Back in July, we enjoyed our annual holiday to the Northumberland coast… accompanied by several young cockers! There’s not enough room for us to take more than six, so each year there is a selection process, judged by which dogs will benefit the most from a week on the beach and a splash in the sea. Orange roan cocker Seren blotted her copybook last year when she swam out to sea in pursuit of a seagull that was perched on a rock just poking out of the water. Her kennel mates had also spotted the bird, but all chose the right response (from my point of view) to my whistle and all turned around mid-swim. Seren on the other hand popped her headphones in and pushed on some 100 yards out to sea… reaching ever nearer the squatted gull.
“Never mind,” I said to my wife as we stood watching, back on the sand, “she’ll soon realise seagulls aren’t catchable and give up the chase”. This particular gull seemed to be playing a cool game of chicken as it allowed Seren to get closer without so much as an upright stance, readying for take-off. “Stupid dog,” I muttered, “she’ll learn”. She was now only a few metres away from the gull, which simply turned its back on Seren and sat tight! What proceeded took us all by surprise and was indeed the most proficient ‘take’ of a seagull from water... similar to that of a great white shark! One efficient grab, and she was on her way back with it! This was a worry, and I was keen to understand why the gull had not flown away. Seren came back to shore and trotted up the beach, proudly eyeing over to the rest of the pack who were sat watching (but hopefully not learning by example). With the bird in my hand and under inspection, it was apparent that the poor gull was far from well; it was incredibly emaciated and extremely weak. Whatever the cause of its plight, it was obvious the ailment would ultimately have claimed its life in the coming days if not hours.
Unfortunately for me, Seren subsequently decided that all gulls are, in fact, totally catchable – thus popping her bottom of the Northumberland selection list, and ending her trips to the beach for the foreseeable future! It was an unfortunate incident – but something I frequently state to clients is that when something means so much to a dog and is of real significant value, it only needs one lesson or in this case, one rewarding catch, for it to sink in! And if you want proof – try and remember the first time your spaniel found and chased something, because I bet when you took it back there the next day or even a week later, it remembered exactly where it flushed it from and it made a beeline for the same spot.
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