Developing the Waterfowler - Page 2

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Never correct out of anger. Try to communicate to your dog what it is that you want it to do. Give ample "show-pup" examples (leading the dog through the exercise in an upbeat manner) and always reward an effort. Make absolutely sure the dog understands the command before beginning correction.

It is important to be consistent with commands. Don't sometimes command "Here" and other times "Come." Also have realistic expectations. If your dog does not sit under control at home, it is unlikely to sit in the boat or blind.

Simplify every task by taking the building-block approach. If you try to have your dog perform a double mark before it can successfully retrieve single falls, the dog will fail and become confused. Additionally, if you correct the dog every time it makes a mistake, a fear of failure may result. Fear of failure does not develop a bold, confident dog, and the dog may quit trying. A good approach is to correct the dog only for lack of effort or flagrant disobedience of a command that it has thoroughly learned. This is particularly true in the case of retrieving exercises or drills involving birds. If you consistently adhere to these principles, early training should go well. A genetically gifted dog + consistent standards + praise = a good attitude.

Now that I have gone over the fundamentals of basic training, I want to look at early yard training and the development of the retrieving instinct. The first three months of the pup's development should center on socializing the dog. Pups that are not well socialized by six months will forever be backward. In the first eight months it is beneficial to have introduced your pup to water, birds and gunfire. Of course, this doesn't mean throwing a shackled duck into chilly water to see how the pup does with it. I hate the whole "let's-see-what-happens-if' approach. If a dog becomes scared of water, birds or guns, this often could have been prevented.

It's also important to instill a strong retrieving instinct in your dog during this time. If the pup is a year old before it learns to retrieve, work will progress much more slowly. The key to developing the retrieving instinct is to start with short, easy retrieves when the pup is 10 to 16 weeks old. Don't overdo it, either. The trick is to leave the pup always wanting more. Make retrieving fun and upbeat. Limit the number of retrieves to two or three per session, and limit your sessions to one every other day.

By doing retrieving exercises in a hallway or narrow fenced area, the pup will be less likely to run away with its prize. Get down on your knees or lay on your back to encourage the pup to bring the retrieved object to you. Praise the pup only when it has returned to you with the object it was sent after.

All advanced training like blind retrieves, line steadiness, line manners and multiple marks build on yardwork. By yardwork, I mean the teaching of "Here," "Heel" and, most important, the fundamental command "Sit." I recommend encouraging basic obedience to these commands when the dog is five to six months old. And "Sit," "Here" and "Heel" should be taught in that order.

Some people teach the commands "Sit" and "Stay," but I believe "Stay" is superfluous. "Sit" means to remain sitting in one place until released. "Sit" includes "Stay." It will be easier for the dog to grasp the concept of sitting in one place until released if it hasn't already been taught to come with you every time you walk away.

Teaching "Hold" is the first step in preparation for teaching the forced retrieve. At Grouse Wing Kennel, we will have taught basic obedience and developed a strong retrieving instinct in the dog before teaching "Hold." We will have fully collar-conditioned the dog as well.

To teach "Hold" we use an eight- to 10-inch wooden dowel wrapped in clothesline. We teach "Hold" during a period of one to three weeks rather than trying to force the issue in one session. First, we place the dowel in the dog's mouth and hold the dog's jaws closed gently while repeating, "Hold, Hold, Hold." Initially, when the dog holds the dowel even for a couple of seconds, I reward it with praise and immediately take the dowel out of its mouth. Praise the dog when it is holding the dowel, not when the dog drops it or you take it out of its mouth. Be patient. Remember that you are a trusted mentor. It will help if you start off with the dog sitting on a table, where it will feel that it is more under your control.

Once the dog has completed basic obedience, collar-conditioning, initial retrieving and will hold the dowel while in your control, it is ready to be force-fetched. You and the dog are now well on your way to success.
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