In social media world every dog handler seems to be perfect, but this is not reflective of real life training. In this first of a new series Joanne Perrott speaks to handler Abbie Reid from Riverlily Working Dogs about what to do when things go wrong.
Author Joanne Perrott
How did you start working dogs?
My first dog was a black lab called Mya. This was 12 and a half years ago now. I tried to train her myself. I started with books and CDs, but decided I needed the help of a gundog trainer. So I found someone to help me. That’s where my passion for working dogs started.
Tell us about the dog you had your most difficult moment with?
I now have seven dogs and my most difficult dog to train so far has been Sherman. He’s four years old now, a lab, and bred by me. He’s a fantastic dog, but his younger years were a challenge.
What happened at your most difficult moment?
Well, Sherman is a full-on lively lad, a little bit like a bull in a china shop. Between me and my friends, he unofficially had the title of Running-in Champion Of England. He’s always been a bit of a challenge, but two years ago I thought I finally had him ready. I trained so much before the season with him. I made sure he was steady and I took him to working tests. He was doing so well so I decided to trust him that season and take him out in the field. And for two months he was fantastic. Then one day, for a reason only he knows, on one drive he decided it was his turn to pick-up and he wouldn’t wait. Sherman flew forward into the line of Guns to go and pick up a bird.
Once he got there he didn’t just pick up the bird and bring it back to me. He decided to parade his joy by running up and down the Guns. I whistled for him. I called for him. I did everything I could to get him to come back to me, and he just wouldn’t. He just kept running up and down, as all the birds fell around him, as the Guns kept on firing, and I was so embarrassed.
I think Sherman had seen the ‘red mist’, he was so overexcited and thought that was it. He decided he could rekindle his love of running in. It was so unexpected as we had done the training, he’d been great for eight weeks of the season already and we were standing way back. I genuinely thought I’d covered everything. But there was nothing I could have done to stop it. I knew I had done the work with him. But this day, the red mist was down, and there was no way he was listening to me. In the end, I couldn’t watch. I thought: “Oh no this is disastrous!”
How did it affect your mindset at the time?
I guess it knocked my confidence with him. I thought I’d sorted everything in training him. I was so embarrassed. But everyone was so kind. Guns came up to me and said, it happens to us all. But I really thought that he was ready to be out there. What was really annoying was that I’d spent all summer working on it. He had won some awards in working tests in the summer. I had my confidence in him and we were two months into the season. But on this day he decided he was the dog that was going to go and pick-up.
How did you overcome it?
We went back to basics and two years later he is now really good. For the rest of that fateful season he was on a lead for all drives. I stood right back behind the Guns. I took him on his own, no other dogs with me, and we would just watch. In between shoots, we trained hard, and went back to the fundamentals, heelwork, sits, stops, everything. I didn’t give him an inch. I’m a positive reward-based trainer, but there were no chinks in my armour with him. I took it slowly. I introduced more and more distractions and kept on making sure the basics were rock solid. If I saw a change in his behaviour we would step back, and go throughit all again. Now he is in a team of four and he is lovely and steady and a pleasure to work with. So it can be fixed when a dog runs in. I’ve tested and tested his steadiness, and I still continue to do so.
What piece of advice would you give yourself, if you could go back to that moment?
If I could go back to that moment, I would remember, he’s only a dog, and not to take it seriously and that he did nothing that couldn’t be fixed and overcome with training. At the time I was so embarrassed. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. But with the correct training you can put everything right. It’s about hard work, dedication, perseverance and getting your dog back to basics. You must never give up.
How has that moment impacted how you train your dogs today?
I guess I take it more slowly, and definately one thing at a time. I ensure the goal is met 100 per cent before I will ever move on.
What one piece of advice would you give someone struggling to train their working dog?
My advice is to have a goal in your heart and never give up. When you have an issue see it as a training challenge and go right back to basics. Work on heelwork, recall, steadiness and general good manners as these are the fundamental basics needed for gundog training success. Take it slowly and work as a team with your dog.
Always end each training session on a positive note where your dog achieves success. When you get back on track you can be proud and say that you trained your dog and overcame the problem and it’s onwards and upwards again for you both. With a positive outlook you can achieve anything, and with patience, dedication and a great sense of humour you can achieve your goals. Enjoy your time with your precious four-legged friend.
Joanne Perrott is the founder of The Ladies Working Dog Group and in this series she will speak to different dog handlers about their most difficult moments. If you would like to share some of your difficult moments in training and how you overcame then please email: firstname.lastname@example.org