October 30th, 2012 by Gun Dogs Unlimited admin
Mike Stewart Of Wildrose Kennels Presents:
Successful athletic coaches know the value of instilling basic fundamental skills in players to the point of reaction. When the pressure is on game day, plays are executed with predisposed precision. If not, coaches have established fundamentals to return to at Monday’s practice to regain structure, timing and execution. They revisit the fundamentals of the game.
The same correlation can be true of any good hunting retriever-training process: establish the fundamentals in all core areas vital to an effective retriever and drill them to the point of consistent habit formation. To do so serves the handler as it does the coach. The retriever responds in a pre-prescribed manner and the trainer has a basis to revisit should performance in the field on Saturday’s shoot wanes.
Throwing lots of marks, running repetitive patterns and concepts alone will not develop superb shooting dogs. Greatness among gundogs must include qualities that promo te reliability under all conditions. There are, of course, several factors that impact this objective, but one of importance is the establishment of strong fundamentals in all core skills vital to retriever performance.
We have previously established core skills of a retriever:
The trainer must decide what are the fundamental elements of each and train for total success in each area before progressing to another level. The two most prevalent problems I encounter among handlers are
(1) Unrealistic expectations—expecting too much too quickly from their young dogs.
(2) Not appreciating the value of well-established fundamental skills in their dogs.
Novice trainers commonly don’t invest enough time on the basics. It’s redundant and boring work while the anticipation of marks, patterns, gunfire, and water entry allures them. They don’t establish habit formation in fundamental areas prior to advancing to field exercises or, even worse, to the hunt.
One must not leave an area of training until the pup has successfully mastered all fundamental elements of that particular skill, no matter how long it takes. As with children, some pups develop at a faster pace than others. Aptitude, maturity, temperament, natural ability, and the handler/trainer’s ability play a major role in progression. Train the fundamental element of each core skill progressively and slowly compounded success to form the learning chain.
The fundamentals associated with an obedient, controllable retriever rest in four basic skills. These skills are the cornerstones for all future training. One cannot short cut or “speed train” these skills and expect to have a reliable gundog. They are heel, sit, stay and here.
Is the pup ready to begin a formal, basic training program? Age has less to do with it than temperament and maturity. Does the puppy tie well? Will the pup come when called? Does he know his name? Can the pup remain “focused” for short durations? And finally, do you have the time at this point to continue the training on a consistent basis to provide 3 to 4 short lessons per week?
Teaching heel begins with tying and culminates months later with off lead heeling without any verbal commands. Good heel work requires polish throughout the dog’s life just as all fundamental skills do. A dog should walk, swim and jog by your chosen leg, parallel at his shoulder—not ahead or behind. Your objective is that the dog will remain in a constant position on or off lead, sitting at your side, going over obstacles, running beside an ATV, walking through thick cover, swimming at heel as you cross deep water, etc. As a side note, never walk around obstacles or cover. Walk the pup through or over it. Don’t condition an avoidance of obstacles during heel lessons.
I am not a fan of teaching heeling on both sides of the handler. I prefer that the pup know his “place” and feel totally comfortable there. This is invaluable on the hunt walking rough terrain, not having to worry about the position of your dog.
Work pups on left/right turns using figure eights and 90 degree angle squares. Abrupt turns keep the pup focused on your movements. No ground sniffing. Correct the pup with firm bumps on the lead. Teach the dog to immediately sit when you stop without any commands or cues.
Most of a duck dog’s life in the field is spent sitting patiently, often with distractions and temptations about. Sitting attentively is a prerequisite to steadiness, marking, and handling, so get it right. You may recall, you should cast or send a dog from the sit position, never from stay. You may begin the sit command in early stages of pup conditioning. Now you will expect compliance with one verbal command, “sit.” Use the hand and peep on the whistle as well. Quickly substitute the whistle for the verbal command. Drills include:
1.Sit on the whistle at heel.
2.Sit on recall.
3.Sit when bumper is thrown while walking.
4.Sit as you throw dummies and pick them up yourself.
5.Sit on bird flush and gunfire.
6.Sit with distractions.(other dogs working, farm animals about, presence of live birds and ducks swimming by, etc.)
-Should your pup move from sit or stay, make the appropriate scolding and quickly replace him in the exact spot he vacated, even if it’s 100 yards away.
-Condition the young dog to sit quietly from long periods beside you without movement and to sit alone when you are out of sight. If the pup cannot do both of these drills for up to 20 minutes, then he is not ready for the field.
-Never call a dog off stay! Always return and heel the dog away. Do not allow others to
pet your dog or interfere with your dog at remote stay. The dog must remain still and quiet. No creeping, whining, or barking. Drill patience.
A quick response to the recall whistle is an impressive control factor and of great value for both upland game waterfowl dogs. The pup
first learns the “here” command and associates the triple whistle as the recall command readily.
Start short and work young pups out to 100 yards plus on recall drills. Put them at sit, walk out with one eye still on the dog, recall them to heel. Do the same repeatedly while extending the distance but do not always recall. Don’t allow the pup to anticipate your intentions. Often turn, pause, then resume your walk out or circle. Even walk all the way back for the pup. If you encounter trouble, shorten the drill or use a check cord until you get the desired response.
Practice recall drills in various locations, woodlands, across ditches, across water, under fences, through cover where you can’t be seen (hedges), and to exit water. Totally condition your dog to immediately respond to your recall whistle. Add sit/stop on the whistle, occasionally on the recall as well. When reliable, add diversions. As the pup approaches, throw bumpers, fire shots, have pre-planted birds visible and add flushing birds. Have the pup pass other dogs sitting in line. I even use tame rabbits sitting in the field. This is one fundamental area in when few invest adequate time.
Once formal, basic obedience training begins, all free running and unsupervised playing must cease. Pups can’t be out of control most of the time and be expected to be reliable performers in training or in the field.
There is no greater pleasure on a hunt than a dog well under control and no grander torment than a beast out of control. Your hunting companion’s manners, dependability and patience begin with the fundamentals of obedience. Go slow and build progressively.
It is my opinion that there are two main objectives for the early stages for any good retriever-training program.
1. Develop the pup’s natural ability.
2. Apply controls.
The latter is achieved by drilling the fundamentals. Invest the time early in all aspects and you will find you will need less unnatural force methods for control later in your training and in the field next season.
“There is no faith which has never yet been broken, except that of a truly faithful dog” -Konrad Z. Lorenz