I grew up hunting birds in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Arizona. During that time, I had the good fortune to have finished bird dogs offered to me due to the owner’s advancing age or lost interest in hunting. I was grateful for that opportunity, a shame for them but very fortunate for me. All of them were experienced dogs and no training needed on my part. I enjoyed hunting with them but many years have passed as have those fine dogs.
As I am now retired, I have the time and desire to go bird hunting again. I mentioned to my wife that I fondly remember how great it was to hunt over a good dog. Actually, that conversation was the start of something really great! Fast forward, I am currently the proud owner of a Braque Du Bourbonnais puppy. I have my bird dog now but he is just a little fellow. This happy little puppy was a long way from a finished bird dog. I soon asked myself. “What do I do now and what did I get myself into???” Let the games begin…
My breeder got me off to a great start with puppy training and I joined the local NAVHDA chapter for more training ideas and fieldwork. They also held a snake avoidance clinic at Blankenburg Kennel, in which Nico and I participated. It was very interesting to watch the process with each dog. Gene worked with each dog in a quiet and kind manner to get the point across to the dog that snakes are BAD. When dogs had completed the training, he took the time to explain what was done and how their dog handled the experience.
Nico and I continued to train every month with NAVHDA that met monthly in various locations and we had some great training experiences. I was eager to learn and to train my dog to be the best he could be and knew that if I were going to have the hunting companion I dreamed of I would need to train more frequently than one weekend a month. I tried to continue training Nico with what I had learned but I felt that training was veering off course somehow. With each session, I found I was getting more frustrated with the lack of results. Nico was not working for me as he had previously and I could not understand why. I had heard often, ‘Most people ruin the first dog they try to train.’ Was that going to happen to Nico if I kept going? I was absolutely determined NOT do that to this dog.
Recalling my earlier experience with Gene at Blankenburg Kennels I called to talk about Nico and me. He invited us to come so he could evaluate Nico and me. Shortly after we arrived, he asked me what my expectations were for my dog. I said my goal was to train Nico to be a great bird dog and learn about working with my pup so we could be a better team. We went out to the field where Gene had placed some birds. He then asked me to work Nico in the field while he observed. I know now he was watching ME as well. The good news at the end of that exercise was that I had a smart dog and I had not ruined him, yet. Gene recommended that we start right from the beginning of training so we could reinforce what the dog should know. The not so good news was that I was sending mixed signals to my dog, I talked too much and I realized I had a LOT to learn. However, good news again, I felt I was surely in the right place to fix all that.
After that short session in the field, Gene formulated a plan to help us both. I was excited to begin and asked if I could tag along to watch while Gene trained. Gene feels very strongly that you should be there so you and your dog learn together, “How else can you learn to become a team?” I camped in Prescott and trained every day for a week at his kennel. We agreed that we would start with working one week with Gene and go home for one week to practice what we learned. I would travel back up to demonstrate our progress. If he found that I needed to stay and train another week, I did so. Nico quickly picked up what Gene was asking him to do. He would work Nico while I tagged along listening and asking questions. Then Gene would pass Nico to me to try the same task….correcting me when I veered off the path. Our daily lessons were focused and effective, we always quit on a good note.
It soon became clear that a big part of our teamwork issue was my not being clear in conveying to Nico what I wanted and I talked more than was needed. I found that Gene uses his body position to cue Nico and rarely needs to speak to him. This encourages Nico to watch his handler and become a ‘self thinking’ dog. Therefore, MY lessons were longer than Nico’s but I was learning how I could improve. Gene helped me by explaining how my dog thinks and responds to what I was doing (or not doing, or doing too much of, like talking). We traveled back and forth a few weeks and I soon ‘graduated’ to working on our own. I go up to Genes’ to work every week to check our progress and learn our next assignment. As Nico and I train, I can hear Gene saying, “Simple, keep it simple”. That is a fundamental principle and it really works. This principle is easier said than to do for me but the results are obvious when I watch my dog working a bird. The effort is worth the results. Dogs are simple creatures; we humans tend to make things more complicated than necessary.
After training with Gene, I realized I previously had been working too long after I got the results I wanted, therefore trying to reinforce the good results. Gene says this is frustrating to a dog who is trying to do what the handler is asking. Why would you ask the dog to keep repeating perfection again and again? AH HA! That made a lot of sense. When your dog does it right, you quit and praise your dog. Gene’s vast experience has helped me with handling and working with my dog. I am steadily improving my handling abilities with practice and Gene’s guidance. Nico looks to me for guidance and I try to keep up with that smart dog and keep quiet. I can now see that Nico is becoming that self-thinking dog. He knows what is expected of him and now I know what is expected of me as well.
When I go out of town, I do not hesitate to make the drive to Blankenburg Kennels to board and train Nico. While I could board him in Phoenix at about the same cost, I know Nico gets loving, excellent care from Ute and Gene with the awesome benefit of getting some training in while there. It made no sense to let him lay in a kennel in Phoenix when he can spend the time with ‘Professor’ Gene and Ute. Ute said she thought she would never see that day when I would leave ‘The Baby’ with them. We laughed at that when I dropped Nico off for a weekend. I know that he is safe there; Ute truly loves all the dogs and gives great care to them all. We believe Blankenburg Kennels is a great place for your dog to stay while you are away and train while he is there.
I would highly recommend Gene and Ute for all your training needs and care without reservation.
With Gene’s help, we recently completed Nico’s NAVHDA Natural Ability test with a Prize 1.
John Schaffer and Nico