I just had, what I feel, was one of my best moments as a trainer in a long time. A moment where I thought, “wow, I just thought about this like one of my mentors, Suzanne Clothier would!” A real a-ha moment.
I brought home a beautiful, well-bred Pointer a few weeks ago. The puppy, Tawny, was bred by a good friend of mine Bernice Jensen. I had no intention of getting a pointer or any other sporting breed aside from our standard Poodle, but when my Lowchen junior co-owner Oonagh and I met this puppy we decided to do it. I hadn’t really thought about it until this training session tonight, but Tawny is the first sporting dog I have owned and lived with. Of course, in my local dog training and behavior consulting business and in my show dog training I have worked with countless sporting dogs, but Tawny is the first one that is mine and who I live with.
Puppies are awkward and funny and Tawny is no different, in fact sometimes I could swear she was blind and deaf. Of course she isn’t but she seemed to not see or hear that well, or just be a very scattered pup. While her visual and auditory senses seem weak, it was clear early on that her nose is very active. This was confirmed yesterday when Tawny went to her first bird dog training. She was very focused, though not visually, but using her nose. Her natural talent at finding and pointing a bird was impressive.
Now, I live with Dachshunds. I am used to dogs with a good nose, but with the Dachshunds they truly seem less DRIVEN by their nose. They also see things and hear things (boy, do they!) where Tawny seems to mostly smell. Like her when her nose is working, only her nose is working. I have seen this a lot when I taught nose work classes and even when a Dachshund is on a strong scantling, but Tawny lives by that nose.
Tonight I decided to do some training with Tawny and I went into my little dog room and started working on going to her platform and staying there. She hopped on and was reinforced a few times. I decided to work on a little name recognition and eye contact when it hit me, this puppy is naturally guided by her nose. Eye contact is not usual for her, unless she is tired and snuggling with you closely. I thought that there is no way I am going to chase this pup around calling her name only to be ignored and her just darting around. I decided to do nothing. Nothing at all and simply wait for eye contact.
Sadly, I didn’t have my phone with me so I couldn’t check the time, but it was a good five minutes that Tawny ran around that room sniffing, going in and out of every crate, climbing on crates, climbing on the walls, more sniffing, more crates and on and on and on. Still, I waited.
After what seemed like an eternity of her circling me and interacting with literally every other thing in the room, she seemed to realize I was there and her eyes quickly passed by me, allowing a quick click while she scanned me. I treated her. She looked around and then looked at me, click-treat. She began to move her body around and then look at me, click-treat. She sat down and looked at me, click-treat. She got on the platform and looked at me, click-treat. She climbed onto my lap and got two inches from my face and looked at me, click-treat. She learned to look at me.
I am not sure why I feel so proud of this. It is so foundational, but maybe that is why I find it so rewarding and impressive. These small, early, baby pieces are HUGE. I know that I could have spent weeks, months, years, begging this puppy to focus on me if I had needed to be the one to show her. But, SHE needed to be the one to figure it out for herself.
I will continue with this work and then begin to build in the name recognition training by teaching her to look at me after I say her name. This training should be a nice transition from this eye contact work. Auto check-ins will always be reinforced with this pup!
This little training session turned into a super significant moment for her and a huge learning moment for me. I think the reason it makes me feel so good is that I feel that so much of the time it is easier to look for the big, sexy, fancy training things we want to accomplish and forget about the small, significant, relationship building things. There is just something so amazing about coming out of a little, unplanned training session and discovering something awesome and just thinking, “what was cool”.