Two months into the force fetching process with “Sprig,” my year-and-a-half old English cocker spaniel, I ran into the proverbial wall. A particularly grueling session had shaken my confidence and left me wondering if I could do it. A couple indoor sessions were a bit noisy - look up the ear pinch force fetch method – so my apartment neighbors were likely wondering about my condition as well.
So I called Tony Roettger, the professional dog trainer who leads the weekly training group I’m part of. “You’re almost there,” he reassured me, “We still have half the summer to work this out. You’ve come this far, so now it’s time to finish it off.” The next few field sessions didn’t yield any progress, but I did see signs of a coming breakthrough during weekly drills. Small signs, but signs nonetheless.
Last week in the training field, “Sprig” found the planted pigeon and flushed it. On the report, she marked the falling bird and raced over to it. There was no pulling at feathers, no playing and no butter-mouthing as there’d been countless times before. No, this time Sprig dutifully picked up the bird and raised her head, trying to pinpoint my location. When she spotted me through the tall grass, she raced over and sat down right at my feet, handing her prize over on command. No whistle, no words until “Drop.” She knew what she was supposed to do, and appeared to have plenty of fun doing it. After well-deserved pats on the head, she leapt into my arms. Breakthrough!
“That’s why I love training dogs,” Roettger said as we exited the field, “Many days it feels like you’re beating your head against a wall, but then you have days like this and it’s all worth it.” To “prove it,” Sprig followed up by going four-for-four on bird retrieves during the next run. Heck, maybe I’ll have her steady to wing and shot yet this year…
Now it’s your turn. In the comments section, share your greatest bird dog training success. What issue did you overcome? What technique(s) did you institute to prevail? These moments happen at every level, so whether your experience was with a puppy, an intermediate dog, a field veteran or a master hunter, please share in the comments section. Three (3) readers will be randomly selected to win a SportDOG four-pack which includes one canister of each – SportDOG Brand Hip/Joint Supplements, SportDOG Brand Digestive Enzymes, SportDOG Brand Hydration Supplements and SportDOG Brand Performance Vitamins.
Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.organd follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.