Last fall we attempted a retriever certificate test. We didn’t pass -but it really truly seemed like bad luck vs a specific training challenge. He did really well despite having very little training for that type of event and it seemed like it might be realistic to do AKC style hunt tests with him.
So of course we waited 6 months before our next training session. We went with a training friend to take a lesson from someone semi-local who has a lot of experience with the tests. As I’m so new to this and reading the rules only gives me a vague idea of what to expect, I mostly went with it, modifying things slightly as needed but mostly just seeing what happened with our current training.
Griffin was eager to retrieve birds even though that’s new to him.
He is not afraid of gunfire.
He likes gunfire possibly too much. He heard neighbors off in the distance shooting and wanted to run to them and look for birds. He’s only had one training session previously where gunfire = birds and then he heard it at the test last fall. And apparently that was all it took to create a strong, strong association.
His recall was not great. He didn’t run away by any means, but he wasn’t always as efficient coming back as he should be. He was influenced and wanted to roll on birds. This bothered me a lot because I don’t like those behavior patterns…but surprisingly enough to me, the instructor wasn’t worried about it and said the rolling often goes away with experience. He also commented that it’s typically female goldens though, not males….
Apparently his ‘retrieve to hand’ is great? He had so many compliments on that it seemed almost like a joke… I was not as impressed as I know it could be ‘more perfect’.
Waiting is hard. In the first level tests I can hold his collar but in higher levels that is not allowed. He is very, very eager to go.
Hopefully we’ll be able to go again soon and find events to enter. It’s not quite as exciting to me as some of our other games because the actual activity is a lot more one -sided than other dog activities and it’s just too much standing and watching the dog run out and back. But at the same time, it’s fun to see dogs do what they were developed for and to work towards high levels of control and precision at a distance.
We’re informally doing training to help repair some of the week areas. This week we’ve been going on more longline (for legal/safety reasons) in new areas and practicing coming back on a word and on a whistle. We’ve practiced retrieves at greater distances and we’re doing a lot more stay practice every day.
Apparently all I have to share is Griffin doing fun things. I promise the young dogs are getting trained and that I intend to post things useful to my behavior/pet training clients!
All retriever breeds have a “Working Certificate” test through their national breed club. These tests are supposed to show the dogs have a very basic interest in hunting and to have dogs do well with (supposedly) limited training. The Golden Retriever Club of America’s Working Certificate (WC) test is supposedly one of the harder ones.
Griffin wasn’t very ready but decided to enter a test last Sunday as we were close to being ready and won’t have another opportunity until spring. Test day was a perfect fall day – sunny but not too hot and in a field surrounded by perfectly colored trees. The “Working Certificate Excellent” (second level) teams went first – only 2 of the 5 did the land portion well enough to be eligible to do the water portion later in the afternoon. Many of the teams had been at another test the day before.
Griffin was the last of 8 WC level dogs which gave me some time to watch. I knew the hardest part would be walking him to the blind near the test area. He wants to watch and each gun made him more alert and excited. We did training and tricks for treats as we went closer to the trial area. Eventually we got close enough I couldn’t use food and he also was not interested in calm walking. I carefully moved him to the first blind and pet him a lot and distracted him with the grass while there was a delay- cleanup from a previous dog getting feathers all over a section of the field. Then we moved to the second blind…. and again, waiting.
Once it was our turn, things moved very quickly. Just like the weekend before at the MondioRing trial, as a new exhibitor I had moments where I had to ask for direction and the judges were happy enough to answer my questions. I held his collar as Griffin happily watched the first bird down – gun noise and a thrown, dead duck. I held his collar and backed partway around in a circle to face the second bird – not a normal strategy but it would look more controlled than if he had lunged forward. Not so good for training – but test handling is sometimes different. He did see the second bird fall. We waited for the judge’s permission and then I sent him.
There was a good chance of a great retrieve, but it was also possible he might get the bird and roll on it (a Griffin thing) or be hesitant (he hasn’t seen many ducks – really, not many birds at all). He was great! He immediately brought it back even with a wing obscuring his face, he bounced into heel position and happily waited for me to take it.
He lined up well, we paused, and I sent him for the next bird. He ran out to the right area. The judge said “He’s got it!” But he didn’t. Griffin searched briefly and then moved on – eventually back to the first bird. That’s called “Switching” and disqualified us. After searching that area, he offered returning to me and to heel position for more direction. I was allowed to re-send him for the sake of training and he gave a much more persistent search, finding it, and bringing that duck back.
Even though it wasn’t a pass – I was so happy! He did well on new birds, new environment, with other people in the field, the first time actually around guns and once he was released I was sure he would come back and be on task. He was great with the birds and happy to work. He was bouncing up and down at my side as we went back to the car, eager to do more together – or eager to get his biscuits.
We were offered to be the practice dog for the water portion but declined, I was very sick and ready to leave even with our great day. Of all the non-passing handlers, I was probably the most happy and excited – this success for us gives us more options! He did well with so little training, what is possible if I actually spend a little more time training for field? As soon as I got back, I looked up AKC hunt test events – and again have to wait until spring. It seems like the beginning level tests are within our current skill set and I’m very excited to give Griffin that opportunity – even if I don’t like handling the birds.
A few other observations:
The judges were great. They were very efficient and friendly and calm.
The host club was organized and kept things moving – they hold this once per year which does add up in terms of experience, but also is long enough to have forgot things but it seems like they have a great system.
Griffin was the oldest dog. Most dogs were 1-3 years old. Many of the dogs have had training by a professional or with the owner taking lessons from a field training professional.
Viktor and Tonks have siblings who have passed the test – but those two are very immature still. They may be ready in the spring!
We’ve been doing some trial prep for a change. Last weekend we did a rally fun match for our students/instructors. Our new provisional judge also got an opportunity for some judging practice.
I did some not so great things with Tonks and Viktor in the last year when we entered a rally trial without practicing with the signs setting out. As a somewhat experienced handler, I didn’t need the practice with the signs. But my young, curious dogs would have benefited from that. It wasn’t fair to them to have their first experience seeing these rally signs to be in the trial ring.
But that’s changing! We did a practice! Surprisingly, Viktor did horrible and Tonks did fairly well. On our second turn, I had Tonks do more of a training round where I focused on her attention rather than going through the course. Viktor did much, much better and heeled through most of the course with minimal barking. Now I need to decide if I enter him next weekend or not – ‘sacrifice’ the first run with lots of treats (disqualifying) to minimize barking and distraction and then likely have a better second round? Or wait until he’s more experienced?
I found it very helpful and I hope we’re able to do more of this!
Golden Retriever Working Certificate:
The golden retriever club has a somewhat instinct test for field work. Two of Tonks’ siblings passed recently (13 months!) and one of Viktor’s two siblings passed last spring (18 months!). Viktor and Tonks are nowhere near ready, but once I know they’ll happily return with an item this will be easy!
I took Griffin to a practice yesterday – I thought he was either very close to being ready for the test or very, far away. Happily enough, he was very good despite being much less experienced than the other dogs present. Most of the group either trained dogs for others or had spent time training with a professional retriever trainer (some of the dogs had spent time away for training). It was also fun to see an aunt of Viktor run – very similar looking and in personality. There was also a dog very, very like Tonks in appearance and behavior but unrelated.
Griffin needed a short warm up on ducks as he’s only had two very short experiences with them in the past. After 1 minute of warm up he was then happy, even on new ducks. He did his first longer distance retrieves on ducks. He did his longest marks ever. He saw wingers (machines that fling the ducks!) , plus the noise of fake-guns. He wasn’t interested in visiting the people nearby (a problem 2.5 years ago last time we tried this!). He immediately came back!
We have a few things to work on but really, it was quite awesome given how little training he’s had and how long it’s been since he worked on this. I’m so, so happy! We’ll likely be entering the test next month with a reasonable chance of passing.
“Real Practice” On this theme of trial prep/preparing for the ‘real thing’, we’ve also added in an intermediate level manners class at the training center. Two of the four modules are “real life scenarios” and “distractions.” I’m looking forward to having our students work on those things!
When I was planning to go to the Titlemania event, I accidently cancelled my Wednesday classes, thinking the four day event started on a Wednesday. This worked out great, I found out about a Wednesday seminar in Kentucky that I would normally have not been able to attend.
For a few years, I’ve seen the Colorado-based Fetchmasters training facility posting about their successful, positive-reinforcement hunting training programs. They also started the (relatively quiet) Positive Gun Dog Association. More recently they have started doing regional seminars and longer events for dog trainers to learn even more about the Fetchmaster protocols/training. Colorado is far and without seeing as much video or writing, I haven’t been able to justify the trip.
Thomas and Linda are trying to do a few part-day seminars in different areas to build interest and enthusiasm for training hunting dogs with positive reinforcement. Hunting training is typically done with other training methods. They’ve been able to develop faster programs since switching training methods, dogs are performing better, clients are happier, and they’ve seen many people specifically seeking out this type of training (so- good for business too).
A few of the things that made the biggest impact on me:
Be selective: Thomas and Linda have become more selective about which dogs go into which programs. This can increase success in terms of dogs, owners, and general perception of training. They now have a selection process for which dogs can go into their hunting board and train program and which dogs should do private lessons with their owners doing most of the training.
Measure: It was amazing to hear about where their programs started (a few months) and where they are now (a month – and dogs learning more). They shared numbers about dogs in programs, pet dogs getting to off leash reliability, ages of dogs, and it was nothing short of impressive. Their field programs have some very specific measurable goals at each level – this is so necessary when there are multiple trainers and many dogs through the program (about 100 a year!).
Show: Thomas brought his dogs and did a couple demonstrations. I wish he had videos of client dogs – it’s different to share with a trained dog vs a dog in training and considering the number of dogs through their programs, they should be able to get a lot of great video examples.
Add distractions quickly: This dogs (and handlers) to be ready for the variation and unpredictable real life scenarios. Some of this is very specific and some is just getting dogs out to do walking training in new areas.
Overall: I did not leave ready to go across the country and attend a longer seminar. There is not as much positive reinforcement as I see in other programs – I see how it creates dogs who calmly do the hunting tasks and do well as hunting companions and pets. I didn’t see the kind of sharp, responsive, ‘open’ dogs I am used to now. I will definitely be attending another presentation/seminar in a couple years – I know this team will get more experienced at presenting and seeing what they accomplish with their enthusiasm! They work with such a huge number of dogs, I’m really excited to see video and photos and hear more about what they do.
I heard about Retrieving for All Occasions over a year ago – and that it would eventually be available in English. I held off on buying it, knowing that I would reference and use an English version more than a Swedish one. And now it’s finally available!As an e-book now ($15) and in print soon.
This book is pretty exciting – the authors do compete in some types of field events and work with many student dogs – giving them more experience than many who have authored some of the other positive reinforcement based field training resources currently available. The book is laid out very well, lots of pictures and diagrams and checklists to help readers work through the huge quantity of information. Field training usually seems impossible/too big of a task, but this book makes it seem very achievable and fun.
A few of the exercises are variations of things I have read about in US based field training and many of the other exercises I was familiar with from taking online training classes. This book is a great resource for dog owners wanting to work up to good focus and off-leash control – we’ve used some variations of these exercises in pet classes and puppy classes for a few years now. The steady progression towards off leash and variety of exercises could make it useful to a wider audience than just those interested in field work.
Some of the exercises seem simplified – I know it would be impossible to write a book that details all the possible variations for a dog or the ways that an exercise may need to be broken down. Reading through some of the exercises I could see how a beginner owner may get frustrated or may not be able to see how to make smaller ‘in between’ level adjustments – this is a challenge in many of the books I read and one challenge I have when even writing client handouts.
One of my favorite parts was about how most chapters had a section on “Play to Inspire…” recall, steadiness, relaxation, quick stops, etc. The book does an excellent job of taking early themes (like play and rewards) and spreading it across the book – connecting bigger concepts and pieces back to smaller components.
I also really like that all the training chapters give very specific exercises and activities – many of the dog books I’ve read more recently are just discussion on concepts which always leaves me curious about what and how the trainer actually conveys ideas and concepts to the dog and handler. This book is filled with exercises and ideas – and for distraction training in all the areas as well.
The final big-picture of a competition or hunting companion is well broken-down into little, achievable pieces with many ideas on how one person can work on his/her own, as well as ideas on ways to use assistants. I really like that the book has a section on trial/test prep. The training is well done – though many of the pieces are incredibly different than even US style R+ training. The approach is quite different and I even though I was puzzled when I first heard some of the concepts a few years ago – it all makes much more sense to me now. Especially about the types of rewards, balance of rewards, having many cues, and the predictable unpredictability of training.
I finished reading it yesterday and have already started going through it a second time, making a few lists and fixing some of Griffin’s weak areas and being inspired to do more training with Viktor. Theoretically I’d like to run both of them at a “working certificate” test in the fall – but we’ll see if I can get in enough training opportunities with others before then to make it happen.
During my trip I got to see many different dog activities and training. Here are few notes about what we did, learned, and observed
Herding: Early on in my trip I was at a herding seminar. The dogs made amazing progress in two days, it was impressive how the training progressed – part of it was a great presenter and experienced attendees, but it also was dogs that had the genetics and interest. One evening a few people stayed after and the experienced dogs were taken to a larger pasture to do some other training tasks. I’ve seen retrievers work at similar distances to how far these dogs were – and these dogs were responding to quiet cues. I truly believed we had to be louder so the dogs could hear over the grass and brush and their respiration – but apparently not.
On another day I got to go and watch Thomas teaching a short herding clinic for some club members, there were more varied dogs and less experienced handlers. I had to stop myself from getting up to teach the humans about flight zones – it seemed like if they had a better idea of what made the sheep move they would be able to better help the dogs learn! It was great to see the differences in the teaching compared to the seminar and how the activities and instruction were modified for the different audiences.
On many days I got to see the resident dogs training or moving the sheep between pastures (…or getting loose sheep back in). One day we had three people and two dogs taking ~20 sheep and lambs to another pasture. We walked them 1.5-2+ miles along small roads and past houses and farms to get to that area. One of the lambs got tired and I had to carry him most of the way. It was difficult to keep the sheep on track, they had other ideas about what would be enjoyable, but they were very happy to arrive at the destination.
Obedience: We did a lot of obedience training. Griffin was great! I tried to balance between working on skills (stand to down, heeling turns, scent discrimination, long stays) and trial skills (ring entries, me responding to the judge’s cues).
We did some practice in other locations, in the nearby town, in a bigger city, and at an area dog club. One day there was an obedience seminar/training day and that was excellent. Griffin did well, I was incredibly happy with his work. We also did two lessons with Maria Brandel – that was excellent – now I hopefully have a plan for scent articles and I got some good feedback on our stand to down.
Swedish/FCI type obedience is quite different from what we do in AKC, the basic elements are similar but the applications seem much more challenging. The performances are longer, often outdoors in open areas, and more skills are needed early on. It’s quite impressive – and especially to see young dogs doing so well with the tasks.
Agility: On the second day there we went to an agility trial at a beautiful horse arena. Note that the separation between the two rings is blankets over horse jumps and that one side of the ring is a line of horse jump bars on the ground! I noticed many more young kids and babies than I’ve ever seen at a dog event. Some toddlers were carried through the course during walk-through and one parent left her baby in a stroller right outside the ring during that time. Dogs would come out of the ring to get toys setting in the area between the two rings or be tugging while waiting for their turn. In the morning the electric timers weren’t working properly so stopwatches had to be used – it looked way more professional the the CPE trials I’ve been to where stopwatches were used! Two people were timing and they would move to be in line with the start and end jumps. Dogs could be rewarded on course with a toy pulled out of a pocket and some people made that choice if something had gone wrong earlier in the course – they would pick another area to reward. At the end of the day there was a short awards presentation and there were prizes for class winners (and maybe other placements?) – people snacks or dog snacks or toys or other things, the person would pick from what was set out. I was really impressed with how well the dogs and handlers did, I loved watching dog after dog run the same course (huge classes!) and too see so many success. I’ve watched European (“international”) agility livestreams for some big events and various individual runs on youtube, this style of agility seemed much more achievable seeing many different ‘regular agility enthusiasts’ on the same course. I wished I could get up and try parts of it! Fanny’s dog Squid finished her agility championship that day – so it was an extra exciting day.
Each week there was a drop in agility handling class at the farm and the first one (or two?) I just watched, but later on I felt more confident that Griffin would stay with me so we tried joining in. It’s such a different style of agility than what we’re used to and we just haven’t trained for pieces that were common and familiar for those students – back sides of jumps! Super difficult weave entries! Interesting 270’s! Griffin is technically on restricted activity so I didn’t work him much – I can’t wait until later in the summer when we can set up and revisit the challenges to train some of those skills. I did run him and we didn’t do that horribly – we just made poor attempts at some pieces or didn’t even try a few of the back sides or picked really inefficient handling so I could be in a better position to help him. With many other parts he did well and was putting in a lot of effort, I really liked how we was working. He had some handling pieces that were quite nice and there were some big sections of the sequences that felt comfortable.
A few times we watched groups or other people training and some of these were very, very experienced teams. It was great to see how they chose to structure their training time and what behaviors/moments they chose to reward. I’m very inspired to be training agility!
Field: We didn’t work on this much, but it was good to see the other dogs work and see where Griffin lacks some fluency. Again, the best part was watching the choices an experienced trainer (Thomas) made for setting up the session and when and how to reward his dogs. It’s so different from what’s typically done – even in the R+ attempts I see/hear about – yet it made a lot of sense.
Griffin and I are taking a Field Trial Foundations class and we’ve only done about 4 weeks so far. The first two lessons have been exactly what we need for obedience… relaxation and steadiness!
There really aren’t many option for people seeking positive reinforcement training for field work, most attempts are individuals who are knowledgeable enough and try to modify other training programs. I’ve not been comfortable with that approach, I don’t feel like it does enough to prevent/address the problems that are more likely to come up in a positive reinforcement training plan and it may have unnecessary steps (that were important for positive punishment/negative reinforcement training plans/programs).
I also haven’t felt experienced enough in field training to be able to come up with a plan on my own. We’ve done some work but I wasn’t feeling comfortable about long-term training. This class has been just what we needed!
Right now, most of our training sessions have a helper trying to distract Griffin. This is getting harder and harder to do. A week ago, I had to give an instruction, “make him break!” and it took three or four tries until they found something that could get him up. What did it take? An apple core suddenly thrown right past his head. He’d been watching someone eat it for a few minutes before.
I’m really liking what he’s getting out of this. It’s having a good impact on his obedience and agility.
He is learning when nothing is available. Later, he will have to do an ‘honor’ excercise while another dog is doing field work. At some events/levels this is done off lead. He also has to wait until it’s his turn. If he’s wasting energy and self control being excited before it’s even time for him to work, he’ll be too tired when it is his turn to do good work.
He is listening and discriminating between different types of release cues. Later, he will have to be waiting for his release even when there are birds available. He will go when I cue him to.
He’s accepting the task or reinforcer I direct him to. Later, he will see several birds fall (tossed) before he is sent. He has to go where he’s directed, not necessarily where he want to go or think he should go. He will sometimes not know where the bird is and have to follow the directions I give, even if he thinks I am wrong.
He’s learning to be able to think about many things at once. For now, that’s me and where the toy/bowl is. Later, he’ll have to be focused on me and remembering where he saw the bird fall.
He’s learning a level of arousal that is appropriate for the activity. He has to be alert and ready to go, but not crazy and out of control or unable to focus. I think this is where many people get into trouble. Last summer at the field seminar I noted this as a strength. Compared to other dogs with similar experience levels, he was much more calm – but only as a result of training. A few times I did have to walk him away for being too excited.
Most of our video is with helpers, but here’s one where we were training on our own.
The only down side of the class? It’s winter. I want to do more practice with these exercises outdoors but I get too cold and it’s hard to move when wearing so many layers!
Griffin has a really large family. Every few years some of them get together for a big family reunion/retriever training seminar.
This year it was at a time and location that worked well for us. We’ve spent the weekend near Lansing, MI at the -beautiful- Omega Farms.
The unfortunate part about the seminar is that while I had signed up for a working spot with Griffin, he was diagnosed with an iliopsoas injury a few weeks ago and is still on limited activity. It worked out okay, Griffin got to do some of the quiet activities and the swimming and Blaze got to do the running parts.
I’ve had a wonderful time and learned many things. The presenters are great, the attendees are great, and it’s a lot of fun to see so many of Griffin’s relatives. The seminar has only made me love his breeders even more. They’re very careful, experienced, good at training, and “sciency”
Just like every activity, a good training plan is important. The dog needs to be at the right arousal level. You need a good foundation before doing more advanced work. Have the right help so you don’t let bad habits develop (or start).
The biggest difference from other seminars is that this was almost all outdoors. The dogs had to be crated out of the cars due to to the areas we were working in. I know many people have to do this all the time, but it’s not something I’ve had to do before. The dogs were actually very comfortable despite the 85* weather!
The other challenge for me was staying in a hotel. When I originally committed to the seminar it was just Griffin traveling. After he got hurt, Blaze would have to come. Two days before the seminar my pet sitter failed on me and so Luna would have to come. All of the dogs have stayed in a hotel with me before, but never all at once. The dogs wanted to party and play on the bed all night, but after putting Luna in an exercise pen, everything settled down and we were well rested for the Sunday activities.
I heard about this book only about two weeks ago. I impatiently waited, and ordered it as soon as the website was up and running. My book arrived!
The only drawback? It’s written in French. Lucky for me, I can read it well enough to get through…with the help of google translate. “Puppy” “Training” “Ducks” and “Heartworm” are not words typically taught in French classes…..
Le Chien Rapporteur de A à Z comes with a DVD too! Even though it recommends reading the book before/along with the video, I’m cheating and skipping ahead to watch. The reading is super slow going (but getting faster the more I read and learn the dog vocabulary).
I’ll admit I’m biased towards liking it because the guy has goldens and so the photos and video are goldens!
A few quick things I’ve noticed: Lots of praise and food use (sounds like dry biscuits or kibbles from the crunching!). Lots of petting and affection (face licking frm the dog, patting on the top of the head and shoulders from the human).
The video shows things going well and moments where the dog doesn’t respond and working through those situations (replacing the dog in a stay, re-cueing the dog to go out, etc). Much of the outdoor video is shown from two angles…which is nice
The biggest differences in our training (other than the big, and obvious, differences of his successes at different events and in hunting!) are that I don’t do as much luring and prompting and I get a higher fluency level before moving on. Maybe I don’t need as much precision as I’ve been aiming for and maybe our nitpicking early on is holding us back?
I. Don’t. Really. Want. To.Hold. It. But. I. Will.
I can’t wait to get through the book and start utilizing the exercises.
Michele Pouliot has done presentations at ClickerExpo about using platforms to teach behaviors. I haven’t yet been able to go to that presentation (or to watch her new DVD on the topic), but I have been utilizing platforms in my own ways!
We warmed up with go-outs to a platform. And then I added in sending my dog from a sit to the platform.
For retriever-y activities, my understanding is that he has to turn back in the direction indicated. Or more, that it’s desirable for some specific reason. Horray! Once he was doing this well, I placed a platform off to (my) right.
We continued to use the back platform, to be sure he would not be immediately drawn to the new one. The first few responses his turns were, strategically, away from the side platform. And then we tried back-turns towards the platform. All correct!
Unsurprisingly, it was difficult for him to actually go to the side platform. I helped him out and he did better.
We did a few other games with this, I might post later, and then we worked with a directed retrieve set up.
Previously, our work with the directed retrieve had progressed to something 10-20 feet directly to our left, same distance out front, same to my right. But when we tried to decrease the angles, we had more errors than I would like.
The platforms provided a way to break down the behavior (“Go where indicated.”) without the retrieve part. I didn’t want to risk damaging our retrieve with the incorrect responses we may get.
Surprisingly, he had 5/5 correct responses. I edited enough to take out our playing and set up. I was very surprised he was doing so well!
We’ll do more sessions like this and then substitute item/s for the platforms. Or possibly on the platforms (but would that damage our platform behavior (a foot touch, he doesn’t have to sit unless cued). And hopefully it goes as well as it should in theory!