We'll readily admit we're "hobby trainers" in that we have regular 8-5 (on a "light day"!) office jobs. Most of our field training is done on the weekends, holidays, and vacations (yes, we do take vacation time to train/compete with our dogs). We do lots of yard and obedience work at home during the week as well as when we're out exercising the dogs on their off-leash runs and leashed walks around the city.
Our philosophy on field training has matured over the years as we've gleaned pieces and parts from a variety of sources. We floundered around quite a bit in the beginning then, on a recommendation by Judy Hetkowski of Boulder Vizslas, contacted Lin Kozlowski and Jean Thomas of Everedi Vizslas. This is where our learning took a more "structured" approach. As a result of many training sessions with and phone calls to Lin and Jean for input on a variety of training quandaries, we finally began understanding of the finer nuances of working with bird dogs (specifically, Vizslas). Lin's and Jean's most meaningful gift to us (besides their friendship of course!), was teaching us to try and understand how birds dogs "see" and interpret the world around them. Learning to "think like a bird dog" opened our eyes and took our training to a whole new place. Try it some time!
Our next big leap in our learning came through our training sessions with Jon and Cindy Hann of Perfection Kennels. Years ago, Jon came out to Colorado to put on a two-day seminar for one of the local sporting dog clubs. Always eager to keep learning, Mel attended the seminar. Suffice it to say the weekend was one of the most valuable seminar's Mel had ever attended. Order "The Perfect Start" and "The Perfect Finish" to learn more about Jon and Cindy Hann's training program for bird dogs.
Though Everedi Kennels and Perfection Kennels are different in so many ways, we admire them deeply for their shared compassion for the bird dogs they train. We also admire their ability to look at each dog as the unique individual it is. Training with such awareness takes more time, energy, focus, and requires a true understanding of animal behavior.
Perhaps the most important part of our training philosophy is not putting too much pressure on a dog when training. While it requires a tremendous amount of patience, asking a dog to learn only that which s/he is mature enough to learn ensures long-term success. We've seen young Vizslas pushed too hard, too quickly who then shutdown and loose their enjoyment for field work. Yes, they "get the job done" but look so mechanical when doing it and show very little indepence to work without the direction of their handler. Most important is that our Vizslas always wear that huge smile on their faces as they zoom through the field hunting for birds. We hope they will always have that deep passion for working birds from when they're just baby birds dogs who can't make mistakes to when they're "broke" gun dogs who have learned how to hunt with manners.
We've also learned the importance of consistency not only when training, but in everyday life--everyday life IS training! Like it or not, you're training your pup in all of those "little moments". Too many dog guardians lose so many wonderful opportunities to train their dogs in the "wanted" behaviors. Instead, the annoying stuff is rewarded (unintentionally), frustrations sets in, and conflict enters the human-dog relationship. Dogs thrive when they know the rules and the rules are presented in a very clear, calm, and consistent manner. As we scratch our heads because of some training problem we're trying to solve, we just need to look in the mirror to see the conflicting messages we're giving our dogs. We might be verbally telling them one thing but our tone, body language or visualizations are saying something completely different. Or, our timing is way off when giving praise or a correction.
Another few kernels we've added to our bag of field training knowledge:
Never, ever train with anger or ego.
Learn to 'speak' dog. Understanding how dogs communicate will help you teach them!
If the dog isn't succeeding, you've goofed up somewhere. Go back however many steps you need to help the dog understand what you want.
Always end training sessions on a positive note.
Only expect 100% from your dog when you are 100% at everything you do (ever miss a shot??). So, this would mean...never! This is actually Lin's and it rang so true when she said it we decided to keep it close. Humans unfairly expect perfect from our dogs. Imagine if we were held to these same standards by them our by our human counterparts--our spouses, our children, our bosses, our friends. How exhausting life would be! Accept that your dogs will make mistakes as they learn--They aren't being stubborn or willful. Figure out how you've goofed up the message, then try again. Remember, you're dog wants to get it right.
Lots of early bird contact is important for young pups BUT equally as important is your attitude when your pup is working. This stage is all about having FUN!! A pup can't really do anything wrong and should be encouraged/praised for his/her interest, drive, pointing. Focus on the good stuff your pup is doing!
Remember--they're just babies. We don't believe in putting too much pressure on them while they're young. Train frequently but keep training sessions short. Always try to end training on a positive note with the pup excited and wanting more.
Do not try to steady them at this stage. Just let them chase and give enthusiastic praise for pointing and wanting to carry the bird. They'll steady themselves as they learn they can't catch. Your biggest goal is to minimize any catching without pointing. But, if your pup does grab a bird or two, it isn't the end of the world. Come up with a new plan or go back a few steps. In this tender stage, don't train so hard so as to diminish your pup's excitement about the bird.
Be very careful about introducing any gunshot sounds to bird work. This is a critical step in training and MUST be done with care. Most people move too quickly and are too eager to fire over their pup. There is NO RUSH when introducing the shotgun sound to your pup. A pup should have a solid and intense interest in birds BEFORE you ever consider introducing the shot (with a starter pistol) to a pup. When a pup is ready, have someone stand a hundred feet away and wait to fire the pistol until the pup is in full chase. The pup should be completely focused, in full chase (intent on catching the bird), and running away from the person with the starter pistol. If the pup reacts in any way to the sounds of the pistol, the next shot should be fired from a further distance. Or, the pup needs to be more focused on the bird.