OK, so before you spit your tea all over your laptop from me declaring its a good thing to mess up training, hear me out on this one.
When I first began training a dog for myself I experienced two things. The first was being in a rush . The second was being petrified I wasn’t good enough.
My First Working Dog
So here in my arms was a 5 month oldcute Cocker Spaniel called Bob. Up until this point I’d been beating with Dads dogs. They were fab…until they heard him, and then they were gone. They abandoned me without a thought just to get back to their trainer.
So I decided I needed a dog of my own. Plus who doesn’t like a new puppy. Dad had told me to get an English Springer Spaniel, but in our Kennels was a this cocker spaniel pup he had just bought, Bob.
Bob was the only Cocker Spaniel we had. I’d been told by many to leave cockers well alone. A wise old man had once muttered to me in a beaters wagon “cockers come into the world half trained….and leave the same way” But I thought ‘hey a dog is a dog’. How naive I was.
That old man was right. Bob was easy to train. His intelligence level meant he picked up commands really fast.
A little too fast, because the quicker he learnt, the faster I wanted to teach him. Dad had warned me to slow down, but I was smitten. My first working dog was flying. I just kept pushing Bob to do what Dad had done with his dogs, but I wanted to do it in half the time.
Dogging In season started and I reckoned I had it all figured out. I’d been training him for a whole 5 months(yes, more naivety). He listened brilliantly with a tennis ball or dummy, he would bring me cold game. We were ready.
….Or so I thought! Bob could do all the fun bits, but I’d not given the time I should have to the fundamental basics. In one session, my rush to do everything turned into absolute fear. Now your wondering ‘what did poor Bob do’. He did exactly what his breed was meant to do. He began to hunt.
He began to hunt not for me, but for himself. He didn’t care about all our ‘amazing’ training. he didn’t care about me. All Bob wanted to do was flush and push birds.
I was lucky, he didn’t want to kill anything, he just wanted to work at a 100 miles an hour, a hundred yards in front. Regardless of the training I had given him, he wasn’t going to stop.
I would call him. He would come back, and then he would go again. And I would call him, and we would repeat the cycle. It was painful, I must have said his name a thousand times.
On the way home Dad told me, “take him back to basics”. Out into the training field we went the next day with his beloved tennis ball. But today Bob wasn’t interested one bit in his tennis ball, and now I couldn’t repeat basics because I had nothing he wanted.
The Petrified Bit
I think most of us go through this , the point where we are scared that we have ruined our dog. We have created a problem, and we are not sure how to fix it. And I realised I didn’t have a clue what it took to train a working dog.
Dads were push button, they knew so well what they were meant to do. Every day I thought I had been beating, I’d just been going for a walk. Dad had them so well trained that I had been watching the thrill of them working, without understanding how much work that had taken to achieve.
The reality is none of us are born skilled working dog trainers. We learn through experience, and my experience with Bob took me from over confident to terrified. I didn’t know how to fix it, everyone I spoke to gave me conflicting ideas, and I jumped from one fix to another, with no consistency and no results. Each time I thought we were back on the same page, and he was steady, I’d take him out and he’d hunt on again.
And I would beat myself up again, thinking that I’d ruined a great dog and I was rubbish.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have had some idea on how to repair my damage. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have made the mistake to begin with.
My then crazy rush to have the perfect working dog in a youngster would not have existed. I would have been patient with him and me. He was a baby, and I was a motivated idiot.
Experience of getting it wrong has taught me how to get it right.
Growing up riding horses, my Dads favourite saying was “There’s two minds thinking as one, and the one on the bottom has control”. With dogs its the same thing. We must foster the ability for both of our minds to work together. It can’t be achieved in a hurry.
The way to get working dog training right is with 5 essential beliefs:
- Believe in your dog
- Believe in patience being the key
- Believe your mistakes will help you
- Believe it takes time
- Believe in yourself
Messing up my first dog training was a wonderful thing because it taught me these beliefs. I’m glad I made crap loads of mistakes, it’s what it takes to make you great. Now I know when I screw a training session up, it’s part of what is needed to create the bond needed to be as one.
I’ve also decided to pay way more attention to my Dad.
Have You Made Mistakes?
Post in the comments below if you have made a mistake, and what you learnt from it.
More can be found out about Cocker Spaniels on the Kennel Club Website.
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