Before Going to a Professional - An Interview with Amy Dahl

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Before Going to a Professional - An Interview with Amy Dahl

by Steve Stevenson

Before a professional trainer can effectively train your pup, you’d be well advised to get a bit of training yourself. By doing a thorough job of getting to know your pro, preparing your pup correctly and understanding a few guidelines for participation in the training program, you can make the most of this significant investment of time and money.

Setting Expectations

The process of selecting a trainer is a two-way street—it’s your opportunity to become familiar with the trainer’s program, and the trainer’s chance to learn about your goals and determine if their program is right for you and your pup. There are no dumb questions at this point—experienced trainers understand that each new client is unique in their experience and expectations.

“Different people want different things,” says Amy Dahl of Oak Hill Kennel in Pinehurst, North Carolina. “There’s no script to follow when a trainer and a potential client are getting to know each other.”

It’s important to ask lots of questions at this stage; after you have made a commitment is a poor time to realize that you are uncomfortable with a technique that may be a central tool to the trainer’s program, such as the use of an electronic collar. Likewise, be sure to learn the specifics of the financial commitment you are making to the trainer by asking if there are any costs above and beyond the monthly training fee.

Four Common Training Misunderstandings
  1. Length of training
    “We hear from people who think we’re going to have their dog handling within three months,” says Dahl. Remember, each dog is unique. It may take one especially gifted dog four months to achieve a level of proficiency that another dog requires a year to reach.

  2. Time spent each day
    Dahl observes that “some people expect us to spend a couple of hours every day on their dogs.” The truth is, lengthy training sessions are almost always counterproductive to a dog’s enthusiasm and confidence. Done properly, short (10-15 minute) sessions are optimal for developing a happy, well-trained retriever.

  3. The electronic collar
    Many owners are initially apprehensive about the use of an e-collar, fearing that it is an unnecessarily harsh means of training. According to Dahl, however, the precise opposite is true.

    “I invite owners to watch a training session and see if they think the collar-trained dogs look happy and confident,” she says. “I genuinely believe that in our hands, the collar is a means to gentler training than is possible without it.”

  4. Training set-ups
    Retrievers have to crawl before they can walk. “Many people believe that training should look like hunting every day,” Amy says. “In fact, our program involves a lot of step-by-step building that doesn’t resemble a hunting setting at all.

Starting Early

Dahl suggests that the ideal time to select a professional trainer is before you pick your pup up from the breeder. By doing so, you can ask questions of the trainer and be confident that prior to the beginning of formal training you are raising your pup in a manner that will best prepare it for the trainer’s program.

Most trainers will have specific feelings about how old a pup should be, and what the pup should be taught at home, prior to entering a formal training program.
Some trainers adamantly request that the owner teach the pup nothing at all. Others, Dahl included, prefer that the pup be properly socialized and have a few essential traits.

“For our program,” says Dahl, “a dog that likes to retrieve, is people-oriented, and can go to a strange place without fear is in good shape to start training. “If he has learned how to swim and been introduced to real birds,” she adds, “that’s a plus.”
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