With summer here and snakes more active in the veld, the risk of a gundog being bitten by a snake during field training is much higher. To avoid this, hazard training can be confined to the yard and parks. While limited, it provides an opportunity to do some training in a safe environment and to reinforce the basics, which form the foundation for everything else. And it may one day save your dog’s life.
To get back to basics I decided to leave off training commands like heel, fetch, down, and so on, and to stick to the sit command. This gives me control over my dog at all times. For example, the dog gets in among a covey of birds and does not point, but starts circling or chasing the birds. By simply ordering him to sit, I can regain control. At this stage, Magnum will sit even if the command is given from a distance.
A good idea during this recap of basics is to add distractions. Don’t train solely with the sit command if just the two of you are in the courtyard. Bring in other dogs, the kids and maybe even some pigeons if you can, and then enforce the command. I also move from the yard to a park regularly; better still, go to a different park from time to time. Don’t expect your dog automatically to obey commands in the veld if the training was done only at home. In any new environment, he will need some retraining.
However: back to the sit command. Your dog must learn to sit immediately the command is given. I found it helped considerably if a friend walked behind us while I walked Magnum on a leash. If I gave the command and Magnum did not sit immediately, the friend gave him a soft slap on the rump. We had to do this only twice to make Magnum understand what he should do. Remember: do not give a command if you know you won’t be able to enforce it. If you suspect your dog is not going to obey, move closer to him, hold him by the collar and then give the command. This enables you to push him down immediately after the command is given.
The sit command also gives you the control to stop a dog from running into traffic or tangling with a venomous snake.
Another of Magnum’s shortcomings that could be rectified during this period was his inability to hold onto the bird/dummy when retrieving. To solve this I involve him when playing cricket with my son CJ. Magnum sits next to me as I bowl, and once CJ hits the ball, I send Magnum to retrieve. As he returns with the ball I’ll start moving backwards (he likes to drop the dummy a metre or so in front of me) while giving the command to hold. This worked well and I could see that he understood the command.
This, however, led to another mistake on my part. Focusing on the hold command I failed to realize that Magnum was actually bored with retrieving, as he’d walk to the ball, pick it up and then walk back. Don’t bore your dog with something he should be enjoying, whether it’s the actual retrieve or just the praise and affection he receives after a successful retrieve. We repeat most exercises twice only, on condition that he gets it right. Most other handlers allow for a maximum of five repeats.
Some months back, Magnum was frightened by a remote controlled trap with a pigeon in it, and has since been very cautious around traps. Using a trap for training has several advantages – mainly that training can be done almost anywhere. To remedy this, I plan to put the trap next to his kennel at night. Then I’ll move it to an area he frequents during the day. The final stage will be to load the trap and open it while we are busy with some other training. Hopefully this will restore his confidence and enable me to use the trap in future training.
The main ingredient for successful training is to know your dog. The only way to achieve this is to spend time together. Magnum is now just over a year old and is turning into a beautiful male GSP, but his hunting drive still sometimes overwhelms his sense of discipline. Only patience and regular training can fix this.