What will this dog teach me – part 2

The other day I published the first part of “What will this dog teach me?”, which has the subject noise. If you haven’t, read it first, you will find it here.

I wrote that I had identified three situations in which Flippa would make noise:

  • When there is a conflict within her.
  • When she has no task.
  • When it is messy around us.

I will now describe a bit on how I am thinking about training this now, and how I act to get rid of the noise, and most importantly, prevent them from occurring in the first place.

The first point is the one I feel as though I can influence the most, but might also be the one which is hardest to completely eliminate. In the future I might be surprised at things we have not trained and the risk of her making noise will be larger. Or, she will become more vaccinated against frustration in the time I train her to handle situations that are a challenge for her. (And in time with her maturing!) And for her to do as I say – not what she thinks she is supposed to do. That is my expectation and I am already noticing results. As soon as I notice she is anticipating one thing, I try to redirect my thinking to another task. Right now I am pointing quite a lot towards dummies or bowls of food, without sending her, because she is starting to get a bit too high in arousal on straight lines. Right now I only reward her for being directed correctly, calm and focused. But I don’t send her. Then, I turn and walk away, or give her a hunt-whistle cue instead. It works very well for her – she settles down and the noise stops.

Point two is easy enough as long as I can give her a task. 😉 We have also started training this; when I have not given a task, but am simply standing around, this is also a task on it’s own. Hang out here! Very difficult, if you ask Flippa. Standing around with a loose leash and “not doing anything” is very difficult, whilst doing a sit-stay for all eternity, no problem. At the moment I am trying to turn everything into tasks. We will see if I decide to do things differently. One thing is for sure, we are definitely going out into the field just to have a “fika” a lot this season! A nice task that Flippa finds very difficult.

Point three is all about how I support her. When we find ourselves in a new environment I need to give her all my attention and a very good start is to practice heel work mixed up with some sniffing. Slow and easy, preferably together with the others, but they also need to be on-leash, we could take a walk. (This after she has had time to mooch around, either before we get in the car and leave, or if she may do this when I take her out of the car)

In this situation I think of working with her future anticipation. The first time we trained in a group together, she had none, she had never been in that situation before. I think she was simply excited about the whole situation. And this is what she needed to get used to.

So, I try to think that, every time we arrive at a training spot, we begin with just walking around, perhaps in a circle, or along a road. So that her anticipation is that, the first thing we do, is take it easy. I have noticed now after a few sessions with our training group, I have succeeded in making heel work a “take it easy-exercise”, which I am very pleased with. And Flippa has a much easier time taking it easy when I – that’s right – help her out and give her a task.

Standing still and attempting to “press down the noise” on a dog which is too aroused, is not something I believe in. The energy needs an outlet of some kind. Sniffing or doing simple tasks like heel work, are things I usually do.

In between I may sit down with my dog and just chill. But, this we practice first in a calm, known environment. So “fika” becomes a learned behaviour before we add a gradually more distracting environment. Particularly in the beginning of this training, I bring a bone or a kong stuffed with food that the dog may occupy themselves with, instead of staring at all that is going on and getting more and more aroused.

A while ago we trained for the first time in a larger group, on pheasant grounds. Pheasants were flushed, whistles peeped and so on. I mostly walked a bit behind the others and fiddled alone. At times Flippa got to go ahead and do a quick hunt, then back to the calm tasks. I sat down and let her search for treats in the grass, held her for a while and so on. At first, she was very aroused but she calmed down, and after a few hours she was calm enough and quiet. At that point it was time to take a nap in the car. 🙂 Then she got to rest from new impressions and training for a few days.

She also seems to get used to things. When she gets used to something, she gets less aroused and this keeps her quiet. She made some noise the first time she was along to feed the pheasants (I suppose birds are deeply rooted in the genes 😉 ) but now, she is totally silent because we do this several times a week. The first time she saw a pheasant take off, she whined, but the other day she flushed two pheasants and was completely quiet.

To sum up I have done the following things for her to stay in the right state of mind and also keep quiet:

  • I have very slowly moved her training into a larger group and new environment. She was ten months before we started training regularly with others. On the other hand, she has trained together with my other dogs from the get-go, and learned to wait her turn. This has gone very well. I have also noticed, now that we are training with this group of only two others, she does not find it hard to watch the other dogs work, as long as she has a task like “sit-stay”. She can sit and watch, and then work without getting too aroused. (If she would have, the situation would be too hard)
  • I need to be completely present whilst training her, especially in difficult environments (where there is a lot going on) and support her by reading her and from that, do what she needs. For example take a short walk, give her a bone, hold her, increase distance and so on.
  • I immediately started training her to handle frustration, by mixing activity and passivity, by rewarding her greatly when she accomplished something hard. An example is when she finds it very hard to turn away from a mark. If I threw a mark and she didn’t get to retrieve it, that was not difficult, but turning away from that mark was nearly impossible without noise. I solved this by every time she did turn away from a mark, she got an amazing reward the other way. This only needed a few repetitions until she was silent. Now I have calmed down the rewards and I can give her a new task the other way, and she is cool with it.
  • I have learned to think even more ahead. How hard is this training or this specific task going to be? Often, noise occurs when the task is too hard. Sometimes I have confused her smart-thinking, fast brain with the fact that she CAN DO EVERYTHING. And this is deeply unfair. As long as I build the exercises in small steps and reward her for the right behaviour, she has no problem doing quite difficult things (for her level of training) quietly.

These points are not weird in any way, but they distinguish good training as I see it: switch between active and passive tasks, split up training in small pieces, reward extra for difficult tasks, don’t create too much anticipation that arouses the dog too much, help her in different ways when things get tough, keep training sessions short, let the dog rest a few days when she has been through something extra trying, let her run off built-up energy when she needs it, and so on…

For Flippas part I believe the fact that she has matured and gotten older has had a positive effect. Her mind and body are grounding. The other day I noticed a slight behavioural change – she was in heat and a bit more excited and noisy. Then, she calmed down again.

Honestly: This dog is going to teach me to be an extra great dog-trainer. 😉 AND she will teach me how to handle noise – she already has. Our training sessions are more than often quiet instead of there being any noise – so I believe we are on the right path. We are not in a hurry anywhere, so we keep up the training and will see where it leads. It would be fun to compete, but if this is not possible she will still become an amazing hunting dog, I have no doubt. And I have learned even more. 🙂

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