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.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Holding Blind Manners
Whether your in a goose blind or a holding blind waiting for your number to be called good manners are essential. Dogs rely heavily on their senses and when the sense of sight is taken from them as it is in a blind they can exhibit a number of annoying or disruptive behaviors. I have seen retrievers try to climb over the blind, whine, bark, or anxiously shake because they can not see the action they are hearing. If your retriever is taught to trust their turn to work will come and remain calm while waiting for that time you will be invited back to the hunt and may even WIN a ribbon or two.
Having a calm retriever in the blind will help their performance immensely. Your retriever will learn to conserve precious energy they may need for the long cripple sailing across the cut corn or energy needed to remember a long retired mark in competition. Either way your retriever should become accustom to hearing gunfire while they can not see where the shots are coming from. Another nice tool to utilize is being able to have your retriever sit steady “remotely” (in an area away from the handler) in a blind.I like to accomplish the teaching of these skills in a drill or yard setting first. In a competitive setting I meet the dog’s halfway and rather than making them sit with their nose facing the blind I allow them to look out of the blind toward me as demonstrated in the picture above. If I am preparing the retriever for the hunt I will begin with having them kennel in a dog blind. There is little distraction initially in the yard. As I choose to add distraction such as gunfire, thrown birds, or duck calls if the retriever breaks I can easily reproduce the situation and practice on it. When the retriever begins to masters the basic concept, such as kennel and sit, I will reinforce the commands in the yard. Then once I feel the retriever is reliable I will introduce and reinforce the commands in the field setting. This process goes by quickly, but offers a lifetime of pleasant behavior from your retriever.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Think Outside The Box.
Puppies between the ages of 8 weeks to 6 months old need to be exposed to birds if your goals are to include field work. The feathers, size, sounds, and smell of the bird can be startling to a young dog. Enhancing prey drive and inspiring the chase are essential behaviors one needs to strive for when training a young dog to be a working retriever. Quail, Chukar, and Pigeons are ideal birds to begin with. Unfortunately, these birds are not always available. As an alternative one can use Mallard wings, Pheasants, or Bantam Chickens to train puppies. For older retrievers that will be goose hunting, farm geese work well to teach the dog how to negotiate this size of bird.
I especially like the Bantams, these birds are durable, noisy, animated, and run fast. For a puppies first session with a Bantam Chicken I will put a small rubber band around the beak. The squawking of the chicken can scare a puppy the first time they are up close and personnel. The chicken’s feet should be zip tied so the bird does not run away. The restraint of the chicken will allow for the puppy to sniff and inspect the chicken on their own time. Don’t rush the puppy by throwing the bird, let the puppy walk around the bird, push it or paw at it. Some puppies will even bark at the bird. If one is patient during the first session the puppy will bravely bite the bird or grab a feather and drag it.
As the puppy gains courage and confidence around the chicken you can begin to tease the puppy with the chicken and toss it about. With the puppy’s building interest, gradually take the restraints off the chicken so the puppy can begin the chase.
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.
Managing litter-mates in the same household or training camp can be a bit tricky. Often times you are trying to train against their instinctual behaviors and bonds that were formed while they were only weeks old. If you are one of the brave souls and purchase two puppies from the same litter it is important to keep the pups separated. It is a myth that puppies learn good habits from one another. The pups will gang up on you and run you ragged. The instincts of the pups are to continue the growth of their bond with each other rather than their new human owner. It is for this reason the pups need their own crates, in their own area of the home/training truck, and they need to air out on their own with their owner. The pups will want to gravitate toward one another romping, playing, dominating one another, and chasing, these behaviors need to be expressed and managed but in small doses. It is not always a good thing to let the litter-mates play together often. Puppies are rough, they are still learning their own abilities and strengths so the potential for injury is high.
The biggest challenge in having litter-mates in the same household is making sure they grow as individuals and are treated as such. Like many families with several siblings they will have different talents and abilities. No two pups are the same. As many of us do who have raised puppies before you want to enhance their personality strengths and present ample amounts of exposure in areas the pup are weak or apprehensive, now with two puppies, like twins its double the work. The owner/trainer must make sure they have one on one time with each pup as much as possible. As an aide I will chart and time the individual time or training sessions I do with each pup to make sure I am providing equal time.
However, if one puppy is developing slower than their litter-mate that puppy needs more attention. This early sign of differences between the two pups does not necessarily mean one pup will definitively be better than the other it just simply means they are developing at different rates as the individuals they are. Try not to fall into the trap of comparing one pup to the other to determine what each pup needs. Keep in mind they are individuals and treat their time with your focus on that pups needs for their development at that time in their lives. Have a chart or a check list of miles stones or goals of exposure for your pups. This is a good idea even if you are just raising one pup. Be sure to not take away time from the pup who is excelling even though the litter-mate may require more time with you. The pup who is excelling should continue to excel and the litter-mate should hopefully with extra time spent catch up as they both mature.
Raising one puppy is a full-time job. The pup has to potty often, eat three times a day, needs exercise, tons of exposure, and training if they are going to be a working dog or good citizen. Make sure you have a good support system in place before you commit your self to the possible ten years of life the puppy may have. Especially, if you are the brave soul who takes on double the trouble. Done right you can end up with two great companions.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Offering Help On A Mark.
While teaching your retriever how to mark a bird the retriever’s focus needs to be on the Gunner/Thrower then transfers quickly to the object/bird thrown. The retriever must seek to find a Gunner/Thrower standing out in the field. It is important for the retriever to understand “where the throw will originate”. Once the retriever has found the Gunner/Thrower the retriever must then direct his/her attention on the bird/bumper sailing through the air. At this point in the process of a marked retrieve the retriever’s focus should be all about finding the bird thrown. As your retriever is learning the process of how to find birds on marked retrieves their focus maybe distracted and hunting become non-productive.
However, a retriever’s directed focus can all change with appropriate or inappropriately timed help from your Gunners/Throwers. Instruct your Gunners/Throwers to have their attention on you at the line rather than watching the retriever hunting. This will allow for your Gunner/Thrower to toss a helper throw and be better timed. I encourage as little talking on the radio as possible when the retriever is hunting a mark. I don’t want to distract or influence that retriever until it is deemed necessary for the benefit of teaching. So to avoid jibber jabber on the radios I will signal my Gunner/Thrower to throw a helper bird/bumper with hand signals.
When to help the retriever on a marked retrieved will vary with the age, skill level, and personality of the retriever. An older more advanced retriever may require help only after they have almost exhausted hunting in the area of the mark. The help for this type of retriever should come with the bird thrown silent when the retriever is not looking at the Gunner/Thrower and a shot or noise delivered once the bird is at its arch. The purpose of this form of a helper throw is to direct the retriever’s attention to the bird in the air along with where it falls. For the advanced retrievers it is important their attention is directed on the throw rather than its origination. Some retrievers will become dependent on the helper throws looking to the Gunner/Thrower rather than persevering and concentrating on hunting the bird out.
For a puppy just learning what marking is all about one may throw several bumpers before releasing the puppy to retrieve. This will encourage focus on all aspects of the marking process promoting success with many bumpers in the area where the puppy will not have to hunt to find the reward. As the puppy becomes better focused and more schooled in the process of marking start to advance by throwing a single bumper, lengthening the retrieves, throwing the bumper in cover, up against a brush pile or across a road. If the puppy fails the more advanced marking scenarios offer help after a period of hunting or if the puppy stops hunting. Help for this level of retriever can be presented in several forms. The first is a simple “Hey, Hey” to refocus the pups attention on what he/she is suppose to be doing in the field. This may inspire the pup to continue to hunt in the correct area if they have veered off or stopped hunting.
Another form of help is body movement from the Gunner/Thrower. Movement can be accompanied with or without noise. I prefer this form of help to be silent and use noise only as a last resort. If the pup is traveling in the wrong direction or looks like they may enter the mark on the wrong side of the Gunner/Thrower having your Gunner/Thrower make a motion toward their throw will often times pull the retriever in the correct direction avoiding the incorrect path and encouraging the correct course of travel. The methods explained for helping the retriever find the bird during a marked retrieve can interchange, be combined or developed however it will help the individual retriever find the bird on a marked retrieve. Be creative but always remember to keep all things in balance.
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: A Trainer’s Influence.
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.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Third Times The Charm.
Repetition in retriever training is the name of the game. When trialing or hunting nothing is substitute for the real deal. We can practice, train, and simulate the real deal to best of our abilities, but when it comes down to it the real thing surpasses all other experiences. As much as we try we can not predict what may happen when the electronic collar or the leash comes off and the retriever approaches the line in competition. Or when sitting in the duck blind the heightened excitement and your hunting buddies can add to the anticipation of the shot possibly throwing your retriever off their normal behaviors.
Don’t be surprised if your retriever reacts unusually or out-of-character the first time you hunt or compete them. Like training the real-life situation needs to be practiced. Your retriever needs to be taught how to use their trained skills during the real deal. Some retrievers go from training to the real deal seamlessly others need a couple of events or hunts to get into their groove. Whatever kind of retriever you have don’t become discouraged if your retriever doesn’t perform perfectly in the first exposure to the real deal. View the first experience as a training situation. Expect little and be prepared for an opportunity to teach your dog during the real deal. Often times on a retrievers first hunt I will not shoot in the first volley just watching the retriever reactions. Or while running the retrievers first competition I will blow the whistle to prevent the retriever from cheating the water. The third time can be the charm where you and your retriever become a proficient team. Be patient and proactive to avoid or correct unwanted behaviors during the real deal. Take advantage of every opportunity to train your retriever.
Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Breakdown Lessons.
While training your retriever we as humans have a tendency to complicate things. Too tight, too technical, too much, retriever training is most successful when all things are kept simple and balanced. We must remember that the retriever although smart is a simple creature who sees pictures in black and white. The retriever lacks the ability to reason and decipher through the gray.
A common and dangerous phase I hear is, ” Well he should know how to do that.” Really “Why?” should he know how to do that. Did you teach him how to do it? Did the retriever become confused by other lessons thrown into the mix? Or was the lesson not completely conditioned forming a habit. The list of questions involving why did the retriever do what he did can be endless. It is the job of the trainer to understand the animal they are training, accurately read the responses to training from the retriever and adjust training accordingly.
One fail safe method to make a lesson easier to understand is to compartmentalize and break down the lesson. If your retriever is experiencing difficulty with a particular task isolate the weakness and drill upon it. Pick apart the aspects of the situation and ask yourself is it an obedience issue, an anxiety issue, or a task the retriever is just weak at? Once you determine the underlying issue the trainer can decide how to break down the lesson. The trainer should provide the retriever with a simplified very black and white version of the situation in a drill form that isolates the task.
For instance, if your retriever has anxieties about running near or past a gun station it would be beneficial for your retriever to have this situation presented to them in a simplified drill format. Once the retriever becomes comfortable and proficient with the situation in a drill format then it would be appropriate to add a level of difficulty such as throwing a mark. After thoroughly proofing the retrievers responses to running tight to a gun station in a drill format do you then move to incorporate this task in the field. Begin the field re-introduction of this situation with wider, shorter gun stations, in a non-descript field. Breaking down tasks and lessons can greatly benefit your retrievers learning curve and help you reach the success you hope.