There are many views on walking a working dog breed. Some want them to be “as any other dog”, some claim “you can’t just take them for a walk” and then there are many variations in between too.
I am definitely somewhere in the middle and I will chat with you about my observations of Jazz, an English Springer from a combination of field trial lines, field tests ran dogs, pure working homes and some part time working homes.
Having had non prey driven, non-hunting dogs in the past I can certainly see a big difference in Jazz when compared to my previous dogs. Jazz’s biggest enjoyment in a walk is first and foremost hunting. Secondly, it’s her need to “hunt /play hunt together” which, if encouraged, she will prioritise over going off into the distance by herself.
Thirdly it’s her need for movement and speed. Sometimes she just runs and runs for the sheer pleasure of testing her lungs and stretching her legs, chasing nothing in particular. When she was younger she also loved playing with other dogs and while she still likes to do so, the other drives are definitely higher on the agenda.
When she was a puppy and an adolescent I focused on interacting with her during our walks. This meant she was never just roaming countryside miles away for any length of time although we did have some trying times with recall now and then!
This year (her 2nd life year) I started taking her for longer hikes with friends and other dogs. This is where new behaviours commenced and I can really see the point many old fashioned spaniel trainers have about never letting a dog self-reward with uncontrolled hunting. First thing I noticed was that she was waiting less and less for me to release her to hunt. Normally we would have this “arrangement” where she would check-in by either making eye contact or just stopping before heading off into a cover or across a field to chase something. I am guessing she could sense the fact I was “busy” chatting with a friend walking along so she took decisions into her own paws 😉
The interesting part of this is that I didn’t apply much significance to these changes until one day we were in a fairly dense woodland and she went into such frantic overdrive she had zero reactions to any signals, not even her two pips direction change whistle which is normally 9.9/10 with her. I ended up having to take her on the lead as she totally drugged herself up on her own drive.
I knew I had to re-think her exercise straight away but I also didn’t want to stop the hiking trips. I know the first option popping into everyone’s heads is that she could just be on a lead but it’s important to me to have a dog I don’t have to have on a lead unless necessary (in town, around busy roads etc).
In my pursuits of learning about Positive Reinforcement training I came across the idea of “the transfer of value”.
You classically condition the dog to value something that was previously neutral or of low value (in Jazz’s case it might be a play of tug while passing a field full of young pheasants…;) ) until it reaches the high value. I was intrigued by this and started experimenting.
Not really knowing how to approach it properly, I simply took her on her own to a high distraction areas and did my best to get her interested in me/games with me rather than the birds, scents, water etc
I used her dummies, sticks, leaves, exercises and food. I aimed to make the interaction with me to reach enough value to override her drive to run after the scents or live game.
We then took a shorter hike together, just the two of us, on a very exciting for her route and she was very cooperation oriented, checking in with me and stopping short of several of fast pursuits into cover. I repeated that a few times now with good results so will continue in this vein.
I know I will have to make sure that hikes with friends and other dogs are well organised between our one – on – one walks if she is to remain a controllable, safe dog. She will never be a dog that can simply “do her thing” yet stay close at all times unattended or when called as her high prey drive is reinforced and deepened with every self-rewarding incident. This is fine with me as interacting with her on walks is why I have the dog in the first place 🙂 I’m not really interested in hiking per se if done without hounds 😉
I’d love to know how you educate your high drive dogs, do you use any R+ value transfer techniques? Do you have any resources recommendations available online/offline?