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Why are European Dogs So Well Behaved?

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Why Are European Dogs So Well Behaved?

Dogs, Euro Style

By Kama Brown CPDT-KA, January 2017

Rethinking Puppy Socialization

New puppy owners and breeders sending puppies off to their new homes will both benefit from the information in this excellent blog post by Lisa Mullinax.  Click on the title of the article to visit Lisa’s blog for more training advice!

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

June 30, 2015

Lisa Mullinax, ACDBC

Why does my dog have a behavior problem?  I TOOK him to puppy class!”

I hear this – or variations of this – a lot.  Like, all the time.  In fact, at least half the dogs in my aggression cases have taken a puppy class.  That’s way up from 10-15 years ago.

While more dog owners are aware of the importance of socialization than they used to be, the complex concept of socialization has been boiled down to almost useless sound bytes.  Online articles give generic advice like “Socialization is very important.  Enroll your puppy in a socialization class.”

I taught puppy classes for many years.  And I can say that even the best puppy class provides only about 5% of the socialization that a new puppy needs.

A puppy class is held in just one environment, with one group of people and one group of puppies. Imagine if a child were only exposed to two places – home and the same classroom – for the first 10 years of their life…they would not be a well-socialized child!  Socialization means exposing a puppy to many novel sights, smells, sounds, and surfaces, in as many different environments as safely possible, ensuring a pleasant experience in those environments, especially for (but not limited to) the first 14 weeks of their life, the critical period of socialization.

Basically, be prepared to come home from work and take your puppy on a safe socialization field trip to a new location every day for the first six weeks in your home.  After that, you can drop it to 2-3 days a week until your puppy is at least 5 months old.  Ideally, until your puppy is past the adolescent stage (approx 18 months old).

Seem extreme? I didn’t say these trips have to last for hours. They can be quick trips to the local grocery store parking lot or even sitting on a local park bench (keeping new puppies off the ground) for 10 minutes before heading home.  But you need to do something new every day.

Or, you know, you could wait 6 months and then spend $900 or more to hire a trainer to help you undo your dog’s leash reactivity or stranger-directed aggression.  Totally your choice.

Socialization prepares your puppy for life in your world, which frequently presents unusual and even scary situations.

What is NOT a socialization program:

  • Breeder/rescue having a lot of dogs

  • Having a “friendly” breed

  • Having a puppy who is already friendly

  • Having other dogs at home

  • Having other people at home

  • Introducing a puppy to one dog

  • Taking a six-week puppy class

Just because your puppy is currently friendly to dogs and people now, in your home, or in one or two environments, does not mean you don’t need to provide the same amount of socialization that a more reserved puppy needs.  Not if you want to ensure that your puppy remains friendly.

The more novel experiences your puppy has which result in a positive, pleasant outcome, the more prepared your puppy will be for his or her future life.

Contrary to popular belief, a puppy does not need to make contact with dogs and people for socialization to occur.   This is why you can still provide socialization without putting your puppy at risk.

DO’S AND DON’TS

DO:

  • Carry your puppy into dog-friendly stores (this doesn’t just mean pet stores – you’d be surprised at how many banks and non-dog retail stores are willing to help a responsible owner with socialization).

  • Be generous with rewards.  Cheese. Hot dogs.  Small little tasty bits of meaty, cheesy goodness that accompanies all new and potentially scary experiences.  No, your puppy isn’t going to get fat.

  • Watch new people from a distance – overly-exuberant puppies can learn that they don’t get to greet everyone just because they want to (impulse control – important life skill), and shy puppies can learn that the appearance of strangers does not mean a scary encounter.

  • Carry your puppy into the vet for non-vaccination visits, and the groomer (if your dog will require grooming) for a quick treat without the shampoo.

  • Expose your puppy to other dogs…from your car: Sit in the parking lot of the dog park and let your puppy watch the dogs come and go.

  • Fill a kiddie pool with water bottles, boxes, and other strange objects and let your puppy explore…then repeat this in different areas of your house, in your yard, even on your front porch (if you can safely contain your puppy and prevent him/her from getting on the front lawn).

  • Buy a fun playset with tunnels and tents from your local toy store.  Fill the tunnels with toys and treats to encourage your puppy to explore.

DON’T

  • DON’T ever force your puppy to approach, enter, or interact with anything that they aren’t willingly approaching, entering, or interacting with.  EVER.  Shy puppies sometimes need multiple approaches to work up the courage to interact.  Don’t force it.  If you do, I might just show up on your porch and squirt you in the face with a water bottle.  No!  Bad puppy owner!

  • DON’T place your puppy on dirt or grass in public areas or in back yards where friends/family have lived for less than two years. That’s because viruses like Parvo can live in the soil for that long.

  • DON’T take your puppy to the dog park until they are at least 5-6 months old and have already been socialized to a variety of other dogs.  Dog parks are for socialized dogs, not for socialization.  Being charged, swarmed, knocked over, humped, and generally terrorized is definitely not a positive experience.

  • DON’T let well-meaning strangers overwhelm your puppy with enthusiastic greetings, invasive handling, or their own, special form of training that they claim to have gleaned from dog ownership.

  • DON’T let your puppy meet strange dogs you encounter in public unless you are prepared to embark on a significant behavior modification program.  Relying on a complete stranger to be honest and objective about their dog’s behavior is gambling with your puppy’s safety.

  • DON’T let your friendly puppy get away with murder in the name of socializaation. Part of socialization is learning how to interact with the world.  For confident, friendly puppies, that also means learning good manners around strangers and strange dogs.  Allowing a friendly puppy to treat the world like his mosh pit when he is little is going to make life super fun when he’s 60 lbs.

The best socialization program starts at the breeder or foster home, who introduces puppies to new sights, sounds, surfaces, and smells long before they come home with you.  This breeder provides a fun play area for her puppies:

ADOLESCENT SOCIALIZATION

Starting around 5 months of age, your puppy is going to freak out a little.  Part of this is normal adolescent behavior (oh, and has anyone told you that this is when teething really starts?), but adolescent dogs go through multiple and brief fear periods.  During this time, you’re going to need to renew your socialization efforts.

Here’s the key:  Listen to your dog.  If something is scaring your adolescent dog, the fear is very real to them.  Don’t force the issue just because you know it’s just a statue or garbage can.  Give your dog the distance they need to feel safe, then reintroduce the scary thing from a distance, accompanied by LOTS of great things.  This is where a good trainer can help you.  The goal here is for your dog to learn that a) scary things usually aren’t as bad as they seem and bravery is always rewarded, and b) they can trust you to keep them safe.

YEAH, IT’S A LOT OF WORK…BUT YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE TO DO IT RIGHT

Waiting until a puppy has received a full set of vaccinations to begin a socialization program is too little, too late! Socialization begins on Day 1 with you.  The first 8 weeks in your home should be devoted to teaching important life skills that you only get one chance to get right.

Don’t worry about “obedience” training right away, outside of a good name response and recall. A solid down-stay is not going to make for drama-free nail trims or prevent your dog from biting strangers.

Could you skip all this work and still end up with a happy, well-adjusted pet?  Maybe.  But that’s a big – and expensive – risk to take with a 15+ year commitment.

Could you do all this work and still end up with a dog with a behavior problem?  Maybe.  There are a lot of other factors that contribute to aggressive behavior, including genetics (trainers can’t fix your dog’s DNA) and learning history (if a trainer tells you to yank on your dog’s pinch collar every time he sees another dog, he’s got a really good chance of getting cranky when he sees other dogs).

Dog behavior is about risk assessment and management. My recommendations to my clients are designed to minimize the risk that their dog will develop a behavior problem in the future.  There are no guarantees – behavior is not static, it changes and adapts depending on the dog’s needs. Your job is to reduce the odds that your puppy’s behavior changes for the worse.

By doing all this work, you significantly minimize the risk that your dog will develop a problem that could jeopardize his success in your home…or even his life.  If this seems like more work than you can handle, you might not be ready for a puppy.  Check out your local shelter for a nice 4+ year-old dog.  There are no longevity guarantees no matter what age dog you get, so you may as well pick a dog who fits your lifestyle now.  10 years with the right dog for your lifestyle is far better than 15 years with one who doesn’t.

Finally, if your puppy’s veterinarian insists that your puppy stay indoors until they are “fully vaccinated,” find a new veterinarian who is up-to-date on the importance of puppy socialization.

And if a veterinarian or a member of their staff tells you that you must physically manhandle, pin, roll, or shake your puppy to establish dominance, pick up your puppy and RUN out of that office as fast as you can!

Agility Download: 11 Small Space Exercises; Video Demonstrations; 5 Full Course Analyses

Thinking about starting your Gordon Setter in Agility and wondering how to start?

Photo courtesy of Linda Stebbins
Photo courtesy of Linda Stebbins

Below you’ll find a free video download from Bad Dog Agility. You can also search for other training articles published on this site by clicking the magnifying glass on the top right hand side of this page and typing in training, or you can see all the articles by clicking on the word “Training” in the Content Cloud on the left hand side of this page.

To see Gordon Setter agility training in action view click the link to an excellent article “Ready Set(ter) Gooooo!” written by Linda Stebbins.

Bad Dog Agility developed this course to:

  • provide you with practice sequences that can be done with 4 jumps and a tunnel
  • help you execute and evaluate when to use the most common handling maneuvers seen in AKC agility: the rear cross, the front cross, and the 270
  • challenge you with advanced sequences

Challenge yourself and your dog — download the free ebook now!  And visit us at Bad Dog Agility for more articles, videos, and podcasts.

Download the Exercises
Download the ebook by clicking the button below!

Download Now

 

Looking for any of our experienced Setter Agility trainers to share their favorite techniques and/or training courses. Respond with your suggestions in the comment section of this article or send us an email at gordonsetterexpert@gmail.com.

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Photos courtesy of Linda Stebbins

Field Help!

Field Enthusiasts – HELP!

We’re in dire need of Field material to publish for our readers on this Gordon Setter blog. We truly need your support and expertise to build reference material for those who are seeking information and mentors to help them learn more about hunting and field competition. We need your expertise and encouragement to draw more owners to enjoy time with their Gordon Setters in the field.

  • We are always seeking writers to share their material, experiences, or expertise here.
  • We are always seeking field enthusiasts to share links to websites or other blogs of value to those who share your passion.
  • We are always seeking your recommendations of books and videos.

You can reach us at gordonsetterexpert@gmail.com with your contributions or questions.

Hope you’ll join in to make some noise about your adventures in the field!

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Let’s Share Gordon Setter Training Tips!

Yoda_SWSBFortunate are we indeed, (little Yoda there shaking up your reading experience) to welcome  Guest Blogger, Diane Dargay to share her personal experience training a Gordon Setter. All breeds are different and learn at various speeds and levels, and like many other breeds the Gordon has their own special needs. Thanks to Diane for sharing her personal observations and tips!

Training

by Diane Dargay

Photo by Dargay
Photo by Dargay – Jackson and Diane

Growing up, we never had dogs so when we got our first Gordon, Baron from a pet shop at six months old, he was VERY mischievous. I remember Bill cutting the lawn as Baron would follow nipping his butt. We always had to put him in the house. Leash walking was impossible and chewing was bad. At this point, I decided to take a class at our local town hall. He was somewhat better and I know my training was not that great. I hooked up with a friend that was taking classes with a gentleman that was in the K9 corp. We did much better and Baron eventually got his CD.

Training back then was the choke and jerk method. Food training was frowned upon. I could not understand that because the dogs in the circus always were trained with food.I could see Baron was miserable and swore my next dog would be different.

training4
Photo by Dargay – Jackson and Diane

Fast forward 30 years……Food and some clicker training works and the dogs are much happier. I have found that Gordon Setters do not take well to many repetitions in training. They are not Golden Retrievers. When an exercise is trained, if they do not get the concept by the 3rd try, I do an exercise they know and go back later and try again. Going past 3 reps they sniff, ignore and eventually do not pay attention. Sometimes it happens after 2 reps. If the dog does it correctly after the first time, I stop and do a new exercise. My motto…one and done. Many people will do it again because they are so excited the dog did it only to come up with failure.

Time limits are crucial as you do not want to overload the dog. Five to ten minutes is enough time and only practice 2 to 3 exercises not a whole repertoire. Most Gordon Setters are impatient, so keeping attention is key.

Training
Photo by Dargay – Jackson and Diane

Obedience training is started at 8 weeks. The learning period up to 6 months old is key training time as they absorb the most information in this time period than any other in their lifetime. Teach them everything…….sit, down, come,heel and stay. They can handle it just in 3 minutes intervals. They have the attention span of a gnat, so keep it fun. If you have other dogs, they will learn from them. Monkey see, monkey do.

Since I do many venues, I try to get the obedience stuff out of the way first while they are growing. Once I start flyball, agility and hunting, obedience goes to the bottom of their list. Heeling is boring! Getting into the Rally ring by 8 months is good as ring experience and being able to talk/motion to your dog on leash helps in future trial situations. Even if you do not qualify, experience is great. Some people are afraid of failure. Most of us have failed at something in our lives. It only makes us better.

training3
Photo by Dargay – Jackson and Diane

My last tip discusses food or treats. Most of the Gordons I know enjoy their snacks. That does not mean that toys cannot be used if the dog has a favorite. Whatever your dog seems to be driven to, will work to keep his attention. Integrating both is a good tool. When choosing treats, you want something special not kibble. Something with an aroma usually works well. I use microwaved chicken hot dog slices. They are better for your dog and not as greasy as regular hot dogs. Sometimes when learning a new exercise, I up the treat value if they are not learning. What I mean is this. If you were given a choice between a hamburger and filet mignon, which would you choose? I would guess filet mignon, correct? Same with the dog. If chicken franks were not working, I would go to pieces of chicken or beef. The lesson is we want to keep the dog focused on us. That will maximize the learning.

This is just my training program. There are many other good ones out there and I always take suggestions from anyone to better my dog. You want your dog to play and work with you. There has to be something in it for them. If you are not the center of attention, training will be harder. Make it fun!

training2
Photo by Diane – Jackson and Diane

The photos in this article are Jackson at a trial in December, 2012 at the age of 8 months. He was a good boy and even placed 3rd with a score of 98. I know you are thinking that this all came about because of my experience. You can do it.

Analyze the photos. If you notice in most of them, the leash is in my right hand and my left hand is clenched at my waist. Jackson is thinking…….could a treat fall out of my left hand???

How To Teach Weave Poles With the 2×2 Set Up

The folks who know me well, won’t hesitate to confirm, that when I want to get a project rolling or a conversation started I am sometimes willing to go “out on a limb” to get that ball rolling! With that said, I’m going out on a limb now, and I am fully confessing my ignorance about Agility training and all things related. But, what I do want, is to see us keep the ball rolling when it comes to sharing information with our audience that might encourage others to start training, or help someone who is working to train their Gordon Setter for performance competition.

Featured Image -- 1214So, I’m posting this video link knowing full well that I am going out on a limb having no Agility experience.  Along with this link then, comes my request that you, readers who are actively training, consider commenting about the effectiveness or techniques that are shown here, is this good advice, is there better advice to be found elsewhere, did this type of training help you get your Gordon Setter ready for competition?

I am also asking that you consider contributing to this cause by submitting articles, or links to articles that you believe will help others who are working with their Gordon. Many would love to see articles shared on this blog that come from you, whether you’ve written them yourself or are providing links to those written by others.   People do want to learn about Agility and Obedience competition and I hope that those of you who are actively participating with your Gordon Setter will join here in providing guidance and assistance that is truly valued by all. Don’t do it for me – I can’t possibly keep up with a Gordon in the Agility ring – do it for those who want to learn from you.

Here you go, just click this link to view the video: How To Teach Weave Poles With the 2×2 Set Up.

To send articles or suggestions you may email me at: gordonsetterexpert@gmail.com

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Photo by Susan Roy Nelson

Agility and Puppies

Just found an article to share with you all about starting your Gordon Setter puppy in Agility training. As with any responsible trainer the author reminds us that puppies are growing and because it’s easy to cause growth plate related injuries, cautions us not to engage in strenuous training.

Be sure to read our previous article about the puppy’s growth plates before you start any training  Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, How Does Your Gordon Grow?

Here’s the link to the article (click the bold title to go there): Agility and Puppies found on Everything Dog at Alpine Publications

Photo courtesy Linda Stebbins
Photo courtesy Linda Stebbins

Agility is an excellent way to help an active puppy burn off some energy while having fun at the same time he is building a bond with his owner. While strenuous training is not recommended, or requiring the puppy to jump at full heights, the puppy can learn a lot of the basic foundations that make up agility.

And for even more helpful tips and videos about training our Gordon Puppies for Agility click the colored title link that follows to go to another article we published written by Linda StebbinsReady Set(ter) Goooo

Feature photo of that cute Gordon Puppy by Laurie Ward

Enjoy!

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Impulse Control

Thank you to this week’s guest blogger Jennifer Skiba, Westminster, CO who shares training tips that will make living with your Gordon Setter easier.

You know, reading this I realized that if anyone had taught me impulse control I wouldn’t have that half eaten box of Turtle candy sitting on my kitchen counter. However, on the plus side, Sara hasn’t been counter surfing as usual, otherwise they’d be totally gone. At least one of us has learned impulse control.

Jennifer SIf I could teach only one thing to dog owners it would be to understand the importance of teaching their dog impulse control. Impulse control is an incredibly valuable life skill for your dog to have and yet is one of the skills I find most dogs lack. When people think of a “good dog” what they are really noticing is a dog with good impulse control. It is a dog who doesn’t jump on people, who doesn’t steal food, who doesn’t pull on the leash, etc. These are all behaviors that require the dog to have impulse control, to wait. How does the dog learn to wait? To feel an impulse and decide not to act on it? Through lots and lots of practice.

Impulse games teach your dog to feel an impulse to want to do something but to not do it, or to look for permission before doing it. Many trainers teach this as a “leave it” command but I prefer to teach it as a default behavior. Meaning the dog automatically defaults to waiting instead of snatching food. This isn’t about micro managing your dog. This is about teaching them to think before they act. This isn’t just for food either, if done correctly it teaches the dog to look for permission and will be a foundation for other behaviors that don’t involve food. Impulse control is a foundational behavior of all of the advanced behaviors that people recognize as hallmarks of a “good dog”.

So, how do I teach impulse control? I start with the dog’s food and some treats and I teach them that the way to get the treat is to not want the treat anymore. That is the basic behavior. Once they understand that I challenge them over and over again with the same exercise in different contexts. This is called proofing a behavior, what that means is I am helping my dog to generalize the behavior. This allows the dog to access the behavior even if it’s not exactly the same as the last time. Here are two videos that I made that show phase 1 and phase 2 of impulse control.

Impulse Control – Part 1 video

Impulse Control – Part 2 video

A progression of challenges might look like this:

  • Treats in a closed hand
  • Treats in an open hand
  • Treats on the floor
  • Treats dropped on the floor
  • Snapping turtle
  • The dog’s food bowl
  • Treats on the dog’s paw
  • Treats I find when I walk into a room and they are on the floor already
  • Treats on the coffee table, picnic table or dining room table
  • People food (start easy with crackers or bread)
  • People food that is harder (cheese or lunch meat)
  • People food that is on a table surface
  • The above challenges outside (backyard, front yard, porch)
  • “Treats” in the real world (goose poop)

Non-food related impulse control behaviors:

  • Not greeting other dogs
  • Being calm around other dogs
  • Not jumping on people
  • Not begging
  • Not stealing food from children
  • Not counter surfing
  • Staying
  • Waiting
  • Walking politely on leash
  • Waiting for you to throw a toy
  • Not stealing kids toys/shoes
  • Not stealing your shoes

I start to teach this with food because generally all dogs want food. Once they understand the behavior with food I can change it to other items like a toy. The key to having good impulse control is LOTS of practice in LOTS of different contexts. If you take the time to teach your dog to wait without having to say “wait” all the time (or “leave it”) you will find that your dog is a joy to live with. You aren’t having to watch their every movement and they understand that waiting is the first choice they should offer.

Jennifer Skiba, Westminster, CO

Namastay Training   www.NamastayTraining.com

“Teaching People to Listen, One Dog at a Time”

Dog Training Tips by Jennifer Skiba, Namastay Training, LLC

Jennifer SWe are so very pleased to welcome Jennifer Skiba owner of Namastay Training LLC, Westminster, CO as a contributor to Gordon Setter Expert. Jennifer came to us as a recommended trainer by Laurie Ward, and Jennifer has generously agreed to respond to our questions with expert advice for all puppy and dog owners, advice we share with you, our Gordon Setter loving friends and family. Jennifer Skiba – “Teaching People to Listen, One Dog at a Time”

 Interview: Jennifer Skiba, Namastay Training, LLC – March 2015

Gordon Setter Expert asked:

Do you participate in performance events and if so which ones?

None.  I spend my time teaching other people to work with their dogs.

Would you share a brief history of when you started to train and why you choose the events that you are choosing now?

I specialize in puppy training, child & dog dynamics and general pet dog training.  Training has always come naturally to me and for years many friends encouraged me to train professionally.  I always put them off.  And then many years ago I watched friends of my husband take their sweet standard poodle puppy to a harsh aversion trainer.  I realized then that I could no longer sit on the sidelines and watch this happen over and over to more puppies.  I believe that good puppy raising is paramount to having a good family dog.  And truly, isn’t that what our dog are when they aren’t “working”- a family dog?  Many behavior problems that cause dogs to end up in shelters or rescues can be prevented if you do due diligence when they are young.  I want my students to be able to take their new puppy and go on to whatever sport or activity they would like.

How would you describe the Gordon Setter as a learner?

I have only had the pleasure of working with one Gordon Setter thus far and he has been a sweet dog.  I try not to get too wrapped up in the breed tendencies and prefer to focus on each puppy or dog as an individual and tailor training to their personalities.

What advice would you give to someone new, just starting out about where to look for resources in order to learn training techniques?

My advice to someone new?  Realize that your puppy is a dog with a rich culture that communicates quite differently than we do.  Just because their culture is different doesn’t mean it is inferior to ours-just different.  That means that you have to learn just as much “dog” as they have to learn “English”.  I would attend a puppy class (without your puppy) to see how the class is run and if you mesh with the trainer.  They are training you to train your puppy and if you don’t feel like they are approachable with questions find someone else.  There are many ways to train a dog and you have to find one that feels right to you.  I believe we should train our dogs how we would like to be taught something new.  With a teacher who is patient and kind to us.

Is there a method or combination of methods that you use and find most effective with Gordon Setters?

I believe ALL dogs respond best when we are clear and consistent and teach them to WANT to work with us.  I prefer teaching new skills in a positive manner and using what is really reinforcing for the dog-treats, toys, attention.  I believe there is a time and a place to say “no” to our dogs but it isn’t when they are learning something new.

What type of training class or trainer, if any, would you advise them to attend or seek?

I would recommend finding a training class that is both fun and informative.  If class is boring you won’t want to go.  I also recommend a class that focuses on using positive reinforcement when learning a new behavior.  I advise finding a trainer that is welcoming and easy to approach with questions.

Do you recommend any books or DVD resources?

Books:  There are so many great books but if I had to recommend only a few…

If a Dog’s Prayers Were Answered…Bones Would Rain from the Sky by Suzanne Clothier

The Puppy Primer by Patricia McConnell Ph.D

Feeling Outnumbered?  How to manage and enjoy your multi-dog household by Patricia McConnell Ph.D and Karen London, Ph.D

K9 Medic How to Save Your Dog’s life During an Emergency by Eric “Odie” Roth

After You Get Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar, DVM

Any recommendations for internet resources like blogs or websites? (By clicking on the name of the link a new page will open at the website.)

When working with a Gordon Setter what do you believe are the most important things to remember about the breed?

Again, I think it’s important to look at the dog as an individual and base your training on their strengths and weaknesses.        Website:  www.namastaytraining.com

Bones would rain from the sky Puppy Primer Feeling outnumbered After you get your puppy K9 Medic

Ready Set(ter) GOOOO!

Photo courtesy of Linda Stebbins
Photo courtesy of Linda Stebbins

I am so very pleased to welcome this week’s Guest Blogger – Linda Stebbins of Los Ranchos NM to share her training experience in Agility. I know you’ll all treat her right, give her a big round of applause or shake her hand and say “thanks so much” next time you see her!

Linda Stebbins

Agility success with a Gordon Setter requires flexibility, concessions, a desire to learn, train with restraint and understanding and a SENSE OF HUMOR! One of my Gordon Setters was running a clean course in a large horse arena and at the end of her run, a pigeon dive bombed her and returned to the rafters. She took a sharp U-turn, raced up the dog walk and went on point to the pigeon. So much for BEAUTY, BRAINS and BIRD NONSENSE.

Photo courtesy of Linda Stebbins
Photo courtesy of Linda Stebbins

Although I do not consider myself an expert, my 25+ years in a breed I dearly love, allows me to make valid comments, constructive criticism and appropriate recommendations.When I write about a topic, I am pulling from my own experiences and do not deny there are other methods and styles of training whether it be in conformation, performance or field. I do not proclaim to be a professional trainer and am in a perpetual learning mode. I do this for FUN!

Because I handle my own Gordon Setters in all venues, the journey to their titles is extremely long, self satisfying and rewarding for me. I live in New Mexico where 80% of competitions in the conformation and performance rings are a 7-8 hour drive away. This can be long and grueling but I am totally committed to showing and competing with my Gordons. There is a sense of pride when one can train and show their own dogs.

Photo courtesy of Linda Stebbins
Photo courtesy of Linda Stebbins

I like to get my Gordon Setters’ Championship and Grand Championship titles as soon as I can so I can start playing in the agility ring. I don’t begin competing in trials until my Gordons are two years old and I know that their growth plates are closed. I use rally trials as a tool for socialization, obedience and  positive reinforcement. My true love is agility and I can honestly say I am an agility-holic. Before agility I participated in obedience and hunt tests. Agility became a strong desire for me because it gave me and my Gordon Setter a sense of mental and physical challenge. I truly appreciate Gordons who have titles on both ends of their name, and there is every reason for a Gordon to be extremely successful in this sport if so desired.

I am a strong proponent of breed standards so when one wants to take up agility with their Gordon Setter, we must keep in mind how substantial this sporting dog is. The normal jump height is 24″. The physical demands of agility are significant. Larger boned dogs may require negotiating some of the obstacles more carefully. Good structure (balanced conformation), temperament and soundness are very important.

IMG_3268While most breed show dogs are campaigned for a relatively short period of time, many agility dogs compete into their senior years with the jump height going to 20″. As for temperament, I like a Gordon who has a desire to work and a willingness to train. I was asked in an interview, “In your opinion, what makes the Gordon Setter such a special breed?” I replied, “Versatility!” They aim to please. They can hunt expertly, are extremely agile, obedient out of love, flow like a stream in the show ring, are a form of positive therapy for the owner’s “dog days”, full of snuggles and contentment whether in your lap or in their beds. As a learner, the Gordon Setter in general is intelligent, quick to learn and of bold character. I like the Gordon’s willing and forgiving attitude which makes a great partner. Curiosity and independence are traits which I think allow the Gordon to be a successful student.

Ready Set(ter) Goooooo!

My training philosophy consists of the Five F’s “Fun, Fair, Firm, Flexible and Fun”. I support positive reinforcement using rewards based methods. I want to develop teamwork. As the handler, you have to think step by step through the shaping process needed to train for an end behavior. I enjoy looking for the good things my dog does successfully. Rewards I use are treats, tug toys, tennis balls and/or verbal praise. Clickers are a true way to mark desired behaviors for problem solving and I do incorporate that in my training. Eventually the clear click sound transfers to me saying “YES” or “GOOD”. Whatever the method, I want to find a special connection that makes us a team.

Photo courtesy of Linda Stebbins
Photo courtesy of Linda Stebbins

My puppy starts in puppy socialization class which includes manners, and then moving into basic obedience where he/she learns to have a reliable sit, down, stay, and recall. We transition to “flat work” which is agility foundation, teaching me how to handle and making my body language clear and timely. The puppy learns how to take direction from me. After all, it is on the flat surface where I do most of my job navigating my Gordon. A combination of training class, private lessons and creative home training make a great equation for success on the agility course. A class exposes my Gordon to different sounds, breeds and people. Private lessons help clarify and tweak those skills that I so desperately need to have for my Gordon to advance. Homework is a must and this reinforces and gives my Gordon a purpose. At home I like to introduce my puppy to a rocker board, and later trading it out for a wobble board for building confidence and being comfortable with movement and sound. The Fit Paws Disc is another way to develop canine fitness, balance and confidence. Learning fundamental skills properly is vital because training mistakes will be very hard to fix later on. I have learned from my mistakes and work to overcome them. One big recommendation is do not compare the speed of your progress to other members of your class. This has been very difficult for me to ignore, primarily because I am generally the only sporting dog in a class of many herding dogs. I find the herding breeds are a natural for this sport and excel quickly.

When searching for an agility instructor and facility, attend a local trial where you can watch the various handlers and trainers. Find appropriate times to talk to the people and ask them questions about the training IMG_3255methods, styles, techniques, etc. I find most agility competitors are very receptive and want to help newcomers. When you visit training centers and talk with the instructor(s), see if he/she has a willingness to work with all breeds and a variety of energy levels. Not all dogs are high driven. I have had Gordon Setters who have been moderate in drive and consistent on the course. I also have had the total opposite where I have had over the top, high driven Gordons. Once again, don’t compare your Gordon to the speed demons. The instructor should be able to work with all levels of drive. Of course this goes without mentioning, but knowledge and staying up with current changes in the sport is crucial. I personally need to work with someone who has a sense of humor. After all, Walt Disney didn’t create Goofy after the Gordon Setter for nothing. This is supposed to be a FUN sport for you and your Gordon. Make sure there are a variety of classes offered, addressing specific skills and it is not just your basic levels of agility; availability and communication is vital. My READY SET(ter) GOOO! instructor(s) will ask for a video of my homework attached in an email. I will receive feedback commenting on the rights and wrongs. This is extremely helpful! The training center must offer a good foundation so when your Gordon is ready to compete, it is confident and safe on the equipment.

IMG_3253 Agility is constantly changing and evolving. Many handlers have gone to the internet to take instruction. I have not experienced this type of training but it is getting to be more and more popular. In fact books became outdated quickly and the internet has taken its place. Seminars and camps are well sought after and the training center you attend will have announcements posted.

A few resource recommendations are:

IMG_3273Three Gordon Setter Club of America members who have far exceeded anything I have accomplished and are reliable resources are: Julie Ashley, Ohio,  Gail Deller, PA, and Susan Wey, TX. I am sure there are many others who are knowledgeable and successful but these three have helped and supported me immensely in the sport.

Team Work and Making the Dream Work requires your commitment, patience and sense of humor as an agility handler. Those embarrassing moments will occur and you must be willing to be amused by your Gordon Setter’s exuberant antics. It just means you didn’t proof the skill or train it long enough. 99% of the mistakes made fall on the handler, not the dog!

The Gordon Setter can transfer the ordinary day into extraordinary moments and memories.

Auntie Mame said “Life is a banquet!”  I say “Living with Gordon Setters makes it a feast!”

IMG_3271Linda L. Stebbins,  Los Ranchos, NM