Retriever Training - Blinking Birds - How to Avoid Itby Amy Dahl, Ph.D.
Amy Dahl is also the co-author, with her husband, John, of Retriever Troubleshooting - Strategies & Solutions to Retriever Training Problems.
BLINKING, OR DELIBERATELY avoiding downed game, is a fault that renders retrievers useless. If your prospect did not show adequate bird interest when you embarked upon his retriever training, you probably would have sought another dog. We assume, then, that the problem was created.
What can you do to a dog that will prevent him from wanting the bird? Lots of things. Let's begin with force-fetching. If your dog is a particularly tough assignment at this stage, you might introduce birds too soon. We try to prevent souring during force-fetching, especially where birds are concerned. For this reason we force-fetch on objects other than birds, such as dog training dummies or wooden dowels. Done correctly, of course, force-fetch training will increase enthusiasm for whatever objects you are using.
Premature exposure to hunting conditions can also cause blinking. Suppose you knock down a cripple and your dog takes a beating from the wings of a strong goose or a scratch from the spurs of a cock pheasant, causing lasting fear. The need to introduce your youngster to live birds in training is obvious.
During her retriever training, FC Oakhill Exponent frequently made retrieves through live game, mostly geese, on some training ponds. As a result, birdy as she was, she ignored shackled ducks when first introduced to them. She must have thought they were local wild birds not to be retrieved. A little work with shackled ducks solved the problem and she quickly learned to pick up crippled ducks in hunting and field-trial situations.
Some of the things we must teach our retrievers for competition may cause blinking. The "poisoned bird" test is an example. If this test is taught incorrectly, that is, if direct collar pres- sure is used to discourage the dog from picking up the "poison" bird, blinking may result. A foundation in handling should be adequate to ensure successful handling away from a tempting bird before this test is introduced. If your dog's handling is hazy, and he is in the act of picking up the poison bird when you nick him with the dog training collar, you may break him not only from picking up that bird, but also others. FC Banjo XXXVI was so susceptible to this kind of training that a mere command of "No" before sending her past a poison bird would cause her not only to avoid the bird on the initial send, but also to blink it when sent to pick it up. We never solved the problem, but we were guaranteed that she wouldn't pick up the poison bird if we said "No bird."
Some field-trial judges have carried poison birds and associated tests to unreasonable extremes. We have seen pheasants placed directly on line to a blind retrieve. Another test that bears mention consists of a shot bird as part of a multiple mark. The shot bird is picked up by the gunners while the contestant retrieves another. You are then required to send your dog for the picked up bird, allow him to establish a hunt, and then on the judges' OK, handle your dog to a blind in another area. We think it is unnecessary to confront dogs in field trials or hunt tests with such confusion, and we are sure that if we train on such stuff we can create blinking.
Excessive heat and grinding on marking tests can cause blinking. Frequently a dog who has encountered too much failure in marking will appear to give up, showing little interest in finding game. Dogs in this state are apt to take another unwanted step by intentionally steering clear of the fall.