If you’ve never been to a Field Trial, now’s is the time to make it happen!
November 4th through November 11th
Every year hardworking members of the GSCA put on fabulous, one of a kind National events, spotlighting the many talents and the absolute beauty of the Gordon Setter. I’m spotlighting the 24th annual GSCA National Championship and Field Trial here for you today. Gordon Setters from all across the US and Canada gather together here with their owners. If you’re a Gordon lover, like me, and you’ve never attended one of these events, make 2018 the year you give yourself this gift, make plans to attend! We promise beautiful scenery, great Gordons, camaraderie and hospitality, lots of fun and lasting memories!
GSCA NFT Facebook Page for more information!
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
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
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
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 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:
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!
I call it the Gordon Setter’s “Teenage Angst” phase. You’ve spent all that time, trotting all over the globe with your new puppy, properly socializing him by slowly and constantly exposing him to new settings, crowded hallways and wide open spaces, strangers in all shapes and sizes, flapping awnings and billowing tents, ringing bells and blaring loudspeakers, kids on bicycles,trikes and skateboards, the dog next door and the neighborhood cat. You’ve covered all bases and your pup takes it all in stride with a wag of his tail.
Then one typical, normal, everyday day, your teenage pup spies an out of place toy, one he’s played with since the beginning of time, all tangled and humped up, a dark mass of unknown origin, a terrifying creature surely waiting to pounce from behind that table leg to maim and destroy said puppy. Pup skids to a halt, tucks tail between legs, issues a frightened bark and slowly, ever so slowly, creeps backward with eyes frozen on that monster, while in his teenage heart muttering a little puppy prayer that he’ll survive this day unscathed!
What I’ve (not so) affectionately called teenage angst, is actually known as Secondary Fear Phase in the very informative article written by Laura McAuliffe, Dog Communication 2016 that I’m sharing here. I do want to add that while she mentions this phase arriving anywhere from 6 to 18 months of age, you may find, that in the Gordon Setter, who matures quite slowly, this stage may arrive later, say up to age two.
There are some excellent suggestions in Laura’s article on how to help your young one through this stage, enjoy and don’t forget to share with your “new” puppy owners so they can be prepared for the day…when the spooks come out!
To read Laura’s article on the DogCom site follow the link in the title below…
But what is ‘secondary fear’ and what should we do about this sudden spookiness?
Secondary fear isn’t very well defined in the scientific research and there’s some debate about when it occurs (which is likely to influenced by breed and genetics) and if it actually occurs. It’s well reported though that dogs may suddenly (and hopefully temporarily) become more fearful about certain things.
Secondary fear is thought to occur anywhere between around 6 and 18 months old, during the period of social maturation where dogs change from puppyhood into adults. There are complex hormonal and neural changes that also occur around this time and sudden fear may well be linked to these physiological changes within the body. The primary fear center in the brain, the amygdala, is enlarged at this time meaning that it reacts more sensitively to the environment and stress hormones are at their highest levels in adolescents.
In evolutionary terms, secondary fear also often corresponds with the time (around 8-9 months old) when older puppies of wild and semi feral dogs would have left their family group and ventured off alone into the big wide world. It is thought that a scared period at this time would protect puppies from venturing too close to things that could present a danger to them. Perhaps we still see throwback behavior to this time.
Not all dogs will have a secondary fear phase and some dogs may have more than one (if you are unlucky!) It typically lasts between 1 and 3 weeks and needs careful handling as there is a risk that dogs may become permanently fearful of certain thing if they are exposed to a very traumatic experience at this sensitive time.
What should we do about it?
Don’t force them to face their fears or immediately embark on a heavy duty program of socialization. For example, if they showed fear towards tall men with hats, don’t expose them to lots of very tall men in hats in close proximity. Space and time are what you need right now- let them see the things they are worried about but from a distance they can cope with and ideally give them several days after a ‘scary incident’ before you expose them to the same thing again.
We give them space from the things that scare them (perhaps on the other side of a road for example) so that your dog stays ‘under threshold’- by this we mean they are in an emotional and physiological state where they can cope aren’t so stressed that they are can’t learn. Doing this gently and without stress is key so that we make good associations.
We give them time (at least a few days) so that they have chance to ‘de-stress’ and get back to normal before exposing them the stimulus again. Allowing time to recover avoids the effect of trigger stacking (where scary things add up together to result in a very stressed dog) and gives your dog a recovery period.
We always ensure that we don’t make a big deal about the ‘scary thing’ – we never force our dog to approach the flapping bag/scary plant/person in high visibility, we give the dog the choice if they’d like to approach and we watch their body language carefully to judge how they are feeling. We also counter condition around the ‘scary thing’ from a distance so we pair exposure to it with things the dog likes (normally food!). Counter conditioning takes practice to get right so consult a trainer or behaviorist if you need help.
Be careful not to lure towards trouble– as humans we are always tempted to get out dogs (and our children!) to face their fears but this isn’t helpful. If we lure (with food in the hand) a dog towards a ‘scary’ bin/person/dog then the dog will follow the food towards the scary thing and may then suddenly become very worried when they realize how close they are. Luring then towards scary things also removes the dogs free choice, which is something that we believe is very important- to give our dogs choices.
Avoid making it worse– if you expose a fearful dog to something they are scared of in the wrong way, or too close, or for too long, or to a too scary version of the thing, then you risk making the dog MORE fearful rather than less scared.
Do lots of low arousing, feel good activities to help get through a spooky phase. Loads of scent work and touch ground work is best and being around people and dogs that they know and like.
Don’t pick this time to start something new and potentially stressful. I delayed starting Sylvi’s hydrotherapy as she was in a fearful phase at 6 months old and showed sudden spookiness towards novel objects and people. So going to a new place, being handled by a new person, wearing a floating vest, being showered and dried etc would have been too much for her at that time. Two weeks later when she was back to normal we started hydro and she thrived.
Think back to early socialization- are there any gaps or things you didn’t cover? In winter puppies it’s common to forget to expose them to sunglasses and summer hats and in summer puppies we can forget to get them used to big bulky coats and winter hats for example. Did you miss out mobility scooters and are they an issue now? If you’ve identified a gap then remedial socialization is a great idea- don’t be afraid to ask for help from a reward-based trainer or behaviorist to help you with this.
A fear of certain breeds of dogs can often overcome by remedial socialization (Sylvi has no fear of flat-faced friends!)
Check they are feeling okay- consult your vet is they are behaving out of character or if you see a sudden change. Adolescence can mark the onset of some medical conditions so always rule out any medical cause (including pain) for behavioral changes. Fear and pain are strongly linked and can exacerbate each other. Don’t assume that it’s ‘just’ behavioral as they are young, it’s crucial to rule our medical causes.
Thinking about starting your Gordon Setter in Agility and wondering how to start?
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.
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 email@example.com.
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
Photos courtesy of Linda Stebbins
Carol Raschella reached out to me and asked if I would reach out to you, to learn how many would be interested in putting together a group for Setter people who are working at (performance) training, such as obedience or agility – this would especially apply to those who want to compete to attain titles on their dogs? She’d like to help us create a question and answer place, a student and mentor relationship group, where all are welcome and training questions get answered with techniques that work for our Setters.
There are so many opportunities to compete for titles out there today, starting with obedience of course, but we’ve added all of the various agility levels, and things like rally, flyball, barn hunting, and so the list goes.
Carol mentioned that 14 years ago she formed a Setter obedience chat group on Yahoo, and while the group activity has since dropped, she wonders if perhaps it should be revived, or, if you all have some other ideas, she’s willing to work to start something new or different. The name of the old Yahoo group, if you’d like to check it out is Setter Obedience: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/SetterObedience/info.
We’ve included the original group’s description below to give a sample of the overall concept that could be adapted to align with all of the new sports available now.
Group Description: This group is for the discussion of competition obedience training in any of the Setter breeds – Irish, Gordon, English, Red and White. Share your training tips, techniques, experiences, observations as they pertain to the unique temperament and abilities of our beloved Setters, including the differences and similarities among the four breeds. And brags of course, are welcome too! No flames please, we don’t want to embarrass our dogs.
Whether you’re a new Gordon Setter owner or have lived with them for years, training our breed can have it’s own quirks and sometimes it’s helpful to have the expertise of a trainer who has worked with our breed. Lucky you, because Gordon owners are generally friendly folks who are willing to offer advice and training suggestions at the drop of a hat! I’ve found a couple of folks who are willing to offer training suggestions and wanted to share their information with you here today.
Diane Dargay has a world of experience working with the Gordon Setter and has trained her dogs not only to be excellent pets, but also competes in many performance type events from Obedience and Agility trials to Flyball and so on. To reach Diane for advice simply send an email to us here at firstname.lastname@example.org
Another trainer you might reach out to is Barabara Long at Paw In Hand Dog Training. (click this link to go to her website)
Barbara offers training classes and her service area in NC is:
Orange County, including Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough; Northeast Chatham County and Pittsboro; and Southwest Durham
Barbara writes a column and will answer your questions, best of all she also has experience working with Gordon Setters.
We are always searching for trainers who are willing to help our readers, if you are an experienced trainer who is willing to share your expertise please drop us a line at email@example.com to let us know that we can include you in our list of those who are available to answer questions and offer advice.
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
Thanks to Barb Manson for sharing this easy to digest lesson about working with a dog who shows resource guarding behavior. Best to catch and correct these early on.
RESOURCE GUARDING: Refers to a dog showing a behavior like growling, nipping, etc. This is his way of warning others to keep away from a certain possession (resource.) A resource is often food, toys, a place or a person.
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
Photos by Bob Segal
PERFORMANCE Enthusiasts – HELP!
We’re in need of Performance 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 performance competitions and training. We need your expertise and encouragement to draw more owners to enjoy time with their Gordon Setters in performance competitions.
- We are always seeking writers to share their material, experiences, or expertise here.
- We are always seeking training enthusiasts to share links to websites or other blogs of value to those who share your passion or are seeking knowledge.
- We are always seeking your recommendations of books and videos.
You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your contributions or questions.
Hope you’ll join in to make some noise about your adventures in performance events!
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
Fortunate 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!
by Diane Dargay
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.