Training eendenkooi work

In my last post about designing and building a training eenenkooi (Building a practice eendenkooi) – my “feendenkooi” – I briefly touched on how I have been training the dogs to toll. I wanted to expand upon the training process in a separate post.

Briefly, the behavior ideally looks like this: the handler/boss stands on the outside, pond-end of the first screen, and sends the dog around screens by pointing to the relevant screen with the hand giving the command. The dogs are always moving away from the handler on the water-side of the screen, and in every case they are turning to the outside through the opening at the end of every screen. They bend around the end of the screen and proceed far enough to be shielded from duck-view by the screen, and then stop. There the dog waits for further commands, since at this point there are four options:

  • Stop and stay there. This could be employed if the ducks are nervous, the handler needs to reposition to get a better view of the ducks, or even if the ducks are near but have not moved significantly.
  • Go around the same screen again – used primarily if the ducks are still pretty far behind the dog, and possibly even if they have not yet seen/been intrigued by the dog’s movement.
  • Go around the next screen – used if the ducks are progressing along the pijp behind the dog.
  • Return to the handler (especially in training, to collect treats!)

Duck hunting on an eendenkooi is a silent affair. Not only do you want the ducks actively in the pijp to be relaxed (to avoid startling and going back to the pond, or flushing too early), there are very likely still groups of ducks on the main pond, and you need them to stick around to catch another day. (This also explains why guns aren’t used near an eendenkooi!) All this means that verbal commands must be extinguished and only hand signals employed to control the dog on the eendenkooi. In fact,  it may be best to never use a verbal command at all. However, I find them helpful in training, as well as the use of the clicker.

We began using the training instructions in the VHNK’s Vriendenboek and reproduced in The Big Kooikerhondje Book. These instructions were the basics of teaching a dog to go around anything, such as herding dogs learn. I began by placing various large objects in the middle of the room and sending them around counter-clockwise using both the verbal cue “Wijd” and a “hook-em horns” hand signal. Gradually I made the objects larger and longer, or separated them and connected them with sheets of cardboard. We then re-started training with the clockwise direction using a different hand signal and the opposite hand for clarity. Unfortunately this was where the written instructions I could find ended, so I invented every training step after this.

It was an easy transition from going around chairs inside to the screens outside. The next challenge I faced was the dogs turning around – they would go the wrong way along the water, moving towards the pond-end. This I solved by using duck decoys and training them to never look at/approach the ducks from the front, which I detailed in the previous post.

To get the dogs to stop once they’ve bent around the screen end, the command is simply a flat hand. I trained the stop by placing a pole on the ground at the point which I wanted them to stop and look. Notice at the stop, continued attention is required – it is not a “stop and relax” point.

I then point, using the command-hand, at the next screen I want them to work. A point directly over the dog means “turn around and proceed around the next screen” and a point across the body towards the last screen tells the dog to repeat the same screen again.

While in a real eendenkooi I expect it’s unlikely the dog needs to return to the handler often, I specifically trained this as I realized from the four options I could give them once they stop, only one of them immediately yielded treats, and the others delayed treats. To be sure this didn’t lessen their desire to train and work, I added in a hand signal of the left hand dropping to the side, palm out, as a recall. Initially in training, this command has to be given quite often, but as training progresses and their confidence increases, multiple screens can be worked before a recall + jackpot.

If I were working a real eendenkooi, I would additionally train a dog to emerge from the screen next to the duck trap at the end, and stand there to hold the ducks there while I went around to close the trap. When the ducks flush with the appearance of the hunter behind them, they hit the netting at the top, and fall into a holding area of sorts. This is a narrowing funnel covered with slightly-loose wires spaced every six inches or so. The wires allow the ducks to fall through, but prevent them jumping back up and out. However, given enough time to right themselves and put their mind to escaping, the ducks can easily hop out between the wires and fly back down the pijp towards the pond. Thus I would employ the dog to frighten the ducks enough to keep them from clearly thinking about escape, as well as to drive them into the removable trap (kooi), which separated from the holding area by a guillotine-style door, which the hunter closes once the ducks are inside. However, I am not sure how to train this without using real ducks, and thus do not include it as part of our feendenkooi training. It’s a fun training experiment to share regardless!