Oh. you Just ......
When you set out to train your first dog for Working Trials there are many exercises to be trained and most of these exercises have several component parts- such as:- the desire to do the exercise, the skill, (knowing how to do it) the control, required at start and finish of the exercise. At different times different components will require attention from you as the trainer. If you simply practice the exercise the quality of the dog’s response is likely to be mixed and unreliable.
When you ask questions of a lot of trialists, the answer often begins with “Oh you just….”
The Search Square
For instance, you ask questions about training the Search Square; the answer is often, “Oh, you just throw your toys into long grass- they soon get the hang of it”. Let’s quickly look at the search square. The components are- the ability to locate the article, the knowledge that there is another one to be located, the skill to pick up and retrieve the article to hand without mouthing or dropping, and, very important, the desire to work the exercise (motivation).
There is a lot of difference between a dog gaily leaping into long grass after his favourite ball, and a dog working its heart out looking for tiny articles after a TD track. The transition between the two is enormous. We must always view the goal we have set ourselves. When we first start, a CDex seems an enormous task, but once you’ve achieved that, the goals get somehow get bigger.
When you start Square training by throwing your ball (or whatever toy you are using) into long grass, this will build the dog’s excitement, interest and motivation really well- very necessary and tremendously important. The problems start occurring when you try to begin putting some formality into your ‘square’. The excitement you have built up will cause the dog to mouth the articles; this will often create the habit of the dog swallowing small articles. This can be a great problem as dogs have died of swallowing articles. What tends to bring things to a head is a judge saying “And I docked 3 points from 2 articles for mouthing and dropping, and your dog swallowed the 3rd, so as you can’t present me with it you can’t have the points, And I’ve only given you 2 for style and control, because that’s all its worth”. (Oh well, you didn’t want to qualify anyway)
From this point on you are likely to start telling the dog to hold, probably getting quite annoyed. Until your annoyance reduces the dog’s level of excitement very little effect will occur. But reducing the dog’s excitement will badly effect its motivation to do the square, and you will be very likely to spend most of the dog’s working life struggling to control the mouthing, and to keep the dog motivated.
A better way, in my opinion, is before you get the dog “retrieve crazy”, teach a formal hold and retrieve to hand. I usually do this in the house, but there are at least a million ways of doing this and I’m not going into it now.
A huge number of handlers attempt to start Sendaway training without a down or static position on command- another “Oh, you just…” “Oh, you just get somebody to hold your dog while you walk out and hang your ball in a tree”. You walk back, set up your dog and release him to do the ‘Sendaway’- then stand there smiling while the dog rushes down the field doing his own thing, accompanied by smug smiles. After a few times the smiles fade, as you get increasingly annoyed, while the dog rushes up and down the hedge looking for his ball, without listening to a command to stop.(which you haven’t taught anyway…).
When the dog eventually stops ‘mostly’, you as a beginner say to a trialists, “My dog won’t go down at the end of the Sendaway”. The answer is often, “Oh, you just tell your dog to wait, then the judge can’t mark you for the wrong position”, However, what normally happens is that the dog stands or sits randomly, then stands, then starts to wander, then one day wanders back to you without stopping after a perfect outrun- “and the judge says and nothing for your sendaway”
(“Oh, you didn’t want to qualify anyway”)
“ Oh, you just get the dog happy to do the scale and return.Don’t worry about the wait on the other side- you’ll always get 8 and it’s not worth training the position as it will reduce the dog’s keenness” The day your dog knocks the clear or long and you finish with 13 for your jumps? (Oh, well you didn’t want to qualifying anyway.)
“Oh, you just tell your dog to wait on the other side of the clear or long- ‘he doesn’t like going down anyway” What happens next is the down decays to the sit, then the stand, then the wander about. The day comes when the judge says, “And nothing for the long because the dog wandered back past the last element of the long jump” Its OK you got 15 for the jumps- unless of course you only got 8 for the scale?” (Oh, well you didn’t
want to qualify anyway.)
I suppose the moral of these ramblings is- train your component parts of your exercises thoroughly and well, so when you start training the major parts of the exercises, your foundations are in place. And if someone says “Oh, you just…” walk away and find somebody that will give you real advice not glib answers.
One final thought- If you ask someone the question; - Can I get away with…..? . You know in your heart of hearts that the answer is going to be “No”
Its like when a lady asks her husband “does my bum look big in these trousers?” He can’t win. There is no right answer.
Photos by Rod Roberts