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Grady Istre's Blog



FIELD DOGS /
WON News Column by Grady Istre

WON’s canine columnist Grady Istre was born into a family of waterfowl hunters, but as he grew up so did his passion and appreciation for any kind of bird hunting.

His knowledge of dog behavior has been gained through his 30 plus years of training both competition and hunting dogs. He takes pride in the fact that he trains the hunter as well as the dog which makes a very productive team in the field.



Off-season program
Very few hunters are receptive to the idea of maintaining their dog’s skill level during the off season and I believe that’s a big mistake. I hope that after I explain just how uncomplicated it can be to retain your hunting dog’s skills throughout the summer months, you’ll use some of this knowledge so your dog will be field ready when the first bird season opens in September.

The ideal training situation is to work your dog for about ten minutes on a daily basis — that’s all. Then if possible, once a month you should get together with some of your hunting buddies to prepare a training session where you shoot birds, to simulate hunting conditions for all of your dogs.


If you don’t have time to work your dog on a daily basis, that’s okay, but do figure out what days you have available and set up a training schedule. As I have learned, if you do not do this chances are you won’t get around to making it happen. Then, the closer we get to the opening day of the season, it’s a good idea to increase the frequency and length of those training sessions. This will not only sharpen your dog’s skills, but get him in good physical shape as well.


Dogs play the hand they are dealt, so if you want your hunting dog to become a pet during the summer months, guess what: he’ll become a pet. That means that his discipline level will slip during this time and so will his willingness to perform the skills he has learned. Conversely, if you maintain his training, he’ll be an even more obedient pet for the whole family to enjoy.


All dogs want is a modicum of consistency in their lives. They want you to be dependable. They want to be able to count on some sort of routine. They want to know what is going to happen next and just exactly what role they play in that scenario. When their lives are predictable, dogs tend to become better citizens.


If you can’t go training on a given day, just sitting in a chair in the backyard reading the paper, book or magazine with your dog by your side can suffice in a certain way. Dogs have to learn patience on those slow days when the ducks and/or dove are not flying well. So, just lounging in your lawn chair throwing him a bumper every once in a while is maintaining a certain training level and that’s about as easy as it gets, fellow trainers.


Still, if your dog has achieved handling status, there are drills like the wagon wheel that can give him a better understanding of the line to a downed bird. The casting drill will also sharpen up his interpretation of your hand signals when directing him to a fallen bird.


Hopefully, I have pointed out just how simple or how complicated you can make your summer training schedule. It’s your choice. Training your dog need not be a chore. It should be fun and bring a certain pride of accomplishment to your life.


So, get creative this summer, make a training schedule and if you don’t like my suggestions, create your own. But train your dog. Please.


Have fun training!


 * * *

Grady Istre’s articles appear every other week in WON and he can be reached at reibar.com.








Watch your language
Are you one of those owners who expects your young pup to be born a mind reader and fluent in English? Sometimes I get that impression when I watch novice dog owners with their young dogs. They say things to their dogs like, “Hey, what are you doin’? Didn’t I tell you to sit? Sit, sit! I mean it! Come back here and sit!”

The running dialogue would be comical except that the confused look on their pup’s face isn’t funny. The most important thing I can teach my clients is this: use single word commands. And, never repeat them. That sounds simple, but it’s not. It takes lots of self-control on the part of the human.

It all begins with building vocabulary with a young pup. And, it does starts with the “sit” command. This is your chance to get it right the first time. When you push down on the little guy’s rump while pushing up on his chest and saying “sit,” you say that word just one time. Then, you release him. When you repeat the action, you repeat the word. Once. For the rest of his life, you introduce each new word — each new command — the same way. It’s the key to proper training and it will make everything fall into place in a really wonderful way.

When a dog fails to perform a command, like “sit,” you have a choice. If the dog is just learning, and is in the schooling phase, you can push the dog’s rump down again, or if more advanced, correct the dog by a nick with the collar, or tap with the stick, and then say the “sit” command again. But, repeating the command without an action of some sort should be avoided. That’s because a string of “sit” “sit” “sit” makes any word lose its strength and you’ll find that the dog will then become accustomed to waiting for you to always repeat words forever after. I mean, why obey the first time?

Make every command word an actual command. Not part of a string of words. Let it hang there alone in the air for the dog to digest, process and then perform. Dogs can remember quite a large vocabulary if you keep each word clear and not allow it to get muddled up within phrases. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to imagine yourself in the dog’s place. Then you can hear yourself through his ears.

I actually heard a handler say,”Get back over here!” to his dog. Just picture performing those three commands: the dog would run out on the ‘back’ command, run to a ninety-degree angle on the ‘over’ command and return to the handler’s side on ‘here.’ It’s ridiculous. And, it’s obvious that this dog had to learn to ignore the meaning of his owner’s words.

Other words that are repeated that lose their meaning are the praise words like “good dog.” Please, save those also. If you want to cut loose and have fun with your dog and enjoy him as a companion, go for a walk and tell him a story that doesn’t have any training words in it. Point out the leafy trees and the blooming flowers or just sing a song. Watch your words carefully.

Good training!

You can reach Grady Istre at reibar.com

Off season program
Very few hunters are receptive to the idea of maintaining their dog’s skill level during the off season and I believe that’s a big mistake. I hope that after I explain just how uncomplicated it can be to retain your hunting dog’s skills throughout the summer months, you’ll use some of this knowledge so your dog will be field ready when the first bird season opens in September.

The ideal training situation is to work your dog for about ten minutes on a daily basis — that’s all. Then if possible, once a month you should get together with some of your hunting buddies to prepare a training session where you shoot birds, to simulate hunting conditions for all of your dogs.

If you don’t have time to work your dog on a daily basis, that’s okay, but do figure out what days you have available and set up a training schedule. As I have learned, if you do not do this chances are you won’t get around to making it happen. Then, the closer we get to the opening day of the season, it’s a good idea to increase the frequency and length of those training sessions. This will not only sharpen your dog’s skills, but get him in good physical shape as well.

Dogs play the hand they are dealt, so if you want your hunting dog to become a pet during the summer months, guess what: he’ll become a pet. That means that his discipline level will slip during this time and so will his willingness to perform the skills he has learned. Conversely, if you maintain his training, he’ll be an even more obedient pet for the whole family to enjoy.

All dogs want is a modicum of consistency in their lives. They want you to be dependable. They want to be able to count on some sort of routine. They want to know what is going to happen next and just exactly what role they play in that scenario. When their lives are predictable, dogs tend to become better citizens.

If you can’t go training on a given day, just sitting in a chair in the backyard reading the paper, book or magazine with your dog by your side can suffice in a certain way. Dogs have to learn patience on those slow days when the ducks and/or dove are not flying well. So, just lounging in your lawn chair throwing him a bumper every once in a while is maintaining a certain training level and that’s about as easy as it gets, fellow trainers.

Still, if your dog has achieved handling status, there are drills like the wagon wheel that can give him a better understanding of the line to a downed bird. The casting drill will also sharpen up his interpretation of your hand signals when directing him to a fallen bird.

Hopefully, I have pointed out just how simple or how complicated you can make your summer training schedule. It’s your choice. Training your dog need not be a chore. It should be fun and bring a certain pride of accomplishment to your life.

So, get creative this summer, make a training schedule and if you don’t like my suggestions, create your own. But train your dog. Please. Have fun training!

* * *

Grady Istre’s articles appear every other week in WON and he can be reached at reibar.com

Basic training course
When something goes wrong with your automobile, you simply take it to a mechanic to have it repaired. Afterwards, it’s ready to perform properly for a few thousand more miles. Right? Well, you can’t compare cars to dogs, in spite of what some dog owners seem to think. It would be nice if you could send your dog off to be tuned up, pick him up, and have him perform perfectly that afternoon on a hunt. It doesn’t work that way, guys. Your dog hasn’t been in a shop for a quick fix — he’s been away at boot camp. He’s more than a machine. The psychological aspect of his time away from you is the most important thing to consider when you go to take him home. Here’s what your dog has been going through.

This is the normal week in a dog’s life during basic training. A professional trainer will teach your dog how to do a given thing in a certain way on a Monday. Then, on a Tuesday, show him that given thing again. On Wednesday he will add some pressure to the command and make the dog perform properly. On Thursday, he will make the dog perform again properly, with, and without pressure. Then, on Friday, he’ll see if the dog will perform nicely all on his own. In each instance, when something doesn’t go well, the trainer will back up and go over the lesson again. What’s the point? Repetition. It’s the first half of the “new normal” for your dog. Dogs will learn most anything — even the wrong things — through repetition. That’s why basic training should be thorough and also why it takes a long time — too long, in some folks’ opinion.

During this period, the dog is learning something more than just the actions associated with words/commands. That is the easy part. The second half of his “new normal” is learning the acceptance of pressure. Although it’s not easy, at first, to learn exactly what each word and gesture means, it becomes more difficult to remember things when the pressure is on. It can take the form of introduction to the electric collar, or an ear pinch when being force-fetched. Now, the dog learns to perform when that pressure is added. Then, he learns to still perform when the pressure is removed. In each instance, he has to use his brain under stress.

It’s this daily schooling that leads to a new mindset where the dog comes to not only accept his environment, he begins to like its predictability, and finally really enjoy his accomplishments. It’s a process that, finally, produces a dog with self-control and mental maturity. It also produces a joyful dog that takes pride in his work.

When clients come to my place, they sometimes don’t see the behind-the-scenes work I just described. My dogs are playful and exuberant and ready to take on the day every morning when I let them out of the kennel. Still, they train well even when the heat is on, and that heat is necessary to get the job done for the owner. This is sometimes hard to explain and can lead to the number one mistake an owner can make, and that is, to take his dog home without working with me. Without a proper transition, a lot of important knowledge is frittered away.

Here’s my advice for you guys who go to pick up your dog from his basic training. Don’t take him home to an environment where there hasn’t been much discipline. Work with your trainer first so that the respect level your trainer has can be transferred to you. Take the time to work with your professional for a few days. Learn what your is dog is doing, what commands to give him, and possibly put a bit of correction on him for good measure. Get that respect you paid for and you’re miles ahead when you take your dog home. Now, you’re familiar with the tools to make your dog mind. You’re in the driver’s seat. Then, after a few drills at home on your own, it’s full speed ahead. Really.
Have fun training!

* * *

Grady’s column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at reibar.com

Alternative training methods
I think most dog trainers would embrace a training method that involved the least amount of discipline possible‚ I know the idea of less force is appealing to all novice dog trainers/ hunters. Heck, it’s a fascinating concept even to me, until reality sets in, that is.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen a few hard-core trainers switch from force to clickers, or some other soft-core training method and I’m not foolish enough to believe that there isn’t a dog out there that can be reasonably well-trained without the use of force. But these dogs are rare, even though some dog owners believe they have one.

In my many years as a professional dog trainer, I have never had a dog in training that had such a high level of trainability that I could satisfactorily train him so he would reliably perform for his owner without the use of some force. It would be difficult for any professional trainer to transfer all the skills a trainee has learned to his owner without first making damned sure the animal understands that he must perform every command to his training level.

I know of one professional trainer and breeder who boasted that he was breeding a litter of dogs that would not need to be force fetched. Really, that falls under the category of “show me don’t tell me.”

All that said, I do admit that It’s much easier for an owner to instill hunting techniques into his own dog without using force than for a professional. Just the act of teaching a dog the many hunting skills necessary to make a descent dog will add a low level of discipline to his methods.

Endless repetition can be a certain kind of pressure for a dog and a mind numbing substitute for correction. The result is usually a dog that behaves but many not be a joy to work. Something in between repetition and force with a willing student with good trainability can produce a dog that is adequate in the field. The same trainer would probably fail to produce a descent hunting dog out of a rebellious, hard charging, meathead. Lessons learned in the yard are tested in a hunting situation because obedience can be forgotten when live birds are falling. Most dogs fall in between both of the categories of pliability and stubbornness.

Every dog trainer — amateur or professional — must be true to his training beliefs. As for me, I personally will not teach a client or write articles that encourage a novice person to train a mediocre dog. I want all the trainers who read my articles to strive for the best hunting dog they can possibly produce. I know that’s not an easy task, especially for a beginner who has never trained a hunting dog. The challenges proper training present are worth the effort. My hope is that you will not become a card carrying member of the “that’s good enough for me” club.
Have fun training!

* * *

Grady Istre’s column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at reibar.com

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