Training Blog

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  • February 20, 2023 2:55 PM | Peter Otte (Administrator)

    The Marin Retriever Club has asked Dr. John Schulte to write a Training Blog for this website. We also asked him to introduce himself.

    So here’s Johnny.

    My interest in retrievers began in 1953 when I was taken by an older gentleman to his duck club in Los Banos. Besides the Wool Growers Restaurant, Los Banos is most famous for its mud. To retrieve a wounded bird that was swimming away from you was enough to induce a heart attack. I could see the value of a good dog.
    From 1966 until 1970 were 4 wonderful years at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. During this period, I hunted the state and federal refuges in the upper Sacramento Valley. My first Lab, "Crystal", was purchased from Marianne Foote. In addition to hunting with “Crystal”, instead of attending my classes, we also took time to train and run field trials. “Crystal” was the High Point Derby Dog in 1969 in the Sacramento Valley Retriever Club.
    In the early 1970's I was introduced to Rex Carr. Every Friday for many years, I would drive from the Bay Area to Escalon to run dogs with Rex and learn from the Master. I have run my dogs in every stake and have judged Field Trails and Hunt Tests.
    I have trained extensively with John Folsom, Jim Dobbs, Doug Shade, Bill Totten and Billy Sargenti. From these pros, I learned bird placement and the factors that influence marks and blinds as well as advanced handling.
    The best year of my life was in 1975 when I joined the Wild Goose Duck Club in the Butte Sink. Pete Lane, who won a National Amateur with his dog "Cannon Ball Kate", was a member and I would train with him. Steve Bechtel Jr. joined the club and was privileged to have him for a roommate and training partner for 12 years. Steve came close to winning the National Field Trial with "Shoot The Moon".
    About 23 years ago I ran my first Hunt Test with "Odder" a black Lab. We ran the Junior and Master Hunt Test on the same weekend and we passed them both. Over the years we qualified for multiple Nationals and ran in several.
    The eldest of my two labs is "Cookie" a 7 year old yellow female. She was to be a duck dog and house pet, but the first time she picked up a bumper, I could tell she was something special. She qualified for her Junior and Senior title on the same weekend. She has qualified for 5 Master Nationals and qualified in 40 Master Hunt Tests as a 4 year old. She was my hunting partner last fall when I enjoyed my 63th consecutive opening day of duck season. She has retrieved over 3000 waterfowl over past seasons.
    To assist new people in Hunt Tests, I have let them run her in the advanced stakes. She has qualified 6 amateurs in Master events.
    "Carson" my male yellow lab was set back in his training by being run too often when was too young. In a 10 week period he was awarded a ribbon in 4 field trials, titled as a Master Hunter in 6 straight attempts. He then proceeded to get a little loose and broke the next 4 times I ran him. Too much too soon, my fault.
    He qualified for 3 Master Nationals as a 3 year old. All my dogs have attain their Master Title before the age of 2 years old.
    The latest addition is “Chase’. I utilized the program that we will describe in detail on training a retriever. I kept a journal on his progress each week. A video was posted on Facebook documenting his successful running a 160 yard cold water – land blind at 4 months of age. Unfortunately he tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) when he was a year old. Dr. Cal Cadmus did a marvelous piece of surgery to repair the youngster.
    To keep “Chase” company, I fractured my tibia and fibula while at a Hunt Test. “Chase” and I spent 12 weeks together in in exercise pen. The nasty neighbor kids would come by and throw a bone into the pen and watch “Chase” and I fight over it. I should have gone to Dr. Cadmus. My first 2 surgeries failed and I am now going to be on the sidelines for perhaps a year total. Meanwhile “Chase” is running Hunt Tests and Field Trials.
    I have judged all levels of Hunt Tests and have judged the National for The Flat Coat Retriever Club and the National for the Golden Retriever Club.
    Training your own dog is very satisfying however assisting handlers who are new to the sport or want to advance provides a unique opportunity. Working with other dogs clearly demonstrates there are there is more than one way to skin a snake or some saying like that. I was at a field trial when were taught that lesson so I missed the exact saying.
    Watching a handler you have helped or running a dog for them and receiving a qualifying score is a real thrill. Be careful if you don’t know the dog and its history. You may step in to help and find yourself in quicksand.
    I asked 20 judges what qualities a good judge should possess in order to develop a deeper understanding of what a good judge must know, how they should interact with their co judge as well as their relationship with marshals, workers, and handlers. A good judge knows how to communicate their needs and expectations so misunderstandings are minimized between all involved.

    Happy Training, John Schulte DVM

    John Schulte D.V.M.

  • February 19, 2023 2:58 PM | Peter Otte (Administrator)

    In this blog we will go through all the steps the handler must learn in preparing for training and testing. We will review all the steps in preparation for running a Hunt Test or Field Trial.
    Anytime we train, a checklist is handy to have to insure we are totally prepared. I am sure you have your own checklist that would include such things as gear bag, glasses, whistle, gloves, lip balm, sunscreen, and fully charged electronics. Nothing sabotages a training day more than getting all set up and finding out the batteries in your wingers or e-collars are dead.
    After putting on my face the next step is to make sure I have the appropriate clothes. I am going to a new training site so I do not know the lighting. I always take light or white as well as dark clothes so the dog will be able to see me regardless of background.
    Upon arriving I immediately air my dog where we will not be training making sure to avoid areas where males might be. As a courtesy to my fellow trainers I arrive at the agreed upon time or a little earlier to allow for traffic. The handlers now get together lay out the tests for the day. Hopefully we already have talked about our goals for that training day. Devise a plan and stick to it unless of course things change and you must improvise to accomplish something. Everyone wants to do one thing, run their own dog. Set up your tests so everyone helps at some point and no one person is stuck out there all day. You want to be a good training partner. Training groups are always in a state of flux, some people dropping out and new handlers coming in. That’s just how it works. To insure good communication among the groups everyone should have a radio or at the least agreed upon signals from the line to the throwers. Set your marks around your blinds.
    When training, simulate test conditions. Put your dog behind a car and then proceed to next the step. Use holding blinds, call for the dog to come to the line. Now is a very good time to practice coming to and leaving the holding blind. If you have been running your dog in number of trials he is probably a rabid beast. A dogs that beats you to the line is probably not going to score well. I have spent an entire day just going in and out of a holding blind and was better off for it. Be ready when your dog is called to the line. Don’t take 10 minutes airing your dog while everyone else is standing in the rain waiting to throw for you. Have a “judge” sitting there to signal the gun stations and call a number for your dog.
    Establish how you want your dog helped. Throwers, be ready, don’t miss the moment because you are reading or just not paying attention. Be ready to help the dog ONLY when asked. Most groups help too much. Nothing worse than throwing all day for other people and they inadvertently screw up your dog. Make sure your blank gun is loaded, don’t make people wait because you were not prepared.
    My personal favorite, run all your dog’s first and then leave. Females in season are a problem. I often hear “I will run her last.” That’s fine for your group, but what about the next group using that training area. Utilize decoys, popper guns, fake guns at the line, everything you can to simulate a test. Put out of state license plates on vehicles.
    Why professionals are more successful than amateurs and what can we do to emulate them?
    1. The pro gets to run more dogs so they have more chances and understand the test better.
    2. The pro is not emotionally involved.
    3. The pro acts. Many handlers are frozen due to paralysis by analysis. Should I give a right 45 degree back or a straight right back? Oh God, I lost him in the tules while trying to decide.
    4. The pro acts quicker. In many cases the difference is the pro acts a Nano second before the amateur. Are you hoping or are you knowing what your dog is going to do?

    There should be a routine loading and exiting the dog from the vehicle. For young dogs, help them out to prevent shoulder injury. Use the same routine going to the line and back to the truck. Now you are in the holding blind. This is your last chance to determine how you are going to run the test and establish teamwork with your dog. This is the time to read your dogs’ attitude, anxieties, and amperage. Be consistent in everything you do. If you don’t you will forget steps when you are under the pressure of a true test situation. Practice things like a Remote Send.

    Let’s execute and not be executed. Be polite to the marshals and judges. Don’t socialize with the judges, stay focused on the plan.
    When coming to the line, give your dog time to get the picture, don’t hurry. You paid a lot for this moment. Don’t worry about the dead birds, concentrate on the flyer. If possible walk out on the line to the blind. Look for the best spot on the mat from which to send your dog. Commit and sell each mark and blind. Minimal movement once dog is set. No Happy Feet. Show dog birds in order from the last to first they will pick up. Give oral cues. Use soft voice to say “Heel, here, way out, mark, easy or way back”. On marks and blinds, select a slot or landmark close to the line to send the dog. Break down the blind into 3 or 4 different parts. Line up dog for next bird while bird is still in the dogs mouth.

    Make sure dog is aligned correctly his spine as well as his head.

    Don’t send the dog until he is leaning into the mark or blind. Hold dog for a few seconds after his number is called if your dog tends to break. Count to 3 before casting on blinds. Most people start to handle too fast at the end of a long blind. Make all moves slowly. On long blinds, move a great deal when casting. The dog takes time to pick you out. On 45 backs, step in direction of cast to differentiate from a straight back. Give “Overs” off points and into wind.
    In competition if the dog gives you a cast refusal, listen to the dog and give a different cast or you will get another cast refusal. Don’t turn your back on the dog until he is back safely on the truck. Be a protector, know where the honor dog is and stand between your dog and him. When released by the judges, turn into your dog away from the line and working dog. Remember to watch your dog on the return by reading signs of leadership changes of dominance by him dropping birds, slowing down or fouling the field. Water your dog and other cool down options. Just try and survive the test until you are behind the judges. Review your performance.
    Be sure and emphasize the positive. Later you can go back to the drawing board.
    Happy Training
    John Schulte DVM

  • February 18, 2023 3:03 PM | Peter Otte (Administrator)

    I don’t know why people spend so much time naming their new pup.  For the first 4 months of the dog’s life he will think his name is “No”.  Every time he really starts to enjoy himself, his owner will shout out his new name “NO!” No simply means stop what you are doing.  Rather than just say no, let’s give him some direction.

    There have been countless articles, videos, and books demonstrating how to train retrievers.

    Let’s try a slightly different approach.  We will take a fictional dog named “Jessie”, an eight week old retriever, through all the socialization, obedience, drills, marking and blind work until she is a finished retriever.   We will explore each step over the coming months not just what to do but why we are doing it.  By the time we have completed her training, your dog will be ready to run in Master Hunt Tests or Field Trials.

    Every dog is different in various strengths and weaknesses.  This means we cannot have an inflexible approach to training.  We must however, have a program, a master plan with clear objectives.

    Dr. Michael Fox, an animal behaviorist, coined the term “The Critical Period of Socialization”.  This is the time from when a pup is 7 weeks old until he is 7 months old.  This is the period when the personality of the dog is set in stone.  Behavior patterns after this period can be modified but only with great effort and patience.  As a veterinarian with a house call practice, behavioral issues consumed most of my time. Clients called me because their pets were persona non grata at their local veterinary hospital.  Almost all these problems were created during the critical period of socialization.

    How does this relate to training?  A pup that has been properly socialized is far easier to train than one who has never been exposed to the world.  Ensure that each exposure with your pup is a positive one regarding people, other dogs, car rides, experiencing water for the first time. Be sure you do this before the pup is 7 months old.  Training and exposure to the world must be positive and enjoyable.

    Never get angry at your dog.  To you and in his world, you are God.  When God is angry only bad things can result.  I have heard many trainers say “He is defying me”.  In most cases the dog simply does not understand what you want.  Rex Carr would say “Always give your dog an out”.  What does that mean?    It means if you find yourself in a situation where things are going south, stop and SIMPLIFY.  End the session on a successful note not when the both of you are mentally and physically exhausted from the encounter.

    Rex was the first trainer who developed a program.  It was a pyramid of concepts and commands.  The cardinal rule was that the dog must learn every step of the lowest level perfectly before going to the next level.  If you jump to the next level too soon you have more holes in your program than Swiss cheese.  Bill Totten has created a diagram showing the Pyramid Training Program.  It shows the beginning steps for a full program to train a retriever.  If you ever have the opportunity to train with Bill, take it.  Please refer back to this diagram as we go through the Pyramid.

    The first command a pup should learn is “Sit”.  Choose any method that works for you to accomplish this command but it must be complete and absolute. One hint, don’t say “sit”, “sit” “sit”.  Say it once and then assist you pup to sit.  Once he has learned it, you are in a position to demand it. If you say “Sit “Sit “Sit” you are teaching the dog to sit after 3 commands.  Give him the command and then enforce it.  If you find that he is regressing, simplify and go back to a level where you had success.

    I have been asked by trainers “Why teach him to him to sit first, I want him to come to me.  So I teach him “Here” or “Come”.  The answer is when a dog is under direct or indirect pressure later on in life, he will bolt to you because that is what you have taught him to do.  You have taught him that behavior is the safe thing to do.  If “Sit” is the first command, you can stop any undesirable or unwarranted behavior and correct it without him trying to climb into your pants pocket.

    Once you and your ward have mastered “Sit” advance to the next level.  Have him “Sit” when he is a few feet away from you.  Have him walk with you at heel and say “Sit” while simultaneously blowing a whistle.  After a few times stop saying “Sit” and just blow the whistle.  You will find in a short time you can just blow the whistle and he will sit even if he is several yards away from you.  If he starts to regress, simplify. If you fully taught the “Sit” command you have set the stage for many other commands and drills that absolutely depend on a perfect “Sit”.  I personally like my dogs to click their hocks together on a “Sit”.  This quirk probably came from watching too many war movies.

    In our next chapter, we will cover some of the other commands on the bottom level of our pyramid of progress.

    Happy Training,

    John Schulte DVM

  • February 17, 2023 3:10 PM | Peter Otte (Administrator)

    In our last column we covered the first command “Sit”.  We seamlessly covered 2 other commands on the bottom rung of our training pyramid.  The first was “Sit” at a distance.  You first want the dog to sit fairly close to you and then over time, to be able to get your dog to sit at greater distances from you.  I watched the expression on the face of a person who had never observed advanced retriever training absolutely gape when on a single whistle at 400 yards away an Open dog stopped on a dime and looked back at his handler. Some day one of my dogs will do that.

    The second of the other commands we taught was “Sit” on a whistle.  To review, walk with the dog by your side and say “Sit”.  He will instantly sit because over the course of many very short periods of instructions you have taught him to do that.  Remember when training dogs, give a single command, not a paragraph.  Dogs are like teenagers, if you start to lecture them or give too many words in a command, their eyes will glaze over like a teenager and all they hear is what Charlie Brown hears when an adult talks to him.  If your dog does not sit at even a short distance from you, simplify.  Go back to the last step where he was successful and continue the lesson. The younger the dog, the shorter and more frequent the lesson should be.  This is one advantage an amateur has over a professional.  The amateur has only 1 or 2 dogs and has the luxury of time.  Almost every person, including myself, is guilty of overtraining his first dog.  Utilize short frequent lessons.  Let the dog cogitate what he has learned and then try again.  Once your dog is sitting on a whistle at a reasonable distance, add a distraction.  Whistle and make him sit when someone is walking by or when someone approaches him.  When he is doing his “Sit” perfectly in the backyard take him out to the field and you will have the thrill of starting all over again. There is nothing like having your dog do everything perfectly in the backyard and then take him out to the field where he runs amok and someone will say “You should train that dog”.  All training should be done to perfection without distractions and then begin to add on as many as he can handle.

    I use the words Train and Teach interchangeably.  Why, because good training is good teaching.  The best example of this interchange occurred many years ago. Rex Carr could teach.  While attending the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, I was fortunate to receive instruction from many outstanding faculity members.  The greatest teacher however was a dog trainer named Rex Carr.

    During the early 1970's my dog training partner Bill Sabbag, a psychiatrist, surprised me by never trying to make excuses when his dog could not complete a task.  He would simplify the concept and re run the dog.  Only when the dog mastered the concept would he proceed to the more advanced level.

    I had won a field trial but was struggling to advance my training techniques.  We needed more consistent results. Bill suggested if I wanted to advance in the sport of field trailing, I should train with Rex Carr.  Bill and I drove out to CL 2, the name of the site Rex created for the express purpose of training retrievers.  The place was a dream come true for a novice trainer.  Rolling hills, meadows and acres of technical ponds with easy access lay before me.

    After a number of visits it was obvious that Rex had more than wonderful training grounds. He had a program.  This exacting program was the first of its kind and produced many National Open and Amateur Field Trial Champions.

    Upon arriving at Car Labs, the dog would undergo an orientation.  He would learn to be around other dogs, how to jump into a dog truck and begin to pay attention to his handler.  Once acclimated, the program would begin. "Sit" was the first command.  Rex never used the work "Stay".  "Sit" meant that the dog would sit and stay until given another command.  Once "Sit" was completely mastered, Rex would teach the next step.  Rex would make the lessons short and always end on success.  Upon completion of the 4 month program the dog was expected to have excellent line manners, demonstrate a perfect delivery to hand, and complete difficult singles and doubles.  The dog would not cheat on the water, and was beginning to handle.  The key to the program was that each step was perfected before the next step was started.  If the dog became confused Rex would simplify and then advance. The program was very much like school. I would ask where a dog was in the program and after a few words, I knew exactly what the dog knew and did not know.

    Rex never used tricks, he was always fair to the dog.  If the dog became confused he would go back as many steps as necessary until the dog regained his confidence and then would advance.  I never saw him get mad at a dog.  I did see him lose his temper at a handler especially if the mistake caused the dog to behave incorrectly.

    Let’s cover a few more of the commands on the lowest level of the training pyramid.  “Kennel”.  I start this command when it is bed time.  It is very much like putting a child to bed.  Wait until you can see the pup is tired, don’t try when he has the zoomies and running in a crazy circles around you.  I have his own kennel set up, walk up to it and then using a treat, have him enter. Done.  After some time give the command “Kennel” when he is some distance from his kennel.  You will find that he will fly into his haven.  Some non-dog people feel it is cruel to make a dog go into a kennel.  What they don’t understand is that is the one safe place in the world for that dog and can be transported wherever the dog travels.  The use of a kennel when you cannot watch the dog or when he is napping can greatly decrease the house training period for a dog. Dogs do not like to eliminate where they sleep. As soon as you take him out of the kennel, immediately take him outside.

    Rex Carr believed a good training session began at the car kennel.  Carr was all about control.  This control began at the kennel.  He would give the command “No” when he opened the car kennel.  If the dog tried to rush out, the door was slammed in his face.  Use any command you chose but make it clear to the dog he only gets out when you say so.  As soon as the dogs’ feet hit the ground, give the “Sit” command.  Now you are in control, not the dog.  Take the dog in the opposite direction of where he will be working and then air him.  If you immediately start to walk to the line you will teach him it’s OK to relieve himself anywhere.

    At this time a new command is employed.  Use any word or words you want, just be consistent.  Take the dog to where you want to air him and give the command.  I use “OK” or “Micturate”, it is a release command.  It means go, air or just run around and burn off some steam.  Time to play.

    “Heel”.  Probably the second most important command.  For amusement I will go to a path or dog area and watch a dog take his owner for a walk.  The dog gets out of the car with a collar and leash on.  Then the fun begins.  The dog takes off dragging his “Master” behind him or if I am really lucky, the owner assumes a horizontal position when the dog is flying along in front and the owner is flying along behind.  At the very least the left arm of the owner will be several inches longer than the right from the constant pulling.

    This lifetime problem can be solved in very short order with young pups.  To start with just put a collar on the pups that fits him.  Let him get adjusted to this over a period of time.  Then add a leash to the mix.  Let him get comfortable with the leash.  Now comes the fun.  Go for a walk.  A leash on a well-trained dog is like the reins on a cutting horse.  There is no yanking or jerking, just subtle almost invisible movements.  And like a colt your pup may start to buck and pull at the leash.  Slowly let him get comfortable with the situation.  Play him like a fish, bring him in slowly and gently.  Again you have a number of choices when it comes to a leash.  With young horses you may start out with a very gentle hackamore, for a horse that needs more guidance, you can switch to any number of bits from gentle to quite severe.  So it is with dogs.  I don’t use a standard collar on a pup, they tend to pull out of them. You have several choices.  The most common are the choke collar and the pinch collar.  I really dislike the term choke collar because of what the term implies. I much prefer the term “Jerk Collar”.  To get a dog to heel give the command “Heel” while simultaneously giving a short jerk on the leash.

    A pinch collar has several advantages.  The pinch collar should fit snug around the neck.  This applies pressure around the entire circumference of the neck, not just the ventral aspect next to the trachea.  The dog will not fight the pinch collar because correction is applied the moment they start to lean into it.  Again for small people and large dogs you now have the edge.

    Once they get adjusted to the leash, the second phase of the training begins, “Heel”.  Again many short sessions. I use a heeling stick.  The heeling stick is not a whip, it is employed to prevent the pup from surging in front and can also be used to encourage the pup to not lag behind.  Properly presented when I grab a leash and heeling stick and ask “Walk” or “Outside” the dog will jump at the chance. On rare occasions I will have a very high powered dog that does not respond to the heeling stick used at the appropriate level.  In this case I reach into my toolkit and bring out another instrument, the whiffle bat.  Some readers may blanch at the sight or thought of this but the sight or sound of the bat make a strong impression and greatly shortens the time to a perfect “Heel”.  When a seasoned professional has to air 7 to 10 dogs at a time, he may well carry a whiffle bat.  That is because he does not want to spend his career having his knees replaced. Dogs play by running and crashing into one another.  Pros can’t afford to play in this manner with 7 dogs all coming at him.

    The whiffle bat is not a cudgel nor should it be used as one.    Try this trick on yourself.  Hit yourself with a normal heeling stick and then a whiffle bat.  With the bat, no pain just gain.

    When you begin to teach the dog to heel don’t demand perfection.  Give him latitude.  Over time he will learn to keep his head right next to your leg.  Remember, as Rex would say “If you seek perfection you lose momentum, if you seek momentum, you will achieve perfection.”

    Happy Training

    John Schulte DVM

  • February 16, 2023 3:12 PM | Peter Otte (Administrator)

    “Jessie” is about to learn the next command which is “Here”.  After all it is difficult to train a dog if they are 200 yards away from you.  This command can be a life saver.  A vicious dog may be loose or cars may be coming towards you at high speeds.  As in all commands it is not a request it is a command meaning come to me right now not when he gets done basking in that wonderful aroma he found.  With young pups, I will use treats. This tells the dog when you say “Here” good things will happen.  Treats will only take you so far.  If your dog takes off when you are about to go pheasant hunting and then spends 20 minutes flushing every bird in 1 mile and you scream “Here” and he finally comes.  Please don’t give him a treat.

    Start with the dog close to you using a leash.  Let him go to the end of the leash and say “Here” while giving a slight tug.  As you progress, put a long line on him and repeat the process.  Remember the amount of control you have over the dog is inversely proportional to the distance he is from you.  Later the e-collar can be added as additional incentive to improve his hearing.

    One idiosyncrasy I have noticed about some Golden Retrievers in Hunt Tests.  Let’s say the dog has gone too deep on a mark or a blind.  Most of the time when the Come In whistle is given, the Golden will immediately drop its head and begin to start hunting while wandering in. I am not sure if it is because Goldin’s have such a wonderful sense of smell they rely it too much but it may increase your score if the dog actually would make more of a concerted effort to respond to the whistle command.

    This brings us to the final command on the lowest rung of the Training Pyramid.  The “Here” – “Heel” command.  Now he is are able to do this because the other commands have been mastered.  Have your dog “Heel”.  Now put your left foot on a small stone and keep it there.  Don’t move it.  You want the dog to move around you. Give the command “Here” and turn 90 degrees to the right.  In time your dog will make that turn without standing up.  Make sure his alignment is perfect.  His head should be next to your leg and his spine straight.  Do not allow his rear end to be wrapped around you.  Say “Here” again and turn 90 degrees to the right.  Don’t seek perfection immediately, which will come. Give the command “Here” again while turning 90 degrees to the right. Work on his alignment.   Give your final command “Here” and you should be facing your initial position. On a different day let’s go in the other direction.  Give the command “Heel”, your left foot should be on that small pebble, and turn 90 degrees to the left.  Again make sure his head, neck and spine are all lined up perfectly.  Keep giving the command “Heel” while making 90 degree turns to the left until you reach your starting position.

    Once your dog has the turn down to perfection, only making small moves to accomplish it and keeping his butt on the ground, we advance to “Here” – “Heel”.  The purpose of this drill is to line your dog up for marks and blinds.  As the dog comes in with the first bird make sure you are facing the correct line to the next bird.  Quietly say “Here” or “Heel” while the dog has the bird in its mouth.  Don’t scream “Here” or “Heel” while wildly slapping your leg or snapping your fingers, it looks bad.  Be subtle.

    Once your dog is locked in on the blind or next mark be ready for the perfect moment. Be patient.  The sign may be the way he cocks his head or holds his ears.  He may lean forward a bit. SEND him.  Don’t miss that perfect moment.  I missed the moment once at Smith River and will always regret it.

    As you advance in the drill, become more demanding.  Put out a marked blind.  Use a white post or a white bag on the post. Have it far enough out the dog has to look to find it.  Now help him by saying the “Here” or “Heel”.  In time your dog will start working with you so by giving those 2 commands it is like lining up a missile. Now get rid of the post.   You make subtle commands and your dog will move his head just a fraction at a time until you have a shooting solution.  Then fire your weapon.  The greatest complement you will ever receive is at the end of a Master Hunt Test or Field Trial is when the judge looks at you after you lined every blind and says “Yeah but can he handle”?

  • February 15, 2023 3:14 PM | Peter Otte (Administrator)

    “Jessie” has completed the bottom tier of the Training Pyramid.  She has been taught “Sit”, “Sit at a Distance”, “Whistle Sit”, “Heel”, “Here”, “Here – Heel”, “Kennel” and using the “Kennel” command to facilitate housebreaking.  She knows each one of these commands perfectly.  If she relapses, we go back, simplify and advance to perfection.

    Now let’s have some fun at the next level.  I call this level The Retrieving Level.  After all retrievers got their name from their function.  The first behavior we teach is a hand thrown puppy retrieve.  I use either a rolled up white sock or small paint roller.  Find a hallway where you can close all the adjacent doors so there is no place for the pup to go except back to you.  Show him the sock, get him excited about it and then flip it part way down the hall making sure he can see it all the way.  Now get goofy, do whatever it takes to get the pup to come to you.  Remember you are blocking the hall so he can’t get past you.  Gently take the sock away praising him by telling him no other dog in the world is as smart.  Men have an advantage in this when it comes to acting goofy.  Women have the advantage because of their higher pitched voices.  The purpose of this is the make the dog frantic to retrieve.  Most important point, don’t overdo it.  Limit the retrieves to 3 or 4.  You are turning him into a rabid retrieving machine not throwing it so much he loses interest.

    You never want to start retrieves in the open, pups are masters of the game of keep away.  I once trained with a person who was no help.  I threw a teal for a pup onto a wide gravel road.  The distance was short but the entire retrieve took 15 minutes.  The pup was quicker than a cheetah and I had all the moves of a beached whale.  My assistant was laughing so had she could not move or was enjoying the game too much.  I think the pup covered the entire field in the background with me in hot pursuit running in fruitless circles after a very busy pup.

    Speaking of birds brings us to next the next step in this level.  The introduction to birds.  After the pup is retrieving well on land start with a small dead bird.  Show it to them until they are frantic to grab it.  Throw it a short distance in an open area.  If they pick it up great.  Now it is up to you to take it from them before they decide its lunch time.  I don’t use birds very much until the pup is Forced Fetched.  If the pup starts to sour, throw them a clipped wing pigeon.  Too many birds too soon can lead to bad habits handling birds and bumpers can be come boring.

    After your pup can retrieve a bumper as far as you can throw it in open cover the time has come to move to a very different concept, someone else throwing the bumper.  Again make the bumper toss close to the pup and the thrower should be a considerable distance from the mark.  Most pups will want to take it to the person who threw the object.  You can minimize this by long throws by a person or by using a winger to throw the bumper close to the pup.  The utilization of a long line can be very helpful.  Rex would lecture “Never be in a position where you cannot enforce a command”.  Great care must be given to the type of material utilized in the long line.  You will use this line later when you teaching the pup to stop on a whistle when it is been sent to a pile.  The material should be strong, lightweight and not tear up your fingers, hands or ankles.  A pro, Josh Conrad, has found the perfect long line and protects it like a momma bear with cubs.  Obviously with my record, he would not let me near it let along examine it.

    The pup is beginning to learn how to mark.  Most pros will tell you that good marking is an innate ability.  Some dogs are fantastic at very young ages, others struggle.  There is one drill that can help teach an advanced pup to mark.  I call it the 3 in a row drill.  The retrieves do not have to be long.  Place 3 ribbons about 20 yards apart so they are in an absolute direct line from the pup to the longest one.  To start have a person throw a bumper to the middle ribbon.  Have the pup retrieve it.  Next throw the bumper to the shortest one, send the dog.  For the third bumper have the thrower land the bumper on the farthest ribbon.  Repeat this drill once a week and each time vary the order of which bumper he retrieves.  You can start giving oral cues such as “easy” for the short check down bumper.  This will pay dividends down the road.  Again, this is for an advanced pup.

    When you begin to teach a dog to retrieve all the throws should be easy to see, land in open areas and be white or black and white.  Never use orange bumpers at any level.  Dogs can’t see orange.  You are trying to teach them to mark, not trick them.

    Once the pup is retrieving well it is time to add more excitement to the game – Gunfire. One effective way is to throw a short bumper for the pup and have a person fire a blank gun at 150 yards away when the bumper is in the air.  If all goes well, have the person move in 50 yards.  Adjust for how the pup is responding.  It is possible in one session for the thrower to throw the bumper and then shoot when the pup is on his way out to retrieve.  Later you can fire the gun, throw and then release the dog to retrieve.  In the early stages you want the pup not to concentrate on the gunfire but the retrieve he knows so well and is frantic to find.

    Now the pup has adjusted to a person in the field shooting a gun and throwing, let’s complicate life.  Puppy retrieves from multiple gun stations.  Put 2 or 3 gun stations widely spaced and throwing diverging birds.  Singles only and the throwers should be at a short distance and in light cover so the dog has the best chance to see the mark all the way out.  We can increase the distances later.  For now we want success.  One way to ensure the pup finding the mark and teaching him how to use his nose is to throw 90% of your retrievers into the wind.  Young dogs will invariably run towards the gun station.  If the pup goes out and you have thrown the bumper into the wind, he will be downwind of the mark and his success will skyrocket. We are now working towards teaching the pup multiple retrieves by putting multiple gun stations out into the field.

    Almost all training groups help the pup too much.  The onus of marking is on the pup.  Start out so you are guaranteed success.  Gradually increase distance and other factors in marking.  Give as little help as possible and only when absolutely necessary.  As you look out to set up a mark, consider each one of the following factors.

    Factors Influencing Marks and Blinds

    1. WIND.
    2. Cover
    3. Obstacles
    4. Terrain (Hills, ditches, changes of cover)
    5. Length
    6. Other marks or blinds.
    7. Placement of marks (in throws versus a square throw).
    8. Background
    9. Multiple marks.
    10. Flyers versus dead bird.
    11. Water (especially angles into water).
    12. Dogs alignment to mark.
    13. Handler remembering where mark is.
    14. Distractions (bird crates, honoring dog, position of gallery).
    15. Weather.
    16. Lighting.
    17. Height of throw.
    18. Length of throw.
    19. Prior falls - scent (dog number 1 vs dog 50).
    20. Scent areas of other marks from prior series.
    21. Position of sun.
    22. Tidal surges. (Water versus mud)
    23. Order of marks.
    24. Type of bird.
    25. Edaphic conditions. (Soil conditions)
    26. Scenting conditions. (Dry vs wet)
    27. Females in season
    28. Retired guns

    If you do this on each mark or blind it will make you even crazier than you were when you began this insane sport.

    Happy Training

    John Schulte DVM

  • February 14, 2023 3:18 PM | Peter Otte (Administrator)

    The next concept of the second tier of our Training Pyramid Program is the Introduction to Water.  There is no question that adding water to the mix is necessary in many recipes but it must be done correctly.  Work on water is about 5 times harder than work on land.  One reason it is harder is that in many cases you cannot physically go out to assist the dog.  Good training involves tennis shoe training.  Go out and get personal with the dog.  If you really want to make an impression go out into the water yourself to show him you really do mean what you say.  I wish I had a nickel for each time the statement was made “Oh he just loves water, he is the best water dog”.  That may be true in ideal conditions but now try angling into the water on a cold day with the line 150 yards from the water and let’s see if he really is a water dog.

    Again this portion of teaching must be fun.  The first experience in water makes a lasting impression.  Under ideal conditions it would be a warm day, warm water and a firm or sandy bottom.  Walk out into the water yourself while encouraging the pup to follow.  Stay in shallow water so the pup is walking on firm ground.  If the dog is shy about water or hesitates, use an experienced dog to go out with you to encourage the pup.  You can also go out into the water with several dogs while you throw short retrieves for the experienced dogs.  Your pup will want to join in on the fun.

    Once the pup is walking on firm ground in shallow water slowly go out into deeper and deeper water until the pup is swimming.   Some pups will do the vertical swim, splashing like crazy in a vertical position.  If you can have them pick up a small bumper their swimming will level out.

    There is no such thing as a dog that cheats water.  He is simply using the land to get to the mark the fastest way possible.  Dogs cannot cheat.  I use to play cards with a collie and every time he got a good hand his tail would wag.  The better the hand, the faster the wag.  So it is with dogs when they begin to retrieve in water.  Always throw the mark so the dog goes straight out.  Make sure there are no peninsulas or other shortcuts the dog may take to run the bank to make the retrieve.  Golden Retrievers are the master of the shoreline mambo.  Dancing up and down the shore in an effort to find the easier way to the bumper.

    Once your dog is retrieving short marks you can gradually add distance and begin the process of teaching them not to run the bank as their natural instincts would dictate.

    Throw the bumper out into the middle of the channel.  Send the dog.  Really get on the whistle so he comes straight back to you.  The thrower must not move while the dog is going out or coming in.  Now have the thrower move further down the road and repeat the throw to the middle of the channel.

    Again as soon as the pup grabs the bumper get on the whistle and have him come straight back to you.  The thrower must not move.  If the pup goes to shore, sim plify,  go back to the point where the pup had success and then advance.

    This drill is teaching him two very important points about water.  First go straight to the mark and not seek land or easier ways to make the retrieve.  Second, it is the beginning of teaching a pup how to run a channel blind.

    Happy Training

    John Schulte DVM

  • February 13, 2023 1:08 PM | Karen Treibel (Administrator)

    We have now completed the second level of the Training Pyramid Program.  We have covered the commands and concepts of “Land Marks with Multiple Guns, Introduction to Birds, Introduction to Water, Puppy Hand Thrown Retrieves, Puppy Retrieves from Gun Stations or Remote Throwers, and Introduction to Gunfire and Puppy Doubles.

    We have a dog whose value is climbing and we are becoming attached to it.  Perhaps now would be a good time to examine ways to decrease the chances of our pup becoming injured.  One condition that afflicts young dogs is Osteochondritis Dissecans.  This injury can occur in many joints of the body but we will concentrate on the shoulder.  If a puppy is allowed to jump from the crate to the ground out of a car or truck, trauma is conveyed to the shoulder joint.  The proximal aspect of the humerus is forced into the glenoid fossa of the scapula.  This can lead to a piece of cartilage from the head of the humerus avulsing from the bone. Avulsion occurs when the ligament or tendon does not tear but pulls a piece of bone or cartilage away from its attachment to the main portion of the bone.  The piece of cartilage floating around in the shoulder joint is referred to as a “Joint Mouse”.  Lameness will occur and the dog will sit with that foreleg held in a flexed position.  This injury can be prevented by lifting the pup in and out of the crate or with the use of a ramp.

    The second major injury that can occur is a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).  The ACL is the main ligament holding the knee together.  When God made the dog, he designed the hip joint at 10:00 AM on a Wednesday.  He was just about to go home when an angel said “God you have yet to design a knee joint or as it is called, the stifle.”  Unfortunately it was 4:55PM on a Friday and God was in a hurry.  He took a roll of duct tape and changed it into dense connective tissue we call ligaments.  He slapped them onto the distal end of the femur and the proximal end of the tibia and called it good.  It is an inferior joint and one that is subject to injury.  One way to avoid injury to the ACL is to shun training areas that may cause this injury.  Good trainers will walk out into Denverton and look for significant cracks in the peat soil.  Another danger zone are ponds with sticky mud.  The pulling of the leg out of this glop can cause the ACL to avulse from the crest of the tibia.  If you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of discovering that your dog has ruptured his ACL, call Drs. Cal and Robin Cadmus in Oakdale.  That’s what I did after I was stupid enough to run my dog through a pond that had been frequented by cattle.  The cattle left deep hoof prints in the mud as the pond dried and receded, the perfect storm for destroying her cruciate was created. 

    This same quagmire can also damage the Achilles tendon.  The same stress can pull the tendon of the gastrocnemius off its insertion to the talus bone (Heel bone).  The difference between a tendon and a ligament is that a tendon attaches a muscle to a bone, a ligament attaches bone to bone.  Where one begins is called the origin and where it attaches is referred to as the insertion.

    Hip Dysplasia (HD) is the bane of many dogs especially retrievers.  HD has two components of its origin, genetic and environmental.  The genetic portion we deal with by radiographing the sire and dam and looking for past generations to be clear of this disease.  The environmental portion of the abnormal confirmation of the Hip to Femur (coxo-femoral) joint can be attenuated by diet.  A large group of genetically similar German Shepherds were divided into two groups as young puppies.  One group was kept quite thin during their development into adult hood while the other group were allowed to become roly poly.  The statistical difference was startling.  Fat pups = dogs with Hip Dysplasia.

    The topic of Foxtails takes me to a quandary.  I was able to put my children through elite private eastern colleges because of this hideous plant.  As a veterinarian I hate them as much as any dog trainer. They are elusive and almost impossible to remove in some circumstances. “Jessie” was out in a field one day and no foxtails were obvious.  Her owner was very careful in selecting which field or marsh on which to train.   Jessie still managed to inhaled one, developed pneumonia and had to have a portion of her lung removed. The best advice I can give is to avoid this nasty invasive introduced weed.

    Pups can be taught to avoid another hazard in the field, Rattlesnakes.  I have put on a rattlesnake clinic every year and also give the rattlesnake vaccine.  The vaccine only gives partial immunity against the venom of the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.  The rattlesnake avoidance lesson only takes about 15 seconds and is very effective.

     Put someone in a chair in an open area.  Fasten a heavy fishing line to the rattles of the beheaded rattlesnake.  Coil the snake into a striking position and put the tip of the fishing rod right down to the rattles.  Have the handler approach from the downwind side.  The dog should not be on a leash, we want this confutation to be between the dog and the snake.  The handler should not make any attempt to make the dog heel or any other command.  As the pair approachs the snake wrangler, the dog can now use all its senses.  The rod tip should be vibrating as fast as possible to make the characteristic buzzing sound.  The dog can see, hear, and smell the snake.  A perfect lesson occurs when the pup approaches the snake and puts its nose on it to explore this new find.  At that exact moment, the handler should push the button on the e-collar set on a very high level just as the snake wrangler flips the tip of the rod causing the snake to mimic a strike. I have never seen a pup come back for a second helping of this dish.

  • February 12, 2023 1:21 PM | Karen Treibel (Administrator)

    We are now up to the third level of our Training Pyramid Program.  Up until now it has been all fun and games but now a little pressure will be added to the mix.  We will start with the introduction to the e-collar.  I was around before the e-collar came into common usage.  The methods employed to prevent bank running, staying off points and even the command to “Sit” when the dogs was a long way from the handler were brutal.  Judiciously applied it is far easier on the dog and the handler.  A few things to remember, never use it in anger, use the lowest setting to accomplish the task and don’t rely on the e-collar as your only tool.

    There are several methods written by many accomplished professionals and amateurs on how to collar condition the dog.   I start with a walk.  I pup the collar on the pup and leave the transmitter at home.  After the pup is absolutely comfortable do I turn it on to a very low setting.  Give the command “Sit” in a moderate tone, not a scream.  Simultaneously hit the nick button on the collar.  After a few episodes the dogs hearing will begin to improve.  Do not use the collar each time you give the command “Sit”, only use it on an intermittent basis.   Once the dog responds appropriately to the “Sit” command you may move on to the “Here” command. Remember the e-collar is just one tool you use.  Vary the tools you use to get the dog to “Sit”.  The heeling stick, the pinch collar, and the e-collar as well as the emphasis in your voice.  You have now covered another concept which is e-collar reinforcing obedience.  You are teaching the dog to respond to a command he already knows perfectly, you have just added the e-collar to your tool box.  Keep your eye on the prize by having your dog respond perfectly to these introductory commands.

    To prevent the dog from becoming sour on all this drill work, let’s go back out into the field and do some water marks.  I always start out with a few short land marks to warm the dog up and get his retrieving juices flowing.  When you start with water marks, go right down to the shore making sure there is no temptation to avoid the water.  Throw the bumper a short distance and send the dog just as the splash occurs.  You don’t want the dog to think about what is going on, just go.  Have your boots on.  Meet the dog out in the water while you are wildly encouraging him to come to you.  Take the bumper from the pup before he reaches shore.  Every dog will drop the bumper as soon as they are on dry land.  Let’s not let that habit begin.

    As the pup progresses in his water work add some complications.  Move back away from the shore so the dog has to run over land before plunging into water.  Gradually increase the distance of the mark.   If you encounter problems SIMPLIFY.  Go back to the level where you had success.  Don’t do too many marks in one day.  The most common mistake an amateur makes is to over train.

    I kept a journal on “Chase” my latest pup.  I referred  back to the Training Pyramid Program to ensure I have not skipped any steps and each command has been truly taught to perfection before moving up the Pyramid.  Each pup has his own time table.  I am giving this journal as an example but not to be followed as a timetable.

  • February 11, 2023 1:28 PM | Karen Treibel (Administrator)

    We are now getting into the nitty gritty of training a retriever.  We will cover the concept of teaching “Hold” and then “Force Fetching”.  In the first phase we teach “Hold”.  Another label we might put on this behavior is “Pressure Conditioning” Phase 1.  Studies have clearly demonstrated that positive reinforcement only does not work.  Dogs and children must have boundaries. 

      Put the dog up on a table, bench or other platform so you can work with the dog easier.  Professional dog trainers leave their vocation because their backs giving out from bending over so much.  You have far more control of a dog when he is on a table.  Professionals will have a table with a hook on it situated above the dog.  A rope is then fastened to this hook and the rope to the collar.  Now you have control of the situation.  If the dog really starts to fight you just back away and let him thrash for a while.  You are trying to teach the dog to learn to learn.  You do this by breaking it down and make the lesson as simple as possible.  You are attempting to teach the dog to work with you not fight you. There is a reason veterinarians put pets on an examine table.  It gives the vet an edge when it comes to examining the dog and performing procedures.

    While controlling the dogs head with one hand put a bumper in the mouth of the dog.  You may have to open his mouth to do this.  The dog will try and spit it out.  Repeat the word “Hold” and have him hold the bumper for a few seconds.  Give the command “Out” and praise the dog.  Be sure to use pressure and praise in equal measure.  In time the dog will accept the bumper willing when placed in his mouth.  Gradually increase the time you insist he holds it.  Anticipate when he is about to spit it out.  You want to be the individual in charge of when the bumper comes out.  In time have him hold the bumper and step away from the table for a few seconds.  Walk up to the table and say “Out”.  Praise him.  Later put the dog on the ground while on a leash.  Say “Hold” and place the bumper in his mouth.  Now go for a short walk while praising him.  If he drops it, make it clear that was the wrong thing to do and immediately insert the bumper into the dogs’ mouth while saying “Hold”.  When he has perfected the “Hold” command we will make a huge step in his training life.

    This brings to us to one of the most important commands “Force Fetching”. I hesitated to cover this concept because there are so many variables.  The time it takes to force an individual varies greatly, the methods used to force also are dictated by the individual dog.  Amateur trainers shy away from just the word “Force”.  A smart person would not even attempt to cover the “How” and “Why” of forcing. Fortunately I have never been overly bright so I willing to attempt it. 

    This phase might well be called “Pressure Conditioning” Phase 2.  I don’t start force fetching until the pup has all its permanent teeth.  In physics, the word force means “Influence that changes movement”.  This is not a cruel command but it is an essential one.  Too many trainers never truly convey this command to the dog – Big Mistake.  This is the one command that is not taught, we have lead up to this command by teaching. Now we take a leap biased on a lot of teaching. We impose it.  The dog knows how to “Hold” so we use that step to achieve our goal.  Some people shrink from “Force Fetching”.  That’s OK.  Seek a professional or advanced amateur to assist. I find singing Kum bah yah during the training makes it politically correct.

      Put the dog on the table, hold his ear in one hand and the bumper in the other.  Give the command “Fetch” while simultaneously pinching his ear with your fingernail.  He will vocalize, when he opens his mouth, repeat the command “Fetch” and insert the bumper.  Stop the pressure on his ear immediately as soon as the bumper is in his mouth. Insist he holds the bumper for a few seconds and then give the command “Out”.  Repeat.  After a short time, you will be rewarded when you say “Fetch”, his mouth will open and in goes the bumper. We are using pressure to get a result.  How much pressure should you apply?  That depends on the individual dog.  Rex had a saying that summed it up.  “The pressure of the correction must exceed the pressure of the cause”.  Don’t rush through this lesson – be sure it completely understood before moving on.  Reach out for help from a professional if needed.   Remember this is a seminal moment for your dog.  I have seen too many wonderful dogs ruined at this stage by improper forcing techniques.  We are not just teaching a command, we are teaching him how to accept pressure so he can advance in his training.  As in all our lessons keep the sessions brief but do be thorough.

    Now we go to the next step, say “Fetch” with the bumper a few inches in front of the dog.  Apply pressure until he reaches for it.  After he reaches for it consistently, lower the bumper a few inches so he has to reach down for it.  Continue this until you are holding the bumper on the table and he is picking it up when you say “Fetch”.  Now comes the big step.  Place the bumper on the table just where you have been holding it.  Take your hand off the bumper.  Greater than 90% of dogs will not fetch it.  That’s OK.  Expect it and act. You have released the bumper and put the dog in control.  Pinch the dogs’ ear and say “Fetch”.  As in all training if he starts to regress go back to where you had success and then advance.  The dog is now lunging for the bumper on the table, we next place the dog on the ground and have him “Fetch”. 

    Once he is proficient at fetching on command place a bumper about 10 feet away. With a leash on the dog, approach the bumper and when you are in the correct position give the “Fetch” command.  If your basic work is solid he will pick up the bumper.  Many trainers will say “This dog is now “Forced fetched” no he is not.  He has been started but not totally forced.  In order to be truly forced, pressure must be added.  This means putting a bumper on the ground, say “Fetch” and tap the dog on the butt with the heeling stick.  Once he gets use to this concept, walk with him say “Fetch”, tap him with the heeling stick and he should lunge for the bumper.  In time add the e-collar to the mix.  Say “Fetch” and nick on a low but appropriate setting.  When correctly forced the demeanor of the dog will change when you give the command.  Make it clear to him that this is a command always to be obeyed, never questioned.  The entire process and time frame of force fetching correctly done varies with each dog.  This is one command where one method does not fit all.  Be flexible.  Take as much time as needed so the dog truly understands what is expected of him.   There is a huge difference between a hard charging high roller to a very soft dog.  Make accommodations. Males of all species will achieve the results quicker when given instructions.  That is because males always do exactly what they are told.  

    We will now go the final step of Force Fetching.  Running the ladder.  Below is an example of running the ladder.

    Place 12 bumpers about 3 feet apart so they resemble a ladder on the ground.  With the dog on leash walk up to the first bumper and say “Fetch”.  “ No problem he says” and grabs it.  Now drop the bumper behind you onto its original position and walk to the next bumper, say “Fetch”.  When you approach the third bumper say “Fetch” and nick at the same time.  Continue with the drill and nick 3 or 4 times out of the 12 retrieves. Turn around and come back along the ladder repeating the process.  Don’t be concerned if at some point he balks.  You are putting pressure on the dog so he does what you want, not when he feels like doing it. Don’t correct the dog if he lunges over one bumper to get another one in front.  He is doing what he thinks you want him to do.  He is fetching on your command.  You are becoming an advanced trainer with the goal of having a trained dog not just a partial trained dog.

    Now go back to the beginning and repeat the steps using dead birds.  I once trained with someone whose dog would only pick up domestic birds placed on the ground breast up.  That dog was one hell of a trainer.

    Happy Training

    John Schulte DVM

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