We discover how the element of surprise when training your gundog can help embed teaching.
Q: My German shorthaired pointer (GSP) won’t always recall, especially when there are distractions. Is this a particular issue with HPRs and what can I do?
Darryl Elliot: This is a very common problem but not just with HPRs. Some dogs are more difficult than others at achieving a reliable recall but if you have a problem it is usually not the dog that is at fault.
Recall starts right at the beginning, a puppy will very quickly learn its name which you reward with a cuddle, a fuss, a treat etc. Most owners manage the puppy part very well, but the problem can start when a young dog sees on occasions there is no reward or encouragement or excitement. If that happens too often your dog will lose interest in coming back to you. Trainers have different opinions on the use of treats but on occasions I still use them, even with my six and eight-year-old GSP field trial champions. My thoughts are the more tools a mechanic has in his tool box the more equipped he is for fixing your car, some of his tools won’t be used very often at all, but on occasions that particular tool can help him get through an awkward job.
One exercise that can help consolidate a recall, especially with an impressionable younger dog is to make a percentage of your recall commands have a surprise that your dog hasn’t predicted when it comes back to you. Maybe a sausage, their favourite rabbit skin dummy to retrieve, a trip in the car etc. But keep it interesting and choose things your dog loves and you can’t do it every time as there would be no surprise factor and the exercise would lose its purpose. It’s just one method of several I use to keep my dogs sharp and enthusiastic.
Q: I have some issues with directional instructions with my two-year-old lab bitch. She wants to hunt but won’t always take notice of my left and right hand signals. Is it too late or can we rectify this problem?
Laura Hill: It’s never too late to revisit basic handling skills, and your bitch is still relatively young. The bonus with her being a bit older is that she will have the maturity to concentrate for longer periods of time than a young puppy would.
It is likely that she is enjoying hunting because it is a very rewarding activity for her, investigating scents and perhaps finding the odd bird! With this in mind, I would ensure that you do your direction training work in an environment that is as least distracting as possible. Start off in your garden, or even in the house, and practise your static left and right casts either to her favourite toy or dummy, or to a bowl with a small portion of her food in it.
As she gets more fluent in her casts you can take this activity to a new location, such as a field or park, again ensuring that the distractions are minimal (you want short grass ideally and no game scent). Make sure the dummy is easy to find once she has taken the cast, so that there is no temptation to hunt.
Also, don’t be tempted to rush on by adding ‘back’ into the equation at this stage. This will just confuse and complicate things. Keep it simple so that you are consolidating a new good habit of casting left or right. When you are confident that she fully understands these directional signals, you can build them into a routine which culminates in her being cast to an area where she is allowed to hunt for the dummy or tennis ball.