20 April 2009

Darien NY hunt tests

April 18-19, the German Shorthair Club of Western NY once again hosted AKC hunt tests at Darien NY. In some ways, we couldn't have had better weather - no snow and no rain! Temperatures were quite warm on Saturday, with lots of wind - too much really and then dropped quite a bit on Sunday (better for the dogs); the wind was mild on Sunday morning but picked up a lot later in the morning so it felt quite cold but it was sunny. The grounds there are very spacious and in good condition although the cover was very low because all the grass remained flat from the snow cover. Still, I much prefer this venue to many of the ones used in Ontario for field tests.

Miska and Vadasz were both entered in the Sr Hunter level. Tyro and Diva were entered in Jr Hunter. Gary decided to handle his dog Vadasz and so I only had 3 dogs to deal with but I also walked the course when Vadasz went out so I got lots of exercise and also got to listen to the discussions of the judges and the AKC marshall.

I had lots of butterflies as this was my first time handling a dog at the Sr level. Good thing the nerves can't travel down the lead in hunt tests. Miska was going to do whatever she was going to do, and there wasn't much I could about it - or so I thought. But I did learn many things over the two days.

Miska's performance on Saturday wasn't very good. She neither honored nor had a chance to retrieve a shot bird. She did find a bird but flushed and chased it and brought it back to me - a huge no-no. It was an exceptionally long retrieve remarked one of the judges, tongue-in-cheek. Hmmmn, note to self - need more work on her steadiness.

Sunday, Miska was considerably better. She had a beautiful honor from quite a distance away. I was thrilled. I was also able to successfully call her off from chasing a bird that the other dog flushed but which wasn't shot at. Miska also had a fantastic and stylish point that she held for a very long time while I tried to find the bird and flush it. Unfortunately, there was no bird - it was where a bird had been that her bracemate had previously found. I learned I could 'relocate' her to help me find the bird. But it seemed it was the bracemates (usually GSPs) which found the birds first and they (birds) were few and far between.

Anyway, I blew the test for us on the next honor; I allowed Miska to steal the other dog's point. I didn't realize I could command her to whoa before she stopped moving, i.e., when she 'acknowledged' the other dog on point. I understand that acknowledging the other dog is open to some interpretation and disagreement by judges but I'll be better prepared next time and command her to whoa before she can steal the other dog's point. Up to that point, she was still in contention but my error caused her to not pass. Sometimes I need to make mistakes in order to improve and that's one.

Vadasz's performances were somewhat similar although he didn't honor at all, indicating that both dogs need more work on steadiness and honoring. Vadasz apparently also needs more training on his fetching. Gary says he doesn't always bring the bird to hand, choosing to drop it and then go off to hunt for another. I discussed this problem with Gary and asked him how he reinforced the 'hold'. He explained that he uses the command 'hold' and then gives Vadasz a treat when he gives him whatever is in his mouth. I now rail against using verbal commands when a dog is learning a behaviour and even for many behaviours a command is not needed. I did explain, however. that the timing and placement of his food reward was being paired NOT with holding the dumbbell or bird, but with spitting it out. The desired behaviour - holding the object - is not the one being reinforced. Instead, spitting it out/dropping it is being reinforced.

So how does one reward holding something? Give the dog a very small treat while it holds the object in its mouth. Of course, I don't start with a quail or chukkar but with a dowel or dumbbell, something fairly small so there is room to put a treat on the dog's tongue. Nor do I start this with a dog that hasn't first played Susan Garrett's "It's Yer Choice" game because the dog's immediate reaction when smelling or seeing a food treat will be to open its mouth and drop the object. By playing the "It's Yer Choice" game, my dogs have learned that just because food / treats appear, they must continue to work.

This generally got me thinking about different approaches to my dogs' field training, especially with Tyro and Diva as I want them to learn control with birds now rather than trying to undo a lot of undesired behaviours that they may learn such as flushing, chasing and retrieving birds on their own. And I really want to avoid any kind of corrections and use of force in field training which virtually everyone does, just as I do in my other training with my dogs. Miska's biggest challenge is steadiness to wing & shot because her desire to retrieve/fetch is ultra strong (something I've reinforced since her puppyhood). So for her, the steadiness needs to become more rewarding than the retrieving for now and I have to figure out how I can do this at home, possibly with no birds. That's another challenge!

So no qualifying scores in SH for Miska and Vadasz but a whole lot of learning and a little more handling experience was gained by the humans.

As to Tyro and Diva, neither found any birds on Saturday - more dogs failed on Saturday in all classes than passed. Being a very sociable Vizsla, Tyro was a somewhat more interested in playing with his bracements than finding birds, especially on Sunday when his bracement, a very young Vizsla, really wanted to play with Tyro which didn't help at all and then later teased Tyro by bringing over a quail in its mouth to play with.

Diva was much more focused on hunting (she is Miska's daughter after all!) and on Sunday successfully found 2 birds, pointed 1, was shot over and also retrieved 2 quails to my hand, one still alive. Thankfully Diva saved the weekend by being the only dog to return home with a qualifying score and rosette. Way to go Pumpkin-Wumkin!

Diva on point in training

Diva with her qualifying rosette

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