|Think of the face of a clock….we want our dog to work out in front of us between ten o’clock and two o’clock. Keep in mind that these exercises are not about teaching the dog to simply run back and forth in front of us- it’s about teaching the dog to pay attention and go with us.|
During these drills, occasionally stop and move backwards to cue the dog to come to you. Doing this part of the drill teaches the "here" or "come" command. Don’t add a verbal command to this until the dog is consistently doing it…if you’re having to pull the dog in to you, all the while saying "come", the dog learns that "come" means pull back and argue. If you wait until your dog is complying before you give the action a name, learning will be quicker and easier. Before you try this, know where you will want your retrieves delivered. This way you can consistently teach the dog to come to you and stop at the spot you desire, whether it’s at your side or directly in front. Always have the dog come in and stop in the same fashion, so the habit will develop. Once the dog has come in and is in the "bird delivery" spot, have it stand/sit calmly for a few seconds before resuming the quartering drills. The entire drill should only be done for about ten minutes at a time. You can do several ten minute increments a day; just don’t do them all at once! This check cord drill needs to be repeated until it’s second nature to both you and your dog, with the dog showing consistently willing compliance. It takes as long as it takes.
So far, we’ve learned that the dog needs to work out in front of us and quarter between ten and two as long as we’re moving; and the dog is to come to us if we are backing up, stopped, or kneeling. Once this has become learned behavior for the dog, it’s time to add birds to the equation. We like to plant hobbled pigeons, and then work the dog on the check cord, starting downwind from the bird and working crosswind so the dog has the best opportunity to catch scent. When doing this, be careful to not try to show your dog where the bird is by leading him to it. The whole point of this is to teach the dog to use its nose and find birds for you…showing the dog where the bird can be found is equivalent to doing your child’s homework for them. The dog will learn by trial and error how to best utilize the scent, so don’t deprive them of the chance to learn.
The first few times you check cord your dog on birds, expect the dog to pull and be excited. As we mentioned before, anticipate this so you can correct it before it escalates into a tug-of-war. The check cord should always be used in a consistent manner with a "tap, tap, tap" motion from the fingers and wrist. This may be difficult when the dog is excited about birds, so be prepared to use your arm as a sort of shock absorber. Keep it close to your body so that when the dog pulls, you have some room for give with your arm. If your arm is already fully extended, you have lost the opportunity to give a correction. Keep tapping on the check cord, making sure you give a good solid tap at the exact moment your dog hits the end of his rope. This well timed correction, applied consistently, will give the dog a consequence for its action.
When working with the check cord on birds, it’s critical to remember to be light handed. A heavy hand and lots of pulling or yanking will distract the dog from the birds and intimidate it. The last thing we want is a dog always looking over its shoulder, expecting something negative, whenever it points a bird. Heavy handedness does more to take the style out of a dog than anything else.
You may find handling the check cord a bit awkward at first. Don’t worry about keeping any of the excess cord coiled up; instead, let it drag straight out behind you. Always keep a bit of slack in the rope so you can cue the neck. Without some slack, you will have a pulling match instead of a training session. Practice flipping the rope the way you will when working your dog. You can do this by snapping the rope to any stationary object, like a fence post or the hitch on your truck. Practice using a light wrist motion to flip the rope back and forth, and learn how much slack you will need in the rope to do this. Once you’ve learned this, your training will get easier since you will be able to keep the check cord in the proper position and it won’t get tangled up in your dog’s legs, therefore changing the point of contact.
Repetition and patience combined with a light hand will bring your dog to a level of willing compliance and help him be the very best hunting companion it can be.