Duchess, Part 1: Learning a New Language

I feel like I have so much to say and to share, so I decided it would be best to split it up into a two-part post. I have been [im]patiently waiting for over a month to introduce the newest member of our family.

Meet Duchess, our beautiful Irish Setter.

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We got Duchess while we still had Mia’s puppies, so I decided I would wait to introduce her to my blogging community until after I was finished posting updates and pictures of the puppies. Getting a new puppy while having a litter of puppies at home certainly wouldn’t have been my first preference, but that’s just how it worked out. I had been looking for an Irish Setter puppy for a few months, but I was having trouble finding exactly what I wanted. When I found Duchess, I was thrilled; and I decided I could take on the extra work and chaos for a few weeks.

She was already 15 weeks old when we got her, so I feel as if we missed out on most of her puppy stage. Getting her when she was already four months old definitely made training more challenging, but she has made a lot progress.

The biggest challenge, though, was simply learning to work with a different breed. Irish Setters are very different from Goldendoodles! I knew this fact before we got her, but I was amazed by how much differently I needed to train and work with Duchess than I did with Mia. (The first few weeks of having Duchess made me extremely grateful for Mia! I realized how obedient and well-behaved she is!)

Irish Setters have an incredibly intense energy level, both physically and mentally. This means a thirty minute walk or romp in the yard is NOT enough. Not only do they need physical exercise, but they need to have their minds exercised and challenged as well. These dogs were bred to hunt birds, and that hunting instinct is strongly evident. Training can be challenging, because they are so easily distracted by sights and smells. When they are “in the zone” sniffing, digging, or chasing, NOTHING will stop them. They tend to be very stubborn and determined. (Those are both good and necessary characteristics of a hunting dog, but it needs to be effectively channeled and controlled.)

Yet, Irish Setters have one of the sweetest personalities I have ever seen. Their exuberant joy and affectionate nature make their stubbornness forgivable. Duchess is my big, cuddly lap dog. She loves to snuggle and bury her face in my lap. She is clownish and joyful in everything she does.

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I have firmly decided I will take good temperament over trainability any day. Irish Setters have virtually no guarding instinct, making them highly unlikely to ever show aggression. She loves new people, dogs, and children. She is not protective of her food or toys. She is simply a happy and friendly dog. Her only fault is her energy and roughness in regards to children. She loves little people, but she will often accidentally knock them over.

I have had to make quite a few adjustments in my training techniques to suit Duchess’s needs. Mia was very easy to train and responded very quickly to any negative punishment, such as tone of voice or a smack on the nose. Once she learned that a certain behavior made me unhappy, she simply wouldn’t do it. When she learned that a behavior made me happy, she did her best to repeat it in order to receive the positive affirmation. Her eagerness to please and her easy going personality made training a breeze.

Negative reinforcement, however, has little to no effect on Duchess. For example, if she is in the garden digging or sniffing, no amount of shouting will convince her to stop. Even forcibly dragging her out of the garden doesn’t work. She will literally run directly back to what she was doing. Instead, I have learned I need to catch her before she starts doing something bad. If I can stop her before she starts and call her over to me, she learns that listening to the warning tone in my voice results in treats and praise. Positive reinforcement is the best training technique for any breed of dog, and it is the only training technique for some dogs like Duchess.

I am very grateful that we have a large yard. With an acre of yard that is already set up with an underground fence, Duchess and Mia have a large area in which they can run free. When they are outside together, they run and run and run. It’s great exercise for both of them! It’s also a necessity for Duchess to have that open space to run off her energy every day. When she has had enough exercise, she is much easier to work with; and her behavior improves by leaps and bounds.

We have also made time to take Duchess and Mia on several hikes recently. We have had a beautiful fall this year! Autumn is pretty every year, but I feel like this year it has been especially stunning with the vibrant colors and warmer than usual weather. Hiking through the woods with my husband and my dogs is one of my favorite things to do. I love spending time with my husband, with my dogs, and in God’s amazing creation. I love being able to do all three of those things at once!

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Here are my dogs doing what they do best- playing chase!

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There is nothing quite like the beautiful colors of fall. God surely knows how to amaze us with His awesome displays of beauty in creation!

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Check back tomorrow to read about Duchess’s first hunt!

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