The Check Cordby Sharon Potter
Whether you’re an old hand at dog training or a rookie, Rick Smith Seminars will give you information, skill and confidence. The Seminar applies to all breeds of hunting dogs: pointing, retrieving, or flushing. Any age dog is welcome and will benefit. But, YOU are the one who will be trained.
In every dog’s training, there comes a time to ask the dog to work out away from us at a distance. This is best accomplished gradually and in small steps using a valuable tool called the check cord. Using a check cord gives us control over our dog’s movement at an increasing distance, reinforcing how and where we want the dog to work when hunting in front of us. This is simply an extension of the previous step, the command lead. If the lead work was done thoroughly and correctly, and we’ve developed a point of contact on the dog’s neck, then the check cord work will go easily. If it does not, it means more time is needed on the lead and development of the cue on the neck.
So exactly what makes a piece of rope into a check cord? The most important component is the rope. Ideally, a tightly woven nylon is used, and it will have some stiffness or "body" to it. This makes it easier to handle, since it won’t tangle as much as soft rope, and the slight stiffness makes control of the rope work smoothly, especially at a distance. The diameter can be 3/8" or 7/16" depending on what feels good in your hand. Length is a matter of personal preference, but should fall somewhere between twenty and twenty-five feet. Use whatever length you’re most comfortable with. The end that attaches to the dog collar will have a brass swivel snap tied in with a bowline knot. The swivel in the snap keeps the rope from twisting up, and the bowline knot puts a little weight in the rope, slightly away from the dog’s collar, making the rope easier to maneuver when changing directions. The tail of the rope should be finished with a simple overhand knot to keep the rope from sliding through your hand.
The check cord will snap to your dog’s collar, which should be positioned snugly at the top of the neck. The ideal collar for this is plain, heavy leather with a "D" ring to attach the check cord. This will enable the collar to move easily across the dog’s neck as you cue for changes of direction with the check cord. The collars with a round ring connecting the two pieces of leather make this action more difficult, changing the way the collar moves against the neck when a tug from the check cord is applied.
Now that we’ve established what a check cord is, let’s take a look at what we can do with it. It has the same basic functions as the command lead, meaning it tells the dog to come to us or go with us. The cue on the neck, coming from either the command lead or the check cord should always be a light tug and release motion, rather than a steady pull or hard jerk. Think of it as a "tap, tap, tap" motion, coming from your fingers and wrist.
As we begin teaching the dog to quarter in front of us, the check cord gives us the advantage of gradually giving the dog more space while maintaining control. When introducing the dog to the check cord, follow your normal training routine. For us this means going to the stake out chain, then to the command lead, both leading and quartering; and if all is going well with the lead, then we introduce the check cord. If a dog is not giving us willing compliance on the command lead, we will not move ahead to the check cord. Moving forward in training too quickly causes confusion, and you will bring all the problems from the previous step into the new step.
There are three basic drills on the check cord: stand or sit still; come to you; and go with you. We begin with standing or sitting still, depending on the breed. If the correct foundation has been laid on the chain and command lead, the dog should understand how to stand or sit still until asked to move. From the still position, step forward briskly and cue the dog with the check cord via light taps on the collar. This cue means "go with you", and should be accompanied by a quick pace from the handler. Once you’re moving, step sideways away from the dog, angling away at a sharp angle. The dog will probably respond by turning to go with you. When this happens, (let’s say you were going to the right) change direction by turning left and gently flipping the cord across the dog’s back. This in turn will cue the collar, and the dog should make a left turn and continue to go with you. Each time the dog turns and crosses the center of your location, you change direction. Done consistently, this will teach your dog to watch you closely for changes of direction.
An important consideration here is to be sure all turns your dog makes are away from you, never turning back toward you. This will prevent the dog from circling back, something we don’t want a well-trained bird dog to do. Circling means the dog is covering territory already hunted, and it wastes valuable time and energy. A good dog will work in a precise quartering pattern in front of you, always changing direction by turning out away from you in a loop to the front. Dogs tend to have one direction they turn to more easily than the other, much like we are right- or left-handed. If your dog turns the wrong way, gently turn him back the correct way and go on. Pay close attention and you will notice which turn is harder for your dog. Once you have that information, you can anticipate it, and can make a correction before your dog completes the mistake. A good handler always anticipates what may happen, and works to prevent errors rather than fix them. Once the dog anticipates your turns, they will pay closer attention, and will start turning before you have a chance to cue them with the check cord. This is a good thing, since the end goal is a dog that will watch us closely and no matter what direction we take, they will turn and go with us, neatly quartering out to the front.