Story at a Glance
Keypoints to be discussed in this article are:
- Obedience first
- Coming on command
- Too much dog
- Electronic collars
- Selective breeding
Copyright © 2000 by Robert Milner.
1. Obedience First
The most common deficiency in the average hunter's gundog training program is a lack of emphasis on obedience and steadiness.
If I could persuade the average gundog owner to do one thing better as a trainer, it would be to spotlight obedience and emphasize the non-retrieve. The non-retrieve is when the pup sees a bird or dummy fall but doesn't get to retrieve it. The trainer or another dog retrieves it while the pup watches.
We took a wrong turn somewhere in the evolution of training and now go about the retrieving and steadying processes in a totally illogical manner. We take a young dog and give him hundreds of retrieves with no restraint. For the first thousand retrieves, we encourage the dog to take off at will after the falling dummy. Then, after we have him well trained to break, we change the rules and decide to make him steady - which requires a certain amount of punishment to counteract the breaking behavior we have just trained.
The sequence should be reversed. Train the pup on obedience first, and train him to be steady by teaching him to expect to be steady. This is done with non-retrieves.
As soon as the pup is proficient at basic obedience, the "stay" drill should include some falling dummies. While he's sitting, toss out a dummy or two. Then go and pick up the dummies while he watches. If you are picking up 75 percent of what the pup sees fall, then he doesn't expect to retrieve everything that drops from the sky.
He becomes steady, with little effort and no punishment. Additionally, he develops into a calm, pleasant hunting companion. The same principle applies to the older dog in hunting situations. If you send the dog immediately every time a bird falls, then you are training him to break. Make his life easier by making him wait.
When duck hunting, wait until you have several ducks on the water before you send your pup to retrieve. Unless wind or current is carrying off the ducks, it won't hurt them to float for a half-hour. If you are shooting doves, pick up the short, easy ones yourself. Let your pup sit for 10-15 minutes before he is sent for the difficult retrieves. The exception, of course, is the crippled bird, for which you must send the pup quickly to reduce the odds of escape.
The practice of delayed retrieving also pays dividends by making it easier for your pup to learn hand signals and blind retrieves. If you have four or five dead ducks on the water that have been there a while, your pup is not going to remember exactly where they are. He knows they are there and will eagerly cast off in their general direction, but his certainty will waver and he will be prone to seeking help from you.
Conversely, when you engage in the practice of immediately sending your pup on every fall, you are training him in self-reliance. When he's launched on the splash, he knows exactly where that bird is and will quickly pick it up. After he's found several hundred birds all by himself, it is going to become difficult to convince him that he needs help from you in the form of hand signals.