|This past season, I was fortunate to be invited to a well-managed duck club for a hunt. Sitting around the club house enjoying the ribbing and conversation about shotguns, loads, and especially dogs, is part of the experience. And, as usual, on this particular day, the topic turned to dog training.
During the season, most dogs develop some kind of problem due to the excitement of all the birds and the fact that no one wants to correct their dogs out in the field when all the shooting is going on. But, during the off season, or between hunts, it’s important to regain control over your dog. The best way to accomplish this is to get together with other like-minded people and set up some good, well-organized training sessions.
First of all, it’s more productive, plus a bunch more fun, to train with other gun dog owners who share your interest in advancing their hunting dogs. I suggest you start a training group or join an already-existing one. One of your goals during the first few sessions should be to familiarize yourself with the training and talent levels of all the dogs and trainers in the group. Everyone in the group should be allowed to voice his opinion as to what he wants to accomplish with their dog each time. With this information, the leader of the group can set up the proper test to help advance all the dogs, in an organized manner.
After setting up thousands of these sessions over my career, I have noticed that many novice trainers are interested solely in their own dogs. This is a big mistake, fellow trainers. Every dog in the training session is a truck load of information about dog behavior in general — something you should be interested in for your own advancement as a trainer. Spending time in the field throwing birds and shooting and watching the dogs’ behavior provides valuable insight into what makes hunting dogs tick. Take advantage of this opportunity and really watch the behavior of the other dogs.
Because there will probably be dogs of all levels of expertise involved in the training session, it’s good to set up the tests in their most basic level at first. Run the beginners on single retrieves, then add the other marks, to end with the most advanced triples. For blind retrieves, it’s wise to go to a fresh field and start with a single retrieve, adding others for the more advanced dogs and then complicating further by adding marks. When dogs exhibit a problem with one aspect of the test, stop and work on that one thing with that dog until he can perform reasonable well, then continue with the line-up of the dogs. Repetition is often more productive than correction in these circumstances. The idea is not to “win” the training session. Instead, the goal is to advance each dog steadily over time.
Setting up as many tests as possible in a one-day training session shouldn’t be your objective. Setting up even one quality test with instructive benefits that helps all the dogs in the group is better. Give each dog the time needed to work on, or correct, his problems and be considerate of each other. Every trainer should leave the session feeling that he and his dog have learned something that day. But, also, every trainer should now know what to work on with his dog between training sessions.
A well-run training group is one that benefits every member. It’s also a time to enjoy each others company. Just getting out there, in the field with other trainers and these magnificent hunting dogs is one of the great pleasures of life. For any sportsman.
Grady Istre can be reached at reibar.com