Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011
First time duck dog
Thursday, December 08, 2011

More than just heel and sit
It’s difficult for novice trainers to understand just how important the heel and sit commands are in achieving proper obedience. Of course, you get a much higher overall discipline level when heel and sit are properly taught and reinforced, but just teaching is not enough.

Here’s what’s important: by getting creative you challenge the animal so that he uses his brain to focus on you and your words as he is properly performing the commands. You want to avoid using supermarket parking lot techniques when teaching heel and sit to a hunting dog. Any dog can mindlessly follow you around obstacles or make turns following your body movements. You need to get creative to make him use his brain.

You want to employ sharp military style 90 degree turns to the right at first (It’s the easiest side) to begin the process. I stay with the right side until I have my dog doing sharp 90, 180 and 360 degree turns. I then begin teaching the left turns using the same military type pivoting turns. The use of a heeling stick is very useful in getting your point across as well as reinforcing the turns; the stick also helps explain any confusion in direction the dog may have. 

I also like to give my trainees a physical cue with each turn: I pat my leg to turn to the right and snap the fingers on my left hand to signify a left turn. These cues help better explain to your dog exactly what you want when attempting to line him up for a blind retrieve or just making him heel parallel to your foot as you walk down the road.

This drill can be very useful in the field. I have used the heel and sit commands to regain control of an inexperienced dog that got so excited while retrieving multiple shot ducks that he would pick one up, spit it out, and then pick up another. He was having way too much fun to think about bringing a bird back.

It’s situations like these where a simple, well schooled drill like heel and sit can make a big difference in reestablishing order in a dog’s mind when he gets out of control on a hunt. In this case, I simply broke off a switch from a nearby willow tree, removed my choke chain and leash from my blind bag, placed it around the dog’s neck and began an aggressive heel and sit drill down the bank next to the pond. Within minutes, I had the dog under control again and resumed my hunt with my now very obedient animal. Although this dog was well conditioned to the electric collar, I don’t like to use it on a dog while he is in the water as it can create a worse problem than the one you are attempting to cure. Still, had this dog been older and more experienced, I wouldn’t have hesitated to use the collar to correct him for his misbehavior in the water.

 You might want to put the heel and sit drill in your mental back pocket. It’s likely to be all you’ll need when a bad situation arises afield.

Good hunting!

Grady Istre can be reached at reiber.com. His column on dog training appears  in Western Outdoor News every other week.

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