My 12-year-old dog Sassy is a good example. Sassy, a Brittany, has great bird instincts, ranges well in the woods, has beautiful hunting patterns and in her younger years, showed true promise when we competed in pointing dog field trials — hunting dog competitions in which dogs’ skills and training are assessed, and placements and points toward titles are awarded to the best performing dogs.
Judges loved her.
But Sassy demonstrated very well the dark side of what it means to have a highly intelligent bird dog. She would start out well on the field trial course but soon would write her own map. Deciding she would rather do what she wanted to do instead of heeding my voice and whistle commands, she would broaden her range until I could no longer hear the bell on her collar. It seemed like she would be there one minute, then melt away into oblivion in the blink of an eye.
I would then spend the next few hours tromping through the woods, looking for her, getting angrier by the minute.
I may as well have saved my energy.
I quickly learned that I would find Sassy wherever there was water because as much as she loved hunting birds, she also was hooked on finding frogs. I would find her hunting along the banks of a stream or a little pond, and my anger would quickly turn into a smile and a head shake as I would watch her little tail waggle in pure joy as she looked for her amphibian quests.
Just a little misdirected prey drive. That’s all.
I tried different training methods to help Sassy learn to follow my script, but every time, she would humor me for a few minutes and then take off or simply melt into the trees. I could almost hear her giggle.
That got old really fast, so I backed off from the field events with her. It was not worth the knots in my stomach, nor did I want to use any harsh training methods. I didn’t want to break her spirit; I wanted a partnership with her.
In the meantime, I had enrolled Sassy in classes for other types of dog sports and finally signed her up for flyball.
As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle...
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