I am writing this post not as a ‘professional’ giving advice, for I am not a pro; I simply enjoy working with and training our own dogs. The first dog I ever trained myself was my mutt, Brantley. He has been a JOY to train, he learns quickly, and is extremely intelligent. He is also opinionated and will tell you when he doesn’t want to do something. Overall, he was an easy dog to train, and as my first, we had a huge learning curve. We were both learning together as I trained him from ground zero. He has turned into a fantastic hunting partner (my favorite) and pet. Don’t get me wrong, Brantley has his quirks (ie. he whines in the duck blind), but when you ask him to do something, he does it. I even had the pleasure of running him in a started HRC hunt test via UKC (I had him performance registered) where he received a ‘pass.’ He’s a great dog, my heart dog, and training him was a complete 180 from training Miss Willa.
Willa joined our family in February 2018. She is a wirehaired pointing griffon (WPG/griff). She came to us from Chapel View WPG’s (Larry Fiske) in West Bend, WI. While we had some issues getting her registered (I would NEVER recommend this breeder to anyone), her personality has always been great, and without the technical difficulties she is an AWESOME dog.
Training Willa from the start was much different than training Brantley. Brantley was potty trained in 3 days as an 8 week old puppy. Willa took FOREVER to potty train. I’ve heard that females can be more difficult than males, however I think Brantley was also unnaturally quick to catch on. She still occasionally has accidents (almost 11 months old). Initial training of commands was also slower with Willa than Brantley. Brantley had such a drive to please and perform, he was retrieving short marks when he was just weeks old. Willa took her time when she was a puppy. Even with treats, she would lose interest quickly. She was quite goofy and dopey, completely different from Brantley (and our other lab, Timber).
Thankfully, Willa passed out of the puppy stage and found her desire to hunt and work. She LOVES to be out in the field. We took her to retrieve at a pheasant throw in June of 2018 (6 months old) and she both pointed and retrieved her first pheasants. After that, I started her out on some gun dog basics (sit, stay, here, heel, place, whoa, etc.). I used the “Self Training the Hunting Retriever” by Freddy King series on Youtube as a platform for my training program. I had decided even before Willa arrived, that I was going to train her in a more professional and structured manner than how I trained Brantley. She has done very well with it. She force fetched herself. She is taking in new commands and information every single day. We attended some training days over the summer at local NAVHDA chapters, and she ran her Natural Ability (NA) test on 9/8 with a final score of 104 Prize III with high marks except in the tracking portion (my fault for not working her more with it). I was very proud of her. We are currently training to run in the UKC HRC started series. I had hoped to have her SHR (started hunting retriever) title before she turned 1, but she came into heat 10/3 (can’t run bitches in heat in HRC tests) so that won’t happen.
Lately, we have been continuing on the retriever drills, as well as keeping up with basic obedience. I do heeling drills and place commands and she does great with everything. For a while now, though, I have been having some issues teaching whistle sit at a distance. At my side, she’s great. When I try to stop her and get her to sit, she hesitates: she will stand but she refuses to sit down, it’s like I was blowing her mind. I couldn’t figure out the problem, so I gave it some time and we worked on things that she was good at and enjoyed. In doing so, we were working on off leash heeling and it hit me, I realized the problem with the whistle sit. When I had been blowing the whistle to have her sit, I had been doing it almost every time she got to my side. She thought that the command I was using for ‘sit’ meant ‘heel.’ I had taught her that! Silly me, I thought that I was the one teaching this dog, but she is also teaching me. She isn’t as intense as Brantley and Timber are, and she LISTENS instead of interpreting. If you tell her fetch, she’s going to fetch (something), and she thought that I was telling her to heel which is why she became so confused. Once I realized it, I used a new command for sit, and it took her about 3 tries before she realized that command meant sit. One step closer every day for both of us.
Working with animals, dogs especially, keeps me on my toes. I learn something new almost daily. While we absolutely have enough dogs (for a while anyway), I am excited for my next gun dog to work with and train, because I can keep bettering my own methods. I am also looking forward to where the future takes both Willa and Brantley, both dogs have such great potential, I’m hoping they have the opportunity to work together in some upland fields this fall.