A Session of the Hide/Steady Drill (with updates)

A steady dog is not an afterthought. Previously, I always seemed to work more at getting my dogs ready and steady for hunting season. More recently, it appears getting my dogs steadier for hunt tests might be a good idea, too. In the past, what was "out in field" during hunt test season became the focus..........big mistake. As Red Green says, "I'm a man. I can change.....if I have to."

Here’s a training drill from March 3, 2009. The focus was on routines near the line using familiar hunting gear to set the mood for being steady.  Variations of this drill are incorporated weekly.  The established standards are worked on daily.

Getting off the van, airing, dealing with holding blinds, heeling on & off leash require standards that must be maintained.  In addition, “heel”, “here”, ”sit”, “place”, “kennel up”, “watch” and their name on release are specific commands. The e-collar or heeling stick may be used for corrections, but neither were necessary  during this session. Repetition is cool! 

This routine is a variation of the drill suggested in the link below. There are earlier steps in Nolan's sequence which my dogs have completed. The basic principle is to teach a dog…..…the line (wherever it's at) is not always a “launching pad”.   

Info Source:  Making a Steady Retriever (Link)  - by Pat Nolan
                          note: I modified this a bit. I didn't teach "stay" and started with a hide.
                                   My dogs were not pups when this was introduced and they had a
                                   strong imprint of the "place" command.  

Here’s a detailed description of one run. 1) dog is asked to sit in box, 2) box is unlatched, 3) dog must remain in the box on sit without punching the unlatched door open, 4) dog is permitted to exit and sit on the van floor in front of box, 5) dog must sit quietly while e-collar is placed, 6) dog sits (with collar on) in the van while I walk around the van once, 7) dog exits van on command to “heel”, 8) dog is leashed, 8a) I take one step...the dog heels & sits, I take two steps...dog heels & sits, I take three steps....the dog heels & sits...then the dog is heeled loose leash to to an airing area, sat and released, 9) after airing, the dog comes immediately to “here” and sits at heel while being leashed, 10) the dog immediately does the 1-3 step heel/sit procedure (again), 10a) dog on leash sits for awhile behind each holding blind (at least a minute...sometimes more depending on the dog).  

A steady dog is focused and responsive. This initial exercise establishes who is in control and sets the tone for what is to follow.

I’ll take a short break here to state that if any of 1-10a do NOT happen precisely, the dog starts over…..in their latched box.   

To continue, 11) dog exits the last holding blind to sit, the leash is removed and the dog walks  to the hide off lead at heel (no forging), 11a) the dog is sat closely to the line or hide and then asked to come to the "line" and sit, place or down (I get there first), 12) dog enters hide, sits beside bucket or is on “place” and given the “down” command (when appropriate), 13) in this drill the dog in the remote down position remains there for a few minutes while I sit on the bucket blowing a duck call, 14) one bumper and an Avery ATB teal were thrown (two singles and a double) with a cap gun report, 15) dog stays in hide as I walk slowly over, 16) dog exits to the command of “heel” and lines up facing the first mark, 17) dog is told to “get your mark” (not necessary, but we are working on being responsive....not "jumpy"), 18) the hand cue is completed and held for at least a count of ten, 19) dog is released on name, 20) dog retrieves to whichever side I indicate, 21) dog sits quietly with no mouthing which is acknowledged with "good sit",  21) dog is expected to make eye contact on “drop” (note: this is only for the dog that has a tendency to drift off into a non-responsive "funk") and 22) the drop is straight down out of their mouth as I hang on to the rope (or part of a bird). Each dog did two singles and a double.  

Any “errors” made by the dog before picking up the mark resulted in no mark and starting over in the hide. Kooly (one bark) and Daisy (short break) had to start over which is a "correction".   

To finish, the dog is left on sit while I put the bumper/teal away and "retrieve" the leash hanging on the holding blind. With the dog on leash, we walk loose leash back to the van.

note: The purpose of the "one, two and three step heel/sit" segment is to keep
            the dog focused "in the moment" and to maintain a responsive attitude
            (know where the handler is at.....always). It is a common OB ploy.

note: There are variations in the drill that consist of using real birds, primer or
            popper report gunshots, honoring dogs, etc. Creativity in adjusting to a
            dog's needs is critical.

The rationale: A focused, comfortable dog at the line will perform better in the field. There is a certain comfort acquired when thorough, correct repetitions form good habits. A dog needs to have a "This is what I do attitude." If they don't do it often enough, how would they know?

There is nothing more frustrating than having a talented dog "kind of know" what it is supposed to do.

Ending this description with four questions would be appropriate. How much time does it take to spend a weekend traveling to test or hunt? How much more of a pleasure is it to test or hunt with a skilled, well behaved retriever? Wouldn't a bit more time in training end up saving a whole lot of time later? How many individual skills does a dog need.........to do this drill correctly?

                                                                                   (left click on thumbnails)

 "Kooly's setup"
   Master Hunter
    Senior Hunter
     Senior Hunter
      Senior Hunter

                                          "Steadiness is a skill requiring maintenance." 

                                                   "Ready....set......go!....is bad form." 

                      "I'm beginning to learn that 95% OB is not enough.........and 85% is much
                            worse.........but 75% is pretty good."
 KwickLabs  Sept., 2006

                note: updated variations including other dogs off lead & honoring the working dog

                          "three dogs using place boards"
                                 (steady & honoring drill)
                                     (holding blind OB)

     note: dogs off lead in an honoring position
              must watch the entire steady routine of
              another dog without moving from their
              assigned place
                       Daisy - Ruff steady
                          (instead of hide}

              note: dogs worked individually
                             (no honoring)


update: April 20, 2009 -  There have been noticeable improvements in the comfort zone across     
             the board with all four dogs. It is a great drill for working on specific control issues
             because the problem can be isolate in context.

update: February, 2010 The focus this spring will be to think calmly, work quietly & slowly plus
             be consistent and persistent.  A relaxed dog "happens" when they understand and
             accept the taught expectation. Easy to say.

                                               Anxiety is trainer induced.

                     "Don't feed the beast!"
Rody Best........2007 Trainin' in the Timber
August 13, 2010
Daisy & Kate - The Long Wait Drill  (Link)

                                                          "The last eight minutes"

  Two Dog "No Bird" Honoring Drill
                                                                (April 24, 2013)
note: honoring

                                                                April 17, 2012

                              Daisy's "Kwick Hide Steady" Session (YouTube link)
                                  Gunny's "Kwick Hide Steady" Drill (YouTube link)
                                                       (note: these are not brief videos)

Daisy's was the 1st video where the camera recorded facing the line. Add to this, a recent "head
camcorder" thread got me thinking of why I'd want to watch a dog run long marks/blinds when
they are quickly too far away. This led to the realization the most important part of training is
often right at the line. “Looking in” from in front would be much more useful.

This session was a bit shorter than usual because even 9-10 minutes on YouTube is too long.
However, since time is the most important factor in the session it's interesting to actually “watch” the pace.

Daisy ran first. What you don't see is her part of the routine "in the van". When this all began,
her very first action (to show she was in control) was punch the box door open immediately after I unlatched it. Often it would be quick enough to smack a knuckle or finger tip. So the first rule now is "No early punch." If she does, I latch it up and walk around the van once and try again. After not "punching", she was expected to sit in the crate with the unlatched door still closed for a minute.

Next, she exits and sits right outside the box (in the van) while I put her e-collar on. While sitting there (alone and loose), I walk slowly around the van once. After returning, she is leashed and asked to exit the van to an immediate sit. Then we do three steps forward and sit again. (This is an old AKC OB class habit which is supposed to stress who is in charge. I think it works really well in the situation.)

2012 "Kwick Hide Steady" drill overview
                                                           (from "Recent Tips" page)

The "Kwick Hide Steady" drill was designed to stress high retrieving standards for hunt tests and hunting. I learned quite some time ago (at a Julie Knutson dog training seminar) that the performance of a retriever is greatly impacted by balance in five factors - retrieving, "birdiness", focus, responsiveness and control. I realized that often times in training a great deal of time was spent on the first two. Doing so tends to create an "out of balance" retriever.

The drill was designed to focus on re-establishing responsiveness, focus and/or control. The "hide steady" starts with a very precise "off the van/truck to the line routine" which is slow, calm and predictable. It is important to note that ingraining "different" expectations may take a great deal of time. The drill teaches a retriever to be patient and establishes a mind set of "I am available when you need me."

A huge benefit of this drill is "anxiety becomes a non-issue" by allowing a dog the time to learn how to deal with adrenalin. Patience is a learned skill. Teaching is required.

                    note: The one thing I notice (every time) when watching these videos is
                             the feeling of "Let's get on with this!" and/or "where's some action?"
                             The singular mindset of going slowly with no exciting pace is difficult
                             to reconcile even when it is the specific focus of the drill.
                                  The most significant aspect of watching is "the dog gets it".
                    Spring 2015 update: An improvement to the above has been recently
                    established.............using Bill Hillmann's training program. Teaching
                    skills in drive and establishing a stable sit early on. Pounce is a pup
                    "working" Hillmann's program.

 Pounce Training Journals Archive (link)