SO YOU DON’T WANT A FIELD TRIAL DOG…ARE YOU SURE?

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Craney Hill Kennel gets many telephone calls from people that are looking for a hunting dog. Many times, I am told that they do not want one of those field trial dogs. Considering this strong statement, I cannot help but start to question the person’s reasons for not wanting a field trial dog and the logic behind the reasons. The typical response is because the field trial dogs are to “hot” and difficult to control.

I find it amazing at how little this person must actually know about the field trial world. I really want to say “So that means you do not want a dog that hunts in range, does not chase missed birds and sits when the whistle is blown?” The truth is that the field trial community demands a level of control over their dogs that most people would crave. The reason that the general public has this impression is likely due to the limited exposure they have to “field trial washout” dogs. These dogs are eliminated from field trial competition for a multitude of reasons and most of those reasons will never be an issue to the average guy that hunts his dog.

Let me begin by highlighting some of the negative experiences someone can have when purchasing a “washout” dog. We need to eliminate the case of some professional trainer or field trial amateur being deceitful and dumping an untrained dog on some poor guy. I have no suggested cure for that situation.

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The most common negative issue is that the dog takes off and does not come back when it is called and does not listen around the house. From a dog training view, this is a dog being a dog. In this case, the dog is just trying to be the leader and the new owner needs to establish who is in charge. A few obedience sessions prior to going to the field should clean this up for the new owner.

Another negative issue is that the dog gets tired too quick. This is because the field trial is a relatively short event (spaniel trials) so that each dog can be looked at over the course of the weekend. Field trial dogs are typically trained on two or three birds each time and run in a field 100 to 200 yards long. This creates a sprinter. If switched to a hunting environment, most dogs will learn to run more of a typical hunting pace. If you give it time and work on it gradually, it will all work out.

All dogs need to be steady-to-wing-and-shot for the spaniel field trials. Many hunters are of the opinion that an unsteady dog gets to the crippled pheasant better and results in less lost birds. My experience has been the complete opposite. First, a dog that is steady is under much better control in ALL situations due to the level of training that is required to make a dog steady. This means that a steady dog listens to the whistle better, hunts in range better and is more obedient. Also, a dog that is steady marks the fall of the bird better than one that is chasing. As such, it gets to the exact fall quicker to start tracking as compared to the dog that needs to hunt to the fall because of a poor mark. Now I know many of you are disagreeing and I know you have seen unsteady dogs make great retrieves. I have as well. But if you really pay attention, watch how many times the dog did not actually go directly to the fall. If you are looking at it truthfully, you will see my point. As far as tracking the crippled bird, a dog can or cannot take moving birds. It has nothing to do with being steady or unsteady.

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This is a summary of negatives that I hear regarding field trial dogs. I hear the reasons, but I disagree with them. The reason that I think you SHOULD be concerned with getting a field trial dog is because of their lack of hunting exposure. Our spaniels all come from field trial genes…either our own or dogs we have purchased elsewhere. The pedigrees include many prominent names in the field trial community. However, we test our dogs in a real hunting environment on wild birds. We do participate in field trials; however, our focus is on creating quality hunting dogs, as the field trial should be a test of the “best” hunting dogs.

By participating in the field trials, it keeps our training standard at a top level. Sit means sit and here means here. By hunting the dogs on wild birds each year, we can keep our breeding stock producing proven bird-finders. So why do I think the bird-finding qualities are suspect with field trial dogs? I think most of the field trial dogs would be fantastic hunting dogs if they were raised and trained in the environment and methodology at Craney Hill Kennel. However, a field trial washout that is three or four years old has lost the opportunity to maximize its learning at a young age.

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Most field trial dogs do not get ANY pheasants until well over one year of age. All of our puppies hunt wild game prior to one year of age that includes any combination of pheasant, sharptail grouse, quail, ruffed grouse, blue grouse, spruce grouse and Hungarian partridge. After this exposure, I do not know if any of the puppies will make a good field trial prospect but I DO KNOW that they can go hunt and find birds. This is the priority at MY kennel. It is not, nor does it need to be the priority at EVERY kennel. Some kennels have specializing in the field trial games as the priority. We believe your dog should excel at both.

So what does this mean to you? If you want a well trained dog with strong genetics, a field trial dog is the best way to go. However, be careful to be sure that it will hunt the way you want it to. Many times, the seller shows the dog in the same field that it has always been trained in. Trust me; it will never look as good as it does there…my dogs included. If the owner/trainer runs the dog in one direction, ask to see it work in another direction or different cover. You are buying a trained dog so make sure the transmission works both forward and reverse.

Many years ago, a gentleman purchased a trained field trial dog and went to hunt wild birds in Iowa. The dog walked at his side the entire time. Of course the guy was upset. Through a number of sequences, he called to buy a dog from me and was certainly filled with reservations. Needless to say, he loved the dog he got from me. This does not mean that my dog was any better or worse. It means that our dogs are trained and exposed predominately to real life hunting situations and the field trial dogs are trained and exposed to predominately field trial situations.

Another time, I went to Kansas with some field trial people and their dogs. They had a miserable time. They could not handle their dogs when the cover was over their head. The dogs ran behind them a lot and really struggled to produce birds. Our spaniels and labs were also struggling to produce birds; however, they hunted much more aggressively, were less confused and handled the conditions much better. Again, our dogs were on their “home turf” so to speak and the other field trial dogs were not used to a bird running 400 to 600 meters.

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In summary, most field trial dogs will make a good hunting dog for you. Some will be better than others. To maximize your dollars spent, make sure you see the dog work in multiple covers, on multiple birds and in a situation that you think most closely resembles a hunting situation. Be sure you are comfortable with the owner/trainer and that they will stand by the health of the dog. Also be sure to get some help understanding the commands and how to handle the dog.

GUN DOG TRAINING 102

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Dogs Are Place-oriented

You should understand that a dog is a pack animal and that it is a creature of habit. With this understanding, you are better positioned to effectively train your canine friend. Now we move on to place-orientation and association.

Place-orientation simply means that your correction or praise must occur in close proximity to the event that took place.

I believe that praise is straightforward and self-explanatory. Most people do not suffer from providing enough praise for their dog. What generally happens is that the praise is not provided at the correct time and the power of association (discussed later) is lost.

When we discuss corrections, open your mind so that you can think of corrections in a very simple manner. It is true that there are varying degrees of correction; however, there are not as many as you may think. Initially, you need to realize that there are verbal, physical and electronic corrections.

Verbal corrections are words, whistles and tones. Essentially, think of verbal corrections as any correction made by you making a noise. We train our dogs to respond to a verbal command the first time that we say the command. If you watch people with dogs, you will see that they routinely will give the command more than once. This trains the dog that it does not have to comply. When the person says the command the second and third time, you will notice that the tone of the command and body posture of the owner change as well. This is why tone and physicality (body language) are also corrections and why we train for compliance the first time that we give a command.

It does not matter if you are for or against e-collar training as long as you are open-minded and willing to educate yourself regarding the proper use of an e-collar. Most people that are against e-collar training are uneducated on properly utilizing an e-collar and think that they are doing the dog a favor by not using it. It is not the tough dog that needs an e-collar; it is the soft dog that needs the e-collar.

The e-collar is only ONE training tool in a trainer’s arsenal. It is NOT a quicker way to train a dog. It is the trainer that makes mistakes USING the e-collar, NOT the e-collar. We have seen MANY dogs that were trained by those that are “anti-electronic training” and often times they are hand-shy, afraid of the lead or check cord and so forth. Prior to e-collars, dogs were shot with live ammunition or slingshots, kicked, and thrown. We still see “professionals” that pick dogs up by the ears and hindquarters and throw dogs…yet they are against the e-collar as a regular training aid. If I sound a little too passionate about electronics, I make no apology. You as the reader should draw your own conclusions if e-collars are for you or not, but make an informed decision.

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Defined Places Instill Compliance

Now that you are comfortable with various types of corrections, we can use the dog’s place-oriented characteristic to our benefit. Once your dog knows a particular command (we will use sit), we give the command. If the dog sits immediately, you can praise your dog (verbal, a treat, or touch). However, if the dog moved from where it was when the command was said, YOU MUST PUT THE DOG BACK TO THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS WHEN THE COMMAND WAS SAID. If you praise or correct the dog at a spot that is different than where it was when you gave the command, the dog cannot make the association that the praise or correction was for/for not sitting when you gave the command.

I will try to illustrate it another way so that everyone is clear on its meaning. The dog is at Point A when you say “sit.” If it sits at Point A, you can praise it at Point A. If the dog moves to Point B and sits or doesn’t sit, you must put the dog back (for now just pick the dog up and put it back) to Point A and make it sit. I would not praise the dog and I would not say “sit” again. The physical act of picking the dog up and putting it back to Point A is a correction.

We are using place-orientation in conjunction with the way that a dog learns (association). The canine learns EVERYTHING through association. Association is the linking of a new item with a known item. One of the items must already be known and we link this known item to an unknown item so that the new (unknown) item becomes known.

Let’s use the prior example of “sit.” To teach sit, we use a treat. Initially, we push the puppy’s butt down and give it a treat. After enough consistent repetitions, the puppy starts to sit whenever it sees/smells the treat in our hand. We now have a cue (known item) that we can link to something else through association. In this case, we are going to teach the dog to sit on the verbal command “sit.” For association to work, the new item (verbal “sit”) must come BEFORE the known item (the treat).

Tell your dog to “sit” and hold out the treat. If you have done the appropriate number of repetitions with the treat, your dog should sit when you hold out the treat. It is important that you understand that your dog DOES NOT know the “sit” command at this point. He sat because of the treat. If you do this exercise a number of times over a number of days, your dog will start to sit when you give the command because it has ASSOCIATED the command with the treat and he anticipates that the treat will follow the command.

This is a very long way of explaining how to teach your dog to sit. However, it is extremely important that you truly understand what a dog is and how it learns. We will use association to train every command that we are going to use. A word to the wise here; once your dog is sitting on command, switch to only giving the praise (treat) some of the time. It will keep the dog upbeat and attentive, as he will be “looking” to sit in an attempt to please itself and get what it wants (the treat).

If you truly understand what a dog is (pack animal, creature of habit, place-oriented, learns through association), you are well on your way to training your dog to do whatever you want. The object is not to make your dog sit for any extended time. All you are doing is teaching the verbal command so the dog knows what it is. Compliance to the command will occur later. The studies show that there is no more critically important time in a dog’s life for learning than between weeks 7 and 16 of its life. By the time a puppy is 16 weeks old, the dog is almost entirely programmed as to its ability to learn. Older dogs can learn new things; however, they will never reach their full potential as if their mind had been opened to learning between weeks 7 and 16.

Put the learning process in place between weeks 7 and 16 and the trainability of your dog will be greatly enhanced. Use association this month to teach any of the commands that you are going to use later in your dog’s life (kennel, sit, here, heel).

NO, YOU CANNOT HAVE ME TRAIN YOUR DOG IN AUGUST!

 

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For all of you that have been reading (at least) some of my articles, I apologize to you.  This article is about nothing more than me venting over an issue that quick-fix dog training books and writers try to sell to the less educated. For the rest of you, and everyone that has been calling for me to train your dog for the month, I do not apologize and I will AGAIN explain how your lack of knowledge is impeding your dog.

Tell me what you think about the following statements.

“Hello Ms. Jordan. This is Johnny’s first day of kindergarten and he is very excited. However, you can only teach him during the month of September so make sure he is ready for first grade by October.”

“Johnny, say hi to Coach Ron. We are very excited about Johnny deciding to play football Coach. Please teach him how to play and we will pick him up before the NFL draft next month.”

“Hello Mr. Kaplan. Johnny is taking the SAT test next week. Please teach him the 2500 or so vocabulary words he may see on the test. He needs to know them for the test next week.”

These requests are of course ridiculous. Now ask yourself why is it any different with your dog? I cannot believe the number of telephone calls that I receive and the owner wants the dog trained in two weeks or a month. TRAINED TO DO WHAT? Most times, the dog has not had many birds, has never had an e-collar and although the owner denies it, the retrieve is terrible.

Why do owners think this is possible? Are other trainers making promises that I know are unrealistic? Is the quality of the training that poor? Or, is the expectation of the owner so low that a trainer can capitalize on it without providing proper training?

HERE IS WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW. Except for very specific training on single issues, I cannot, and WILL NOT, take a dog in for training for less than three months. If another trainer will, and indicates that they can get the training done, well good luck and call them. The reason for the three month minimum is pretty simple. It is about the longest that misinformed owners will send their dog away for training! It is also about the minimum time it can take to get the dog to perform regularly for the owner when they take the dog home.

Let me give you two extremes in Client dogs that came to us for training. The first is a very talented English Springer spaniel that is well-bred AND young (7-8 months when it came in for training). The first month, we introduced the dog to quail and pigeons so that it would get out into different cover and hunt for birds. We also began the foundation work for obedience. The second month, we introduced the dog to gunfire and completed e-collar conditioning and obedience in the yard. The third month, we transferred compliance to the field and started the dog with its patterning (proper use of the wind).

 

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 Foundation is Built One Month at a Time

At the end of three months, the owner came and got his dog. He now can take the dog out and hunt. He has already gone to the hunt club with his friends and shot birds over the dog. His dog complies with both verbal and whistle commands, hunts within gun range and retrieves. Most important, when the dog needs to be corrected, the foundation is in place and the owner can make a MILD correction with his voice, whistle or e-collar and the dog does not shut down. Trust me, this is as good as it gets! We were able to move the dog along quickly because a) it was a genetically talented dog, b) it came to us at a young age with limited issues, and c) the dog would already retrieve consistently.

At the other end of the spectrum is the dog that comes in for training and it either will not retrieve or it kills birds, meaning the bird is not fit for the dinner table. We are not talking about the dog that will not bring the bird back. We are talking about the dog that will not pick the bird up. I know that he will retrieve at home. But we do not train or hunt at your house.

We cannot do anything with this dog until it will retrieve or stop killing birds. That means we need to complete the “forced-retrieve” and it will take one to two months to complete. Our standard on the retrieve is VERY high. We have had many dogs in for training that have been through the forced-retrieve and still only retrieve some of the time. Well, in our program, that is not acceptable. Do it right the first time and it saves you money and aggravation later. If it is alright with you that the dog damages the birds then send your dog someplace else for training because it is not alright with us. We hunt and we put the game on the dinner table. If you go to the hunt club and shoot your birds and they get thrown away because you do not want them or because your dog destroyed them, then the truth is your are a shooter not a hunter/conversationalist and your hunting privileges should be suspended!

If it is going to take one or two months to get the retrieving fixed, it will obviously take longer to train your dog to an acceptable level. I am done hearing “…I am not looking for a world-class dog, I just want to go out a couple of times and shoot some birds and have Fido retrieve them.” This is a bunch of #$%^$. You ALL want that, but you want the dog to be better than your hunting buddy’s dog and you want people to comment about the quality of your dog. However, you routinely accept something less and will derive many excuses as to why your dog does not do this or that. The fact is, you just do not want to spend the money required, have the dog gone for the time required, have a lack of perspective on what a well-trained dog is capable of doing, or it is not a priority.

Now here is the good news. If it is not a priority to you than I am alright with that because it is YOUR dog. I just will not be training it for you. I do not see any other trainer being as honest with dog owners as I am being with this article. I am in business and I do not expand my business by telling Clients that they need to stop making unrealistic requests, stop buying every flavor of punch that is served to them and to start looking in the mirror. However, I do expand my business by educating dog owners to think about what they ask and what their expectations are. I understand the family does not want the dog to be gone. I understand that there is a fear that the dog may change if it is added to a professional kennel. I understand those things, but I DO KNOW what is best for getting your dog trained and making your time with your dog more enjoyable. If it just will not work for you to send your dog out for training, consider joining a training group. Try to find one that allows you to work under the guidance of a quality professional trainer, as most are coordinated by amateurs that know only a little more than you, if that.

CONDITIONING…IT IS MORE THAN JUST FINDING MORE BIRDS

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Exercise Program with Roading

Considering the extreme heat and humidity typical of the summer and fall (in the south), I believe it is important to discuss conditioning and the impact lack of conditioning can have on your dog. The first thing we need to settle is that NO dog can hunt all day. We hear this from people over and over. Fabricated Herculean tails of how their dog hunted all day and never missed a bird. In fact, it never slowed down!

Here is what I think: If your dog can hunt all day, then I do not want to hunt with your dog! There, I said it and I mean it. Let me explain and then you think about it.

Does a marathon runner have more energy in mile 24 as compared to the first mile of the race? Does a race horse have more energy at the end as compared to when they put the horse in the starting gate? Do YOU have more energy at the end of the work day as compared to the beginning? Do you really still think your dog can hunt all day?

There is no doubt that some dogs can run all day. However, the question is how hard are they running? They CANNOT run as hard as they do when the day starts. If they can, I would argue they are not running but merely trotting. I do not want to hunt over a dog that does not run hard. People that say they do not want a big running, hard charging dog because they want a dog that can hunt all day have no frame of reference. They probably have only hunted over untrained dogs that ran off and put the birds up out of gun range. As a result, they have determined they do not want that “big running” dog. It is a mistake.

Remember, we are talking about hunting over trained dogs. We should all be fortunate enough to hunt over the National Champion or any top-flight dog. When a dog is properly trained, a hard running dog finds more birds, not to mention that it is more exciting for us to walk behind.

Why do big running dogs find more birds? By covering more ground, they have more opportunity. But they are also able to cover more ground quickly because they are in better shape. Essentially, a dog finds birds with its nose. If it is breathing out of its mouth, it cannot smell as well. The better shape a dog is in, the more it breathes through its nose, thereby smelling more birds.

The obvious is that a properly conditioned dog covers more ground and keeps its nose longer; hence it has the opportunity to find more birds. Even with the extended and disciplined conditioning program we do, we only run our dogs for one hour. This is because I am a professional guide that is paid to get clients into wild birds. Our dogs run HARD for one hour and then we change to a fresh dog so that the clients are hunting over fresh dogs all day. This is easy for me because we have many dogs. For most people, they have only one or two dogs. As such, conditioning is vitally important for all of you.

We have just discussed why conditioning is important for us selfishly…more birds. Now let us discuss why it is good for your dog. A decade ago I was guiding in South Dakota on opening weekend. It was abnormally hot and over 120 dogs died in South Dakota hunting that weekend. That is right, over 120 dogs died. That figure does not include the dogs that were not reported or were never found. It is true that with the heat, some of those dogs may have died anyways. However, most of those dogs would have lived if they were properly conditioned, well trained and the owners had more information as to what to look for.

A dog’s normal temperature range is 101.0 to 102.5 degrees. Because the dog has limited ability to sweat (only small capability through its pads), its major cooling mechanism is via evaporative cooling (panting). It is normal for dogs to pant in all temperatures and also at rest or exercise. Nasal panting (inhalation and exhalation) generally occurs at rest or when running at slow speeds when ambient temperature is below 78.8 degrees. There are two OTHER types of panting that occur in dogs when resting and when running in ambient temperatures greater than 86.0 degrees. These are inhalation through the nose and exhalation through both the nose and mouth or inhalation and exhalation through both the nose and mouth.

Panting in and out through both the nose and mouth allows for the greatest volume of air passage and movement. This is the method of panting utilized for cooling when dogs reach exhaustion. It can occur very quickly in hot weather. Although this cools the dog, selfishly, it does not provide for the best scenting/finding birds.

Through a proper conditioning program, we can change the dog’s body to run at a cooler internal temperature. By doing this, we can delay the time-frame when the dog’s temperature will increase above 102.5 degrees and start the process of heat exhaustion. It is critical to recognize when your dog has had enough. From experience, I can tell you that a dog that only looks tired can have an internal temperature that continues to escalate and the dog does not overheat till 30 minutes AFTER exercise has completed. PAY ATTENTION AND WATCH YOUR DOG.

So now we know why WE want the dog in shape and we know why it is important for the dog’s health. So where do you begin? Most types of exercise are beneficial when compared to a dog sitting on the couch until gun season. However, some are better than others. Swimming is always a good option but keep in mind that the water temperature can also be high and your dog can overheat in the water as well. We believe running/roading the dog is the best way to concentrate the exercise.

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Exercise Program with Swimming

Our system is fairly complicated and I would not suggest it for most people as it requires a significant time commitment. What we do suggest is a minimum of a six-week conditioning program BEYOND regular exercise throughout the year. Start the program six weeks prior to when you begin your hunting season. Our dogs start the program by running two miles at a speed of 12 miles per hour.

Run your dog every other day for two miles at 6-8 miles per hour. After doing this for five days of exercise (10 days including rest days), increase the distance by ½ mile. Again, do this for five exercise days and then increase the distance by ½ mile. Continue this pattern for the six weeks and you will end with a dog that is running approximately 3.5 miles at about 8 miles per hour.

This may not sound like a lot; however, it is a major accomplishment. By having the dog attached to your bicycle (with a speedometer), you can concentrate the effort of the exercise on a consistent speed for the ENTIRE distance. If allowed to free run, a dog will run sometimes and loaf others, thus diminishing the effort. By keeping the constant exercise effort, your dog will build a reasonable base of fitness that they can build on during the season. At 8 miles per hour and running for 3.5 miles, your dog will be running approximately 28 minutes without a break or rest. When compared to hunting, your dog will hunt longer due to the constant stopping to “investigate” game scent. Keep in mind that this is only building a minimum base on which to build. For most of you, this is sufficient when considering the time commitment versus the time you will actually spend in the field.

NOTE: If your dog cannot run two miles at 6 to 8 miles per hour, I suggest you follow our program but you will need to start it sooner so you can work the dog up to two miles.

Introduction To The Gun

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 Gun Introduction Should Be With Birds

There are many ways that people introduce their dog to the gun. Many people will bang pots and pans while feeding. Others will fire a gun while feeding and still others will take the dog to a gun range. WHILE I AGREE THAT THIS SOMETIMES WORKS, I DO NOT THINK IT IS THE BEST WAY TO INTRODUCE THE GUN.

Dogs are predisposed to a fear of loud noises. It is a genetic survival trait that every dog has in them, although, it will manifest itself in only some dogs. I do not know which dogs will develop the fear so I need to insure that it does not happen to our dogs. A fear of the gun is created by man. Therefore, we are going to use a bird to introduce the dog to the gun. We have spent all summer making the dog crazy for birds so why not use what it wants as an enticement?

We start the gun introduction when our puppy is AGGRESSIVELY chasing birds. This may mean that the puppy is chasing for 200 yards or it may mean that the puppy is chasing for 50 yards. The point is that it must be chasing aggressively. Some dogs will not chase a lot and that is fine, as long as they are showing that they really want the bird for the short time that they chase.

We use a clip-winged pigeon (one that will sail in the air but will not fly away) because I have never seen my training partners miss a bird. Actually, Frank has hit about 100 straight without a miss and we do not want to break his streak. Frank will stand approximately 100 yards away with a blank pistol that is shooting crimps. I will tease the puppy with the bird and throw it in the opposite direction from Frank. Just as the bird is about to hit the ground AND if the puppy is chasing it I will raise my hand and Frank will shoot the blank pistol.

The easiest thing is for Frank to stay where he is and for me to move closer. Depending on how the puppy is doing, I will generally move closer to Frank by about ten yards and repeat the process until I am standing next to Frank. While completing this process, I will mix in a bunch of throws with no shot from Frank so that I can assess how the puppy is doing.

That is essentially the process. When the puppy is comfortable with the blank gun, we can start the process over with a .410 then a 28-g and a 20-g. This is where we generally will stop the process. As a precaution, we hunt the young dogs with only a 20-g. and only a single shot for the entire first season. There is no NEED to do this, as you can also do the gun introduction with a 12-g. However, I am paranoid about the gun and do not ever want to have a gun issue with our dogs. Also, more dogs become gun-shy with a second and third shot as compared with the first shot so that is why we will hunt the entire first season with only one shell in the gun.

Do not trust your friends that they will only fire once because they will not. It is not that they are PURPOSELY trying to ruin your dog it is that they do not care about your dog. They want to shoot the bird and if they miss on the first shot, they will instinctively fire the second shot. This is why we use clip-winged pigeons to start because Frank cannot miss…the bird ALWAYS comes down. It is also why a dove shoot, duck blind or pheasant drive is so dangerous for a young dog. Repeated gun fire without the positive association is detrimental. If you err on the side of caution you will be fine.

I Simply Wish These Dogs Would Retrieve

Advanced Water Retrieves Include Moving Water

Idaho Hunting Trip 2007

Over the past few years, we have observed a consistent problem with the dogs we get in for training at Craney Hill Kennel. The problem is exhibited in many fashions, such as butter-mouth, hard-mouth, refusal, avoidance, playing, etc. However, the problem is the same in all instances. These dogs will not retrieve. As you might guess, my philosophy on retrieving is different than most opinions. First of all, I believe that retrieving is the act of leaving from one place to go to another and pick something up. The item may be thrown, as in a mark, or just an object lying out there, as in a blind retrieve. Once the dog picks up the object, I believe retrieving is over and obedience begins.

The other big difference I have regarding retrieving is the term “natural retriever” that is thrown around as a cliché to promote the sale of a breeder’s or trainer’s dogs. The fact is that what we think of as a natural retriever is not natural at all. In nature, the dog picks an object up and runs off with it. Unless it is bringing food back to a litter of puppies, there is no retrieving in nature. So the next time that your puppy runs out and picks up an object that was thrown and then runs off with it, remember that HE IS ACTING LIKE A NATURAL RETRIEVER.

I think that this is a fundamental problem with the dogs that we see coming in for training. I am left to theorize (albeit with many years of experience) that many of the problems stem from a lack of understanding of what a dog is. We have covered some of this before, but again, your dog does not want you to have the bird, training dummy, stick, tennis ball or whatever. Most dogs have a genetic desire to run after the object because they are canines (PRONOUNCED PREDITOR). If left completely alone, most dogs will also pick the object up.

The training problems begin once WE try to get the dog to bring the object back. We yell instructions, whisper sweet things to encourage them and then there is my personal favorite; the proverbial “hunt it up” command. If the dog survives all of the “encouragement” and picks the object up, it is generally then subjected to another rash of hooting and hollering to try to get him to bring the object back. All of this talking is making the dog apprehensive because it does not know what you are saying. Your voice tends to increase in volume and you may start moving towards the dog. Once that happens, the dog either drops the object or runs further away. If the owner continues to work with the dog and continues to give all of these commands (PRONOUNCED PRESSURE), it is very possible that the dog will stop picking the object up all together or will start to damage birds.

I propose that there is a better way to get your dog to retrieve. I will save all of the discussion of rolled socks in a hallway, building a retrieving corridor in the yard or running away from the puppy to get him to follow you. These are all easy training tools that have been written about more than enough and you should be able to easily find information regarding them. Our plan evolves only two rules…start early and do not move.

Scott and Fuller (1965, Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog) made a very surprising discovery when they were not able to start a retrieving experiment as early as they had hoped. They originally planned on completing the experiment when the puppies were nine weeks old but had to delay it until the puppies were 32 weeks of age. The result was that only 11.0 percent of the dogs retrieved the object and released it to the owner. Now I think this is an impressive study; however, all dogs can be trained to retrieve so if the low success rate was the only result, we could just train the dogs to retrieve. However, the most important result of the study was that Scott and Fuller also observed that the puppies that began retrieving at 32 weeks of age were harder to train. This means that if a dog does not learn to retrieve at an early age, it has missed the imprinting stage and the lack of learning during this impressionable period is largely irreversible.

The importance of retrieving is also voiced in other arenas. The single most reliable indicator of a puppy’s general temperament and potential as a companion or working dog is revealed by the puppy’s willingness to retrieve. As an evaluator at Biosensor (U.S. Army Superdog Program), Lindsay (2000, Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training) opined that the most reliable predictor among young puppies (eight to ten weeks) for success as military dog prospects was an avidity for ball play. Also, Pfaffenberger (1963, The New knowledge of Dog Behavior) reports a strong link between retrieving at a young age and later success in training as an adult guide dog. The conclusion is that starting retrieving at a young age has positive behavioral training benefits as the dog ages.

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 Advanced Land Retrieves Include Long Marks

When retrieving with your young puppy, you will of course start by tossing the object only a short distance. As you will begin retrieving prior to ten weeks of age, I will assume that the puppy will pick up the object. Initially, the puppy will bring the object back to you, or reasonably close. In a short time, your puppy that was retrieving so well will become a “natural” retriever and start running off with the object. A certain amount of this would be acceptable and if you have shown the puppy in the past what “here” means, it is relatively easy to solve. However, I cannot stress enough that going after the puppy or yelling at it is a mistake. I suggest that you take a seat and in most cases the puppy will come to you after a little time (having a few treats in your pocket to give him when he returns will help for the next time). As I said, DON’T MOVE.

These two rules, when used together, will significantly improve your puppy’s retrieving. It will also make your trainer happier and your wallet fuller. It is simple economics. If your trainer needs to spend time teaching the dog basic retrieving, it is time and money not spent on other things. Since you will generally have the puppy until it is five or six months of age anyway, YOU will be the one to teach the puppy to retrieve correctly during the imprinting period of its life.

 Todd says, “If a dog can produce the wild bird that the fox, coyote, weasel and hawk missed, then they would be of a caliber that any hunter would be proud to own.”