Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Hunting Hen Pheasants.

Denim Straka returns with a Hen Pheasant Flyer. Success!!!
Denim Straka returns with a Hen Pheasant Flyer. Success!!!

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”.

Happy Training!

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day

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.

Happy Training!

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day

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.

Happy Training!

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Pick Your Battles.Tucker Keunker learning to Hold the bumper while shaking off. 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.

Happy Training!

 

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Take A Break From The Electronic Collar.

Jade Steelman returning from a marked retrieve with a LIVE Flyer!
Jade Steelman returning from a marked retrieve with a LIVE Flyer!

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.

Happy Training!

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Measuring Degrees Of Difficulty.

 

Theresa Kucan casting her retriever "Thunder" on a blind retrieve at Sharon & Hal Gierman's northern property
Theresa Kucan casting her retriever “Thunder” on a blind retrieve at Sharon & Hal Gierman’s northern property

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.

Happy Training!

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Be Aware Of Your Body Language.

Boone Youngblood offers up the bumper so he can concentrate on the next retrieve.
Boone Youngblood offers up the bumper so he can concentrate on the next retrieve.

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.

Happy Training!

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Build Marks

Building A Re-Entry Mark
Building A Re-Entry Mark

Often times on difficult conceptual marks, longer marks, or retired marks I will build the marked retrieve. I like to build a mark in order to show the retriever how to properly perform the mark the first time out of the gate. Building a mark is helpful in teaching not only good habits, but boosting the retriever’s confidence in an unfamiliar setting presented with a new task. Retriever’s naturally fear the unknown so if the difficult marks can be presented in a positive manner during field work your retriever will ease into the situation with confidence looking to conquer the task with 110% the next time it is presented to them. The above scenario is a better tool than throwing the mark wondering if the retriever will succeed or not. Training is more enjoyable for the retriever if he is taught through success.

On difficult marks such as a re-entry mark, I will go to the re-entry point, perform the mark then back up to the starting point and perform the mark again. This method demonstrates to the retriever where they should enter the water after exiting. If the retriever’s memory or effort lacks on the re-entry I will simply have the bird thrower help with another throw or a “Hey Hey”.

On longer marks, distances that are new to the retriever, I will cut the mark in half. I will walk up and perform the mark. Then I will move back to the mat and perform the mark again. However, if your retriever is very focused and is looking out long well I will start on my mat and throw the mark. Once I release the retriever to go and get the mark at mid-distance to the mark I will throw another bumper while the retriever is en route. This method will encourage success, good momentum, and the proper line, all attributes to keep in mind when having your retrievers perform difficult marks. These are just a few ways to promote success in your retriever’s training on the advanced marking concepts. Analyze the marks your presenting your retriever, evaluate your retriever’s prior experiences, and breakdown the marks in order to build them up so your retriever is performing the mark correctly from the mat on the first send.

Happy Training!

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Solutions For Water-Logged Birds.

Have you ever sent your retriever for a water mark where the retriever travels directly to the area, but can not find the bird because it sank to the bottom of the pond. A frantic situation for the retriever and the trainer. Everyone scrambles to get the retriever a bird to bring back before the retriever looses confidence in their mark and leaves the area or worse yet returns to the line without a bird. Not an ideal training scenario and one we try to avoid.

Here are a couple of tips to prevent your training birds from sinking. First provide a pool of water in the pen your birds are kept. This will allow the birds feathers to naturally produce valuable oils that will allow them to float. While throwing marks in the water and after the birds have returned to the line take an auto shammy towel to wipe the excess water off of the birds. Then once the birds are wiped off hang them on a drying rack. If you can hang your birds in front of a fan it’s even better. Quickly drying the birds will help them to stay a float and last longer.

Another trick in the trade is to semi-taxidermy your fresh shot flyers. You will need a can of spray foam expandable insulation, a pair of small sharp scissors, and some cotton string.

First take the fresh bird and with the small scissors cut a small straight slit from the anus toward the bill. This slit should be no longer than two inches in length. Next remove all the inners including the trachea. Then tie a piece of the cotton string around the neck just under the bill. This prevents the expandable foam from coming out of the ducks bill while you are trying to fill it. Now insert the nozzle of the spray can into the small slit at the anus. Begin to fill the ducks body with foam slowly. Spray a little foam then wait a moment for expansion, spray a little more foam until you see the foam coming out of your slit. Give the foam a couple of minutes to finish expanding before you sew the slit closed.

To sew the bird up use the pointed end of the closed scissors to make small holes in the birds skin on either side of your slit, just like lace holes on a tennis shoe. Next cut a 8-10 inch piece of string to lace up the bird. Just like lacing up a tennis shoe insert your string and lace up your opening. Make sure to pull the skin tightly together so the foam adheres to the skin for a water proof seal. Hang the bird up where air can circulate around the body of the bird. This will allow for the bird to properly dry and provide a bird that float high in the water. The feathers will fall off before this semi-taxidermy bird will sink! This technique also works well when you are traveling to train or a freezer to preserve and store birds properly is not available.

May Your Birds Never Sink Again and Happy Training!

 

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day

Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: A Trainer’s Influence.

John Lanczak teaching a puppy to be quiet and watch.
John Lanczak teaching a puppy to be quiet and watch.

 

The influence of an owner or trainer happens with every step, every correction and virtually every interaction you have with your retriever. What ever the trainer does whether it be giving a stern “No”, tugging on the pinch collar, or correcting with the electronic collar elicits a reaction from your retriever. The reaction or consequence of the action the trainer took to modify a retriever’s behavior may not manifest immediately. Over time the response from your retriever may manifest in not only a change in the performance of the task but also an alteration to your retrievers attitude, anxiety, or proficiency in training. In simpler terms with every action the trainer takes there is a counter reaction from your retriever positive, negative, or indifferent.

The responses from your retriever will vary depending on your retrievers personality. A sensitive retriever will not tolerate harsh or heavy correction for long without jeopardizing the retriever’s attitude toward their work. For a sensitive retriever failure in drills and marks maybe enough to alter their attitude making them discouraged about their work. A more exuberant, hard-charging dog may need repeated heavier correction consistent overtime to change behavior or influence attitude in order to continue advancement. Until the trainer takes action with a retriever the outcome is unknown and vary with each student.

Almost every retriever experiences a decrease in marking accuracy when they are performing the drills and tasks associated with Force Fetch. Knowing this reaction to this stressful task in your retriever’s life field work must be made simpler to encourage a high probability of success. This counter action by the trainer to the stress of the Force Fetch while in the field will likely balance out your retriever for a boost in attitude, accuracy, and effort toward their overall training. We as trainer’s are always acting in accordance with the retriever’s responses no matter what they maybe. We encourage a positive attitude and response while making efforts to change or alter a negative response turning it into a positive habit formed reaction. Remember that you as the owner/trainer can perform an action that will elicit a reaction from your retriever that you will have to live with for the rest of that retriever’s life. A good rule of thumb is to observe something a time or two before you react, consider all the possible responses your retriever could have to your reaction, and have a plan to deal with those possible responses from your retriever before you take action.

Happy Training!