One of the most common problems with the
hunting retriever is "steadiness". The prevalent
philosophy of retriever training is to use a proven sequential program.
Teaching skills and harnessing instincts is most efficiently accomplished by
using a program developed by skilled trainers that are
excellent writers/teachers. However, the most popular programs today are geared for
assumption is that these programs will teach the same skills needed for a
However, the idea that a skill building program's training will translate to excellent hunting
is why the "wheels often fall off". For example, the "Sit....means sit."
concept is often glossed over when a trainer ignores providing the depth
demanded by "proofing", i.e. actual hunting (new situations).
In addition, advancing a young dog through "transition" to learn
how to run cold blinds is now a well thought out process while the
"transition" to hunting is all too often a "wing and a prayer approach".
Hunting is more about exposure and just not the same thing as following a
proven, modern retriever training program.
To be more poignant, most will agree that even advanced hunt test titles
will not guarantee any dog will be instantly at home on a hunt. The
problem comes down to two choices 1) learn by following a "hunting transition
program" or 2) doing it "on the job". Whichever approach is selected should have a
strong rationale, but what transpires is often driven by owner convenience rather than
the needs of their dog. Why not make it easier for the dog by developing a
seamless process? Well, the simple explanation for that is it takes more time.
Everyone is in a hurry.
It is often said that dogs are situational learners. To adhere to dealing
with the previous
perspective, there are two alternative training approaches. The first
believes that once retrieving skills are in place, the dog can go
directly to the field. Essentially it becomes a learn by doing process (i.e. learn on the job). The second is to work with the dog
while training by doing "many" simulated hunting situations so as to create a more seamless
The problem with "learning on the job" is the unpredictability of each
hunting experience. Using variable situations to develop precise expectations is
very "iffy". The resultant lack of predictable repetition
causes "training while hunting" to be rather inefficient. A common
and seemingly simple solution is "leave your gun at home" and
let your "buddies" do the shooting. Then what?
Personally, I have found that a very large number of dog owners do NOT
have an abundance of places to hunt (let alone large numbers of wild ducks to use
in training situations) and/or "buddies" that don't have dogs that will be
more than willing to let them train a young dog....as they attempt to hunt.
||To put this page in
my perspective, I hunt alone 99% of the time. This means when I take my
youngest, most inexperienced retriever on their first duck or goose hunt.....they must
be ready to be steady. This means they must learn "the ropes" in training and experience
(as similar as possible) the "real thing" in a very "seamless" process.
These hunting skills must be introduced and become ingrained expectations
prior to hitting the duck blind.
What makes it seamless? Here's the list.
1) I use a Carr based sequential program as the foundation. What drives my
present retriever training is the additional philosophy of pro trainer Julie Knutson.
There are five factors to consider in training a balanced retriever -
responsiveness, control, focus, "birdiness" and retrieving. The first three
are abstract and often difficult to quantify. Generally, the out of balance dog is
usually the result of too much focus on "birdiness" and/or retrieving
laced with not enough OB. This includes "real" hunting OB. Then again, It is fairly obvious to watch a dog that has been
"over drilled" on OB. Maintaining balance is often not part of the equation. Is it
any wonder true steadiness in all situations often becomes an issue?
The primary rationale of any training session is to maintain balance.
Many of my training setups focus on enhancing responsiveness, control
and/or focus....the "stuff" that makes for an excellent hunting companion. When a dog begins to "make mistakes" they can be "explained and
isolated" within one or two of the five factors.
It is proactive to properly introduce the gun as part of training. With the
exception of those that train regularly in the HRC testing
format, this just does not happen often enough. That training is an excellent process
preparing a dog for hunting.
2) Sit,,,,means sit! Down.....means down! and Place.....means place! These
are proofed on a regular basis in simulated, fun "hunting" setups......often.....and early
"steadying process" of Pat Nolan's has proven
to be very useful. The "ready, set, go" and "launching pad" issues are
avoided. Correction and enforcement schemes for remaining steady in all
situations are established. The expectations (what to do and how it will be
enforced) are well ingrained.
Steady Drill (Link)
Steady Drill Session (Link)
Place Board Training Pictorial
Patience "photos" (Link)
3) Each pup is trained to sit
for many different situations (early on) a) when they see a flushed bird or
one in the air, b) upon hearing a short whistle, c) when I stop as they are
walking beside me and d) most importantly when hearing any shot.
there are four "visual or auditory cues" that mean default to sit and/or don't
move. All of these are proofed profusely.
Shot of Steadiness (Link)
To Flush (Link)
All four of my dogs were thoroughly ingrained
with steadiness expectations by working many "Euro" shoots. There are
unbelievable numbers of pheasants and non-stop gun fire. Each dog had their
own area to retrieve. The instinct overload is amazing. Try running a blind
when there are other pheasants falling, cripples flopping and running all
over with multiple shots being fired. It was not unusual to make 50+
retrieves in one shoot.
Daisy's Blonhaven "Euro" Shoot "Link)
Kooly's "Euro" Shoot (Link)
5) Training setups are designed to reproduce the "pace" (lots of doing
nothing) of an actual hunt......often.
The Long Wait Drill (YouTube (Link)
6) My pups do not go hunting until they are well into transition (can
handle). This is probably the most significant choice. I can do this
easily because of having older dogs which eliminates the need to "rush
things". Pups don't go until
they are truly ready which includes being able to run cold blinds (they
are more mature).
First Duck Hunt (Link)
Gunny's First Ducks (link)
7) The pup is trained often (lots of reps) with walk-ups beside a shooting
Gunny's "Kwick Walk About" Drill - YouTube (Link)
Gunny's Spring Training Session - YouTube (Link)
8) The pup is trained often (lots of reps) beside a stationary gunner
and/or in a hide at various distances
using an HRC "line" with a popper gun, real ducks, calling and bucket.
They see "live flyers", too. It is a common training
ploy. Many, many pups rarely see a gunner working from their side.....until
it is too late.
"marking off the gun"
9) The pup is completely comfortable (responsible) for being steady in
remote positions (including honoring with other dogs). Refer back to
point number #5.
Demanding "Training Alone" Steadiness Prep for his 1st AKC Senior Test (YouTube)
Gunny's hunt test progression began earlier.
For example, Gunny was run in two Started HRC tests for two reasons. The
first was it would provide ten HRC hunt test points. He would need
forty points for an HRC Seasoned title which three Seasoned
passes would supply. And finally, four Finished
passes would give him another sixty more points for the one hundred needed for
title. However, the critical reason for training in this manner was to
closely simulated hunting/testing over a longer period of time. Ingrained hunting
expectations are not a two week drill and testing is a lengthy process.
I decided to run his last HRC Started test gunning at the line. The rationale
was to test hunting steadiness early on in his training. There was quite a bit of flack from the other
entrants. The rules state the dog can be held by the collar to steady. The general murmur was "It's your money. Why waste it when you
don't have to?" The judge was not all that thrilled either because he had to
run through the entire gun safety lecture.
I would have been very surprised if he had broke because he was "ready to be steady". The judge was
complimentary and no one else said a thing. The concept of "He was ready"
should be the driving force behind training....if hunting is to be
a final focus. In my opinion, when it is time to
go hunting the dog should be ready.....NOT staked out with the idea of
"Let's see how things go from here" because we are not
In another vein, it is not unusual to observe huge swings in training
philosophies. Years ago, it was generally considered "poor form" to steady a
pup too early. The belief was it stifled drive. Now it is the "new cool thing"......if you do it
correctly and have skills.
This next link demonstrates the abilities of a skilled hunting retriever to
adjust in new situations. Distance often erodes control, but
because distance (from the handler to the dog) is vastly different in training alone
negatives of distance are often reduced. Dogs that train remotely are at ease
and responsive following directions from afar.
It is one thing to ask your dog to
be steady/responsive when they are sitting right next to you and another
entirely "different ballgame" when in a remote hide 125 yards away
hunting in unfamiliar terrain.
"The Retrieve" (Link)
In conclusion, there are considerations to be made when using this approach.....especially
if having a hunting retriever is an early, primary priority. Getting a dog
ready to run a derby or prepare for field trials is probably way too much of
a compromise. Putting an MH on the dog
at two years old may be
a bit ambitious. In reality, there are no shortcuts in developing the
steady skills required for a hunting or competitive retriever......but there
"Plan Ahead" is an excellent motto......................and being proactive requires
update: Below is a recently "discovered" and very pertinent video link.
and I have permission to post it.
My High Drive Dog Will Never Settle and Be Calm,
What Can I Do? by Michael Ellis