Garmin South Africa supplied me with an Alpha 100 / TT15 GPS Training and Tracking unit. It’s a combination of the TT15 collar and Alpha 100 handheld device. With both the collar and handheld device you get two sets of antennae differing in length, the longer one extending the range to 14km. This might sound like overkill, but when training with some of the other handlers you’ll be amazed how far out some of the dogs work. The hunting instinct in these dogs is very strong and you’ll need the 14km antenna when your dog chases a hare or an antelope – you don’t want to start searching in the wrong direction when you can’t see your dog! I’m still finding my way around the product and for now I’m only using it as a tracking/measuring tool. In the past, Magnum didn’t range too far from me, but now he will sometimes run over 200 metres away.
The Alpha 100 handheld device has a 28x63mm touch screen with a 240x400 pixel display. This works wonderfully, as I can now see where Magnum is on the map or I can go to the compass screen to see in which direction he is. As most of my rifle hunting will be in bushveld this will work well for me as I will be able to locate him in the thick bush. The handheld device notifies you when your pup is on point or has treed something. It also shows if the pup is sitting or running. Magnum’s report back is great at the moment and it’s clear that he knows we’re a team. Even when Magnum is not visible, I can see on the compass that he is returning to me. Once he makes his appearance I can then give him a command to continue hunting.
Magnum is a slow-maturing puppy and according to some of the more experienced handlers I’ve trained with over the last couple of weeks, that’s not a bad thing. He’s started hunting smarter. In the past he’d run as if possessed and tire quickly. A morning veld session would be too much for him. Now we are able to do a prolonged morning session and an afternoon session. The Garmin can also track the average speed and distance covered and I’m able to monitor how hard he runs during the morning session compared to the afternoon.
He has also started making better use of the wind. When his nose goes up, I know he’s testing the wind for scent. The lesson here is that you can’t train a gundog on pigeons and traps alone. The more veld time you put in, the quicker your pup will learn and build up experience while also increasing his fitness level. The Garmin unit has a stimulation function which I’m not interested in using at this stage, and I would advise any novice trainer to do the same. Seek professional help before you start using that function.
My biggest challenge these past two months has been the constant psychological battle with Magnum. He challenges my commands and authority every chance he gets, but I’ve also learned a couple of tricks. This will likely apply to any novice or first-time trainer, so my tip is to be ready for it. When you give the sit command, your pup will sit for a couple of seconds and then lie down and even start rolling around or crawling towards you. He’s trying to get away with disobeying the command, and he’ll put on his best puppy face or act silly. Don’t allow him to disobey your commands. If you let it go a couple of times you’ll create the perception that your commands need not always be obeyed. This could mean death for your pup in the field, should he disobey your command and chase after a bushpig, for example. However, be reasonable: if your pup has only recently mastered the command, don’t expect him to sit for hours.
My time spent with Magnum this month was limited but we achieved results and I could see a huge improvement. Hunting over Magnum will happen soon, which is very exciting. The new collar has motivated me to do more and to get into the veld more often.