Phew, that's a long title. It was also a very long day. I got the opportunity to attend this seminar with Gabby because she's an ESRA Alumni (basically, she's getting her picture taken tomorrow as an example, so we need to learn how to do the things they want pictures of).
The seminar started with an introduction of the presenter, Inga From. She has worked with her English Springer Spaniel and Labrador Retriever in the field (for sport, not competition) for years without the use of an electronic collar. She has learned from Jim Barry, John Rogerson, and Robert Milner (and I'm sure others she didn't mention). We covered some of the basic differences when teaching a gun dog positively, versus the traditional way using punishment.
What I enjoyed most about the seminar today was the focus on obedience first: good obedience, reliable obedience, happy obedience. The two elements we talked (and learned) about specifically were steadiness: "remain still and quiet while watching birds drop or dummies are being thrown," and blind retrieve: "dog did not see the bird or dummy drop/fall and must find, then retrieve it."
Many dogs being trialed today are far from steady. They either break their stay or they are noisy on the line. She set up a few exercises for the dogs to practice steadiness with increasing difficulty. Gabby's never really been exposed to the "toys" she was using as distractions for the dogs, so when I asked her for a sit in heel, she glued her eyes to me and happily ate her treats as bumpers, tennis balls, and other toys were tossed about the room. As the difficulty increased with people walking around close to us and noises being added in, she did occasionally break eye contact, but then reoriented nicely. The dogs who knew exactly what these toys were for had a little more trouble--these dogs watched the items intently as they lie motionless on the ground. However, everyone must have had some great treats as there weren't any dogs that actually broke position that I can recall. She said that we should be retrieving the thrown bumpers during steadiness training far more than we are releasing the dog to get them.
Most, if not all, gun dogs in the US are taught a marked retrieve first. A retriever will naturally use his eyes to locate fallen game first, and then use his nose second. The reasoning behind teaching a blind retrieve first is to facilitate having the dog use his nose first, rather than relying on eyesight. She recommended heeling with the dog, drop the bumper, and continue heeling. Turn and send the dog from a short distance first and gradually build up to longer distances. Other people can plant the bumpers as well.
We also learned about teaching whistle cues for recall (three short tweets), turn and pay attention/sit (one long tweet), and backchaining the retrieve. I will detail how she teaches a shaped retrieve in tomorrow's post.
Today was a lot of fun. I learned that semi-crowded spaces and lots of dogs makes Gabby nervous. I spent quite a bit of time feeding her for checking in with me. She preferred to hang out in her crate during down time, and sat in the car during whistle times. I don't know if we'll actually do any formal hunt training, but I'd love to be able to do blind bumper retrieves with her in the future! I knew some of the things we discussed from my limited experiences with Bailey and the small amount of Retriever hunt tests I've been to. There was also quite a bit of new content for me, and she is a really fun presenter.
Day two is going to be DOING STUFF outside and preparing for the K9 Field Sport Award Testing.