The Dutch Working Flatcoated Groep “WFRG” held a marking workshop by Eric Verzijl in the beautiful place of Rijen.
A nice group of 11 gun dogs – 2 labradors, 1 golden and 8 flatcoated retrievers, most of them young dogs around 2-3 years of age.
Eric opened the day by inviting us to work our dogs exactly the same way as we do at home. He encouraged us to take action if needed not letting the dog finish without the retrieve being successful.
On beforehand I was a bit nervous about the impact on my dogs when doing only marks a whole day. Marking I find is very exiting for the dogs and it can easily ruin the steadyness and push them into stress levels where handling is difficult.
In cases like this I am happy that I have learned to recognize the levels of excitement and stress in my dogs and know how to deal with it and/or stop before I push them into over excitement. Luckily they are already well on their way to dealing allright with major stimuli.
During the workshop Eric presented the dogs with a variety of dummies. From cow skin in different colors to dummies with goose wings and launcher dummies. He even used a hand launcher that was build on to a shotgun. This I found unique as many gundog trainers mostly train for competitions and tend to forget preparing handlers for the real deal. Eric spend time explaining important aspect of practical hunting and why certain rules must be obeyed in order to ensure safety for all.
I find the risk of doing workshops in comparison to regular training is that one jumps from one training vision to another. Erik was clear on his views and opinions but I am glad he left space open to continue on our own route of training in order to remain predictable for our dogs.
One of the most discussed items in gundog training is the use of treats (a positive reinforcement tool). It is a topic that can call on strong emotions for some reason and this is intriguing I find, why we humans react so strongly to this when discussing gundogging.
My dogs are very motivated retrievers. Kaspar has a strong will to please and Lotte a strong independent and distance seeking drive. Therefore they bring different challenges into my handling. I use different tools to influence their emotions and behavior on a very conscious level. As they are young steadyness training is always on my top priority and because of all the mistakes I made in my basic training with their mother I spend more time focusing on walking towards the beginning point and the whole setting around me, than I do on the technical skills themselves as for example marking. At this point returning is a bit of a challenge as they have learned that after delivery the fun stops. I offer them good stuff to deal with the “sad” ending of the fun, but it will never have same reinforcement value as the retrieve itself of course. So I try to have all the right boxes ticked on beforehand – to prevent any messing around after picking up the retrieve. Everybody who owns a flatcoated retriever knows that if you desire a perfect steadyness/heelwork performance before building technical skills you will never get ahead. So knowing when to focus on what and being very alert to reinforcement is a must for successfully handling this wonderful breed.
It was a very enjoyable day in Rijen were both youngster were presented with many different marks, dummies and situations (dummies falling behind hills, in heavy water plants etc etc). When training on my own it is impossible to provide the dogs such variety and for that opportunity a big thanks to Erik for the chance to practice a bit of practical hunting skills too. Thank you WFRG and Huntingdogs gun dog school (Erik Verzijl).
All above photos are made by Erik Verzijl