Tera’s Training Tip of the Day: Warm up your dog before training.
Over the years, having dealt with pointers guiding pheasant hunts and running/training retrievers for field trials, it is clear that the probability of injury is high under these conditions. Be proactive against injury by providing a good quality food, joint supplement (one with glucosamine and Methylsulfonylmethane MSM ), and warming up a dogs core.
Bruce Alhers, DVM and avid Field Trialer, spoke to me about his routines for conditioning and strengthening a dogs core muscles. Doing pile work up a hill is an option. Walking your dog on leash, and requiring them to stand and sit several times is another. Having the dog sit up on their hind quarters with the front paws off the ground is also a great way to warm up the core. Rapid Retrieving such as “Happy Bumpers” can cause a dog to twist and turn before the muscles are sufficiently warmed up putting extra stress on ligaments and joints. Whatever routine you decide to adopt, make sure it is done in a slow and controlled process – ultimately working up to strenuous activity. I hope this helps everyone to have great training days that provide many healthy years of enjoyment!
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Hunting Hen Pheasants.
All dogs are best at what they do the most. As puppies I will expose them to bird wings, quail, pigeons,and mallards. When they are a little older and display good mouth habits I expose them to pheasants. Pheasants are much more delicate a bird than a pigeon or mallard duck. Often times pheasants can be more expensive to train with since they do not hold up long when freezing and thawing. The skin is thinner and the feathers are softer. Sometimes retrievers will fumble when carrying a pheasant due to the feathers sticking to their tongue like glue. If your retriever doesn’t have good mouth habits they will most likely chomp or tear into the breast of the bird with little effort, an occurrence hunters and retriever enthusiast want to avoid.
Along with their delicate nature pheasants, especially hens are harder to scent than other game. Nature has also made Hen pheasants near impossible to spot with the naked-eye given their natural camouflage. For a young inexperienced hunting or competitive retriever it is difficult for them to differentiate between scents such as wounded game, mixed bags, and the ever illusive “Hen” pheasant. If you have hunted on a game preserve or been in a field trial where a hen pheasant has been nestled in cover the retrievers will practically stand on top of the bird before catching the scent.
If Hen Pheasants are going to be part of the bag your retriever is seeking then they will need lots of practice. Exposure to hunting Hens in many conditions will help, a wet pheasant gives off the least amount of scent while a fresh shot Hen flyer on a warm day with little wind can pose another challenge. So the question is as we travel in our journey of training our retrievers, “How can we manufacture these conditions for training?”
When young pups or adolescents we at Bay Blue Kennels like to develop a retriever’s hunt. Relying on my background as a Professional Pheasant Hunting Guide and Pointer Trainer I’ve came up with a drill to teach dogs how to use the wind and find game quickly. We refer to this drill as the “Hunt’em Up Drill”. It begins by planting objects in a field that have been scented such as paint rolls, bumpers, toys, and eventually birds. Then the handler takes the retriever for a walk giving one command at the beginning of the drill to: “Hunt it up”. Walking the retriever into the wind or around the object in order to catch the scent never talking to the retriever other than praise when the object is found. The goal of this drill is to teach the retriever to work independently but in relation to the handler. Excessive interaction from the handler or talking to the retriever will only distract them from concentrating on scents. Once the retriever finds the object or bird, praise them lavishly. Carry a bag to put the object or bird into so the retriever is not scenting or hunting the handler and game previously found. This drill becomes an enjoyable, quiet, productive game that many retrievers look forward to, encouraging them to dart off into cover when commanded to “Hunt it up”.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: The Rhythm Of The Dance.
The rhythm utilized within the art of training retrievers is probably one of the hardest skills for a handler to perfect. Not all of us were born with good rhythm. As I have mentioned before, a handler has great influence over a retriever with their body language. It is the unspoken language between a human and retriever. When developing trust and confidence in your retriever having a consistent rhythm will help them advance in their lessons. As puppies learning obedience retrievers are heavily influenced by your rhythm during walking at heel. If the rhythm is interrupted or inconsistent the puppy will become confused. It would be as if you were dancing a beautiful Waltz and all of a sudden your partner sped up or changed a step. An experienced dancer could adjust rapidly, but a new dancer would stumble while trying to figure out what dance step to perform next. In the instance of confusion your young retriever can become apprehensive and begin to mistrust what they believed to be correct in their seeking of approval from the handler. The confusion of the dance or process of walking at heel can be alleviated if the puppy and handler develop a rhythm with one another. The puppy can then begin to understand what the next step to the dance should be. Now the puppy can begin to perform the dance with style, grace, and ease therefore advancing in the lesson of heel.
For a sophisticated retriever rhythm becomes critical when lining up or pointing out the gun stations in the field. The pushing and pulling to steer your retriever in the direction they need to focus is an intricate dance including finite movements and slight distributions of the handler’s weight. If the handler’s movements are too big & inconsistent the retriever will be bouncing back and forth in an gyrated mess of non-focus. This gyrated dance is very disruptive and displays a lack of control from the handler to work as a well-oiled retriever team. A consistent team will be able to push and pull without ever-moving off the mate or moving greater than an inch. If the rhythm between the handler and retriever is smooth it can be a jaw dropping sight to witness as the team works in unison. In order to be proficient find your own rhythm first, practice it, then introduce it to your retriever. Develop consistency between you and your retriever’s rhythm. Good timing and rhythm go hand in hand and will help your retriever team advance looking polished, controlled, and smooth. Wagon-Wheel lining is a wonderful drill to put you and your retriever on the same rhythmic page.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Chocolate Toxicity.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!
Love is in the air! Special occasions and holidays are cause for presents or goodies throughout the house. Sometimes our dogs feel the need to indulge in the holiday treats along with their humans. A change in your dog diet such as the one time human food treat can cause dehydration, diarrhea, or other unpleasantries. As little as two ounces of chocolate can cause your dog to become toxic. Chocolate toxicity is very dangerous. Here are some of the signs and symptoms:
Increased body temperature
Increased reflex responses
Increased heart rate
Low blood pressure
Advanced signs (cardiac failure, weakness, and coma)
If your dog becomes suddenly ill around this time of year chocolate maybe your culprit and you should get your dog to the nearest vet. Chocolate Toxicity Meter
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Develop Good Timing.
Developing good timing with your lessons can advance a retriever’s training immensely. Without good timing a trainer can undermine their lesson and confuse the retriever in a heartbeat. To develop good timing takes lots of practice, all things must be considered such as, environment, area lesson is being taught, apparatuses, and so on. When teaching obedience or force fetch timing of appropriate correction is imperative. For example, if one continues to pinch the ear (or pull on the toe) while the bumper is already in the retriever’s mouth your retriever will become confused and not understand how to shut off the pressure being applied. Your retriever makes these associations (how to shut off pressure) not in seconds but, in nanoseconds. A poorly timed correction can set training back a week or even more. Upsetting the apple card in the early stages of training will breed fear and mistrust from your retriever. This is not what a retriever needs during their early stages of training. A young retriever needs a regiment, routine, and outline in order to understand where they fit in your world and the world of retriever training. Calm, reassured, rhythmic teachings and lessons will go far with your retriever. Now I know we do not live in a perfect world and humans are not perfect, mistakes and poor timing of correction WILL occur. However, when it does, try to recognize it immediately, and rebuild what ground in your lesson it caused you to lose.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Training During Inclement Weather.
I’m sure everyone across the country is hoping for Spring to dawn early. This Winter across the U.S. has been brutally cold with records being broken every week. Ice storms, multi-car pile ups, major highway closures, snowfall, days off of work and school are just some of the inconveniences that occur during this type of winter weather. As these treacherous winter conditions unfold we as Retriever Enthusiast and Trainers want and need to train our retrievers in order to prepare for the upcoming Spring/Summer season. Training retrievers in these conditions is not impossible with some creativity, proper care, and attention to detail it can be done safely and effectively.
Your dogs paws can become worn, cut, or iced while training in the winter. Having dog shoes or booties can help. At first most dogs do not like these shoes, but once they get used to them it saves the owner from hours of tedious foot care. Hydration is also key, as a house dog they are susceptible to dehydration due to the heating of our homes. As an outside dog water helps the dog stay warm and regulate their body temperature. As a Professional Retriever Trainer I try not to let the weather affect our weekly training schedule. Unfortunately, one must draw the line when safety due to conditions could be questionable. Icy conditions are too dangerous. When dogs loose footing tissues tear and career ending falls can ensue. As a rule, Bay Blue Kennels trains 6 days a week unless it is lightning, ice or snow. I don’t mind training in the snow but visibility becomes an issue.
Many have asked what can I do with my retriever during these conditions? If you are lucky enough to have friends with horses, indoor arenas or pole buildings can provide lots of space for some fundamental drill work such as the wagon wheel casting and lining, pattern blinds with diversion, “W” pattern, and the cabin drill. If you can not find an indoor space get out your snow blower, snowmobile or call the plow truck. I like the snow blowers and snowmobiles for creating paths for my patterns initially. The paths provide a clear direction of travel creating an opportunity to develop your dogs muscle memory and get him/her back into shape after being a couch potatoe. Bounding over the snow although pretty to watch can be dangerous and near impossible to run a straight line when your dealing with feet of snow. Be creative, be safe, and most of all have fun during this wicked winter.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Pick Your Battles. Tucker Kuenker learning to hold the bumper while shaking off excess water.
Wars are not waged on every battle a nation faces. The battles worth fighting are those that maintain to preserve our freedoms we enjoy everyday. Be wise and choose your battles. Not every battle is worth fighting and not every battle you will win. For some battles will cause more harm than good and others will change your retrievers life. These are words I play out in my mind everyday when observing my retrievers work and train. I always ask myself, ” What is going to be the ramification from choosing to fight this battle now?” “Will I create a problem elsewhere?” or “Is this a battle worth fighting in the big picture for my retriever?” Some issues need to be address right then and there. Others maybe able to wait, as your retriever advances the problem may smooth itself without a battle. Remember where your retriever is at in their training. Ask yourself, “Is it fair to require this standard of performance right now?” Is the retriever giving effort or is he/she distracted in their efforts? All important questions to ask oneself before waging a war on a battle .
For example, some issues get worse when you point your finger at it. I have experienced some retrievers with mouth problems. Theses problems have a tendency to get worse if you choose to fight this battle on a consistent basis. The battle enables the problem to persist making the issue not about what the retriever is doing wrong with the bird, rather it becomes about the battle itself. The alternative is to let the retriever relax in their work through practice and conquering challenge in their training. It is surprising to watch as some of these problems will often fixes themselves.. Whatever the issue or problem for the day, evaluate its importance in the big picture of your retrievers life, purpose, and choose your battles wisely.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Take A Break From The Electronic Collar.
A lot of equipment goes along with training retrievers for the field. If one is not careful it can be quite an expensive endeavor, we all love the latest and greatest gadgets. Most new products developed for dog training are useful while others are just that, gadgets that may not serve their purpose for long. In any case it is always good to go back to the basics and review a weakness of your retrievers. Before the world became so “high tech” the professionals of the past used to make champions without two-way radios, a four wheeler, electronic throwers, or the electronic collar. Hard to imagine in the world we live in today, but its true. The professionals and amateurs back in the day used to walk out to the dog to make a correction, gave a hand signal to their thrower, and often relied on the use of ropes to teach a skill.
With the ease of the electronic collar it has a tendency to be over used. At Bay Blue Kennels we try and put ourselves in the dog’s shoes. Basic training and collar conditioning can become a drawn out process for some retrievers. As an effort to keep all things in balance it is a good practice to take a break from the use of the electronic collar. During a young retriever’s basics training we are throwing so much information at them in a short period of time. At this period in your retrievers life they learn how to respond to all forms of pressure including the electronic collar. In order to challenge ones self for improvement in they way you read a retriever, react to their behavior, or teach a lesson do it for a day without the use of the electronic collar. By all means still make corrections and intervene in the retrievers actions as needed, but challenge your mind to find other ways to correct, teach, or practice your lessons. Your retrievers attitude toward training will benefit. Without the influence of the electronic collar your retriever may show other tendencies not noticed in training before. A look at the raw dog. Taking a day off from the use of the electronic collar will offer an alternative perspective about your retriever and their training habits.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Measuring Degrees Of Difficulty.
Measuring degrees of difficulty for your retriever can be just that, difficult. In retriever training there are some constants in your retrievers instinctual tendencies. For example, retrievers will almost always drive to the top of a hill when faced with a side-hill mark. All retriever’s have a tough time negotiating angles as their tendencies are to square all obstacles. Most retrievers will be likely to travel the path of least resistance, running around the water or running a road.
When preparing, growing, and grooming a young retriever for competition or hunting I am constantly evaluating every aspect of the training day and taking all things into consideration. I need to know what factors are effecting the retrievers on that day, at their age, and in their level of training. To accomplish this I use an 80/20 rule. 80% of the time my young retrievers experience success in one form or another. If the retriever misses a mark I will offer help, if the retriever has a lack of focus I will simplify a task to increase my chances of success. 20% of the time I will challenge the retriever greatly, setting up a test knowing full well it is a bit over the retrievers skill set. The adversity and challenge the retriever faces is healthy in small doses. Our retrievers must be confident we will get them to the bird either handling, re-throwing, repeating, or using gunner help. Your retriever doesn’t have to do it perfectly, but they must be successful. This approach to challenge and adversity will teach the retriever to not fear the unknown challenge, stare difficultly in the face and attack it with good decisions, along with practicing some teamwork in the field. A true thing of beauty even if all things are not perfect.
The purpose for the 20% of challenge is to measure the appropriate degree of difficulty the retriever needs to be training, on a regular basis. Holes and weaknesses within your retrievers training will be revealed. This challenge will allow for the trainer to evaluate not only the retrievers performance, but the trends or stalemates of their own training program. While training retrievers everyday it is easy to become patterned, develop a style, and become fixated on particular set-ups we like. As a retriever trainer in a competitive world I am training with the percentages of probability to get to the bird in mind. “What skills will percentage wise get my retriever to the bird often, accurately, and with style.” A good rule of thumb is a retriever with a good water attitude can go far in the game versus a retriever that struggles in the water.
We as retriever trainers have to teach our dogs how to negotiate all obstacles correctly. However, I use the term “correctly” loosely. When training for Field Trials, I will have a different standard of performance in my training set-ups than I do if I am training for a Hunt Test or Gun Dog. In Field Trials because it is head to head competition all things are relative to the judging for that particular weekend. We can watch Judging trends and know the grounds provided to guess what kind of test maybe rendered. This knowledge can sometimes give a competitive edge, but is not a fail-safe. The best way to get the leg up on the competition is just to get up everyday, go to work, and give 110% at all times. The talented retrievers will reveal themselves when faced with the challenges. Good Judges will place birds where retrievers do not want to instinctively travel (good bird placement) or put birds where there is no straight path to travel in order to make the retrieve. In Hunt Tests the Judges have requirements within the rule book “A Testing Standard” to meet in order for that retriever to earn a particular title Junior, Senior, and the coveted Master Hunter Title. To become a Champion, the retrievers must be above average at many things, they must posses talent, a willingness to learn, and make good decisions in the field. Accurately, measuring degrees of difficultly for your retrievers will help you reach your goals and improve your training.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Be Aware Of Your Body Language.
As a Professional Retriever Trainer at Bay Blue Kennels I must be cognoscente of where my big toe on my right foot is pointed at all times. Sounds kinda silly I know, but it is the first step in teaching young retrievers to take cues from my body positioning. During a training session with each retriever I am also aware of my demeanor and posture.To be an effective trainer and to ensure mixed signals are not undermining my lessons it is imperative to be conscientious of your body language.
As puppies, retrievers learn from mama’s facial snarl or body positioning if she is accepting of the puppy’s play or urge to nurse. Puppies learn from an early age and mama’s interaction how to read body language. Body language is the primary form of communication they have with their mother and siblings. We as humans poses the same abilities to communicate with our retrievers through our body language.
In order to be an effective trainer one must bring the unconscious of our body language to the conscious. I often mention to my assistants, “You must be a good actor during your students lesson.” If you are working with a retriever and you are tired, fatigued, or frustrated the retriever you are working with should never sense it. Your expressions, posture, and movement should exude confidence, fun, and purpose without being intimidating or worrisome to your retriever student. A trainer’s task that takes sometime to master.
As training advances, our vocabulary through our body language expands. For instance, if I move my left leg toward the dog’s rump, shift my weight to the left, and snap my fingers on my left hand the retriever should move back and to the left as a response to my body cues. This is what is known as a “Push” in retriever training. If I hold my arm out to the left or right of my body when a retriever is returning from a mark, this gestures indicates to the retriever which side of my body they should come to heel in the neutral position. These are essential tools to utilize because through consistent body language our retriever’s will learn to move with us smoothly, trust to travel where they are pointed, and learn to focus where we influence them to focus all through non-verbal communication. The words are secondary to our retrievers and at times insignificant when they choose to turn a deaf ear. However, once you can control your body language and present lessons that revolve around a confident, positive, and fun aura your retriever will reflect it in their attitude to work for you.