Sage Monkey

Sage Monkey

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Preparing for the NAVHDA Utility Test: Remaining by the Blind, Steady by the blind, Retrieve of Duck, Duck Search & Walk at Heel

What a beautiful day to be in the field training with your dog! Jim and I headed up to New Jersey today to meet with our trainer Bob Corsaro. We spent about an hour and a half with him working on various parts of the NAVHDA Utility Test. The first part we worked on was some aspects of the fieldwork portion of the test. Up until this point Cleo has been about 95% steady. Two weeks ago Bob told us to take a break with her. To get rid of all the birds we had at our house and just leave her off of birds for a little bit. Her prey drive is so high that she literally gets herself in a frenzy. So here we are two weeks later and she did a phenomenal job and stayed steady 100% through the shot and fall.

The picture quality is rather poor due to a lack of light in the woods and the 
fact that I took them while walking

You could absolutely see a difference in her today than in the past few weeks. So we learned too many birds for Cleo is a bad thing. She has also been less insane since she knows that there are no birds at home. All her prey drive around the house has now been fully directed at the squirrels. Which is fine by me especially if she keeps having days like she did today!

Next up was a duck drag. Per the NAVHDA handbook, "It is strictly a retrieving test and demonstrates only the dog’s cooperation and obedience. The dog must display its willingness to find and retrieve game without the direct influence of his handler. The drag track should be between 100 and 200 yards depending on the terrain with one bend (not a sharp hook) near the center of the course. The first part of the drag should be over fairly open cover so the dog’s attitude and actions can be observed. The balance of the track should be out of sight of the handler. This is important since some dogs, when they feel they are out of sight, abandon the search or mishandle or bury the game."

Bob dragging the dead duck

Jim getting Cleo excited around some pulled feathers. When he releases her 
he tells her to "track".

Cleo off and tracking. She looks like she was shot out of a cannon.

Cleo cresting the hill on return. It's always pins and needles until you see 
her head pop over the horizon.

A few months ago when we introduced the duck drag to Cleo she struggled with it. She would find the duck with ease but would either nip at it when she got it, play with it or not bring it back to hand. So we had to force break her. Since then she has been having great retrieves. Each time we do this exercise for her Bob makes the distance longer and longer. You want it to be more difficult in training than at the actual test. Which makes perfect sense. When I train for a fight the training is always more grueling and much longer than the actual fight so by the time I get there I am more than prepared. But Cleo did great with this today. Bob said she didn't nip the bird or play with it. She scooped it up and brought back to hand.

We also spent sometime walking Cleo at heel. At the test she will be required to walk at heel with Jim through a series of stakes at the waters edge. Jim went out two weeks ago and bought some stakes and has been practicing with her in the back yard. Today was the first time we got to show Bob our progress.   It felt like having to hand in your book report at school except much more fun.

One of the things Bob made very clear to us was that when Jim walks Cleo up to the stakes he can say the word "heel" to her and give her a little tug with the leash but as soon as he enters the stakes he must remain silent and the leash must have a "J" in it.

An example of a "J" in the leash. 

Bob also let Jim use his Jaeger lead. This was the first time I have seen this kind of lead but it was super cool. Jim plans on ordering one this week. It has multiple loops so you can easily hook the lead around you when you walk the dog at heel. It's much nicer than using a regular lead or leash as we have been doing. Please see the picture of Vanna (aka Jim) below modeling Bob's Jaeger lead.

Bob had his DK dog Sadie there as well. He walked her through the stakes and as always she did a phenomenal job.

Helena Vom Sparta - Call name Sadie

So far Cleo has not really struggled with this portion of the test. But up until this point we have not attempted this near the water. Cleo gets pretty charged up when she is near water so next week we are going to take our stakes over to a local pond and start practicing there.

We also got the chance to work Remaining by the Blind and Steadiness by the Blind today. They sound similar but they are actually very different. The Remaining by the blind portion comes directly after the walking at heel. Jim and I got a chance to watch this in person last year at the Keystone NAVHDA Chapter. This is a test of calmness and obedience in the presence of gunfire. The dog is required to sit by itself in a blind out of view of the handler while the handler fires two shots. The dog must remain quietly in the blind until their handler returns. This portion of the test ends when the handler returns to their dog.

Cleo in the blind by herself with Jim hidden from her
Cleo's look of intensity when she hears the gunfire

We did this several times till she understood what was required of her. She did pretty well with it. The first time she busted on the second shot and went to find Jim. After the second time she understood she needed to stay put.

I don't have any pictures of the Steadiness by the Blind portion of today's training. Bob put me to work hiding in the brush throwing a dead duck out to Cleo for this part. Cleo did okay with it. She got a little confused when she saw me hiding in the grass and wanted to bring me the duck before she brought it to Jim. I just tried to ignore her. I will however say that I came home with a few of which that bit me on the butt. The last few weeks all this bird training has been hard on my ass. No pun intended. But between being attacked by the Brittany two weeks ago and ripping a tick out of my butt cheek today I just about had my fill. Hopefully that's all the punishment I'm due for. Anyhow on a serious note we are going to keep working with Cleo this week and we are looking forward to next weeks training already!

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