Going hunting!
Introductory gun dog classes: Week 5

Dog sitting with rope toy by their feet

This is the fifth in a short series of articles about taking an introductory gun dog class run by The Friendly Dog Club over summer 2018. To see how we did from the start of the course, click here.

By Andy Clayton

We’ve made it to Week 5 of the course and this time Amber goes AWOL, we search for hidden toys in the long grass and we finally get to meet the bolting rabbit!

“Bolting duck”
We’re having so much fun on the course, the time is racing by! Much like those bolting bunnies we’ll be talking about later. In the run up to the lesson this week I’d continued practising the different tasks that we’d been covering over the weeks

Here I am at home with Amber having a go a “bolting rabbit” using a soft toy duck. My better half is in charge of throwing the toy past an unsuspecting Amber while I try to keep her attention:

Whistle to begin
To start off with, we settled our dogs down by doing some heel work and blowing our whistle to ask our dog to sit and give us their full attention. Then on to this week’s main course!

Directional retrieves
I’ve been pleased with Amber’s progress on the course but they say that pride comes before a fall and this was to prove to be the case this week. If you’ve ever done training with your dog you’ll very likely have had the experience of practising a task at home until you’re sure that your dog could do it blindfolded only to turn up to class and find that they’ve suddenly forgotten what their name is.

So here’s what happened to me (you can guess what’s coming).

Our first task was to sit our dog in front facing us and then throw target items out to our right and left. Next we were to send our dog to collect the first item we threw, return it and then from the heel position send our hound out to retrieve the second item.

At least that’s what’s supposed to happen.

We were to have a go one at a time with everyone else watching, and as Amber and I were on one end I enthusiastically volunteered to have a go. This was something none of us had done before (last week and in practice I’ve been throwing an item in just one direction - left or right - not both at once). Amber does this direction thing really well so what could possibly go wrong?

I refer you at this point to that “pride-before-a-fall” thing that I mentioned earlier.

So I put Amber in position and threw the first item out to my right and then another to my left. (So far so good.) I then blew the whistle. Amber looked at me expectantly. (This is going great, she’ll be brilliant!) I then put my right arm out to direct her to fetch the first item.

She went left, collected the item on that side and brought it back to me.

(Bother!)

This story could go on for a while. Needless to say I put her back in position and she did exactly the same thing again. The third time she didn’t pick up the second item. But she didn’t pick up the first one either, she decided that now was a good time to go exploring on the other side of the field.

At this point I thought it best to shuffle off stage left and lick my wounds.

Gemma (our course trainer) suggested that I try again on my own while everyone else had a go. You can guess already what happened. She was perfect from the off. Bringing the correct item back to me each time as directed. Little minx!

I’m a strong believer that in training when it doesn’t go according to plan it’s more likely to be the handler’s fault than the dog’s. Thinking about it afterwards, I probably threw the target items too far and also a little behind her. Considering this was a brand new task that she’d never done before in her life I should’ve made it easier for her. Totally my fault. I just wish the world and his wife hadn’t been watching. Ah well. I’ve always been good at looking like a prize berk, so why shouldn’t gun dog school be any different?

Jus to prove that Amber can do the task, here we are at home a few days after the lesson doing it properly:

Going hunting
This week, after negotiating some horses (who didn’t seem all that interested in us as we walked past them) we ventured out into a large field that we hadn’t been in before to try out some new gun dog skills.

The first task was to search in a small, marked area. We had to drop a target item (a toy in my case) so that the dog would see it land in the long grass; then we had to encourage our dog to search for it (while deftly removing it without them seeing). We had to pass our hands through the grass encouraging the dog to search for the item. Then after a while, we could drop the toy back in the grass and let them discover it as if it had been there all along.

Amber was great at this, as were all the dogs. It’s a fun task and helps to get the dog used to searching.

Quartering
The next skill is “quartering” where you walk ahead with your dog zig-zagging in front of you side-to-side. The aim is to get your hound to turn as you whistle so that you can decide the ground that they will be covering.

Here I am with Amber in the class just as we’re starting quartering for the very first time. I haven’t quite got the timing of the whistle correct yet and she's not exactly searching, but I was trying to juggle a new task, filming, whistling and handling Amber. I’m a bloke and this is far too much like that multi-tasking thing I've heard so much about!

The real bolting rabbit
We’ve heard a lot about bolting rabbit during the course and in this penultimate lesson we finally got to meet her! This bolting rabbit is basically a toy on a bungie rope tied up between some canes. When the toy is released, it pings off at a rate of knots.

We put our dog right by the bolting rabbit and then had to keep their attention as the rabbit was (metaphorically at least) let off its leash! Amber was a star here, taking little notice of the bungie-rabbit. Just a quick glance to her left as it whooshed away. Good girl!

Here are trainers Gemma and Kate with the bolting rabbit in action:

In the video, it’s tricky to see the mechanism in the long grass as I was some distance away while I was filming this, however you can see the bungie toy in Kate’s hand at the very end of the clip. The two dogs are Gemma’s. Spook is the working cocker mentioned in previous blogs who is still learning to stay put in this exercise (he’s only a puppy). The other dog is Rizla, who was celebrating his 11th birthday on the day of this lesson and isn’t sure that the bolting rabbit isn’t out to get him. (I have a soft spot for Rizla, he’s a fine boy!)

That’s it!
So that’s another week done and dusted. Just one more week to go and our fun introductory gun dog journey will be at an end. Catch you next week!

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