There is an old adage about teachers in the University of California system. “If you can’t do it, teach”. My dogs have the worst line manners of any dogs out there in either Hunt Test or Field Trials. So since they are so bad I am in a unique position to inform you of what not to do. I recently asked a well-known Field Trial Professional, what I should do to correct my dog’s line manners. He said “The opposite of everything you are doing”.
Let’s start with what causes unacceptable line manners. The short answer is a lack of obedience training. The response may be “I did obedience training!” The real answer is you have not done enough or not consistence enough obedience work.
Let’s go back to Blog 1 on “SIT”. This is a command that must be continually reinforced. We have all heard “but he does everything perfectly in the backyard”. True but now put the dog in a test situation with no collar, the anxiety that travels down the leash and throw in a live flyer 25 yards away and SIT goes out the window.
How can we first spot a deterioration of good line manners? According to John Folsom, another long time professional, you can first see it after you have taken the last bird from the dog at a test. The dog self-releases and starts to run around and perhaps pee on the judge’s lunch. This behavior also manifests itself with the dog dragging the handler to the holding blind, vocalization in the holding blind, beating the handler to the line, standing up when the birds go down, followed by creeping and culminating in breaking.
My dog set a record by catching the flyer before it hit the ground.
So how do we fix bad line manners? The answer is, of course, never let them start. Good line manners begin at the crate. Never let the dog jump out on his own and run around. You should open the crate, say “Here” and as soon and his feet hit the ground, say “Sit”. We are assuming that you have worked with Sit as the first command he has ever heard. Next do everything in training that you would do in a test with one exception. Forget the end result which is the retrieve of the bird or bumper. Concentrate on HOW the dog reacts in the holding blind, how the dog comes to the line and his behavior on the line. Utilize your training partners to let you know if his butt is on the ground as the birds go down or any other infraction. Forget the retrieve, work on all aspects of his line manners.
Some people may find it cute when the dog bounces up to the line or jumps on them in the holding blinds. These antics will all come back to bite you later on.
The dog should be under total control from the time he comes out of the crate until you put him back in. Obviously before you run him he should be properly aired but even that should be under your giving him a command such as “High on”, OK, or “Urinate”. When running your dog NEVER take your eyes off of him. Most people don’t it but dogs have eyes in the back of their head. As soon as you look away, bad things happen.
A Hunt Test or Field Trail is usually won or lost in the first 10 feet of the line. Make sure that bad line manners are not the reason good work in the field is overlooked.
As one judge said to me when I asked her why my dog did not do better. “I folded your page over and stopped counting after the 12th bark!”