For the past several years, I have struggled getting Zara completely steady on birds. It’s been a stop-start process, two steps forward and one step back. I know this is normal in any dog training activity and steadiness takes time for the dog to grasp, especially if they are older. However, last fall, I thought I had finally gotten to the point where Zara was a completely broke dog. Then we ran in the NAVHDA Utility Test and a UKC field trial and she was chasing birds if they flushed up before I got there and trying to break on the shot. I was feeling frustrated. Why was this happening?
I have finally figured out the answer; the secret ingredient that allowed Zara to earn her Master Hunter title this year and finally become reliably steady.
For a long time, consistency was a difficult thing for me to achieve, because I did not have regular access to live birds outside of NAVHDA training days. However, at the beginning of 2020, I joined a bird dog club where I could visit on a regular basis and train Zara on pigeons (and quail in season, which for North Carolina is typically October to March). I worked hard making up for lost time, trying to shore up Zara’s shaky foundation. We were there once a week, practicing stop to flush drills and trying to fix Zara’s creeping problem.
Prior to running the Utility Test in early October, I worked Zara on several chukar at our last NAVHDA training day before the test. These birds were shot for her and she was very steady. With three weeks until the test, I thought, Great. We’re good to go. She was not, though. I didn’t realize until much later that Zara does best with consistent, well-timed training sessions without large gaps between them.
Zara points and watches a quail fly away after I flush it. Videoing and flushing a bird at the same time is always difficult!
For the past three months, I have trained Zara on quail about once a week. We have taken a few weeks off, but for the most part, I have had birds shot for her once or sometimes twice a week. I initially started training this much because I needed to teach her how to back other dogs. Then I continued as I realized it was paying off. This repetition allowed her to deliver five solid Master Hunter performances and two clean field trial runs over the span of two months.
In retrospect, it seems obvious that consistency was necessary. But as an amateur new to this bird dog game, it’s sometimes taken me a long time to learn valuable lessons like this. Consistency certainly applies in many other facets of dog training too. Leading up to a conformation show, I make sure to practice stacking and gaiting with Colombo in the days and weeks beforehand. Consistency is of course important when teaching basic behaviors as well, like sit, place, or come.
Have you seen consistent training pay off with your dog? Leave me a comment below and let me know!