Within the gundog world Flatcoated Retrievers are known as very good hunting dogs solving tasks quickly, independently and with major bird finding abilities. They tend to be less popular as gundog competition dogs compared to other retrievers. One of the reasons for that may be that handlers find them easily distracted (mentally) and a bit strong minded. When reading the breed description of the Dutch hunting association KJV – I must admit a bit to my surprise – the emphasis was put on how challenging they are to train. This is not uncommon to hear.
When people ask me if a flatcoated is difficult to train, I always hesitate to answer, because I do not find them difficult to train as such but maybe I would say they are challenging to understand fully. During the past year this question has been weaving in and out of my mind and the answer became clear when looking back my friends’ dog Prada.
Prada was a Labrador (traditional) x Rhodisian Ridgeback mix. Prada showed me that her behavior around mud and water varied. Some days (within same season/temperatures) she would behave like one would expect from a Labrador: jumping through mud holes and having fun. Then another day she would go into a full freeze of the body just by seeing water and mud (ridgeback crocodile avoidance) – then avoiding every drop of moist intensively.
Back to my personal view of the flatcoated retriever..
The flatcoated is a breed that was created in England out of several other breeds involving setters, retrievers and newfoundlanders. When keeping this in mind I have started to look at individuals and trying to estimate to which of these three categories the specific flatcoated take after the most. To be honest I think my breed is a hybrid so to speak. They are categorized as retrievers but they are in fact not pure retrievers neither pure HPR (hunt-point-retrieve) dogs. Therefore I call them hybrid or when I get a bit cocky out in the field “best of both worlds” dogs.
I have had Rumi for almost 7 years now. In her life she has been out hunting, driving, retrieving – she has had a litter – participated in many many gundog competitions, tests and workshops as well trotting around in the show arena. She has proven to be a dual purpose all-rounder with a rather intense hunt/prey drive. She is born to work and she loves almost every activity except endless heelwork sessions. She is a bit low on the will to please side and her nose is preferably up in the air scent area and she loves to run. Ideally a flatcoated would be able and willing to switch easily between ground and air scenting. Rumi has a rather strong preference to air scenting and running.
So where does all this thinking bring me?
The past two days I have been training on Texel a Wadden Island north of NL. Thanks to Jachthondenschool de Kust we& Jachthondensport Texel we were given the chance to train at open level in a very challenging terrein and strong winds and rain.
If it was not clear yet – it has become now. My Rumi is by dominance HPR style in her behavior when put in a terrein that triggers it. Compared to the German wire haired and or the Münsterlander she might be a bit more attentive to instructions but at times I hardly saw a difference and if any I asked myself why Rumi was less manageable than some of the HPR’s. Maybe my next answer will be – when asked if a flatcoated is difficult to train – “no – not at all – as long as you know the dominant gene of the day and how to approach it, you are good.”
In other words – it takes a flexible handler who can recognize “the gene of the day.”
This training was again a tea party with humbling cake – I definitely need to upscale my own HPR handling skills if I want to work Rumi in high winds and rough terrein such as that of the raw Texel nature. Why I love this so much? Because the dogs bring me back to my true nature..