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Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Using indirect pressure
Thursday, September 05, 2019
Casting drill


Analysis of a blind retrieve casting
The popularity of retriever Hunt Tests has exploded over the last few years, with the last national competition involving over 600 dogs. Many of the contestants are also hunters who train their dogs themselves. In the evening, handlers and pros often discuss the day’s work, and the favorite topic involves the “blind” retrieves. That’s because the blinds demand more involvement from handler and dog, unlike the “marks” where the dog is on his own to find the birds. Conversation inevitably turns to the details of the handling. Which cast proved to be the proper one, and at which point the handler should have made the dog sit on the whistle? Should the handler have used a “back” or an “over” cast, and exactly when should he or she have stopped the dog?

These “skull sessions” are fascinating and can get heated. An analysis of each whistle and cast can go on into the night. So, what is the conclusion? It all depends on where the dog was when the handler stopped his with the whistle. And, then it depends on which cast the handler chose to get the dog away from trouble and to the bird most easily.


Even if you’re not a competitor, the most efficient handling will put more birds in your game bag at the end of your day afield.


In Competition:


Be sure to watch the test dog, if possible. Assess the best possible place to stand on the line. Take into account the test dog’s abilities and experience if you know them. Observe from the line where old falls are located. Get an exact fix on the location of the bird plant and notice any markers in the background. Be sure to notice wind direction carefully, as it can be different at the bird plant. Stand on the line after the test dog has run, if you can, and look out from the dog's perspective. Some pros crouch down but that may not be necessary. There can be advantages to exactly where the dog sits. Notice obstacles in the terrain, especially those close to the line.


Then, if possible, watch other dogs and handlers carefully. Where do dogs want to go? How strong are the distractions? Which casts are experienced handlers giving and how well does the dog submit to those individual casts? Which hand signals are dogs not taking precisely? (This is critical because often handlers repeat the same errors as other handlers and this can be avoided).


In the holding blind, watch the exact plant of your bird. Again, get a fix on its location.


When walking up to line, watch your dog because he may look out at the test and tell you where he wants to go (e.g. back to the flyer location). When lining up, notice where the dog looks and how strongly he looks there. Adjust your body position if necessary to influence his initial line. Give him a quiet “no” or ”here” as necessary. Notice how willing the dog is to take your cues because this will give you an indication of how submissive he will be on your cast.


After the dog leaves your side, be prepared for anything. Don't be caught off guard by unexpected circumstances, such as people or cars or bird boys interfering with the test. Keep your concentration on the dog no matter what happens around you.


When the dog fades from the exact line to the bird, hit the whistle at that moment. Notice how fully the dog turns on the sit. Notice if he looks at a distraction. If the dog is fairly close to you, you can give a more subtle cast than if he is far away. If you feel that dog is with you, you can give a cast that hopefully just tells him where the destination is, and it will be the only correction you need. This first cast is critical because this is your best chance to get the blind in only one whistle. The cast should communicate exactly where the bird is. An obedient dog will know exactly where to go.


You should know if the dog is in tune with you or is being tempted to give in to the distractions. His body language will tell you if you have been observant in training and know how to read him. On this critical cast, notice how fully the dog is facing you because that will indicate how strong the next cast needs to be. Once the dog has taken the first cast, notice how strongly he deviates from the direction you’ve given. That will determine the second cast. This cast can be a hint of a cast if you feel the dog is attentive. Otherwise, you must give a broad cast in hopes that he takes it all the way to the bird.


Don't forget that the “over” cast results in the most correction. When a dog is not responsive, this is the only cast that will result in a strong momentum change. It is also a “no” cast away from a strong distraction. “Over” doesn’t means ‘over’ to the dog under the excitement of the competition. It is used as a “pay attention” ploy when the dog is resistant to directional change. When a dog is taking only slight direction changes from you, the “over” works well to break up the incorrect momentum. Also, the verbal “back” does the opposite: it increases momentum and can increase momentum in the wrong direction. Remember this: “back” increases momentum, “over” changes direction. The sit whistle says “no.”


As you give various casts, you should be aware of any changes in the dog's attitude. If he makes a sudden motion, you will need to hit the whistle (which says “no”) loudly and firmly. Then, when the dog is facing you, take a second to allow his incorrect momentum to fade. The cast now will need to be a broad one. Successive cast strengths will be determined on how tender the dog is to direction changes.


Be sure to have the dog on the winding side of the bird when he approaches the bird plant. If he isn't in the winding position, be careful to stop him before he gets too far beyond it. Lots of casts in the area of the plant is a sign of an inexperienced handler. Some novices allow the dog to cruise pass the bird, and many allow the dog to get too far to one side or another. The ideal last cast on any blind is a slight silent back to the bird itself.


If your dog takes the bit in his teeth, here are some solutions: hit a sharper than normal whistle, make the dog sit for a moment and delay the corrective cast as long as necessary, give a come-in whistle to the place where he just sat and try to regain control before continuing casting.


In Training:


Casts in a training situation are very different from those used in competition. They are more exact. The goal is to teach the dog to take the exact hand signal no matter what the situation may be. In competition, the handler reads the dog’s attitude and tries to give the most helpful cast to get to the bird with as little direction as possible, using the fewest whistles. In training, the goal is to teach the dog to take the exact direction change given, regardless of distractions and terrain difficulties.


For example, an angle back cast can be given, but the dog only gives a slight motion in the correct direction and then continues on his desired line. There are two choices for the trainer: attrition, and correction with the collar. In my opinion, attrition is the better choice. As in any drill, with attrition, the dog ends up submitting mentally. With correction, the collar can create a hot spot and no thinking is involved on the dog’s part. Submission to the direction change is the desired result, no matter which method you choose.


The main difference between training and competition is this: challenging casts are given in training, and helpful casts are given in competition.


When using attrition to get the desired cast, the dog is stopped and whistled in to the spot where he last sat, and the same cast is repeated. The goal is to have the dog submit fully to the cast. Calm replication is necessary. The trainer is trying to enter the dog’s mind to get the dog to see the goal (the correct direction change). Patience is necessary. Also, the dog must be able to take this mental challenge. Attrition is not suitable for soft dogs, nor is it good for inexperienced dogs that are still in the learning phases of their blinds.


When working the inexperienced, or soft dog, it's helpful to have the dog sit on the whistle and wait for you to walk out into the field. This stops the dog’s incorrect momentum and gives him time to worry about his actions. Again, no emotion on the part of the trainer is necessary. If you get into some confusion with an inexperienced dog, you can always walk up to him, touch him and throw a bumper in the direction of the desired cast.


In all training, the trainer needs to remain creative. If working on a test where there are multiple marks and blinds, the trainer should be willing to stop and walk out to the dog if necessary. This gets the correct cast to the blind and separates the individual retrieves. Then, the test can be repeated when the desired result has been attained on that part of the test.


Yard drills should always be part of the training repertoire. Lining and casting — the two components of the blind retrieve — should be taught, or refreshed, throughout the life of the dog. Except in the case of soft dogs, these drills are fun for the advanced dog, and good refreshers for the exactness of the handler’s casts.


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