Training in Increments
By Joe R. Lock
When training a bird dog for a particular task, or any dog for any task for
that matter, the trainer should first set a long term goal. For example, if the
trainer wants a finished retriever that will do multiple long distance
retrieves, then he (or she) does not start a four month old dog on doubles
before he has mastered singles. That's only common sense, and it is an extreme
example. However, all trainers should know the small step increments that lead
to the ultimate goal of having a finished dog.
It is of primary
importance in the training of any retriever that the dog be whistle trained. The
goal is to make the dog sit to a whistle at any distance, maybe 50 yards or
more. The trainer must first train the dog to sit to a whistle at heal. The dog
should already sit to the "sit" command. When walking on a leash at heal, the
dog may also automatically sit whenever the handler stops, if he has been
trained to do so. This is all good, and now it's time to add a new element.
Immediately after the sit command, blow one loud quick whistle blast. Repeat
this exercise for several minutes a day, everyday, for about seven days. Then
eliminate the sit command altogether and just blow the whistle, and the dog
should sit. Reinforce this training for another seven days before going on to
the next increment.
Your goal is now to have your retriever sitting at a
distance on one whistle blast. The retriever should be facing you in
anticipation of a retrieve, whether it is a blind retrieve, single, double, or
triple retrieve. To do this, first sit your dog and walk away. If he does not
sit immediately, take him back to the original place and sit him again with the
whistle blast only. It is important that you do not use the verbal sit command
at this point; use only the whistle, and walk away again. If he does not remain
at sit, then once again, take him back to the original place and sit him with
one whistle blast. Continue doing this until he remains at sit as you walk away.
You can gradually increase the distance of your walk before stopping.
are now ready for the next increment. With the dog at sit, walk about 30 feet
away from him, and call him to you. When he is about half way, blow the sit
whistle. If he does not sit at the whistle (and he probably won't), take him
back to the spot where you blew the sit whistle, and make him sit to the whistle
command. Repeat this step until he sits to the whistle, when he is several feet
from you. Gradually increase the distance. Now, when your upland hunting
retriever is working in the field, test out the sit whistle every now and then.
When he is some distance from you quartering and looking for birds, hit the sit
whistle, and he should sit.
By adding this next increment, you will give
the dog a reason to sit on the whistle command. As he sits on the whistle (and
most dogs will naturally turn and face you as they sit) throw a bumper. The dog
should be steady from past retriever training and should not break. If he does
break, don't worry about it now. We will work on that later. He should sit and
mark the bumper. After it falls, throw your arm toward it and yell the dog's
name. He should retrieve the bumper.
By using these small increments of
training, you should have a retriever that will sit at virtually any distance on
one whistle blast. This skill is invaluable in directing a retriever to a blind
retrieve, and it gives you one more aspect of control.
Make sure you
always praise your dog for his successes, and don't get discouraged when he
fails. Constant repetition is the key, and small incremental training steps add
up to the whole finished retriever. Later, we will add more whistle commands and
will introduce hand signals.