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 Post subject: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 4:21 pm 
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Joined: Fri Dec 19, 2008 1:31 pm
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My almost 3 yr old Springer spaniel has developed a soft flush. This is the best dog I’ve owned of any breed but unless I can overcome this tentativeness, he probably won’t place in a field trial again although he earned his Master Hunter title passing 6 tests in a row w/ only his last two tests showing a slow down in his flush.

Here’s the background: I got him as a pup and noticed that he had an unusually biddable personality. He was extremely easy to train as I just needed to think about how to show him what I wanted and he did it. I used a clicker to teach him his obedience then I transitioned the reward for sitting from the “click-treat” to “click-toss a retrieve”, then finally just a retrieve when he sat at the whistle or gunshot.

In the field, I let him flush homing pigeons and chase them until he figured out that he couldn’t catch them. As he returned, I shot the gun and when he “hupped” I tossed a dead bird for him to retrieve. This approach worked wonderfully as he became reliably steady and his flush was strong. He has two hunting seasons behind him and his flush on wild birds is always great, probably because they are most often moving birds.

In the last few months however, I started to notice a more tentative approach after he scented the bird. This is exclusively on planted birds and especially if he sees the bird on the ground. Obviously, this is not a problem for a hunting dog and as I understand it, wouldn’t be a problem in a British trial either. Unfortunately, US trials place a huge emphasis on the bold flush though and even if the rest of the work is outstanding, most judges won’t place a dog w/ a soft flush.

I’m convinced that my approach of conditioning him to “earn” his retrieve by sitting has caused him to try to shortcut the task by sitting too soon. I’ve been using clipped birds lately with mixed results. Last week I took along my retired golden and as the springer made the scent, I released the old dog to try to use jealousy to encourage him to charge in harder. This seems to work but I’d sure appreciate any other ideas you guys might have.


Best Regards,

Dave Flint




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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 6:24 pm 
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Hi,

Got to love them Springers, I have 5 of them. :lol:

Generally speaking, when a Springer softens it's flush, it's because the trainer got too hard on the dog during steadying. But that doesn't seem to be the case here.

What I think may be happening here is: The dog knows he must be steady to get his reward, (the retrieve), and you are using pigeons for training. They don't run and if planted "hard" or are young, or otherwise not strong fliers, they will not flush well. He may well be waiting on the bird to fly. And if he sees a lot of this, it becomes a habit.

I would try get him either some chukkars or pheasants IF you can find some strong birds. That can be tough this time of the year. He needs to be "challenged" by birds that will move on him. This is why he did well on wild birds, they don't hold. They will either flush or run. And if they run, he needs to push them hard enough to make them fly. There by giving you that dynamic, explosive flush we are looking for.

dalee

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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 7:16 pm 
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Joined: Sat Dec 17, 2005 1:51 pm
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Location: Berea, Kentucky
Good post Dalee.....also, the wild caught pigeons will respond alot stronger, they dont take people pressure, or dog pressure......the bad thing on the pen raised game birds right now, is the flight cond, most wont, or wont do it with excitement. As time goes on, alot of times, you can put pen quail, in the timber, and they will be really ancy.....usually tend to get dogs to blow a gasket :wink: That might be someting to put in your bag a tricks. thanks Jonesy


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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Fri May 01, 2009 4:32 am 
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Dave, am I wrong, or do you live smack in the middle of some top spaniel pros? What do they advise? I would bet it involves what you went against in the beginnining--their tack usually is leading the dog to believe it can/should catch every bird it flushes. You'll know that's how the bold flush gets best engendered (as opposed to British dogs doing whatever they can with all four feet firmly planted on the ground just to get a bird up--catching or pegging being a disqualifying fault over there).

To get this back for your dog I'm betting you've got to "embolden" the flush--and flushing attitude. You've trained the dog your way insofar as steadying, and it went well till recently and in hunt tests as you noted. How have you fared in field trials? Was the dog showing promise (or placements) in that arena? Will you consider doing it the pros' way and essentially go back to square one if it seems the only chance of recovering that boldness of flush?

I think that the dog's "reading" planted birds and at the same time processing what gets it the reward (the retrieve). I've had a Boykin that on wild birds is buzzsaw on flushing. But with hand-planted birds she's hesitant because the only hand-planted birds she usually gets are thrown marks--dead birds--as she's been trained as a nonslip retriever. They are pretty savvy on artifice. Not just spaniels, or retrievers, but for pointing dogs, these birds can induce flagging. The only time I've known the hesitation flush or even blinking a bird to occur with a springer, heavy-handedness (with or without the e-collar) has been behind it as Dalee said. As Jonesy noted, pen raised birds can be problematic in the best of times, but when they don't fly, well, pegging it must be. And if your dog is bird-shy for whatever reason, that's a killer in competition.

Expounding on Jonesy's take, with quail, I've used a johnnyhouse (not having access to a rabbit pen) for steadying my spaniels when I ran them competitively. It was a combination of training alone and knowing that good flyers (and frequent flyers, as in multiple flushes with johnnyhouse birds) would move the dog right along with all the repetitions for hupping.

Good luck getting the dog back on form, and again, be interested to know what the pros' take on the situation is.

MG


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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Fri May 01, 2009 9:46 am 
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Thanks for the responses gentlemen. MG, I have consulted w/ a few pros on the subject but as you suggest, most of the time when they’ve had a problem w/ flushing it was caused by too much pressure in the steadying process. Ironically, this is what I intended to avoid w/ my use of the positive methods. The typical American approach is to build up momentum early on by letting the dog break initially and then tightening the screws until you’ve got the dog just on the edge of control. This creates that “ready, set, go” attitude that judges love but then again, sometimes when you run on the edge of control, you slip off that edge and get a break. This dog never breaks, and he’s had some very challenging “honors” in both training and trials.

The recommendations I’ve tried include using lots of clips, w/ some success. Planting dead birds, but this doesn’t seem to affect his flush on live birds and using another dog as competition. So far this appears to be most effective, but it remains to be seen if it transfers to a trial situation.

Recommendations I haven’t tried yet include the Johnny house quail, simply because I haven’t got the access at this time and the use of an ecollar to force a quicker pickup. I am very hesitant to use the ecollar for this purpose as I’m afraid it could easily backfire.

As far as field trials so far, he’s placed 3rd in an Open All-age and has finished 4 out of the 7 trials we’ve entered. It is only in his last trial where the cover was only ankle high grass and you could literally see the pheasant heads as they walked around the course that he first showed a tentative approach on one bird in each of the 1st two series (not called to the 3rd) and in his last hunt test w/ similarly poor cover when he had a chukar in the open that he nearly froze up.

As I mentioned in my OP, this dog has a unique personality for a springer . The more excitement around him the more “stoic” his attitude. He can walk in the gallery off-lead w/ no worry that he’ll interfere but when I cast him off, he just explodes! He’s runs hard, finds birds quickly and is a better retriever than my golden and some of the labs I’ve owned. I really love this dog. If I can’t improve his flush, I’ll still have the best hunting dog I’ve ever shot over but w/ his other talents, I’d really like to see him earn a FC or AFC.

I appreciate the advice.

Dave Flint


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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Fri May 01, 2009 1:24 pm 
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Hi,

For better or worse, in the trial game, that border-line out of control IS what gets placements.

Anyway, I'm curious as to what you mean by the statement, "The more excitement around him the more “stoic” his attitude." To me, and I admit I may be way off base here, it sounds as if the more excitement that happens around him, the more timid he becomes. I find that as a rule, Springers will tend to feed into the excitement and get more wound up rather than become more "calm".

The johnnyhouse sounds a lot like trying to bring your dog to the point of breaking. And perhaps that is needed here. In order to get that hard flush, the dog really needs to think it can catch the bird every time. Perhaps you may need to go back and allow your dog to become unsteady for a time. And then re-steady him when his drive for the flush is back.

dalee

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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Fri May 01, 2009 3:28 pm 
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Joined: Fri Dec 19, 2008 1:31 pm
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Dalee100 wrote:
Hi,

Anyway, I'm curious as to what you mean by the statement, "The more excitement around him the more “stoic” his attitude." To me, and I admit I may be way off base here, it sounds as if the more excitement that happens around him, the more timid he becomes. I find that as a rule, Springers will tend to feed into the excitement and get more wound up rather than become more "calm".

dalee



As I said, I’ve never seen a dog quite like this one before. I train w/ a spaniel club every Sat and he knows what to expect and although he remains in control, he’s obviously excited to get on w/ his turn. But I took him to train w/ a retriever club a few weeks ago. All new sights and sounds but he didn’t cower or seem intimidated in any way, he just sat very calmly and watched what was going on. A friend of mine made a comment about it because it is quite unusual.

When it’s his turn to hunt or retrieve he just takes off like a rocket. Even when he slows down on a tight sitting bird, when it flushes he often comes off the ground after it.

I don’t read him as being intimidated at all, just “a thinker”.

As far as going back to zero, I actually had to do that w/ the first springer I owned. I had only trained retrievers and I put too much pressure on her. She shut down on me and I realized what I’d done and did just as you suggested. It worked great on her and I learned a valuable lesson about the differences between Labs and spaniels. I mentioned this to one of the pros I’ve talked to but he said he doesn’t think that will work in this case. He said, “I don’t think you can get him to break w/ his attitude”.

I also corresponded w/ a well known proponent of the “positive training” school of thought. She acknowledged that I have stumbled into the same pitfall she’s seen using this approach on Labs she trains for NAHRA tests. That is, the more they want the bird, the quicker they sit trying to make it happen.


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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Fri May 01, 2009 3:58 pm 
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Dave, so you're running NAHRA with him?--that's great. Should also be "educational" for a spaniel handler, especially one aspect of their tests. That's the steady to flush. "Steady to flush" but not actually flushing.

You probably already know where I'm going with this. The dogs quarter--well, the spaniels do; Labs aren't exactly wizards at sweeping a field--and when the dogs are about 10-15 yards away from it, a bird's put up with a launcher. The handler blows the whistle to hup the dog. If it's a spaniel, it will probably hup while watching the bird.

The educational part is seeing how the Labs, the best marking gundogs of all, behave at the sound of the whistle--ordinarily when they hear it afield, they spin around and await a cast from the handler. And that's what most of them do at NAHRA's steady to flush. So these marking dogs often don't get a mark on the bird falling until the last-second. A counterintuitive exercise for them, really, but it's all good when it comes to tests and trials. So enjoy NAHRA and whether he stays in spaniel FTs or not, I bet your ESS will running for the MHR title in no time.

MG


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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Fri May 01, 2009 4:35 pm 
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crackerd wrote:
Dave, so you're running NAHRA with him?

MG



I wish. We don’t have any NAHRA clubs in TX although I’ve supported the organization because I like what they stand for. I have run labs, goldens, and a springer in UKC retriever tests though. The springer earned an HR title.

I would have loved to have had a format to test my old golden retriever in flushing work. He was only an average retriever (HR & SH) because he couldn’t reliably remember 3 birds. He has a nose though that rivals the best springers. I let him train w/ the spaniels at club training days and he can hold his own w/ the best of them- different of course but effective non the less. (If I can get the springer to flush as nicely as the golden, you'll hear about it :wink: )

I’m actually running my springer in a UKC test in a couple weeks. He’ll be running in Seasoned although he could pass “some” finished tests I’ve seen. Not surprisingly, I’m least confident on a difficult water blind.

Over the years, I’ve alternated between getting a retriever and a spaniel. I train my retrievers to hunt upland and my springers to retrieve non-slip style. I’m not really into duck hunting w/ my springer but I would in a pinch. I often use them for dove hunting though and to some extent I think they are better suited than the bigger dogs.

I enjoy both venues and am amused by the “cultural” differences between the two groups. Spaniel training is much more fun to me since I love to gun over the dogs but the retriever games are a good challenge.

Regards,

Dave


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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2009 7:39 pm 
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Location: Mt. Home AFB, ID.
We use a drill in my club that we call "shooting the box". We get on open ground, set up the gunners in a triangle, and put a guy in the middle with the birds to be "flushed". You need to have VERY SAFE and DISCIPLINED gunners for this drill. Hup the dog outside the triangle about 30 yards away and have the guy in the middle plant a bird in plain sight. When the bird gains his senses after dizzying and planting, release the dog who should immediately charge through the bird. If you are working with a steady dog, he should hup to the flush. If he does, the gunner with a safe shot takes the bird. If the dog remains steady to the shot and the fall, give him the retrieve. If the dog is not steady on the flush, don't shoot the bird. If he isn't steady on the shot or fall, have the gunners attempt to intercept him before he gets the retrieve. Either way, when he sees the bird planted, he should charge through the bird. I have seen one guy in my club run this drill to steady his dog and he did it nine times in a row with roosters before he ever had the gunners shoot one. $$$

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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Mon May 11, 2009 10:48 pm 
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Dave:

Those thinking dogs can be a problem. Did you check with the breeder as to whether this existed in either of the parents or whether this showed up in any of the other offspring? The steadying process you described is probably the source of some of the problems here. The key is train the dog to hup after he flushes a bird or immediately after he sees a bird is airborn. Training him to hup on a shot first before he sees a bird seems to be in the wrong order. Also, I would not use pigeons as they tend to flush when dogs get close to them. With what you have described, this type of bird would encourage him to slow up when he senses he close to the bird, expecting the bird to flush. I agree with others that you should be using pheasants. They'll run or flush only when the dog's on top of them. Either way, it will encourage him to work for the bird. The fact that he slows up when he sees the bird is interesting. I would normally expect a dog to accelerate if he sees a bird. Again, this probably gets back to the steadying process. If you're rolling birds in, I would switch to planting birds instead. He may be anticipating the bird to flush knowing that someone just threw a bird in the area. Even if he hasn't seen the bird rolled in, many times people give queues that tip off the dog as to what is going on. If you plant the field, he won't know where the birds are until he smells them. Planting birds will also encourage him to run bigger. As you found out, using clip wings don't always work. He's still a young dog, and some of this may get better as he matures more. There is a technique used by some pros of using an e-collar to enhance a dog's flush. It involves training a dog to relieve pressure by quickly flushing a bird. You might want to consult a pro rather than trying this on your own.

Good luck


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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Mon Dec 10, 2012 8:26 am 
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I know this is an old post but I was wondering if the OP found anything that worked for the soft flush. My spaniel was trained to be steady by just letting her chase until she finally started to see futility in it. She is very steady I can't tell you the last time she broke. She is also trained as a non-slip retriever. I have noticed on grouse she has a strong flush, but on chucker and pheasant she tries to locate or even see the bird before she moves in. For her it is not an attempt to flush but catch the bird. This has become a habit for her over time and I am looking for ways to change her mind. I am going to use another dog to see if it will help. I may even attempt to beat her to the flush and then retrieve the bird myself. Now if she sees a running bird her flush is strong again because she has been successful at running down chucker and pheasant. I did an HRC upland a couple years ago and she caught 2 chucker in a row so they placed the birds in a wire silo she caught 4 or 5 out of the silo. Finally she got a good runner and ran it out 40 yards down the two track before it flushed she sat to the flush too far for a shot but we got credit for it anyway. At her spaniel master title run she trapped 6 pheasant in a row. They were not bad birds just planted to hard. They finally just tossed one on the ground and she had to chase after it to get it to flush. I have to add there are times on grouse that she is fast enough to get a mouth full of tail feathers before they flush. Infect this past week one bird all we brought home was tail feathers I missed the shot so somewhere out there is grouse with no tail feathers. I would really like to get her flush bolder. Clipped pigeons make it worse. She won’t flush wildly she tries to locate the bird before she dives in.

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 Post subject: Re: Soft Flush
PostPosted: Fri Dec 14, 2012 7:16 am 
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My last springer would do that. I solved the "problem" by not doing hunt tests! IMHO, the brits have it right on this one. A flushing dog that pauses on the flush when the bird is sitting tight is a big plus when hunting. When my dog would find a tight sitting bird he'd pause and I could actually hup him and then walk in and flush the bird just as if he was a pointing dog. So what's wrong with that? It's the best of both worlds! I only ever ran him in one hunt test and he made a Master Hunter qualifying score even though he paused on the flush but the soft flush was just too much of a handicap for me to run more tests AND I was not willing to "cure him of his problem" because it was just too useful.
That being said, if I was going to try to address the issue, when he first starts to slow up on a bird, I'd try giving him his retrieve release command to encourage him to dive in and then give the hup command after the bird takes flight. Worth a try.....good luck with your pup!




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