My name is Leanne and this is Erik my 4 yr old Working Cocker Spaniel. Erik is an amazingly talented little chap who hunts and retrieves beautifully but struggles to do nothing. I am a gundog trainer and I choose to use positive and choice-based training to educate my dogs and I would like to compete at working test and field trials.
For those of you who don’t know what that involves, a quick summary. For spaniel working tests, the dogs are required to hunt alongside another dog, stopping when a pistol is fired and a dummy is thrown and either waiting whilst the other dog retrieves the dummy or being sent to retrieve the dummy. There are also a couple of retrieve tests which can involve either a seen or a blind dummy retrieve and sometimes water retrieves. For a field trial, the dog is required to hunt in a pair again but this time with live game. The dog is required to stop to the flush, and then retrieve game that is shot or honour the other dog whilst it retrieves game.
So my problem is this – while I have a dog who will hunt beautifully and will retrieve all day long he will start to vocalise when he thinks that he has had to wait too long to get going or if he thinks that the other dog is taking too long to get the job done. In both working tests and field trials this is a big fail.
Erik has been vocal since the day I got him and he has also struggled with self-control. We have been making some progress with his self-management and ability to deal with being in a group situation and not whining, shouting and screaming. He can now manage himself off lead in a group even with shot and water retrieves going on as long as he has his favourite ball.
He cannot, however, sit still for any length of time and we have been working on that when out on walks with me sitting on a bench for a while. He can now manage about 5 minutes with a lot of food reinforcement but we still have a long way to go.
The reason for this diary is that I think that he is in a position now for me to really target the noise and his inability to be still and the fact that he anticipates everything that is going to happen. He now has many more life skills and he is starting to mature and so it is time to find a way through this so that we can compete J I have been told that it is impossible to fix this sort of noise problem but as I am stubborn and he is the only dog I have at the moment I am determined to try to find a way to help him work through this. Not only will it mean that he can compete but also I think the skills he learns will make him more content during everyday life.
I have had a good think about it and the two main issues that I need to tackle are:-
1. His ability to switch off and wait patiently when ‘exciting things for spaniels’ are going on
2. His ability to know what is coming but not to get frustrated during delays, or working for a delayed reward because working is a reward to him.
So I am starting to work systematically through Susan Garrett’s Crate Games DVD as I have done a small amount of this but not previously worked it through fully. Erik understands not to come out until he hears his release word but he doesn’t love his crate or relax very well in there if things are going on that he wants to get involved with. I also haven’t transferred the skill to a raised bed etc. so there is a lot of generalisation needed for this set of skills.
I will also be looking at loads of different life-skill games for him as well as the specific gundog skills.
I am sure that there will be ups and downs in this journey but keeping this diary will hopefully help me to see what is going right and what needs tweaking.