About Steve

Steve has been a member since February 21st 2015, and has created 0 posts from scratch.

Steve's Bio

Steve's Websites

This Author's Website is http://coloradolabradorretriever.com

Steve's Recent Articles

Welcome and 2021 Kick Off

Welcome to the Platte Valley Retriever Club official website.  As dark goose season starts to wind down, we’re heading into another dog training season.  What are your goals for this year?  Are you starting a new pup?  Looking to make the big leap from Started to Seasoned?  Getting ready to run Finished and earn that Championship?  Or maybe things just got a little loose during hunting season?  Regardless of where you are at in your training, if you live along the Colorado Front Range or Eastern Plains and your goal is a better hunting dog then PVHRC is for you.

Make sure to check out the Calendar section of the website.  We’re hoping to be back closer to normal this year and we have a full slate of training days planned.  For all you upland hunting aficionados we’ll be starting off with an upland training day on February 27.  And we’ll be doing the Started dog class again this year in conjunction with training days starting on March 20.  If you’re new to training or just starting out with a new pup, take advantage of those classes.  They provide good information and are also a good way to start meeting folks and getting involved with the club.  Lastly, circle June 26 on your calendar.  That will be the date of our annual picnic/auction.  It’s a big fundraiser for the club, but more importantly, a good time — and again, a way to meet others and be involved.  Hope to see everyone there.

Have you paid your annual membership dues yet?  If not, you can do so online now.  It’s never been easier.  Go to the Membership page and scroll to the bottom to pay via Paypal. 

Also, watch this space over the next several weeks as we will be featuring parts from a written series by Rich Carpenter titled:  Pups: Thinking Finished from The Very Beginning.  It was originally posted in the club newsletter several years ago, but we’ll be reposting it here as it is well worth the read!

Good luck with the last few weeks of hunting season.  I look forward to seeing everyone out training soon.

Joe Olson, PVHRC President

Pups: Thinking Finished from the Very Beginning, Part 5

by Rich Carpenter

Making Blinds Fun for the Dog and the Trainer.  Having a dog that can run good blind retrieves is very important for a good hunting retriever.  Admittedly I’m not the best duck shot in the world, but I’m much more apt to drop a bird that my dog will not see to mark than I am to shoot a double when I’m hunting alone.  And to run Seasoned and especially Finished test work and have any reliable success, you just have to have decent blind work.  With teaching blinds, I think a lot of us struggle early with just how to teach blinds and how to avoid the problems that often accompany training and running blinds. 

Clearly basic obedience must be there to teach blinds.  As in so many things retriever work oriented, if you don’t have a completely reliable “sit,” things will never work out well. 

But assuming that “sit” is rock solid (at heel and at distance) a far bigger challenge in teaching a young dog blinds is coming to grips with all the little skills and bits of information we need to tuck into that fuzzy little noggin’ without overwhelming the pup or getting a lot of stress involved. 

I’ll admit right up front that my first HRC Lab, Amos Moses, probably never ran an excellent blind in his life and it was my fault for not knowing how to teach him.  With me as his teacher, it’s a wonder he ran them at all.  The second dog did better, but the old-timers at the PRHRC club in North Platte still gleefully rib the hell out of me for my “back to the truck, Gator” cast I gave at one of their tests.  Actually, what I was doing was throwing up my hands in total desperation as Gator was disappearing into the woods hot on the scent of Bigfoot or something.  Dang! Just before that.  I thought I was a sit whistle and short over from a one-whistle blind.  Well, I was, but that moment didn’t last long.  Didn’t have the sit I needed!

So, by the time Roux came along, I was looking for a better method and, for me, that blind training method turned out to be the one outlined in Mike Lardy’s TOTAL RETRIEVER TRAINING tapes. 

Whether it’s Lardy or other good programs out there, for someone getting started a program that has a very definite discrete sequential flowchart can do a lot to not get going too fast or jump ahead.  Both those things for the pup are like us trying to drink out of a fire hose. 

But, even with a good program you can have problems, and most of those problems are somehow tracked back to confusion.  Not to say there aren’t dogs whose attitude is to tell the handler to go pound sand.  There are.  And probably not a dog who won’t give that a try at least once.  But in reality, particularly with the right start, it will be infrequent that the dog is willfully going against your wishes.  Much more likely is the dog doesn’t understand.  Sometimes, if punished when the dog doesn’t understand why, the dog may be frantically and desperately trying several options, hoping to guess the correct one to avoid punishment. 

What I like to work to get in my pup is to be like the dogs you see lining up for a blind with a big smile on their faces.  It’s almost like they are saying, “YES!!! I don’t even have to think about where the bird is.  I can just pick a spot on the horizon in the directions I’m being pointed; lay my ears back and fly! My handler will hit the whistle and tell me where to go if I’m off course.”

Of course, I don’t know how dogs think, and it’s probably not that way.  But I can tell you that Roux and a number of other retrievers truly enjoy lining up to run a blind.  But I can also tell you there are other dogs where the thought of running a blind is a major stressor, and actually running it is even worse for them. 

I think the difference is a relaxed understanding of blind work on the part of the dog and teamwork between the dog and the handler. 

That is what we are after, and to me it relates more to us as trainers reading our dog, understanding (or following exactly if we don’t fully understand) our training approach without moving ahead before the previous stage is fully digested by the dog. 

But, digested, not perfected.  To me, excellence is a goal to strive for; seriously seeking perfection will take us where we don’t want to go.  Lardy stresses something that is hard for some of us to do, and that is not to grind something into the dirt.  Don’t keep at something (like the Double T) until the performance is absolute perfection.  Get performance of the skills and actions to the level to where they are generally performed correctly and move on!  The skills will continue to be honed to a fine edge as the pup progresses.  And with a good program like Lardy’s, if you moved on too soon, it will be apparent, and you go back and get it good enough. 

So teach your blinds by whatever program you are following, but always be alert to the little things.  Reward the try.  Don’t punish or harp on honest mistakes.  Stay off that collar for casting errors in the early blind training.  Watch for confusion.  Know that as simple as it seems to you, it is very complex to your young charge.  Backing up for a bit can be the fastest route to where you are going. 

Look for little ways to help and communicate with your dog.  Chances are if you pay attention, you’ll see how your pup shows stress or confusion.  For example, in Roux’s early blind running days, if I spent too much time fiddling around trying to get an ideal initial line, he’d suddenly start whining.  That was the signal I needed to smarten up before I caused serious problems.  Essentially, he was telegraphing that at that stage in his training, he could not make any finer “clicks” in his line adjustment mechanism.  So, time to kick him off and then handle as needed.  Continuing for the perfect line after that point can soon end up in a no-go or popping going off the line. 

In almost any new skill introduction the beginning is teaching and tilting the scales to help the dog succeed and to get repetitions of successful actions to where the action becomes almost automatic.  Then very gradually the skill is used in ways that make a mistake more likely, but still you are loading the deck.  When it is getting more generalized and at the proofing/testing stage, then circumstances are set where there is a good opportunity to err if the newly learned skill is not applied.  Then, there may be a correction sometimes; but, still not for an honest mistake.  Then more information is likely needed or to move back a little to simplify. 

In concrete terms this is the path in teaching three-handed casting and then introduction of indirect pressure with a collar.  When we start everything is stacked for the pup.  There is only one pile.  The pile is identified each time out before we start and subsequently if needed.  We’ll teach each pile individually before ever having bumpers in more than one location.  Then when we’ll make the first attempt, for example, to first cast to the right over pile and then cast to the back pile, we’ll again tilt the scales for pup success.  Before that first back cast, we’ll be sure the pup has just picked up the last right side pile dummy, so if there is an error, there cannot be a reward for the error.  Further, in addition to no attraction or reward where the pup has just been, we’ll set that pup back at the pitcher’s mound angled a little toward 3rd (which will also have no dummies) and us moving a little toward third from home plate.  Now we’ll give the back cast as a Left Hand back, so the pup is even turning away from the temptation of where it’s been.  We want success, not a test.  And we don’t want to forget good feedback and to show appreciation of both honest effort and success.  Don’t need a bunch of mushy crap, just a sincere, “good dog!” to show you are appreciating the work.  It may still not be close to where you want to end up, but if the dog is struggling to improve, reward the try! It will pay off. 

Now eventually when the skill is good and solid, we will test and we will correct for choosing to do the wrong thing, still watching for the honest mistake and not correcting there.  This drill is where indirect collar pressure is introduced in the Lardy program.  Now, depending on the pup, we’ll let pup see the piles put out, and get a successful cast each way and back.  But now we want the dog to think and do the right thing, which is the correct response to the given cast.  Now we will give a right over to the right side pile, but we will follow it up with a right-hand back to the back pile, so the pup has to turn and look at the side pile it’s just been to, to do the right thing and go to the back pile.  We should already be past the point where the dog takes off somewhere between over and back, just confused.  Now the dog is expected to be able to pull this off.  Not perfectly and maybe not even real well to start, but we’ll help and part of the time we’ll apply a little pressure to help.  If we see the pup turn around to take the back cast and then suddenly telegraph you the signal, “screw it, I’m gonna get the side pile bumper.” Then we are going to toot, nick, toot, applying indirect pressure.  But, to help insure that results in the correct response, we are going to give the pup an angled left hand over as a literal cast to help it go to the back pile.  A literal cast is the cast that if followed exactly would lead the dog to the bumper in a blind retrieve.  But, if the dog does the same thing and suddenly heads for the previous blind in early blind training, there would be NO application of collar pressure for the wrong cast.  It doesn’t know that in the field yet, only in the yard in a known drill location. 

But again, it’s not automatic and we are trying to avoid pressure for actions that are confusion based.  Pressure is on us to be alert and reading this pup.  Say we give the right hand back cast and pup takes sort of a big looping move to the right and is getting pretty close to the right pile.  Here is where timing and reading is so important to helping get you and pup on the same page and the pup comfortable.  You are riding the edge here and you don’t have much distance.  But it would be a shame if, even though it was very close to the side pile, you hit the whistle and nick whistle, just as it dawned on you the pup had committed to going back.  That’s where confusion can enter.  Better to risk the dog getting the side pile dummy because you guessed wrong or gave the pup just a hair too much time.  Not the end of the world.  “Tweet” to sit the dog, walk over and calmly take the bumper, a quiet “no” or “wrong,” replace the bumper, move the dog just a bit left and give a left hand back to get the right location.  Now repeat.  Chances are a little learning will take place, rather than inducing stress. 

A couple related things to making it fun.  Teach and train that LH / RH back solidly before you get to 3-handed casting.  As noted before, I start it when the pup is 8 weeks old playing on the table.  But start it ahead.  Several ways to start it off the table, usually sitting the dog facing you and tossing over the dog’s left or right shoulder and a little to the side will just naturally have them turning the right direction of your cast.  A long lead would be involved if the pup is not reliably steady.  If this is a struggle with a pup that is just totally right-pawed, find a table or lawn chair or something to sit the pup beside, facing you, and toss over an outside the shoulder away from the barrier.  Chances are excellent the pup will not turn into it and will give you the correct turn.  Gradually work both sides and move up or back to where there is no barrier and see if it’s stuck.  If the pup still has a tendency to go one way or the other, load him before the cast so he’s going to turn the correct way. 

Later in cold blinds it will be very important to minimize use of the collar.  Misapplication of the collar (applied at the wrong time, rather than necessarily amount of electricity) when confusion is at hand is perhaps the source of a huge percentage of problems with the dog popping, spinning or even no-going, though no-going and bugging are more apt to be caused by too much screwing around by the handler trying to get too fine an initial line than the pup is capable of.  A bellowing “NO!!” for a confused sensitive dog can shut them down in a variety of ways.  Early on, rather than corrections, we often need to move up and simplify or to give more information and encouragement and have the resultant success of finding a dummy on the blind retrieve.  Precise lining and casting will be fine-tuned in yard drills.  Lardy, when running a young dog on the initial cold blinds doesn’t care if the dog turns the wrong way on a cast, he just wants the dog to change direction at the cast and get the reward of getting the dummy.  Even if the dog ends up at the wrong dummy, it’s good: the dog got the reward of a retrieve from changing direction at the handler’s instruction.  With a thorough approach, patience and gradually introducing and increasing factors, a dog will get stronger on blinds for probably 2 or 3 seasons. 

In a way it’s a long way between the 3-handed casting and the first cold blinds, but not as far as it seems if each baby step is taken properly and enjoyed by the trainer and the pup.  Yes, you have to have standards, but that doesn’t mean you can’t both enjoy it. 

A couple unrelated tips: If you’ve trained “sit” to where you expect the pup to sit as you go away, you’ve no doubt experienced the frustration that the only time the pup moves after you is when you were walking away with your head turned and didn’t see it start to move.  Well, if you don’t mind more conventional trainers snickering at you, get yourself a cyclist’s rear-view mirror that clips to your eyeglass frame.  Amazing what a short time you need to wear it to make pup think you have eyes in the back of your head. 

If you train a lot by yourself and do many poor man marks with remote sends (you walk out, throw the mark and release the dog from thrower position) and stretch them to any distance, you’ve probably run into situations where, due to wind, background noise or whatever, the dog can’t hear your verbal release and doesn’t go.  You might try laying a 2-way radio next to the dog at the line and releasing it over the radio.  May not work for some dogs and you may need to spend a little time introducing the radio.  Hopefully, your dog won’t pick up the radio and holler “Get it up where I can see it!!!”

Good training.

Upland Training Day

PVHRC will be hosting an upland training day on Saturday, February 27.  If you’re a club member and are interested in getting some pheasants for your dog and attending the upland training, please contact me at: joeolson@yahoo.com to reserve some birds.  If you’re not a member but this sounds like something you and your dog would enjoy you can join right now by going to the Membership page and signing up.

For the training day we’ll set up a course and have two people/dogs at a time run in a well spread out brace with each dog getting two birds per run.  So, if you just want to run your dog one time, you would order two birds.  If you want to run twice, four birds . . . and so on. The rest of the time, while others are running their dogs, we’ll ask people to help out by planting birds, gunning etc.  And remember, it’s training not a test.  The only requirement is that you are safe.  You can have your dog point or flush, have the gunners shoot or not, run with a check chord — whatever will work best for your particular training.  Just plan to come out and have fun.   

If you have a young or inexperienced dog that’s not ready to quarter, flush, retrieve pheasants yet, but you’d like to do some introductory upland work you’re welcome to attend as well.  You probably don’t need to buy any birds, but it’s a good chance to get your dog exposed to gunfire and, if there’s interest, we can set up some quartering drills. flushing drills and get some retrieves using freshly killed pheasants.  Contact me about that as well if you’re interested in something like that so we know how many might want to do it.

Joe

Pups: Thinking Finished from the Very Beginning, Part 4

by Rich Carpenter

Force Fetch. The first thing that popped into my head when I thought about writing on this subject was wondering, over the years, how many brand new club members have been discouraged from getting active by someone telling them at their first PV training day, “Well, first you need to get an e-collar and then you need to force fetch your dog.” Many of us feel very strongly that both are central to advanced retriever training.  But sometimes it takes a dog or two to convince some of us of this and we forget where we started.  And, for most of us, what we consider advanced retriever training today wasn’t even in our realm of understanding as beginners.  I’m here to tell you if I’d been met with that e-collar statement when I first showed up 20 some years ago, I’d have just left.  I didn’t like e-collars of the day or e-collar training methods of the day.  But CC and FF are not the only ways.  There are people who still don’t like collars and won’t use them and people who don’t believe in force fetch. 

The purpose of this article isn’t to argue one side or the other, but to report on one hunter’s thoughts on puppy training that will result in a hunting dog you can be proud of and have some success running Finished tests.  Clearly there are a number of other acceptable approaches to training as well as various other methods of FF and CC. 

I’ve been a FF believer since before there was a PVHRC, but being an e-collar trainer is more recent.  I became convinced with modern collars and some newer collar approaches that an e-collar was the way to go for me and seemed more humane to the dog than the old tennis shoe approach, or Amish Training, as some refer to non-collar training. 

I’m not going to go into detail about how to do Force Fetch, which is also known as the Trained Retrieve and the Conditioned Retrieve.  I was recently asked by an individual to do just that and my response was that doing it once every 10 years or so didn’t keep the details fresh in my mind and he needed more detail than I’d remember.  He should do what I was going to do: watch a FF video.  I sent him off to the Tri-Tronics website and suggested he purchase the T-T Trained Retrieve: Hold and Fetch.  What a bargain.  Used to be about $40 for the two VHS cassettes, now it’s on DVD and you get both for $19.95.  It’s available a lot of other places as well.  I watched it several times as I got ready to go through it with Din.  There are a number of other methods described in books and videos.  Evan Graham’s Smart Fetch seems has also been getting good reviews.  Be advised that if you are planning to train by the Lardy method, his TOTAL RETRIEVER TRAINING video gives very little detail on FF (or CC, though he has a separate DVD on that). 

If it’s your first time to do FF, I can’t recommend strongly enough to get good, detailed instruction.  It is not easy to do, the dog doesn’t like it, you won’t enjoy it, and if you lose heart halfway through, you’ll have done more harm than good and when you quit the process; the dog, not you, will be in control.  So, if you are going to do it, learn how and commit to going all the way through it.  When you are done, you can be proud and so will the dog be as work progresses.

I’ve done FF on the ground and on a table and for me the table is 1000 times better and easier than on the ground.  On the ground holding the dog, besides wearing out your back and/or knees, you really feel like you need a minimum of 3 hands to do the job.  Done on the table with the initial stages of both Hold and Fetch done with the dog secured to the upright at the end of the table by a collar attached to that upright and Velcro hobbles for the front feet, things get much smoother.  The dog can’t pull away, the dog can’t fight you or the dummy with its feet and you can just quietly and calmly go about the work or teaching hold and fetch.  You can do the same securing to a fence post or tree if you are young and flexible and have a good back.  But the table is sure easy and not hard to build. 

Starting and not finishing is probably the biggest problem.  The second biggest mistake by beginners, and very common, is to decide that you have a pup prodigy on your hands and in 15 minutes of ear pinch the first evening, he has “HOLD” down pat.  Next day, 15 minutes of ear pinch and “FETCH” is going swimmingly, and the new trainer declares victory and moves on.  If you buy that, I’ve got swampland in Florida I’ll make you a deal on.  You’ve just become the last in a huge line of 1st-time trainers suckered in by a bright pup! Later on, at a time you least suspect and can do little or nothing about it, your error will come back to bite you in the butt, big time.  My son got conned by Gunner in his first attempt at FF and promptly Gunner had a ball playing with a bird at an HRC test.  Back to square one.  Next thing I knew we are turkey hunting and bring Wade’s gobbler back to the Shack.  He lays it on the ground and says, “Gunner, Fetch.” Mr.  Gunner wasted no time finding the handle on that 19# turkey and sat there holding it just as pleased as a pig in poop.  Mission really accomplished that time around!

So, don’t be conned.  Keep at it.  If you persist in the repetition, eventually most dogs through boredom, or with a particular hold object they detest, will suddenly decide they are done cooperating.  Then the true trained retrieve conditioning can begin.  It isn’t fun.  It is conditioning.  It’s an imposition of will and very much will determine how much of your training will go from that point. 

Another thing to watch for as you go is that what doesn’t even seem like a little step to you may be a mile-wide chasm for the pup.  For example, you have the pup grabbing for the dummy in your hand to where you have to count fingers after each time you offer it.  Then you lay the dummy on the table or the floor and say Fetch, and the dog looks at you like it has no clue what you are even talking about.  They don’t.  Same way for many pups in “hold” when you have them start to walk while holding something.  Sometimes it can almost be comical in that what seems like walking and chewing gum at the same time becomes mission impossible.  They are focusing so hard doing “hold” right they can’t incorporate moving.  So, be alert for those kinds of things and be patient.  Look for the gradual transitions as the process continues.  Hopefully you will pick an instructional method that will tip you off about things like this.  I can’t speak from personal experience for Smart Fetch, but the T-T Trained Retrieve video gives a lot of detail and things to watch for, good and bad.  I’d used other methods for previous dogs but liked the T-T video program really well when I did Roux, and saw no reason to go to something else with Din.  It also incorporates use of the collar in similar fashion to how I’ve CC’ed Din.  But, even if you are not a collar trainer, you will find this method very workable and the collar is not central to it. 

The program you follow will likely show you what they use for hold objects.  Some use only a 1-inch wood dowel about 1 foot long.  Some use a wood or plastic dumbbell.  Some use only the small plastic retrieving bumper.  Again, you pays your money and you takes your choice.  The T-T program uses a variety of hold objects including the above mentioned, a piece of pipe wrapped in duck tape, large bumper, a dowel wrapped solidly with wire, a very stiff scrub brush, unbalanced dumbbell, etc., plus a variety of frozen birds.  I like to also use fresh birds of a variety of sizes.  Also, a good time to learn about holding a dove with their loose feathers if you planned ahead and put one whole in the freezer.  A coot proved to be very frustrating for Din.  It seemed to have no firmness or substance and would ooze out of a less-than-firm grip.  But he figured it out.  I really like a fairly heavy unbalanced object.  Din’s was a 1-1/4″ diameter 45 degree plastic electrical conduit elbow.  In the flare end I wedged a chunk of lead.  It was a frustration for him: awkward, heavy, slick and totally out of balance.  I could be wrong, but I think something of this nature is really valuable in teaching a young dog about just how tight must I hold something to keep it in my mouth.  I don’t want my dog just holding every bird in a death grip if I can help it, but I want him holding the struggling cripple tightly enough it doesn’t escape.  This unbalanced curved object is like 4 or 5 objects in one, depending on which part of it is presented to the pup to gasp, and at what angle.  But, could be my imagination and a waste of your and the pup’s time.  But it’s what I do. 

Stick with it and succeed.  You’ll need to focus on good transition of the new skills and standards to the field.  Having the trained/conditioned retrieve down cold, as well as really solid “sit,” “Come” and “Heel,” commands will make lots of other training much, much easier and more efficient, as well as more enjoyable for you and the dog.  Then you both can concentrate on learning new skills and concepts and advancing old ones without wrestling the dog on the line or trying to get it to sit in the field, etc. 

FF is important to having a dog that will hold and not drop things even in unpleasant circumstances and gives you a tool to deal with mouth problems.  But the second HRCH dog I trained was not force fetched as I took it over from my son and he didn’t want to do force fetch or have it done.  He never dropped birds and was fine.  BUT he’d have probably passed twice as many tests had he been force fetched, as force fetch is as much or more about who is really in charge here. 

If FF has been done well and basic obedience is really solid, now the pup is ready to enter into more formal yard work and more interesting things afield.  For the way I train, following the 3-in-a-row fetch or don’t fetch drill on the ground wrapping up the Trained Retrieve, I’m ready to move over to Lardy at the point of 3-handed casting.  Soon after that, Indirect Pressure will be introduced on that drill.  Then we are off to the races, but no prize for getting there fast, only for getting there well.  Then pile work.  It will be followed up with the double T, Swim-by (when water available and not too cold), Taught Blinds, Taught Blinds with Diversions, 1st cold land blinds, 1st cold water blinds (after swimby can be done), cheating singles, and a variety of yard drills to sharpen and fine tune lining and casting ability.  Meanwhile marking and concept work will continue. 

There is one other thing that you’ll need to decide when you are about to start FF.  That is whether or not you will continue to throw marks for the pup during FF.  Some do and some don’t.  I’d guess perhaps more stop marks all together than continue them.  I do continue marks, as I like to try to keep balance in our training for positive attitude.  If I’m doing nothing but obedience and add the stress of FF, it seems to me being a pup wouldn’t be much fun and I think fun is an important ingredient of training from start to end.  But, if you decide you will continue throwing marks, you need to go write on the blackboard 500 times: “I will not impose any new standards of holding or delivery on my dog until “fetch” has been fully taught and proofed in formal FF.  If the pup has been spitting the dummy out at your feet going into force fetch, then let the pup spit the dummy out at your feet during FF until Hold is complete.  Until then it is fine to notice the dog is doing better and praise by saying “Good Hold” when the dog does it correctly on his own.  But you just clamp your tongue in your teeth and say nothing when he spits it out the next time.

And when hold is done, and the pup spits it out, you put it back in the dog’s mouth, you don’t get after the dog with “fetch” and an ear pinch or e-collar stimulation (if that’s in your formal program) until that has been completed in the FF program.  I think Trained Retrieve or Conditioned Retrieve is perhaps more descriptive than Force Fetch, in that there really are two components: 1.  The dog holding the object without dropping, chewing, or mouthing.  2.  The dog actively reaching out to grab the object.  These are two very different things.  The way I do it, Hold comes first. 

But, please remember, repetition is key to success in retriever training and good progress and growth will only be made with lots of repetition and practice of these skills in a variety of locations to where the skills become generalized and where the dog can apply them in new settings.  Also, while being reasonable and not punishing honest mistakes, once a standard for obedience and hold and fetch has been achieved, the young dog must be held to that standard.  That means you need to be consistent, pay attention, get after the dog for lack of effort, yet cut it some slack for confusion or honest mistakes.  For example, you may just be coming out of FF and the pup is holding and delivering well.  Then the first snow comes and that icy dummy dripping on his teeth feels awful and the pup starts dropping.  What to do? Probably several things.  Minimize snowy dummy retrieves.  Work on a good hold under those conditions.  Have plenty of dummies.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  The pup will get to where that’s old hat. 

Some dogs will come out of FF and bring the dummy back like they are smoking a big cigar.  Others will grab where the rope joins the dummy.  Different people address this in different ways.  My experience is that with a little time spent showing it how you want the dummy held the pup outgrows it.  I guess everyone has to decide what battles to fight and if there is a good hold, I’ll generally work on the “how” of holding through ongoing demonstration of what I want and praising when I get it, rather than a full-scale battle.  To me there are more important places in training to draw a line in the sand. 

With this stage of puppy training complete, the door is now open to the real training world and much fun lies ahead for you and your charge.  There will also be a lot of study and work.  In the future we can talk some about helping a dog do the most they can with the marking talents they have.  And we can talk about ways to make blind running fun for the dog and maybe some handling strategies.  Reading the dog and some things to read can be key to good training.  Of course Din might raise his paw and allow as how I ain’t bright enough to teach him anything, let alone suggest how anyone else should train.  And Roux claims to have taught himself, so you may want to quit reading this garbage.

Pups: Thinking Finished from the Very Beginning, Part 3

by Rich Carpenter

Exposing a pup to the idea of casting through play teaching is seen as a good idea by some and as pretty much a waste of time by others.  I guess you pay your money and take your pick.  I’m a believer in it, but then it fits into my general philosophy of giving a pup every opportunity to get exposed to useful things and figure that at times it may give them a leg up in training or help them out in an area that otherwise might be a tough learning area for that pup.  There are many good ways to train a retriever, what I do just happens to fit my personal preferences. 

The Tri-Tronics Retriever Training book by Jim and Phyllis Dobbs with Alice Woodyard gives a good presentation on puppy play casting on the table that will later be used for the Trained Retrieve (Hold and Fetch), also known at Force Fetch or Conditioned Retrieve.  Again, Jackie Merten’s Sound Beginnings puppy teaching/training video has a lot more early training focused ultimately toward more advanced work. 

If you are planning to use a table like this for FF, there is an added benefit of the pup spending fun time and getting treats at one of the uprights when “Hold” begins with the dog secured to the upright.  A few weeks before “Hold” will start, I’ll gradually introduce the pup to the secured collar, giving a treat as it gets the collar on.  First, it’s loose and later tighter as it will be to secure the dog so that “Hold” can be a calm and quiet activity.  Even though the “Hold” program is not terribly fun for the pup or the trainer, even during the part that involves insistence, ear pinch and later collar replacing the ear pinch, the pup is still very willing to walk right up to the post, get a munchie or two and get on with the un-fun stuff. 

Getting back to puppy casting, I like to give the pup a week to get used to me, the new home, etc.  and then start playing on the table.  The whole game revolves about the pup liking treats.  Dobbs use little pieces of hot dog.  My pups have been chow hounds and seemed just as happy with little kibbles of dog food.  So, I’ve just used the puppy food that came with them, since I change over to my preferred brand.  Works good and easy to keep a supply in a little jar right at the table and doesn’t spoil or be messy like hot dogs. 

In good blind retrieve work, most trainers will want their dog to sit and face them when the whistle is blown, then if cast back with the left arm vertical, want the dog to turn to the handlers left as they go back.  Vice versa with the right back arm cast.  I think everyone uses verbal “Back” with either.  The game for this cast is for the pup to sit or stand (pup’s choice) just to one side of the upright at the end of the table.  If the pup is to the handlers right of the upright, then a treat is placed behind the pup and the pup is held with the left hand and turned loose for the treat with a vertical right arm cast and a verbal back.  Pup hasn’t a clue what that means, but is going to get a treat, so all is good.  Over time, the pup will chain the stimulus and response.  It will also learn the game and gradually come to sit until “cast” to the treat.  Gradually the treat is placed further back on the table (2ft x 16 ft).  Until the pup is waiting on it’s own, I rig a little real light nylon cord through the upright loop that supports the wire over the table from one end to the other.  Then I can snap it to pup’s collar and gently restrain it as I feed cord through my fingers to go lay the treat on the table (“plant the blind”).  There is no resistance so I can leave it attached while I “cast” the pup before he finds a butterfly or something to grab his attention. 

The whole notion of puppy turning the correct direction is just managed placement.  If the pup is up against the pipe with his head on one side and the treat is behind and on his opposite side, there’s not much attraction for the pup to bang his head against the post go get the treat.  It’s far easier to just turn the other way.  Soon it’s a habit. 

Once the treats are out a little way, then they begin being placed closer to the center of the table, regardless of left or right-hand back.  Then the treat is placed, and trainer can decide which cast to give once the pup has learned the game.  There is never any correction or punishment in this play teaching.  You just repeat and work a little harder to set the conditions for the desired response.  Later on if platforms are used in CC and as part of steadying, extending the left and right back casts to dummies is easy as tossing a dummy behind and left or right of the pup on the platform and casting them appropriately.  When this and the previous actions have been well-tied to going back and turning the right way, usually you can just go set out a big white dummy where the toss has gone previously and cast the pup with no throw, and surprise, away they go. 

Left and right casting happens the same way, with the pup restrained with one hand and the treat placed with the other hand.  Then with right cast, pup is held with left hand and released as the horizontal arm right cast is given with the verbal command.  “Over” for either left or right over is still the accepted, standard cast.  I prefer to use a different command for right over and left over.  I use the muleskinner Gee and Haw.  Some use Left and Right.  Probably easier to remember than getting used to Gee and Haw.  But my first HRCH had to have an eye removed at 8 years old, and to successfully do multiple marks hunting and in Finished; he needed a little help and quickly learned “Mark Left” and “Mark Right”.  I figured my chances of remembering left and right with quick marks was better than Gee and Haw and held Left and Right for that unlikely use in another dog. 

I think the argument for “Over” for either cast is that you shouldn’t have your dog out of sight when you make a cast, so the dog can see the arm cast.  Hell of an idea in an ideal world, but I’m always amazed how quickly a dog can slip into the cattails or fade out of sight from terrain.  When a dog can’t see you and has gone one way to get into trouble, I’m here to tell you that seeing nothing and hearing only “Over” the dog’s going to continue deeper into the doo-doo, not come out to be cast again.  But that’s a personal choice; you do as you will. 

Left and right casting is same procedure basically as the left-hand and right-hand back cast play game, except for direction.  Before long pup doesn’t need restrained and you can put out treats on both ends and cast to your choice.  I always make my “choice” the direction that to cord won’t stop the pup on.  Then if he makes a mistake, it’s impossible to carry out and the correct cast is taken.  It’s amazing how quickly good habits form when you set the stage so they always do it correctly and never do it wrong. 

With both the “over” and L & R-hand back casts, by the end you are moving way back from the table.  Also, for the “over” casts, you are working with only arm cast as well as only verbal cast.  Since I’m a belt and suspenders kind of guy and also a real believer in generalization, I further proof verbal-only Gee and Haw by putting up a plywood shield or getting behind a vehicle so the dog a) can’t see me, and b) it guarantees I’m not thinking I’m doing verbal only casting when in fact the pup is reacting to nonverbal clues such as body leaning or eyes darting in way of desired cast.  OK, I admit, it sounds goofy, but some research I was doing at the time on possible basis of water witching and tangentially related matters surprised me.  It turns out that on some issues like animals counting, people guessing numbers others had chosen, or guessing step on a ladder they had placed a penny on, etc., it was real clear animals and humans could read some clues they were not aware of.  It was also clear that people were not aware of the non-verbal cues they were sending.  For example, the old 1800’s horse in Germany that did addition could no longer do it if the questioner was removed from sight.  But enough of why. 

Anyway, a pup that has played this left right over game for a couple months is pretty well in the habit of going one way or the other for a treat.  If platform casting used in CC or training, it comes very naturally to cast, and adding a dummy just fits right in.  If platforms are used, they can offer some opportunities to cast past suction, etc., as the casting to the platform command is generalized by doing in 5 different location.  By the end of that it’s pretty easy to set a platform where the pup passes a point of cattails on a “back” cast or goes across a narrow strip of water to a platform on an over cast. 

Certainly not necessary in developing a good blind running dog, but for me just provides an opportunity to get a jump on things and be doing some different things before serious training can begin. 

Next time I’ll try to cover a little about the Trained Retrieve (Force Fetch), as well as where we go from there.  If space permits, I’ll talk a little about some simple drills that require no space to begin to expose a very young dog to some concepts they won’t have to use until Finished.

Pups: Thinking Finished from the Very Beginning, Part 2

by Rich Carpenter

Puppy teaching is sort of like watching the hour hand on a watch.  While you are watching it, there seems to be no movement at all.  Yet, if you come back in a while it has moved considerably. 

When you’ve been away from pups and working with a finished dog for 10 years, it’s easy to forget that they lack even just the bare essentials.  You really can’t train, because the pup doesn’t sit, it isn’t steady, it won’t come, and its attention span is essentially non-existent.  You just have to very, very gradually pour stuff into that fuzzy little noggin, starting with little bitty pieces and working gradually up to more complex chunks.  As the old saying goes: You can eat the whole hog, but you can’t eat the hog whole.  My preference is to get to where we can train with what is probably more shaping behavior early than training, and while to start, the end results are not achieved, through a series of successive approximations we gradually get closer to the eventual goal. 

At the Finished level, far more failures stack up for issues related to lack of control at almost every hunt test series than ever result from failure to mark.  Breaking, creeping, controlled breaks, switching on diversions, getting eaten up by suction related to cover, terrain, scent, expected retrieve order and poison birds, etc.  are all essentially control related problems.  But often much of the control or lack thereof stems from how the early training is done and how sequential the exposure and practice has been on the skills that make dealing with the suction possible.  Clearly, too, there is exposure, practice and generalization needed to get the final product.  Control is not the answer when the young dog’s question is “What am I supposed to do?”

While success is so strongly related to control, and I want excellent control over my retriever, I’ll be damned if I’ll own or run a pig.  So, I’m not interested in an extremely heavy-handed collar or physical correction approach.  So, I must find a reasonable approach that gives me excellent control yet a dog that trains happy and runs stylishly.  Others may get the same results in a completely different fashion, and probably more commonly do. 

So, I worry and think a lot about that and do a lot of things to gently herd young Din in the right direction.  Little pieces begin to fit together.  Responses become more reliable.  Little behaviors taught one place are generalized to others.  Behaviors that at first are choreographed in an order that just happens without the pup choosing to perform the behavior, gradually become behaviors that are chained, and associations are forged that will last and be built upon. 

I’ll wrap up this month by being a little more specific to try to show what some of these thoughts mean in practice.  As I indicated last month, I belong to the school that doesn’t believe in letting puppies break for marks, starting as soon as they show they have any retrieving instinct.  I don’t force true steadiness.  It is just that we are playing a game and it’s about chasing the rolled-up sock, paint roller or puppy dummy, regular dummy or bird WHEN I RELEASE the pup.  It’s not chase it as it sails through the air.  Clearly at the beginning it is purely physical and the pup hasn’t even a clue about “sit.” Over time, a little more pause is built in with the physical restraint.  By then, through treat teaching, “sit” is entering the pup’s vocabulary and begins to be part of getting ready to go retrieve something.  At first, it’s just to sit, not needing to remain seated.  Later encouragement to sit until released is added.  Then verbal “sit” is added as the dummy is tossed and if that is successful, “stay” and then the release cue.  Years ago, field trial dogs were both released for marks and sent for blinds with “Back.” I think today it’s almost as universal that fully trained retrievers are sent on blinds with the “Back” command and released for a mark on their call name or another selected cue word.  I don’t use the call name, as I’ve never seen that not at least once result in what is essentially a retrieve at the wrong time.  But specific words are not important.  What is important is that the dog recognizes that it is being RELEASED on a mark, and COMMANDED to go, under the control of the handler, on a blind.  Most will cue the dog to a blind retrieve coming with a verbal cue such as “dead bird” or “blind retrieve,” etc.  But this will come later, and I’ll mix “back” and his “Sky” release some soon to help give the pup the idea to go retrieve on that command as lining is started later. 

Anyway, it’s a gradual, gentle exercise in shaping the young pup’s behavior by successive approximations toward the goal. 

Din is 4 months and a week old.  He will usually sit with no restraint from the check cord when the dummy is thrown, and usually sits with no restraint as Roux is sent on “Chaf” and he waits for a throw that releases him with “Sky.” Day before yesterday, we went out in the open area north of our house and I had him sit for a little mark.  But this time instead of throwing it standing beside him, I moved in front of him several paces, quietly repeated “stay” and threw the dummy over my shoulder behind me.  He sat and I sent him with “Sky” release cue.  I was pleasantly surprised.  So we did it three more times and gradually increased to where I was about 30 feet out front.  Had he broken, I’d have hoped to intercept him before he got the dummy, since he was dragging a light cord.  But, had he escaped, one slip up will generally not make a criminal.  Why do this? Well, it’s just part of becoming accustomed to waiting to be sent.  The other benefit is that he will reach the age where I’ll want to stretch him on marks further than I can throw, and his being steady for a remote throw opens up “poor man marks” so even if I have no one to train with, he gets a wide variety of distances and doesn’t begin to expect every mark at the distance I can throw a dummy. 

Is he reliably steady, either throwing from his side or remote? Of course not, but he’s getting there and, in the process, never had a hand laid on him or jerked around on the lead.  He just gradually “found himself doing it.” We’ll get this taught better and generalized through repetition in different locations.  Then in the 2nd Action of the particular collar-conditioning program we use, we’ll build in even more reliable steady, which we’ll further cement with the 3rd Action of the conditioning.  Then we’ll uniformly insist on a high standard from that time on.  But you can bet your butt I’ll still have him on lead when he runs his first Started test next spring! Remember, this isn’t the only way, and many successful trainers feel as strongly about not steadying the young dog to soon as I feel about doing it from the beginning.  Similarly, most collar programs do not start as young as this one.  You need to choose. 

This is getting long, so we’ll end it here.  Next month I’ll give some specifics of play teaching on a table being used to gradually get a pup to where at 4 months old it shows it understands left and right combined verbal/arm casting well enough to be steady and be cast to the memory treat rather than the last treat down.  Again, not the only way to introduce casting, just one way and one that works for me.