Approach the conditioning of steadiness from three positions. These concepts apply equally to young prospects and to seasoned pro retrievers in need of a bit of a tune up.
The dog does not get the mark, retrieve or bird. Either you or another dog picks up the fall. A gundog must realize two things: 1. All retrieves are not theirs, and 2. Whining, creeping or movement will not result in a retrieve; only patience results in a retrieve. Denials also apply to hunting situations. A pup normally should pick up only 25 percent of the falls they encounter their entire first season. For the old pro, a couple of denials are equally effective in maintaining steadiness. Use a second dog or pick up the fall yourself.
Don't send the dog on a retrieve too quickly after a shot or fall. Let time pass, move about, talk, reload and then send. Hone patience. Initially, with a pup, the delay will be brief. Later, the duration between fall and release expands. In training, the young dog may actually be heeled away and re-sent from another position.
Effectively ignoring diversions or distractions, whether in the blind or when completing a retrieve, is actually a derivative of steadiness. Steadiness includes quietly honoring other working dogs, ignoring secondary falls on a retrieve without switching, handling flushing birds and not pursuing off game, and remaining undisturbed by other hunters and their gunfire. Steady dogs can manage temptations while remaining focused on their job.
Steadiness conditioning by no means should be entrenched at the peril of retrieving desire. This need not be the case if the dog has natural retrieving instinct, the conditioning occurs progressively with minimal force and the process is begun at the early stages of training.
Remember, control coupled with keenness and natural ability are the desirable qualities of a fine shooting dog. Our training methods must be structured to accomplish this goal.
Steadiness methodology will be discussed next , which covers:
- The Beginner
- Basic Fundamentals and Group Dynamics
- Substitution for Marking
- Distractions: Birds, Balls and Gunfire
- Pre-Season Conditioning Drills
It is important to structure training exercises and drills that do not compromise steadiness. Too many marks, quickly releasing dogs for retrieves and associating gunfire with immediate retrieves all serve to undermine steadying efforts. As often as possible, utilize training methods that protect steadiness integrity.
Next we'll offer proven methods to help produce that rock-steady shooting dog.
Steadiness conditioning must begin early. Young pups should not be riled up with repeated, meaningless retrieves. Keep pups calm and focused with only a few retrieves per week. You can read more about meaningless retrieves and other training don'ts in Retriever Training: What Not to Do!
When the time comes to delay the pup's release on a retrieve, don't use forceful restraints. Place the pup between your legs as you kneel down. Place your hands across the pup's chest and cradle him against the legs. Pitch the bumper and release when ready by simply removing your hands. Now we are already in the kneeling position to encourage prompt return. As the pup understands the concept of the delay and becomes calmer, lengthen the delay.
Next, restrain the pup lightly from the side to delay the release. When the pup is patient for short periods prior to release, move out in front of him to toss the bumper. Place yourself between him and the bumper by tossing the bumper over your shoulder. The pup's path to the bumper is blocked and the sit command can be encouraged. If pup runs in, he can be stopped or you can quickly pick up the bumper yourself.