The tuning of a gundog. Part 3
When you get a puppy and have an aim of obedience training it early, better get it late in the autumn so that when it is time to start some serious training, perhaps when it is 6 - 8 months old, the ground is bare in the spring.
I took this picture before the great mass of snow started to fall. A weather system carrying cold air from Siberia came from north- east and froze the remaining humidity in the air on the branches of the trees, like this birch. It was minus 23 centigrade this morning.
Sunnie will be 6 months old next week and could benefit from some serious training. However, we have for a change got a real winter, as the winters use to be in the good, old days. Very cold and too much snow to train with any precision outside the house.
For example I would like to train calling her in with a long line, thereby making sure that the command "Come here" is fully understood even when disturbances like cats, songbirds, other dogs, children and such occupy her interest. Plenty of snow and ice everywhere would jeopardize such exercises since the line could stuck in the snow and cause misunderstandings and stress. Hence it is better to let the matter rest for a while and wait until a good opportunity comes.
Fortunately Sunnie is very good-natured and nice so there is no actual need to train implicit obedience for the moment. If we just make sure that she is on lead at places of danger like roads, then there is no need to worry.
There is one good thing in snow when combined with dogs. Deep snow is very effective for bodybuilding the dog as well as its owner. The resistance it gives will train the dogs body as well as what we call the dogs social competition drive. Not that the latter needs to be trained with Sunnie, she has a lot of it already. Then again, as they say: If a lot of it is good - then too much of it must be even better!
As you may see, she has now definitely separated from her ancestor, the spaniel. She has started to move and behave like a true working setter, but she still has the very much sought for "will to please", as they say in Britain. Swedish research suggest that puppies and mature dogs might in behaviour be controlled by different genes. We will see if the will-to-please-characteristic is imprinted in the next set of genes that will take over the control of her soon.
At least the will to move and build strength is there, and as far as I know it will not change a lot in a good setter, at least not during the coming 10 - 14 years. However, quite opposite to the other setters we have had, Foxy and Briz, we do not have to, at least not yet, let her free with the heart in our mouth. She has started go wider but is very careful in keeping contact with us. I hope it lasts until the snow melts away and we can start some serious training. I can still remember when Briz at the age of some 8 - 10 months got lost in deep snow in a snow storm in forest terrain. We had no idea of were to search for her but could only guide her by trying to whistle as loudly as possible. Finally we heard her unhappy barking and she worked her way to us, totally exhausted and heavily covered with snow that had stuck everywhere on her coat. I do not want to experience that again. Today we have a GPS collar and should Sunnie show any tendency to roam too far away in her youth she will have to wear that gadget.
For the time being we do not fear that she gets lost, she is far too social to run away for her own adventures. Not even outside our house, were she must feel pretty secure, do she go very far away. She has also started to self-train her birddog-capability with the numerous black-birds we have around this winter. They are rather co-operative training objects for a dog but I have failed to get a photo of such a training session they have with Sunnie. When the spring comes and with it all the migrating birds they will probably twist her head entirely until she becomes so habituated so that she neglects them for the rest of her life.
Sunnie has a dense, short coat that seems to keep the body heat in very well. I have seen, when she is in the kennel, her watching black-birds outside the kennel for several hours in -10C chill without starting to shiver or going into her heated doghouse. According to the Swedish breed standard for English setters they should have a lot of hair around the paws and between their toes. Sunnie already has more than enough, quite common among setters and also spaniels, and a pair of scissors are needed to trim them it a bit. Otherwise there will under some weather conditions be a lot of snow and ice stuck to the paws, hampering the dog seriously.
Well, that's all for now. I can mention that she can carry a dummy now, at heel and when called in from some distance. She can also just pick the dummy from the ground on voice command only but that is not fully established yet - also a case that is better settled on bare ground and a skill that is not needed at least until next autumn. Oh! I almost forgot to mention the most important progress in her training. The word "No!" seems to work fairly well now. The most handy command, indeed, if mixed with a lot more of praise.
© Text & photo Torsti Mäkinen