Time to introduce Fidget – Thomas’ new cocker puppy. She’s 12 weeks old and has lived here for a couple of weeks, although it feels like much longer. Fidget is a working cocker spaniel and will be a field trial dog just like Kat, who turned four in March. Kat and Fidget are not related, but I think they have a lot in common as puppies. Fidget is mostly calm and quiet in the house, sometimes playing with the young border collies like Nicks or Bud. She likes to come along when we move around the house, but will stay in a room and sleep if she’s not allowed to follow. She is really good at going to sleep when she needs to, and we don’t need to confine her in any way. Just give her something soft to sleep on and she’ll go to sleep when she’s tired. She’s very happy that she can get on the sofa on her own now. Border collies sleep anywhere, cockers wants it ore comfortable!
Thomas has started some training with her. She loves to play and enjoys food, so motivation is not a problem. The biggest challenge with a cocker puppy is that they are so quick and do so many different things, often all at once. Teaching her a sit with her paws still was a challenge, but she is getting the idea now, and will sit still and release on a word. She’s also worked on recalls, picking up a toy, following Thomas with attention and self control. We’ve had a very busy time with two litters of border collie puppies (on litter is 7 weeks old and the other was born last week) and a lot of work. Thomas has been travelling and Fidget has been hanging out with me a lot. So most of the time, she’s just part of our big pack of dogs and acts like it. She just needs to go out to pee more often than the grown ups…
This fall has been very exciting. I brought my German wirehaired puppy, Alot, grouse hunting in the Swedish and Norwegian mountains for the first time.
I started training the foundations like sit stay, stop signal, recalls and delivery to hand already when she was a baby. All training is based on fun games that develop a great relationship.
I prefer to keep a balance between the level of obedience and the hunting drive that usually kicks in at six months and keeps developing until she turns two or three years.
She was only six months old the first time I took her to the mountains. She found the birds, but didn’t point yet. I shot a few birds that she was allowed to retrieve just to give her the experience. She picked them up and returned straight to me to deliver to hand.
One new thing I taught Alot which I haven’t done with my other GWPs and setter, is to teach her steadiness to the gunshot. The procedure is exactly the same as for adding any other cue.
1) Check that the dog offers the behavior fluently without any cue.
2) Add the cue right before the dog offers it.
3) Change small things all the time to avoid any patterns. Make the cue salient. Generalize it.
4) Test the cue with gradually more distractions and increase the distance.
The first sessions I used a loud hand clap instead of a gunshot to make sure not to scare the little pup. This video shows the first steps.
I could progress really fast because I already had built a lot of value for the sit behavior and because such the gunshot is a salient signal that is different from all other cues.
In September I took her to the mountains again, and let her hunt with an experienced dog. Now she was seven months old. Before leaving I introduced her to partridges. She could point, flush and be steady to the verbal cue (see short video below). But she didn’t had the experience to handle grouse in the mountains and didn’t point yet. But she was perfectly steady to the gunshot every single time.
I recommend to get the foundations done and then take the young dog hunting to gain experience. Then nothing really goes wrong because I know that I can control the dog if she tries to run in.
In October she was eight months old and we spent a week in the mountains. Now she covered more and more ground, on average 100 meters to each side and sometimes up to 150 meters. She even handled the grouse perfectly and we both had such a great time.
There are some great contrasts in the hunting sequence. The dog should hold her point and only flush the birds on cue. She should be steady to the wing and shot and wait for the cue to retrieve. When hunting with a youngster, I don’t ask for all at once. I know she will flush willingly if I ask her (like in the partridge video), so I don’t ask her to flush. I just walk up to her, flush the birds myself. This way the situations become nice and calm and I get the opportunity to praise her for making good choices. I even fetch most of the birds myself and let her hold or sniff them as I return to her to reinforce the sit stay. But she did a great retrieve on a runner. Super experience!
Kat, my 3 year old working cocker has been hunting too. She did great in two field trials and placed third and forth. In both trials she got a first prize with “CK” (certificate quality), which means that she is more than half way to the title Swedish field trial champion.
January 4th I do another round of our popular online class “Relationship building”. This class is based on my experience training gundogs, but is open for all breeds. You can join with a puppy, a young or adult dog of any breed. A great relationship is the foundation that makes both everyday life and (training for) trials fun and easy.
We’ve been travelling a bit in the past week. First, we went to the west coast for herding trials. My parents live close by the , so we could stay there and spend some time with them. I also had time to visit my elderly grandparents (94 and soon 98 years old!) in Gothenburg. My grandmother just moved into a retirement home, and seemed genuinely very happy with that. My grandfather is still in their old apartment, waiting for an apartment to open in the same home. Herding trials were difficult, but Thomas managed to get a decent placement with Sarek on Saturday (8th out of 61 dogs), which gave him some points towards national championships.
Bud seems to get better and better with travelling. He’s been very car sick and has almost panicked when being put in the car. A combination of a bigger dose of meklozin, age and more exposure seems to have helped. He still doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t throw up and he sometimes even jumps in the crate on his own with some bribing. He was very good at my parents house, where he had to stay with the grown up dogs in the laundry room. He was quiet and relaxed all the time and slept all night.
Weather has been unusually cold for the past month. It has been the coldest May in 50 years, and June hasn’t started much better. It’s either cold and rainy, or sunny and very windy. This is what my agility field looks like most of the time:
Yesterday, I shot some video of Thomas training Alot. She is 4 months old and looks really nice. She has a lot of own opinions and is very forward. At the same time, she is very focused on her work and learns very quickly. In this video, Thomas is working on some retrieving (he started with having her take the dummy to get sent to a bowl of food, then we tried having her take it from me and run to Thomas for the first time. It was hard to handle dog, dummy and camera at the same time… I’m very impressed with Alot’s heeling. I wish my dogs were heeling that nicely! She also has an impressive sit when she’s distracted by other things (my dogs, in this case).
Do you want to work on the skills that Alot shows in the video and learn more about how to build great rewards and structure your training sessions and daily life to build a great relationship with your dog?
When training your dog with reward based methods, making the dog thoughtful by coercion is not an option. There are better ways to train your dog to use his brain, really listen for what you’re saying, and to avoid anticipation and keep the level of arousal just right.
Varying what you ask your dog to do in an unpredictable manner makes you keep the initiative.
Therefore I teach my dogs several different reward markers. It’s not only practical in training that the dog knows which kind of reward to expect when, but it’s also allows me to develop a great working relationship where my dog turns to me to ask for guidance. Another advantage is that it is great stimulus control training.
When the dog knows the different cues and reward markers, I test the dog’s understanding by giving the cue the dog doesn’t expect. It’s important that my cues start and end the different behaviors. Anticipating or guessing should not pay off.
Examples of cues in the video (translated):
“Get it” – Bowl of food
“Break” – Release from controlled position
“Ja” – take the toy from my hand
“Out” – drop the toy
“Fetch” – take the toy on the ground
“Back” – take the toy on the ground 180 degrees behind you
Switching between behaviors and a lot other tips on how to develop your relationship in training and everyday life will be covered in the new online class Relationship building starting Nov 1st.
Working cocker Kat has been to her first field trials. First she passed the retrieving test on water which is required for spaniels to enter field trials. In this trial the spaniel has to show steadiness to the shot and a thrown retrieve on water. The dog should be able to see the game in the air, but it should fall into reed so the dog cannot mark exactly where it lands.
Little Kat (<10kg) picked the duck up by its wing, but delivered perfectly to hand.
The next day she entered her first field trial (on pheasants). This trial was a beginners trial where no birds are shot, which I think is a nice introduction to trials for young spaniels. Kat was the first dog out. We started in quite rough cover for a young dog and I helped her a little with discrete hand signals to go into cover in the beginning. But soon she got going and she hunted along nice and tight with great speed and true cocker style with hardly any whistling from my part.
There were no game in this piece of ground, but after a short break we got into the “hot area”. She got a little sticky on some fresh scent, but soon added even more speed to her hunting and I needed to turn her on the whistle a few times. She flushed two pheasants and was steady to wing and shot when I blew my whistle. To play it safe, I walked up close to her when a third pheasant flushed.
The last part of the trial was two thrown retrieves which she did perfectly.
Kat got the following scores (on a scale from 1 to 5 where is best):
Hunting drive 4, Hunting pattern 4, Speed and style 4, “Will to please” 5, Steadiness 3 (whistle and body language), Reaction to shot 4, Marking ability 5, Will to retrieve 4, Grip 5 (soft and balanced), Overall impression 5.
The week after the trial I spent in the forrest hunting capercaillie and black grouse with the german pointers and cockers. We had a wonderful week.
There are still some working spots available in the Field Trial Foundations Class.
We have just started on lesson one, so join us now.
Thomas’ young German wirehaired pointer Paxa participated at a Norwegian retrieving trial for pointing dogs last week.
She did very well and got a first price both days. Day 2 you got full score both on land and on water and the judge wrote:
“Paxa does a perfect retrieve on water” and “Paxa does a perfect retrieve on land”.
The retrieve is essential not only in trials, but also to get all shot game back, even runners. It’s also great fun to train. A well trained retrieve opens up a lot of new possibilities for you to use the retrieve as a reward in steadiness training.
Steadiness, retrieving and a lot more is covered in the online class Field Trial Foundations starting September 2nd.
Thomas did an interview for a Swedish blog last week, and this is a quick translation of it for our foreign readers:
Name: Thomas Stokke Lives: Fjugesta outside of Örebro, Sweden Experience with dogs: Trained dogs for almost 20 years and competed in obedience, search and rescue, agility, field trials for pointing dogs and spaniels, and herding. Does: Own the company Klickerklok with his wife Fanny Gott. They teach classes IRL as well as online. Thomas and Fanny recently published a book about shaping in Swedish. Dogs: Working cocker Pogue (highest class in search and rescue and obedience, first price in novice field trial for spaniels), GWP Pax (First price in open field trial for pointing dogs in Norway), English setter Pi (Third price in open field trial for pointing dogs in Norway), GWP Paxa (puppy), working cocker Kat (puppy), Border collie Win (3rd in Swedish Nursery Final for herding dogs 2012), Border collie Sarek (Passed herding test), Border collie Jen (First price in novice herding trials).
Why do you field train your dogs?
I have been hunting birds for 10 years, but it’s not the same without a dog. Hunting with a gundog gives a new dimension to the experience of hunting. I started with pointing dogs in Norway and I now I also have cockers.
What’s your philosophy in field training?
All distractions are potential rewards. Use that to your advantage. Teach your dog that it always pays off to engage in the activity that you invite to – always!
Why do you train the way you do?
I have previously trained dogs with both corrections and luring, but I did find clicker training before I got my first gundog. It was then given that I would keep working with the principles for clicker training in field training too.
When I watch gundogs who doesn’t listen (regardless of what method they are trained with), I always see that the cause of all problems are positive reinforcement. Hunting is such a strong reinforcer that it maintains a lot of unwanted behaviors – it’s so strong that dogs will take incredibly hard corrections without changing for the better. So why not turn it around and use all distractions as rewards. We want our dogs to hunt, flush game and retrieve. They just have to do it when we tell them to.
Another important factor is that I want dog training to be enjoyable for myself. If I don’t like what I’m doing to my dog, then I won’t train much, and the dog won’t be very obedient.
Any downside with your method?
One disadvantage with reward based training is that it’s not very common in many places. You can then feel alone and have problems with other people not understanding you. It might also be harder to find someone who can help you and share ideas with you.
My best advice is to keep far away from theoretical discussions. Use your time to train your dog with people who respect your methods during foundation training. When your foundation is solid and your dog is under control, it probably won’t be a problem to train with people who use other methods. You can then learn a lot from experienced hunters.
Who are your sources of inspiration?
I like to learn new things about dog training all the time, and there are many people that have inspired my training. I’ve found a lot of inspiration in Susan Garrett’s take on reward based training that covers a lot of areas.
I’m also very inspired by my students, and I have to mention Astrid Ellefsen who made a Norwegian Field Trial Champion out of her Münsterlender (By the way – in Norway the Münsterlenders compete against all pointing breeds like english setters and german pointers. I champion in Norway has to be a great hunting dog!).
How do you regulate your dogs level of arousal in your training?
By having calmness as a criteria for work, and by variation in the training.
What’s the most important thing to consider when training a dog from puppyhood to excellence in hunting?
Be practical! Exercises are for the obedience field – gundogs are supposed to be functional hunting dogs. Repeating exercises is seldom worth it. Generalize a few simple behaviors and don’t put so much effort into details.
If you would chose only one thing to train – what would that be?
If I’m going to chose one thing that takes training, it would have to be a stop signal to be able to control the dog.
But without the drive to hunt (a really good search for game), you don’t have a hunting dog, only an obedient dog. Even if the dog is well bred it still needs experience with game in different settings to become good. I guess I’m less of a control freak now than I used to be.
Paxa is a 8 month old german wirehaired pointer. She is going to be Thomas new pointing dog and is right now working on some foundations for her retrieve. The text in this video is in Norwegian, but I’m sure you’ll get a good idea of what they’re doing anyway.
If you want to work intensely on retrieving for a month, I recommend that you check our retrieving workshop out. Regardless of if you want to work on retrieving for obedience, hunting, tricks or service dog work, we’ll help you out where you need it.
We’re working on some really cool extra material for this workshop that we haven’t published before. We’re also working on making the workshop easier to follow than the heeling workshop (that was a lot of fun because of all the activity, but sometimes was hard to follow because of it). You don’t want to miss this!
A lot has been written about all the great benefits of reward based dog training. Using positive reinforcement in training gives us happy dogs that love their work. The learning process accelerates as the dog uses 100% of her capacity to learn – and not trying to stay out of trouble or avoiding corrections.
But are there no negative side effects of positive reinforcement?
Why are some over the top aroused when you’re about to start an activity?
Why do they make noise or show other signs of frustration in some exercises?
When does the dog cross the line from being happy and eager to work to being “stressed”?
The more arousing the activity is, like field trial work, schutzhund work or agility, the more important it becomes to prevent unwanted behaviors and too high levels of arousal. A goal of this training is to train the dog to be “thoughtful in drive” – to stay focused even when motivation is high without going over the top.
Of course dogs have different genetic predispositions for how to cope with high expectations and high levels of arousal. But most of us love our dogs and want to train our dogs to reach their potential. So what can we do apart from buying a new puppy?
Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to reward to reward the same behavior over and over, we feed the dog or take it for a walk at the same hours and follow the same routines when training out dogs. Dogs are fast learners and will soon start to predict what’s coming up next. If we meet the dog’s expectations over and over, the dog will start to “claim” its rewards with increasing intensity.
“If you always do as you have always done – you will always get what you have always got”
“The only way to change your dog’s behavior is by changing your own behavior”
These unwanted behaviors and high expectations and arousal can be easily prevented. Here comes a few tips.
Vary your rewards
Vary what kind of rewards you use and how you use them. For example use calm rewards if the dog starts to get pushy about her toy, or use play breaks between sessions with food rewards.
Vary your routines in every day life
Feed the dog at different hours or in different locations. Let the dog sit and wait in situations where she is used to play or chase. Or vary if your puppy is allowed to go and see people or other dogs you meet or if you just walk past them.
Look out for “Yo bitch behavior”
If your dog is claiming attention, any particular type of activity or reward, give her something else to do – or just ignore the behavior. This doesn’t mean that your dog shouldn’t take initiative to any activity, but keep a balance.
Relaxation or calm focus as a criteria
In my opinion it would be crazy to remove all exciting rewards and activities if you have an easily aroused dog. Teach her what to do to start these activities instead.
Preventing too high arousal and the possible unwanted side effects when using high value life rewards are an important part of gun dog foundation training.
Thomas trains spaniels and pointers and has experience with retriever training as well. He will host a Field Trial Foundation Class starting January 21st. He will help you teach she skills needed as well as helping you find the balance between drive, control and relaxation for your gundog. Sign up here.