September has been a bit mad and full on so I have been remiss in writing up what I have been doing with the boys.
I had another session with Gwen and Ragnar had made good progress with all the exercises so far so we worked more on heelwork. Increasing the duration that Ragnar can do before a reward and also looking at where the rewards are placed to encourage better heel position and not forging forward. A good point that Gwen made was ‘what happens after the click tells you where the dog expects the reward to be.’ The fact that Ragnar pops forward after a click tells me what I need to know!!!
We also started work on fixing Ragnar’s over enthusiastic retrieve and his occasional bark when over aroused. The main thing I needed to do was SLOW DOWN! Again!!! I think that part of the problem is that genetically I am part spaniel myself 😊 So we worked on using a plastic bottle as the retrieve article as it makes the mouthing very obvious and easy to click when you can’t hear the crunching. I was clicking for two things, no mouthing and stillness. Very hard for excited spaniel to be still! Very much a work in progress.
I have been working on increasing the duration of the heelwork before the reward when out with the boys in the park and it is going well. Lots of large figure eight and left and right turns to keep them thinking and connected. Some changes on pace which initially was quite a shock to them. The first time I started to jog they both shot off at great speed! It is now working better.
I have also got some cavaletti to help Ragnar with a bit of back end awareness work, I think that he struggles to know what to do with his back legs sometimes. This will also impact his heelwork.
Helen Phillips came down for the weekend to do a workshop and so I worked the boys for some of that. Ragnar came out on Saturday and did some placeboard work, he was a bit distracted but other than that he did a good job. Sunday, we concentrated on the hand delivery and we managed to increase his hold on a placeboard up to 3 seconds. He was happy to concentrate despite having lots of people around close to him watching him work.
I have mainly been concentrating on increasing the heelwork duration and the hold on the plastic bottle over the last week or so. Ragnar seems to be settling more with the longer stints of heelwork and I can add in some food rewards as well as using the ball to reward. I am also now able to get a 4 second hold with the bottle and can touch the bottle without him letting go. The stillness is also getting easier for Ragnar to offer. I am also still working on the slow feeding and sitting still when nothing is happening.
The other day I was out in the field with him chatting to a contractor about some work that needs doing and we were standing in an interesting part of the field for about 10 mins and Ragnar chose to just sit still and wait with us 😊
I took Ragnar to see my Mctimmony Chiropractor at the beginning of the month as he had developed a pattern in his coat where the coat over his shoulders was laying differently to normal. He wasn’t lame but had been stretching more than he does normally. He had tweaked something between his shoulder blades and that has now been sorted out. 48hrs of lead exercise followed which he wasn’t very pleased about!!! Also, some stretches to learn to help with his recovery. Not too challenging as they involve mainly following a lure.
Another lesson with Gwen. Lots of good learning despite having a very tired brain in need of a holiday.
We started looking at the hold and Ragnar did a lovely 5 second hold then things started to get a bit random. We decided that it is because once he know what he needs to do to get the reward he starts to anticipate the reward and then he can’t concentrate on what he is doing! Got to love a spaniel!!! I, of course, am still contributing to the problem because when I am concentrating on what Ragnar is doing, I forget to think about what I am doing and still react very quickly after the click to get the food. I need to continue working on conditioning me to pause after the click before reaching for the food.
We had a bit of a look at trying to touch Ragnar whilst he was carrying the retrieve article, so set up a pick up and carry situation and then backed away as he came towards me, touched him gently on the shoulder and then he was rewarded for not dropping the article. That seemed to work well. I had been struggling to move the hold behaviour forward after the 5 second hold criteria, I now need to touch the retrieve so that my hand coming towards him doesn’t trigger the release. I think, doing this stationary had resulted in Ragnar getting into emotional conflict of wanting to let me touch it but also wanting to possess the toy. This was evident in him turning his head to the side. Doing this moving seemed to help.
We also tried working on 3 behaviours in succession, one repetition of each behaviour reward and then go on to the next one to see if that stopped the anticipation. We were working on duration chin rest (just starting this behaviour so no duration yet), hold with thrown food as a reward, then It’s Yer Choice with movement as he came back to the placeboard. This seemed to stabilise the hold behaviour and we were getting fairly consistent good holds.
We also did some work with the hold and then doing It’s Yer Choice stationary, so if he dropped the toy the hand closed when he held on with the hand open with food in it then he was clicked and rewarded with thrown food. This also seemed to help him not to get so anticipatory.
We then looked at some heelwork and he was better once he settled but was forging ahead quite a bit so we looked at ways to change his expectation when I give him his ‘close’ cue. I want it to mean move at my side, Ragnar seems to think that it just means move forwards!!!
So, we looked at taking a backwards step before going forwards and also taking a sideways step. Lots more things to do to continues to expand and proof his understanding of his heelwork cue.
We had a very busy hour and lots to practice before our next session. 😊
The boys an I spent a week up training with Helen Phillips, working with the birds. My goal for the week for Ragnar was to get stop to flush and shot and see what he though about retrieving warm game.
On Monday we started out working a hedge line alongside a maize stubble field. Ragnar was working nicely, not going too far ahead and as we came around a corner there were several pheasants running ahead. Ragnar flushed the first ones and was turning to Stop as I blew the stop whistle even though there were still birds on the ground running and also some taking off to fly. This was followed by a shot from a starter pistol and a ball thrown to him and then played with as a reward. I was really pleased with this as it is the same response, he has to flushing pigeons and crows.
We hunted on some more and he became more confident and hunted reedy cover and thistles very well, he started to take a bit more distance and became more fluent, not stopping to check back with me so often. There were no birds through this bit.
The next area we worked was another hedge line, again he didn’t push on too far. He still needs to gain in confidence to go into a hedge and work it without me getting in the hedge with him, but this will come as he gets more experience.
He found a bird sitting tight under some brambles and he was happy to get in underneath the brambles to chase it out. He managed to get close enough to almost catch it, he managed a mouthful of feathers but as soon as the bird flushed from cover, he sat to the stop whistle.
We then carried on working a hedge, the fence stopped him from getting into the hedge but he did indicate a couple of birds behind the fence and then found a gap to flush some birds, again he stopped on the whistle even though he had just had a contact flush and there was another bird that flushed as he stopped.
We continued into the spinney and he flushed a couple more birds and stopped for those too.
Other birds flushed out of the spinney away from him. I need to find out if he would need to stop in competition if this happened.
On Tuesday we worked on introducing Ragnar to a shot gun. I had him just mooching about in the training field and Helen fired a shot, I stopped him with the whistle and then rewarded him with a ball throw. We did this a couple of times and then on the third go he automatically stopped on the shot, again I rewarded him with a ball throw. The last shot he didn’t offer to sit but he did stop on the whistle.
He showed no fear response just a small level of interest.
We then finished his session with some heelwork practice and some Grade three level sit/stay exercises and some heelwork with a thrown distraction. He did a good job and I was very pleased with him. We didn’t do any bird work today as Ragnar had sore eyes and sore feet from Monday’s work.
On Wednesday we had a walking gun come along to shoot for us. We started off bringing a hedge towards the cover crop. Ragnar worked nicely but there were no birds in that hedge. Once we were in the cover crop, Ragnar worked well and flushed several birds, he stopped nicely to them all. Initially we just had the gun shoot to miss after each bird to check that he would be steady to shot after the flush. Once we were happy with that the gun shot a couple of birds after they flushed individually. Ragnar wasn’t interested in them after they were shot. He would roll them along the ground but wasn’t interested in picking them up. Not a problem as I can work on that as a separate exercise.
I was really happy with his first day being shot over as he was steady and not over aroused by any of it.
On Thursday we did a similar set up to Wednesday and shot a couple of birds. Ragnar was still steady and stopping when asked but when he was in maize he comes back to where he can see me before he stops. The last bird that was shot was a runner and Ragnar chased that and grabbed hold. He brought it a short distance back but when it died, he put it down and didn’t want to pick it back up.
We had a last flush out of the hedge and he stopped and was steady to that so again a good day working on the birds. We then finished off at the training field where we taught him to look for a retrieve after the shot as he wasn’t orientating to the shot expecting a retrieve. We started with some wings on a dummy and then progressed to using a bird in a stocking which he was happy to pick up.
On Friday Ragnar had lost his stop on the flush and so we stopped shooting the birds that were flushing as we wanted to work on regaining the stop to flush. He still didn’t want to pick up the dead bird.
Things to work on are continuing to proof the stop to flush and teaching him to pick up cold game.
It was a really good week and we even managed to get some footage of Ragnar stopping to flush.