A year and a half ago, I started a new adventure with a boy named Sue. A GSP boy, to be specific. When I got him as a pup, I didn’t know what a big adventure I was embarking on. I thought I was just getting another GSP; I had no idea how special he really was and how much he would teach me. That’s what’s led me to finally starting a blog; my musings and learnings in my adventures of dog training A Boy Named Sue.
All of my friends and acquaintances know of Sue’s existence, I occasionally post pictures about him and sometimes talk about him 😉 What many don’t know is how he came to be. Most know I own his sire, Ozzy (SHR UWP GRCH Abbe Lane’s Prince of Darkness TAN NA-I). I am very close with his breeders, Rob and Judy Moerman of Abbe Lane Kennels and consider them family. Five years ago, they suffered an absolute heartbreak and devastation when their kennel burnt to the ground due to an electrical fire. Six of their ten dogs were lost due to smoke inhalation. Rob and Judy went into the burning building while awaiting firefighters and pulled dogs out themselves. One, Ozzy’s dam, was already gone when they pulled her out and had started whelping her litter—there were puppies in the box. The rest were rushed to the emergency vet where 5 were euthanized due to their condition. I cannot. Even. Imagine.
The vets wanted Rob to put down one particular female who was just shy of two years, a lovely female named Border Country’s June Carter Cash v Abbe Lane. Rob tearfully knelt down to say goodbye, and June, in her typical fashion, put a reassuring paw on his shoulder and looked him right in the eye. Rob said NOPE, taking her home, we will do whatever necessary to keep this girl going. It took round the clock care and nursing, but that tough little lady pulled through. She ended up with permanent damage to her lungs and could never really hunt more than an hour after that, but it sure never affected her awesome temperament and drive to work. Once she recovered and Rob and Judy decided to resume breeding, June was the first breeding done with Ozzy. She spent some time at my house, and I fell absolutely in love with her. I knew I wanted a pup sired by Ozzy someday, and I had found the dam. She has a pedigree to die for, both her sire and dam are NAVHDA VC’s, and her sire is a dog I have been drooling over for years: INT CH VC Sharp Shooter’s Man in Black MH. I was nowwhere near ready for a pup at that time, so my plan was to keep a pup out of her last litter with Ozzy.
Fast forward to the fall of 2013. I had gone through a divorce (my decision), was living completely on my own with no roommates for the first time in my life, and had just lost my crazy but much loved Weimaraner Fiona. It had been a rough year. I received a ray of light from Rob: he planned to breed June on her next heat cycle to Ozzy, and this would be the last breeding. Ready or not, my puppy was coming. Looking back now though it could not have been more perfect timing. Seven months later and the litter was on the ground. I had pick male and there was….ONE male. One fat little chunky boy with 4 sisters. I had been considering leaning towards a liver male, so of course he was black. I had his registered name all planned out but was really indecisive about his call name. I wanted to keep the Johnny Cash theme going in honor of his mama, and my hands down favorite Johnny Cash song is “A Boy Named Sue.” I really did not want to call my male dog Sue and was really trying to come up with a different call name. But the day I finally got to take that ornery little chunk home, I knew there was no other option. He is Sue, and it fits him to a tee!
That I had a whole new level of GSP than my prior two was revealed to me in increments. The drive and work ethic on this dog is like nothing I have ever dealt with—and I have a CATTLE DOG. He was confidently swimming in the chilly waters of Lake Michigan at 10 weeks old and retrieving like a pro. Pointed his first bird at 3.5 months. He has an off switch but it’s hard to find at times, even then. His joie de vrie is evident in everything he does: every task is done with endless enthusiasm, passion, and just overflowing happiness. But there is also a good deal of tenacious stubbornness and serious hard headedness that is not evident at all in his sire. He doesn’t really do ANYTHING half ass, it’s full bore on everything. I truly think this will be my first NAVHDA VC dog. And beyond.
And so my adventure: learning how to train this monster to pass tests I have only watched. Not only that, forming my own training methods that are often quite different from traditional ways of training bird dogs. I use a LOT of positive reinforcement and some clicker training. It’s been my experience that the hunting bird dog world, both retrievers and pointing dogs, is one of the last to come on board with using these methods. Finding information or trainers who use positive training methods instead of force in various aspects such as fetching or whoa has been either very minimal or nonexistent. I don’t believe this means that these methods are impossible or failing, I just think there has not been exposure in the bird dog world. The military and many IPO, Mondioring, French Ring trainers have incorporated positive reinforcement and clickers into their training programs. Those groups have the utmost in obedience and control of their dogs, so I’ve done a lot of following various trainers and groups to learn what I can and use in my training.
To be clear, however, I am by no means a 100% positive reinforcement trainer, nor do I totally believe in that. I tell my dogs no. I use corrections, but carefully doled out. My basic philosophy of dog training is this: using positive reinforcement (operant conditioning) and sometimes shaping to introduce behaviors and tasks, can result in better understanding by the dog and a better working relationship and bond between dog and handler. Once that behavior is clearly communicated and understood, then corrections can come in, but only once the behavior and cue are solid. This is MY philosophy for training MY dogs. Training methods is a hotter topic amongst dog people than religion or politics. It amazes me when I’m out training and asked about my methods, how people get actually ANGRY at me for what I am doing with MY dogs! Bear in mind the world I train in is predominantly male, and older male at that, so I’m pretty sure their reactions are a lot more complex than being simply about my “soft” training methods. It’s still astounding how angry some get when I am in no way telling them to train my way, that their way is wrong, or anything of the sort.
Despite these obstacles, or perhaps even because of these obstacles knowing my own stubbornness in being told I “can’t” do something, I am even more determined in this adventure with Sue. I want to share what I learn along the way—both my successes and my failures and I hope it might help others learn or at least open their minds to other methods and ideas that can be used. I want an open discourse on these ideas and constructive criticism.
Next up—a summary of what I’ve done with Sue so far and the foundation I’ve put on him with various methods.