I’m getting a new puppy the first of the year. He’s a Wildrose British Labrador out of their new sire FTch Glenoch Ruff who came from Northern Ireland this year. My dog Pickett is now 8 years old and at the peak of his performance physically and mentally, but it’s time to start bringing along the successor.
The new pup will show up sometime in mid-November if all goes well, and I’ll fly down to Wildrose in Oxford, Mississippi to get him the first of the year. Now old Pickett is going to handle this one of two ways. He’s either going to get sharper because my training enthusiasm is rising in anticipation of the new puppy, or he will get cranky and jealous at this intruder and make life a little difficult. He’s been known to chew something up for no reason other than I left him at home when he thought he should be going. This tends to happen particularly during turkey season when he sees me go out the door, gun in hand, all camoed up, and he can’t go.
In anticipation of this I went down to Sandanona, our shooting grounds down in Millbrook, New York where Mike Stewart the owner of Wildrose was giving a training seminar. I did it for two reasons. First I wanted to make sure I got the puppy started correctly according to Mike’s methods, and second I wanted to see if I could make a few changes to the way I’d trained Pickett. Old dog, new tricks as it were. The bottom line is, I want to train both together using exactly the same methods, and while Pickett was more than competent in the seminar, there were a few things on which both he and I needed to work.
Mike has the patience of Job. I’m not sure who created the most issues, the dogs or the handlers. My money would be on the handlers. Trying to get 10 people and their dogs all doing the same thing is a remarkable feat, but Mike does it with great humor and infinite patience. Generally the dogs get it. Sometimes the people don’t. It’s fun to watch and even more fun to be a part of.
In simple terms, Mike trains the British way. There are no electric collars, no force fetching, none of the heavy handedness that can be used to quickly achieve results. I trained Pickett with an e-collar and did so with great care, but still relied on it at distance. In the seminar, there was no collar and I had a great day successfully working Pickett in scenarios where I would normally rely on a collar, if not just to let him know it was there.
What Mike does is take the dog’s intelligence, utilize it in a series of small steps, and linking those steps in a process called “chaining.” As an example if you wanted your dog to do a long blind retrieve over a fence, across a field, through a row crop, through a ditch, up over a hill and into the woods, you would simply break it down and work the dog till he was perfect over the fence. The next step would be over the fence and across the field, then add the row crop and so on. Each segment linked to the next. These dogs have remarkable memory and therein lies the key. It was a bit disconcerting to see my dog disappear over a distant hill while I stood there waiting and wondering. What was incredibly rewarding was when he suddenly appeared at full throttle coming back to me with the dummy in his mouth.
The basis for success here is the foundation you put in that dog from hundreds and hundreds of blind retrieves using a variety of patterns and techniques. To try and describe it here is impossible, but I can honestly say it changed my entire perception of how to train. While I was more than diligent in training Pickett, I could have avoided some problems and been much better. I’m really looking forward to the new puppy, but perhaps as much to the opportunity to improve my relationship with Pickett and make his last three of four years his best.