It was a miserable winter. Any training outside was basically unrealistic. However, I have an indoor pool with a large tiled deck surrounding it. So we've done extensive OB, some creative retrieving drills and kept things amusing. My two youngest dogs will be running HRC this season. Previous testing in this venue taught me high anxiety levels at the "bucket" quickly become "baggag".
Therefore, every day for the last month a slow, calm routine "at the bucket" has become the standard. The dog wears a pinch collar. The ring is easily taken hold of when sitting on a bucket. A dog can be "lifted up" for a higher sit, corrected for not being still (i.e. busy feet, not focusing, mouthing) and not looking at the handler for the drop command. The routine was effective for all four dogs. The focus was primarily on Daisy and Gunny.
In Daisy's case, she has always been easily distracted by "other things" (real or imaginary). This training has made a huge change in her abilty to focus because I could correct her for loosing focus. Gunny had no bad habits at the bucket.....because he'd never run off one.
So now it was time to train outside. The "bonus" came with Gunny. Before winter, Gunny was well into transition, but he was not giving me the rock, solid "look" when running blinds. I could eventually get him "kind of lined up", but when winter set in....it was still a concern. We did a lot of lining drills (wagon wheels, etc.) with little improvement.
Two days ago, I took all four dogs out and ran an old set of three pattern blinds. The three older dogs were excited and had a romp doing them. Gunny did his same semi-focused routine. It was just as I expected.....why would it have changed?
Yesterday, I decided to change things up for him. The indoor routine beside the HRC bucket was "sit", lift up on pinch collar for a higher "sit", say "watch", throw bumper to same spot that they are looking out at, try to break focus with distractions, eventually put hand down (when they are really into the focused stare), count to ten and release on name. This was repeated daily (three bumpers per day). It became an established habit. They remained fascinated with this silly, little fun drill. For me, it got a bit boring........which was good.
Therefore the second day, I lined Gunny up straight. Knowing he would not give me a "good look" after "dead bird", I said "dead bird' followed by "watch". Wow! his body snapped to an up high attention and he stared straight out. After my jaw dropped, I dropped my hand, didn't wait very long and said "back". He fired and ran a great line. On the next two, the same thing happened. He did not "lock" until I said "watch". I waited longer between hand down and "back". The cue "watch" transformed him a different dog. He knew what was expected. The habit was ingrained at the bucket and his reaction was the same today (a strong carryover away from the bucket and indoors).
In retrospect, I somehow failed to teach him what "dead bird" meant. He did learn what was expected of him with the "watch" command. By saying "dead bird....watch", I will be able to eventually just use "dead bird" on blinds. Winter turned out to be a bonus.