PREPARING FOR A FIELD TRIAL
By Paul Sabo, Jr
The time to prepare your dog for a Field Trial is the day you acquire him, however tempermentally is all to the credit side of his future life with you; and if you do run him in a trial, he will comport himself as a normal, well-adjusted canine sport to bring pleasure to both of you.
Take him afield as frequently as you can in an environment conducive to opportunities to contact the desired pray, in his case game birds of the Gallinaceous family, namely ground nesting birds. When he is still a naÔve puppy he can be allowed to pursue and chase field larks, stalk them and sight point them. I would start discouraging mildly, almost from the beginning of his hunting career the chasing of rabbits or other fur bearing creatures. But let me say here, fur is as natural for a bird dog as are feathered creatures, and if my puppy failed to take out a bunny and give tongue and chase, Iíd think there was something abnormal in his makeup. The reason for discouraging rabbits is to get him to learn in his formative period that bunnies are taboo and, too, it will come in good stead in his later career as a finished dog.
Handlers frequently working their dogs afield soon learn to recognize the personality characteristics of their charges, and this will be reciprocated by the dog in recognizing what is wanted by the boss, the two making up a team wherein each performs his part of the work at hand, mutually assisting each other. This is what makes a dramatic picture at a field trial, dog and handler each having mutual confidence and understanding of each other. Without this contact neither party to the act can perform confidently, and it usually results in both man and beast coming apart at the seams, an apprehensive dog and an apprehensive handler. The handler should devote 99 percent of his time when afield, either at a trial or informally when training, to focusing his attention on what the dog is doing so that he can instantly recognize when the dog is in the presence of game, either wanted or unwanted kind, so that he can either help or dissuade the dog. This help, or correction, must be moments ahead of the dogís intention and YOU will have to do the thinking for him at this critical moment. Therefore strict attention to your dog ALWAYS when you two are working together.
My experience with the Vizsla leads me to believe that he is generally a higher-strung dog than are the other contemporary pointing breeds. This should be taken into account by the handler-owner when working them or preparing them to run at a formal trial. This nervousness manifests itself in several ways. Excessive barking when restrained on a tie-out or confined in car or pen. When the dog is unable to get its desires it generally shows a very high degree of animation, so much so that once cast loose to run free it causes a hypermobility of the bowels or is so worn out that its normally expected enthusiasm diminished to a phlegmatic behavior pattern. This is especially bad at a field trial where you want your dog at his peak.
Prior to a field trial date, fast your dog moderately, feed him half rations for two or three days prior to the trial. Feed foods that normally create firm stools. Pure meat is a good pre-trial ration. Remember this one point: While you are hunting or trialing for the fun and pleasure of a sport, the basic reason behind a dogís hunting activity if fun and pleasure only as a secondary thing, he is hunting because hunger pangs are urging him to fulfill the act of staying alive. Once that urge is satisfied, his natural act or desire is to lay down and sleep it off until hunger again motivates him to hunt. SO DONíT LOAD HIM FULL OF FOOD prior to working afield. Feed him after the trial or workout.
Like a child who can recite its catechism by rote at the kitchen table then fold up like an envelope when on the stage with the spotlight on him, a bird dog can do his hunting and pointing routine when working in a family environment on the back forty like a champion, then when exposed to a field trial environment with all its attendant strange sights, sounds, other dogs just as nervous as he is, becomes a cropper and falls flat on his face leaving a helpless handler nonplussed and wondering why his dog is acting so abnormally.
The way to overcome these things is to expose your dog through everyday contacts with the vicissitudes of canine living in a manís civilization. Take him with you as often as possible in the family car to the supermarket, to the city, to a trap or skeet shoot. Let him get used to strange sights and sounds, but best of all, to many field trials, even if you donít enter him in them. We normally lock our dogs behind fences, on leash behind the house or some such cloistered environment while we go about our daily lives getting used to OUR civilization and then expect the dog to understand all our ways of doing things without exposing him to them.
If by chance you are entered in a field trial and draw a late in the stake brace, donít park him on a leash or in the car near the scene of activities to excite him and work him into a frenzy till his time to run, to be all work out before his turn comes. Park him somewhere where he is normally somewhat isolated and visit with him frequently and take him for short walks on a leash. Your presence with him will reassure him and keep his neurosis in balance. If the day is warm, water him frequently, even wet him down all over with a sponge or towel, keep him in the shade with plenty of air about him. If it is cold, keep him out of the wind, he wonít need artificial heat.
In training afield prior to a trial, or just anytime afield informally, ONE CARDINAL RULE IS- donít pet your dog or show any great sentimental affection for him every time he comes in to you; in fact do the opposite, either ignore him or show by motion that you want him out and away from you. He will soon learn that there is no profit in coming in and looping back every time his interest wanes because there was nothing in the place he was hunting to draw his attention. IF you do pet him on any and every time he comes in to you, he is well on his way to becoming what is known in bird dog parlance as a YOYO. This is one BIG REASON WHY some of the other breed fanciers and hunters wonít have a VIZSLA. The Vizsla is a gregarious and over-fond dog, especially of those who are his daily companions such as you, his owner-handler. He will carry this affection afield and the handler unconsciously falls for those friendly gestures and responds by petting and other friendly demonstrations, unconsciously making a yoyo out of his Vizsla which is POISON at a field trial. When cast loose afield the dog goes out on a short or long hunting expedition, depending on the milieu and objectives at hand. When he has made that cast he will look up and expect to be directed to a new objective and learns to make one himself by watching the direction you take. If you pay no attention to him at the time he has finished that cast, especially if he is a young puppy, he will come back to you for attention and here is where the big negative way of hunting starts, you pet him and it soon becomes a lifelong habit that will kill your field trial chances to show him at his capable best.
You are down either thirty or maybe sixty minutes if in a major stake. Assume your dog goes out on a cast, then comes in and goes out (generally to the same place he just came from) on another case, then he has used up 66percent of that time covering the same area which he covered on the initial cast. In other words he is wasting 2/3 of his time running back to you for attention. The time to show him affection is after he has made a find, handled it to your satisfaction and you have performed your job as his partner by putting the birds into the air, fired the shot, and he has remained steady. Now he will learn by repetition and rote that he is going to get a lot of that attention which is so much a part of his well-being, for having done a job of bird finding, and he will learn that when afield all the time must be directed to hunting and finding; and you, his god, will be along pretty soon to reward him for his independent find and STAYING PUT till you get there to reward him for something he has EARNED.
There is considerably more to this preparation for a field trial than what I have written here, but this is already a long treatise on the subject for just one issue of the Views, so I will cut it off at this point with the hope that maybe at some future time I can add to it.
In the meantime keep these little gems in your hatband and I am sure they will bear fruit if you are a bird dog lover, as I am, and I have learned that they brought fruit to me. Many disappointments are also part of the bird dog picture, for not all dogs are endowed with the mental capacity to understand their owners, and may I say, the REVERSE also holds true. However, I like to feel that the pursuit of any endeavor is the motivating force, not the attainment.
This also holds true in the age-old ďMan chases WomanĒ, since time began.
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