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Portland Labrador

Porter's Master Hunter Tests

Salem Retriever Trial Club - May 2009 Test

Okay, so we've trained all Winter and we're ready to hit the ground running this year.

The first series was a land triple, a good solid triple.  Nothing ridiculous, but not a gimme either.  Porter comes to the line, the birds go down, and he goes out and smacks the triple.  A little hunt on the second bird, but he follows it up by stepping on the memory bird.  While I am never comfortable when he has to hunt the first or second bird, I always feel that he vindicates himself by nailing the memory bird.

So, he comes back with the memory bird and...



...he drops it at my feet and won't pick it back up.  I tried some of the different things I had heard about trying, been told by a Pro to try, and had seen.  I moved back in an effort to get him to pick it up and follow me...no good.  I told him to fetch it up...he messed around with it and didn't pick it up.  Finally, I reached down, picked up the bird and handed it to the judge and thanked them for their time.  I put him on lead and heeled him off the line.
Training all Winter and done in the first series, after nailing the marks.  Not what I expected.  It was discouraging, to say the least.

My friends said that the look on my face when he dropped it said it all.  I was stunned.  So were they.  We had been training with them all Winter and there hadn't been anything like this.  I put him back in his crate in the truck and hit the road.  On the good side, I had my weekend to do other things.  I the bad side, I felt like I had a time bomb that could go off at any time.  What do you do if you think your dog is going to drop the bird and not pick it up?  On top of that we were signed up to run a double header the following weekend.
(The OHRC Memorial Day test at Sauvie Island)

So, rather than over react, or do the wrong thing, I didn't do anything for a few days.  I pondered it and then after a few days spoke with my training partners about it.  The consensus seemed to be that it was a dominance and control issue.  I also spoke with a local Pro that had seen it.  I ran into Robin Rawls at Sauvie Island later in the week and asked his opinion (he was in the gallery at the test).  I didn't think it was a force fetch issue and he agreed.  He asked me if I was familiar with ladder drills.  While I had seen them and was familiar with them, I had never done them with Porter. 

Robin explained that you lay out a half dozen bumpers in a line, about five yards apart, and then walk your dog on lead (it's all about showing who is in control) and as you near the bumper, give a "fetch" command and give the dog a burn all the way to the bumper.  The pressure goes off when the dog gets the bumper.  You then take the bumper, toss is behind you in a new line, and move on to the next.  The dog heels, under control, until you give the "fetch" command.  Robin suggested the ladder drill with a twist; three or four bumpers, then a bird, then a couple more bumpers.  Burn Porter to the bumpers (like force to pile) but put no pressure on the bird.  The bird is a "safe place" and getting the bird is a good thing.
I did a couple of passes down the line with Porter.  After a really sloppy first pass while Porter figured out what was going on, it really cleaned up.  The first time I applied pressure, it was clear Porter was surprised.  I ended up using about a 20 continuous (Dogtra collar) for this drill.  I did a couple passes and he was aggressively and cleanly getting the bumpers AND the bird.  This was on a Wednesday.  I took a dead bird home and repeated a couple passes in my backyard once more on Thursday before going to our Fri/Sat Sun/Mon double header.  Would it be enough?

I do want to add one big caveat to those reading this.  This was a drill that was explained to me by a Pro, who then observed and advised while I ran the drill (Thanks Robin!).  I would caution those reading this to seek knowledgeable help when you need it.  If these blogs can help someone, then GREAT, I'm really happy; but I don't want someone to get in over their head and try things they're not able to, to the detriment of their training and their dog.  Remember, you can apply pressure but you CAN'T TAKE IT BACK.  Don't train with a button, train with a plan.

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