The next level

I have had a num­ber of peo­ple who are look­ing to max­imise the po­ten­tial of their pup ask my ad­vice on whis­tle and di­rec­tional work, so in this is­sue and com­ing is­sues we will fo­cus on these train­ing rou­tines. These train­ing tech­niques work on re­triev­ers,

Field and Game - - GUN DOGS - with Mark Davis Mark Davis has been a Field & Game mem­ber since 1983 and is happy to an­swer any ques­tions about dog breeds and train­ing meth­ods. Send any ques­tions for our gun dog team to ed­i­tor@fiel­dandgame.com.au and in­clude a photo of you and your dog

The whis­tle is an im­por­tant part of my hunt­ing kit, it is much less dis­rup­tive than a voice bel­low­ing across the swamp. It doesn’t mat­ter which type of whis­tle you choose — my first whis­tle was a footy whis­tle with the pea re­moved — ded­i­cated dog whis­tles with or with­out the pee are avail­able at most good gun shops these days and they all work fine. Wild Out­doors in Gee­long have a good range.

Sit to the whis­tle starts early. I like to in­tro­duce my pups to the whis­tle at around eight weeks of age and it starts at feed time. It is amaz­ing how quickly young dogs re­spond to prompts when there is food in­volved. Food is a pow­er­ful tool when train­ing dogs and is of­ten un­derutilised by many train­ers who pre­fer force-based meth­ods, but I pre­fer more pos­i­tive-based train­ing meth­ods and min­i­mum pres­sure to pro­duce well-ad­justed gun­dogs ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing out the most dif­fi­cult of tasks, whether tri­alling or hunt­ing.

It is, I be­lieve, the most sat­is­fy­ing way to train dogs.

Many peo­ple teach their dog to sit be­fore re­ceiv­ing their din­ner and this is how I go about it. Your pup is go­ing to be very ex­cited at the sight of his din­ner bowl and more than likely jump­ing about, keen to tuck in. Put his bowl down and gen­tly push his bot­tom down into the sit po­si­tion, at the same time give one blow of the whis­tle, but not too loud, you re­serve the vol­ume for the dis­tance work that will come later, hold him very briefly be­fore re­leas­ing him, with an “OK”.

He will quickly learn that re­spond­ing to the whis­tle and sit­ting will re­sult in the re­ward he is seek­ing. You will also be able to vary the time he re­mains seated — if he moves, place him back at sit and blow the whis­tle again.

At this stage, I’m also teach­ing him to heel on lead. When we stop, I blow the sit whis­tle and again en­cour­age him to sit. When he com­plies, he re­ceives a treat; you will dis­cover that in no time he will quickly sit, ea­ger for his re­ward.

It is im­por­tant to also in­tro­duce a ver­bal re­ward at this stage: “good dog” will

re­place the treat re­ward go­ing for­ward, and when we start dis­tance work you can in­stantly re­ward him with “good dog”, which is im­pos­si­ble with a treat.

When he is re­li­ably sit­ting on the whis­tle at heel on lead, then it is time to re­move the lead and check your progress. If he re­sponds like he is still on the lead, then well done. If not, then you haven’t done enough work on lead.

You must re­mem­ber that pups, like chil­dren, are sponges for in­for­ma­tion and learn­ing; your pup may re­spond to train­ing quickly, it does not mean he has fully learnt the les­son.

The next step is to in­tro­duce the al­limpor­tant dis­trac­tions into his whis­tle sits. Whilst heel­ing at a brisk pace I blow the whis­tle but con­tinue for­ward. The dog’s re­ac­tion will be con­fused at first and you may need to slow down to get the cor­rect re­sponse, but you want him to sit even with the dis­trac­tion of you con­tin­u­ing with­out him.

I keep this train­ing go­ing un­til he will sit smartly even with me run­ning flat out, his re­ward is the pos­i­tive tone in my voice when hears “GOOD DOG”.

This may take a num­ber of weeks to per­fect, but he will have learnt to re­spond to the whis­tle even with the mas­sive dis­trac­tion of you run­ning off. This will help him cope with the dis­trac­tions to come, i.e. birds not to be re­trieved and flush­ing game.

My work­ing dogs live in yards that mea­sure 4 x 4m; I utilise these yards to in­tro­duce them to their first re­mote sit. Walk­ing the pup at heel with food bowl in hand I cast him for­ward to his yard. He quickly learns this rou­tine and races for­ward into the yard, and hav­ing al­ready learnt he needs to be seated be­fore din­ner, sits very smartly in­deed. As he does, I blow the sit whis­tle and re­ward him with a “good dog”.

He is learn­ing to sit to the whis­tle at dis­tance with­out even re­al­is­ing at this stage.

I grad­u­ally ex­tend the dis­tance I send him from un­til we reach the max­i­mum in the yard, which is about 40 m. If you don’t have a dog pen then sim­ply feed him in the same place ev­ery night at the fur­ther­most point in your yard.

Now he has learnt to sit to the whis­tle away from you at feed time and also on the move, we ex­tend this train­ing to a new area, ei­ther in an­other place on your prop­erty or a spot with not too many dis­trac­tions — save the off-lead dog park un­til he is fully trained.

Al­low him to ex­plore this new area and toi­let. Our dogs learn that there will be no train­ing un­til they have been to the toi­let, this may take one minute or 10.

How­ever, be aware, there is a vast dif­fer­ence be­tween a dog toi­let­ing and a dog mark­ing ter­ri­tory, if your dog is pee­ing on ev­ery tree and bush on the prop­erty then this is mark­ing ter­ri­tory and should be dis­cour­aged. This is dom­i­nant be­hav­iour and must be con­trolled.

OK, your dog is ready to start train­ing. Start with the run­ning sit ex­er­cise. When you are sat­is­fied he has mas­tered that in this new area, bring him to heel and then cast him off again. When he is no more than three me­tres away hit the stop whis­tle, if you have been thor­ough with his pre­vi­ous train­ing, he will sit.

Im­me­di­ately re­ward him with a “good dog”. I like to walk up to my dogs in these early lessons and re­ward the re­sponse with a treat, but only ini­tially as I will soon be re­plac­ing the treat with yet an­other type of re­ward.

Do not overdo this train­ing at this stage. This is only a pre­lim­i­nary ex­er­cise to set the dog up for the next stage of train­ing.

And you can read about that in the next is­sue, when we start di­rec­tional work.

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