Paws Puppy Blog – Edition 2
Where to start!
Welcome back to our Paws Puppy blog! I’ve been debating on how to document Saffy’s training journey since our last blog because if I followed a chronological process, then I’d possibly be giving a false sense of where we’re at now. A doggy insta account once reminded me that training isn’t linear, and so I’ve decided our blog isn’t going to be either! We’ll jump back and forth to compare where we we’re there, vs. where we are now and where we hope to be this time next month.
We actually started off so well, I thought I’d hit the jackpot (my first mistake, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!). Saffy was engaged, crazy steady, eager to learn and just an overall super star. My second mistake was by-passing some of the basics in training and focusing too much on the more complicated (fun) parts of gundog training. Gin was 2 years old before I started really delving into gundog training, and Bramble was 6 months. Saffy was 2 months old, and I regret prioritising some things over others.
My third mistaken is a bit of a paradox because I’m not actually sure I would have done much different if I had the opportunity to rewind. For about 12/13 weeks old, Saffy was enjoying off lead privileges (once we we’re hitting 99% of our verbal and whistle recall cues – DO NOT LET YOU DOG OFF LEAD IF YOU HAVE NOT TRAINED RECALL) in our local parks and fields. On one hand, I don’t regret this because it’s a prime time to build on your foundations for recall whilst the big wide world is more scary than exciting, and the pup wants to stay close by. Both Gin and Bramble were off lead from early ages for this very reason. On the other hand, Saffy is the most independent puppy I’ve ever known, and I think giving her so much off lead time, combined with mistakes number 1 and 2, may have helped to nurture her natural curiosity a little too early than I had anticipated…
Figure 1 - Photo credit @pawsbehindthelens
Where we are at now
Over the past couple of months, I’ve learnt hard and fast, that whilst Sassy Saffy loves me very much (I get an endless amount of puppy kisses, cuddles and snuggles everyday), she doesn’t find me very fun at all. It’s been a hard pill to swallow because (not to toot my own horn), but Gin and Bramble worship the ground I walk on, so I was not expecting to have to bid for Saffy’s undivided attention.
When out on walks, it became very apparent that Saffy was no longer engaging with me at all, and constantly sought out more fun things to do. When I asked her to heel, she would do so for about 0.5 seconds then wander off. When I asked her to retrieve, she would do so, but then run off in the opposite direction with the dummy. When I asked her to sit, she would look at me, and make a conscious decision to point blank ignore me (I swear to could see the cogs going in her head). The only thing that stayed consistent was her recall (thankfully!), which I think is probably because we did so much foundation work so early on. This brings me back to my paradoxical mistake number 3; her recall has stayed consistently good, but the off-lead privileges also introduced her to a world of excitement and things that were much more fun that her mama… It’s a hard one to wrap my head around. If anyone has any thoughts on this, then I am more than open to advise!
After one particularly bad day where even her loose lead walking went to pot - she had never pulled on the lead a day in her life until this point - I decided it was time to rewind our training journey back to the very basics and start again! Whilst this was incredibly disheartening, I think the teenage tantrum phase happens more than you’d think, and many novice gundog trainers (maybe even the more experienced ones), need to take a few steps back every now and then to be able to continue taking steps forward. We live in a world where everybody wants to share their successes and the things going well in their life, which is lovely to see 99% of the time. But sadly, it also means that when the negatives do hit, it can feel quite isolating or like you’re failing. These blogs are all about keeping it real and letting anyone else who’s also struggling with their training know that you’re not alone.
Figure 2 - Photo credit @thespanielgirlgang
I wasted no time in booking Saffy onto a mini beginner’s pet gundog course and rewinding all of her training back to basics. For the first week, I stopped walks all together and instead did lots of mini training sessions in the garden where we worked on reinforcing, sit, stay and engagement. I’ve since built it up to lead only walks where we focus heavily on loose lead, as well as continuing the at home sessions for other basic bits.
We’ve also attended 2 out of the three sessions of our gundog course, which I’ve found massively beneficial. The lessons do still focus on the basics of gundog training, but it’s been really insightful to have someone demonstrate new ways to reinforce the simpler techniques, as well as helping me improve as a handler so that Saffy can better understand what I’m asking of her.
For sit, I simply just repeated all of the steps that I had mentioned in the previous blog and reintroduced verbal, hand and whistle sits, slowly building up the distance and duration. To help her understand that sit (whichever cue it may be) means sit where you are and not come to me to do so, I’ve been keeping Saffy on the lead and had someone hold the lead (or tied to a door handle) whilst I move about and pip my whistle. This has helped to stamp out any creeping on a stop whistle/sit cue. Additionally, after seeing how well @thespanieldiaries cocker, Ginger has picked up the stop whistle using a ball, I’ve also been slowly introducing playing games of fetch with Saffy and asking for a sit before rewarding her with it. I taught Gin using this method as well, but I guess it didn’t occur to me to use this with the others as neither Saffy nor Bramble are as ball obsessed as Gin is! However, Saffy is slowly seeing more and more value in playing fetch with a ball, so I’m hoping to see more progress with this over the next few weeks.
I’d spent very little time working on engagement with Saffy previously and I believe this is one of the key reasons why our other techniques seemed to be falling apart. We’ve kept our engagement lessons simple and have been practising a lot of eye contact as well as ‘touch’. Currently, Saffy now holds eye contact for approx 5-6 seconds before she gets rewarded. I’ve found that the clicker works well for us in this scenario to mark her eye contact, letting her know that the treat is coming her way. Touch is something she’s picking up quite quickly, and this seems to be helping with her focus and concentration on me. I can already see massive progress when we practise other bits just from working on these simple engagement techniques; Saffy is much more focused and barley takes her eyes off me now.
To improve her steadiness and stay, I invested in a place board. I’d been debating whether to get one for a long time (some people argue they are invaluable, others tend to not see much point in them), however, it’s one of the best purchases I’ve made. She knows that the board is a happy place where, if she responds correctly to cues such as ‘stay’, she gets lots of treats and praise. One of the great tips I have learnt from our recent gundog lessons is to practise whenever the opportunity arises during your everyday life. For example, every time I take a quick break from work to make a drink, I pop the board down on the kitchen floor, ask Saffy to sit/stay and release her when I’m done. I cannot tell you how much I’ve noticed an improvement in her steadiness just by simply getting her to stay in a natural environment when I’m moving around from the kettle to the fridge or the biscuit cupboard etc. I’ve also found the board incredibly using for improving her retrieves as well, but I’ll cover that more in the next blog!
Figure3 - Photo credit @thespanielgirlgang
Where we hope to be next time
Whilst returning to basics with Saffy was particularly disheartening as I know she has incredible potential, it’s the best thing I have done for her and our training journey. I’m already over the moon with the progress we have made over the past few weeks, and will continue to develop all of our skills using the three Ds (distance, duration, distraction) to ensure that we have everything nailed down.
Something I’ve had to remind myself of a lot these past few weeks is that our training is a marathon, not a sprint. I am in no rush to get the girls out working, and so need to use our time wisely to ensure that we’re getting things right and making sure they stay right.
Hopefully by this time next month, we’ll be moving on to re-learning some of the other bits we’ve started to slip up on like off lead heelwork and retrieving without victory laps. Saffy may also be enjoying off lead walks again with lots of engagement games!
Figure 4 - Photo credit @thespanielgirlgang
Until next time!
I really hope you’ve enjoyed our 2nd edition of our Paws Puppy blog, and a massive thank you for your support, it means the world to us.
As always, I also want to say a massive thank you to Paws Brooklyn for this opportunity to share our training journey with you all.
If there’s anything in particular you’d like us to cover, in the next blog, then please leave a comment down below 😊
Until next time,
Nat, Gin, Bramble and Sapphire x
Figure 5 - Photo credit @thespanielgirlgang