By Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels – Home of Drake the DU Dog
The development of the polished retriever is largely a factor of time invested in a dog of average or above-average aptitude. Polish arises from an attention to detail. Details promote quality, and quality exceeds expectations. Polish is more than style. It is a dog's functional behaviors, skills and responses that contribute to a satisfactory day in the field.
Polish includes many dimensions, such as smooth delivery to hand, crisp handle, responsiveness, steadiness to shot and fall, tracking cripples, etc. Polished retrievers possess certain basic qualities with regard to obedience:
- They respond reliably to commands, signals and cues.
- They accomplish commands quickly in a crisp, stylish manner.
- They project a quiet, patient, well disciplined demeanor, always under control.
- They incorporate refined obedience skills into everyday field situations.
Polished retrievers sit quietly for extended periods of inactivity. Frequently drill this for 20-30 minutes in all types of weather and locations. The dog must remain still and quiet. (No noise, disruptive behavior or continuous movement due to boredom.) One can hone this skill while performing tasks around the house, office or farm. Incorporate distraction—kids playing, other dogs, farm animals, etc. Also take advantage of inclement weather—light rain, sleet and snow. That's the way it will be on the shoot!
Polished retrievers sit in an alert, regal manner. A well postured sitting position denotes attentiveness.
Lying down is not a problem for extended periods, but laziness in the blind or at the line indicates sloppy inattention. Correct pups early to avoid the habit of lying down while at sit. Return them to sit promptly by picking up the lead, lifting the pup and re-commanding, "Sit." Also use this technique if the pup drops at your side when you stop. Be consistent and reward proper behavior. Punishment tends to make this matter worse in a pup.
Not sitting squarely on the hips or having a rear leg and/or foot extended is poor form. Reposition the dog repeatedly to the proper sit position. Don't let this become a habit. If the dog continuously extends a foot at sit, remain erect at the dog's side and lightly apply pressure with your foot on his. The dog will retract the foot. As he does, repeat the command, "Sit." Reward all correct responses.
A British term to describe whining or barking while on the hunt. Never allow it, from pup age on. The pup must learn to sit quietly in groups of dogs and people under all types of distractions, including birds and gunfire, without squeaking. While giving mouth under excitement is often a transferred trait from parents to offspring, it is also a correctable habit when addressed early.
Dogs must remain under absolute control during the loading and unloading of the vehicle. The unpolished retriever bounds out of the vehicle or kennel at the first opportunity and proceeds to run amuck. Fights erupt, guns are knocked over and shouts emerge from otherwise drowsy, passive hunters, all unnecessarily. Out-of-control dogs can fall victim to injury from passing motorists as well. Polished retrievers are mannerly at the vehicle, awaiting instruction to enter or exit. Once out, they sit quietly outside awaiting further instruction. They load by name in proper order upon return. There is nothing more unpleasant than a muddy, wet retriever just back from the hunt jumping on the interior of your 4x4 as the door opens.
Steady to Flush
Polished retrievers remain at heel, undeterred by flushed game, birds or otherwise. Dogs should be conditioned during basic training to remain steady at heel to flushed game. Begin this after the pup is heeling well and relatively steady to thrown bumpers. As you heel the pup, toss out the bumper and give the "sit" command. As you progress, get the pup to the point that he sits when he sees any thrown bumper. Add cold game, and then flush pigeons while the pup walks at heel. The progression to gunfire and flushed game is logical. You may never plan to use your dog on upland game but you will find that this level of steadiness is most beneficial in the field.
Polished retrievers don't chase livestock or game. Attempts to pursue an out-of-control hunting dog are more than embarrassing. Retrievers must avoid the tendency to give chase to bolting deer, rabbit or other creatures of fur or feathers. Indoctrinate pups to all forms of bolting game or livestock. Train in areas frequented by livestock. Dogs will learn to pay little regard to these animals, and the scents they leave behind, once properly introduced. Ultimately, you can expect retrieves directed through a small cowherd.
Gates and Fences
A properly disciplined dog will remain at sit while allowing all parties to open and pass through gates and gaps and to cross fences. Dogs that rush through gates and fences ahead of people are a nuisance and a danger. Dogs should be conditioned to pass through gaps or under fences only on command and after their handlers.
Polished hunting companions are careful, patient and attentive at heel at all times while in rough or hazardous terrain. Dogs must be watchful not to interfere with the hunters' movements as they negotiate ditches; fallen timber; rough cover or deep snow, mud or water. Dogs should be conditioned to sit patiently until all parties have crossed hazardous ditches, embankments or slopes and come forward only on command. Pups are taught to heel at various speeds over obstacles and rough conditions quite early. Training dogs to heel while swimming next to the handler pays off as well.
These are but a few of the polished skills related to an obedient, well disciplined dog. Realistically, polished skills do not equate more value to style than function, at least not for the serious hunter. Success is in the details and attention to detail creates a disciplined retriever that is a viable contender for the coveted title of polished.