Tango and I had so much fun at the Beginner Gun Dog workshop in Virginia over the weekend. It's always fun to spend time with your dog outdoors, and this weekend was no different. The weather was spectacular! And the subject matter and the skills we learned about were so new to us.
I learned a lot at this workshop. First, even though Tango is a natural retriever and loves the water, it takes A LOT more than that to make a good gun dog! The dogs need to be focused on their handler, no matter the terrain (water, marsh, corn field, forest, etc.), or the distractions (horses, off-leash dogs, birds, wild animals, gunshots, wounded birds, etc.).
Just being outdoors was distracting for many of the dogs. Then when we moved into low cover, things got even more distracting for the dogs. So for the first hour or so, we worked with the dogs in the least distracting area – the gravel parking lot. But even that held fascinating scents. We upped the value of our reinforcers (I switched from dehydrated hot dogs to chicken), and also raised the rate of reinforcement (we clicked a lot more, often just because the dog looked in our direction instead of sniffing).
A good retriever will retrieve anything: car keys, a dead bird, your shoe, a wounded bird, the newspaper, or your slippers. He'll also wait for you to tell him when and where to retrieve the object. And he'll also go straight out, come straight back and deliver that object to your hand (not dropping it when he gets to you).
It's a lot of fine detail, believe me! There are also whistle cues instead of spoken cues when you're working with a gun dog. First of all, your dog may be far away from you so he can't see you or hear your voice. A whistle carries over a long distance. The cues we learned are: 1 whistle pip = sit; two pips = change direction; and three pips = come to me.
Tango has the 1 and 3 pips down just fine. We need to incorporate the 2 pips into his reperatoire. I also, of course, need to work on those new whistle cues in the field, in the woods, on the pavement. It's so much fun to work with your dog.
I love these new challenges, which ultimately lead to new accomplishments.