We got Nellie (an English Pointer) from the SSPCA just over two years ago. She was thought to be 4 – 5 years old when we first got her and her case is an interesting one. She was highly trained to flush out birds on the West Coast of Scotland when her owner and trainer suddenly died. She spent some 4 – 5 months in the care of the SSPCA while the will of her owner was sorted out and eventually she was re-homed with us. Initially, Nellie enjoyed her new home and her new friend “Mac” an 11-year-old Labrador. Being a pack and a working dog, Nellie soon asserted herself and climbed quickly to the top of the pack. Mac, being a really placid dog allowed this to happen and she quickly dominated everyone in the family.
Over a period of time, Nellie would wander further and further on long walks and became difficult to get back as she seemed so excited in finding and flushing out birds. Walking her was no longer a pleasure for us.
To make matters worse, a series of families of pheasants moved into fields adjacent to where we lived. Once Nellie had done her first “point” – she became “locked onto” her instinctive bird-finding mode and was off doing exactly what she had been trained to do. The only difference is that she now had owners who knew nothing about the commands she expected and therefore she just “did her own thing” moving the birds from field to field and would not return to us. On one occasion, this culminated in her crossing a main trunk road, thankfully without any disastrous consequences.
Enough was enough and we called in Mike who came into our home and spent some considerable time going through her history as far as we were able to so, given the circumstances.
Mike was able to give us sound, sensible advice for a working pack dog of this kind and told us that providing that we were persistent and consistent with the re-training programme, we should see results fairly quickly. The plain down-to-earth advice offered was put straight into practice and Nellie was clearly enjoying what she thought to be a working situation – obeying commands to a whistle rather than irate shouting, which achieved absolutely nothing.
Mike gave us a 4-strand strategy to change this unwanted behaviour – this consisted of the following:-
1). Fine-tuning our approach to Nellie (feeding, attention, re-training to return, use of a long line, playing, commands etc),
2). Retraining Nellie to return when called,
3). Control and
4). Providing a legitimate outlet for her instincts.
Training commenced right away and the results were almost instantaneous. Everyone in the family had to be consistent and persistent in their approach. It was clear that Nellie was enjoying the whistle commands and we suspect that she thought that she was working again. Once she did her first “point”, she was recalled by whistle and with the rewarding system and a LOT of praise. We bought her a “flashing collar” so that we always knew where she was – even in the dark. Soon she was able to go further and further afield off the long line and it was evident that she was responding very quickly to the retraining programme. We can now allow her to ”quarter” point and even flush birds and can now get her back on command.
Mac, the Labrador has also learnt a lot from Nellie’s retraining (even at age 13!) and will now obey the same basic commands when given to Nellie! Undoubtedly Nellie is a much happier dog and she also has much happier owners!