Quling has made his debut trialling today in a water trial for Spaniels. Passing the water trial is a prerequisite for going on to open (where the dog flushes game that is shot and then retrieved).
Quling is 18 months now, but still very immature. However, he’s matured a lot during the last six months and is for example able to focus for longer and longer periods of time. I don’t plan to take him to an open trial this autumn; he’s far from ready for that. But I’m happy that we passed the water trial, so that everything’s set for next autumn J
I hesitated regarding actually participating in the trial up into the very last moment, because in all honesty, we weren’t quite ready. We have been working close to water a bit, focusing on steadiness. Instead of splashing and marked retrieves in the water we have been working away from the water and on blind retrieves in the water. That showed at the trial today, he showed really good steadiness and was quiet when the shot fell and when the game was thrown. We have also been working on deliveries by the water – to carry objects all the way back to me and not shake until after the delivery. That on the other hand did not show at today’s trial… 😉
We have run through some quite difficult training sessions during the summer where other dogs have been present, shots have been fired and objects have been thrown.
We tried that for the first time in June and Quling got far too aroused. He vocalized every time I sent him out to work towards water. The deliveries were really good. He had no problems running soaking wet to me standing 10 yards up on land and deliver to my hand.
I wasn’t the least bit worried about the vocalizing – he’s done so before and it has always been in situations that have been too challenging for him. I’ve simply gone home, split the behaviour and worked through all the steps until we reached that difficult part again. And then there hasn’t been a problem at all.
This is how a water trial is structured: After a shot has been fired, the dog retrieves a thrown duck (on cue). The dog needs to swim about 60 yards, from clear water and into vegetation, like for example water lilies.
My greatest challenge is that Quling loses his enthusiasm as soon as he feels any pressure. He can get overwhelmed by situations and environments, but most of all by me. I can’t get the least bit annoyed, I can’t use even the smallest correction – and by that I mean for example very calmly just moving him backwards if he has moved ahead when he shouldn’t – because he falls to pieces. Quite literally. He’ll lie down, often on his back, shaking his small paws and look like I’ve given him a good beating. (This in combination with him being an absolute hunting maniac is somewhat of a challenge, but that’s a subject for a different blog post ;))
I think he has somehow connected me taking off his leash with some kind of pressure and he often kind of wiggles off, and checks out. I don’t know how this happened, but it has been going on for a while. I’ve been taking his leash off, rewarded him, taking off his leash, rewarded him (for a long time and very handsomely!). It has been working out great – his expectation of the situation has totally changed – and this is how I warmed up before the water trial. It was going really well in the warm up.
When it was our turn and I took his leash off, he was a bit aroused by the shooter and the water (he had heard another dog splashing around earlier), so the first thing that happened was that he tried to wiggle away from me. I managed to stop him BUT I’m sure that he took it as a correction. He has great steadiness during shots and throwing of objects, and I consciously waited to cast him a little just to show the judge this 😉 Quling does not have great marking skills yet, but he did just great this time. He swam with purpose and showed nice confidence.
When he had been swimming for about three yards, he spotted some water lilies and swam towards them before he realized those couldn’t be retrieved (we have been working on that). He turned towards the bird again and actually managed to swim more or less straight to it. I think it’s more difficult for them to see the bird among all the water lilies than we realize, and there was no wind to help him out. He took the bird straight away, turned and swam in with it.
When he reached the shore it was clear that he couldn’t maintain his grip; he was basically holding the bird by its beak. He put it down to get a better grip. I was about three yards away at this point. I backed up and blew the recall whistle to support him, but I could see from his entire body that he wasn’t feeling good about the situation. Maybe he was bothered by what happened at the start or he was finding something else too difficult, I don’t know. Just when I thought we were going to be called off for him refusing the game, he grabbed the duck and towed it all the way to me. Had he left the duck behind, we would have been out straight away.
”That was a close call”, the judge said. He was of the lovely kind that prefers to give you the benefit of the doubt. Oh, how I love those judges! J
When we got back home, I brought out one of the nice ducks from the trial and did a couple of ”reminder sessions” with Qulan. He was back to his old self again.
We can now focus on building Quling’s confidence, strengthen our relationship and teach him to sit calmly when the bird flushes. I look forward to the autumn and new challenges with my lovely and one of a kind Qulan!
All the photos (except the selfie) are by the Norwegian photographer Christina Sepulveda and were taken earlier this summer