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.
John Schulte DVM