Don’t Give In To Temptation (Distractions)
Shooting over your dog and working him in the field would be quite straight forward if it was not for distractions and temptation. If every bird was dead and if every bird shot was a single bird then life would be quite easy. Going shooting with your dog however is never that easy. I have seen it on a number of occasions where a dog has made a lovely retrieve of a wounded bird only to put it down and go chasing after another one that is shot and falls from the sky as he is returning and the wounded bird is lost. I have seen dogs put birds down to go chasing after an unshot bird or rabbit that runs across their path as they return. And, I am sure most of us have had experience of a dog that on the way out to a retrieve, scents unshot game and gives chase forgetting about the one it was sent for.
There are so many distractions and temptations in the shooting field that will create problems. In our training we need to recognize them and work at minimizing the difficulties that can arise. In previous articles we have discussed ensuring your dog is sent off in the right direction for the specific retrieve you require and this is one of the most important aspects of having your dog ignore distractions. He needs to know what you want him to do. He must be sure in his mind what you are sending him for and focus just on that one unless you change the instructions.
For me there are two main rules. Your dog should bring back and deliver whatever is in his mouth and he should go out directly to the retrieve you send him for unless directed otherwise. It is good when a dog acknowledges another bird falling or rabbit shot, and makes a note of it in his mind but that should never detract from the job you have sent him out to do. Basic retrieving obedience and understanding of what is required is the foundation of this.
In training sessions begin to visualize the type of temptations and distractions that could arise. Build up until you are providing temptations that would make Saint Canine sin. Remember that training with dummies or even cold game is never as enticing as the real thing. In training he may quite easily ignore another dummy while one is in his mouth but in the shooting field, a rabbit or hare running across his path lifts that temptation to a whole new level.
One of the biggest temptations you can give your dog in training is often a bouncing tennis ball; therefore I like to use these. Walking your dog at heel or hunting him ahead blow the sit whistle and then throw the ball slightly behind you and away from him. In this way if he moves you can intercept and reinforce the sit. Tell him “Leave It”. Keep him sat, and go and pick the ball yourself as he watches you. When you can see he is steady to this, throw the ball again and as he is sat throw a dummy ahead. Face him towards the dummy and send him for that. Watch him as he returns and put yourself between his return line and the ball. When he has delivered the dummy you then go and pick the ball yourself. Very quickly he will begin to realize that he is not going for everything and that he should only fetch the dummy you direct him to. When this happens and you feel you can trust him you can then begin to throw the ball slightly in front of you. He should now understand “Leave It” and look to you for what he can retrieve. With hunting dogs after ‘Leave It”, I will say “Gone away” to indicate it was unshot and not wanted for a retrieve and cast him in the opposite direction to where the ball was thrown. Read your dog’s reaction and whether he is working for and with you or whether he is being tempted. If he is going out for the dummy and ignoring the ball you can then move onto the next step.
Have him sit and then throw a dummy approximately 30 yards ahead. Line him up for this retrieve and send him. After he has collected it, and when he is about one third of the way back, throw the tennis ball over your head and behind you. Make sure he sees the ball as you throw it. Don’t take your eyes off your dog. If he drops the dummy, move forward, block his path, stop him and ensure he goes back and picks that, even if you have to walk up to it and flick it. Encourage him to pick and return it to your hands. Then with him sat, pick the tennis ball yourself. The dog that drops the dummy scoots around behind you to pick the ball has not had the foundations solidly trained into him. So go back a few steps in training if this happens.
As your dog becomes more reliable at ignoring the tennis ball begin to throw it to the front of you. First at a wide angle away from his line of return and then move it closer until you can throw the ball across the front of him as he returns with the dummy. Once you have reached this stage you can now really begin to tempt him using rabbit skins and dead birds. When you start with these however always move back one or two stages regarding where you throw the distraction as the temptation with fur and feather will be greater.
Of course this only trains for the distraction on the return. Many times there are distractions on the way out to the retrieve. For this it is useful to have an assistant. Stand your assistant about 20 yards out in front of you and to the side. Have your assistant throw out a dummy and send your dog for the retrieve. As he is running out and before the gets in line with the assistant, have the assistant make a noise and throw a dummy or tennis ball behind you. It is simple to do this but essential he gets it right. Keep your eye on your dog. If he is diverted in any way, stop him on the whistle and send him back for the dummy that was thrown first. When he returns with the dummy, go and pick the diversion dummy yourself.
Repeat the exercise with your assistant now throwing the dummy between you and him but not too near your dog as he goes out for the retrieve. Once he is doing this successfully, now have the dummy thrown over the dog’s head to land at the other side of the line he is taking to the retrieve. Once your dog realizes that he has to go for the one he was sent for you can now have your assistant throw the dummy or a heavy bouncing ball across the front of the dog as he goes out for the retrieve. Initially it should be thrown when your dog is well away from the thrower however build up your dogs understanding so that you will be able to throw the ball across the front of him almost as he reaches the line of the throw. The ball now simulates the flushing of a rabbit or a bird as he runs out to the retrieve.
A useful piece of equipment is a ‘bolting rabbit’. This is a dummy on a long strong piece of catapult rubber. Your assistant stretches this out and lets it go as the dog gets close to the line the ‘rabbit’ will “bolt” along. As it catapults along the floor it will bounce and ‘fly’ making it a very tempting object. If you cannot find an assistant to help you with this it is quite easy to set up a release mechanism with a gate latch and a long piece of string that you can pull at the right moment. It is a very exciting action and many dogs that are steady to thrown dummies and tennis balls can be tempted by this.
In training for distraction it is far more effective and the training comes along far more quickly if your dog never gets the distraction retrieve. If your dog goes for the distraction retrieve it is good if you can stop him before he gets to it and even better if he cannot pick it himself in any way. In other words you or your assistant get to it and pick it before he does.
Take the introduction to distractions in small stages, keep your patience and do not get disturbed if he beats you to the distraction you threw. Just go back a few stages repeat the exercises and make sure he does not beat you next time.
Watching dogs work I am in admiration of those who go out for a retrieve ignoring live game taking off at their feet, intent on what they were sent to do and returning with that wounded or difficult bird in their mouth while others fall near to their path on the way back. The focus on their job is so great nothing else exists. Watch some of the Championship videos from Paul French and you will see exactly what I mean.