send him a little to the left. Here is a short film where you can see the last exercises that I did day one and day two:

 (He stops after a few yards because I breathed into the whistle by mistake, and he hears a sound.)

Success factors for this training was, as I mentioned earlier, that I started to do warm-ups that were really simple, so called “default behaviors”, which he can do in his sleep and that he has been rewarded for many times before. Another important factor was also that I had very good rewards. I also think the fact that I only trained a short time (and effectually) helped him to keep his focus. Then I think that the situation made it easier, we didn’t see the rabbits because of the snow and they had probably not been jumping around in the snow for a while (it had been snowstorm during the night).

I’m so happy about Quling! This was really hard for him, but he still managed to work with joy and confidence. I thought it would take several days to even get into the enclosure, but all I needed was two repetitions. So nice. 🙂 <3

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