Acclimating a Pup to Gunfire

April 16, 2018

It never ceases to amaze me the outlandish things people do to introduce their pup to gunfire – banging pans over the pup’s head while it’s eating, taking it to the rifle range – all ways guaranteed to make the pup gun-shy.   I’ve had guys call me on the phone telling me their woeful stories of taking a young dog duck hunting – the ducks came in, the guns went off, the pup bolted from the blind and they found it hiding under the truck.  Bad association.

I have always preferred a more conservative approach to acclimating a pup to gunfire. It is far preferable to other methods because it develops a good association made between the noise of the gun and going to get a mark.  It teaches the dog to revel at the sound of gunfire, and to look straight out when he hears a gun go off.  That’s exactly what we want him to do.

Once your pup is proficient in retrieving marks thrown by your bird boy (at least 30 yards) you can begin adding gunfire to the scenario. This session requires team work between the handler and the bird boy.  Make sure the place you choose is flat and open so that nothing distracts the dog.  The only new equipment you need for this is a .209 primer pistol.  It has just the right amount of rapport for a beginning marker.

Start the session with a few basic retrieves, making sure the pup is eager, paying attention and can see the mark all the way to the ground. This is one of the ways you start developing a pin-point marker.

The bird boy should hup the pup as usual to get its attention, and then shoot the pistol. The normal initial reaction is for the pup to swing his head, looking for the source of the new noise.  This is caused by an echo effect that is almost always present.  The bird boy should wait until the pup looks back out towards himself  before throwing the mark.  The handler should release the pup when it locks on the target, i.e. puppy bumper.  If at any point the pup shows hesitation or confusion, he either doesn’t understand the scenario or your bird boy is too close.  Repeat the mark without the gunfire until the pup’s confidence is reestablished.

You will notice after a few repetitions that the pup will start to understand and look out when the gun goes off.   Again, it is the bird boy’s responsibility to make sure the pup is looking before he throws a mark.   At this point, the bird boy needs to change the timing of the gunshot to simulate the shot and fall of a bird – hup the puppy, throw the mark and fire the pistol at the top of the arc of the fall.

Once you’re sure you’ve got a good excitement level going, gradually move the gun closer to the dog/handler until finally the handler can shoot the gun. Mission accomplished.

Retriever regards,

John Amico

Deep Fork Retrievers

Introduction to Birdboy Marks

March 26, 2018

As you train along with your pup, you’ll soon realize that it is outgrowing your hand thrown marks and it’s time to stretch out the distance. This calls for the introduction of a helper or birdboy to throw marks for you. It’s important for your birdboy to understand the scenario that you are setting up for the pup, so be sure to thoroughly explain each step before attempting your longer marks.  It takes a team effort to make the pup successful.

  1. Make sure you have developed the pup’s drive to chase and retrieve an object back to the point of origin.
  2. Find a flat open, mowed field to work in so that the puppy can mark the fall and see the object clear to the ground.
  3. Station the bird boy at a 45 degree angle to the imaginary straight line the handler has chosen. Initial length of birdboy marks should be no longer than what the pup is used to seeing hand thrown by the handler.
  4. The handler holds the dog upright, hind feet on the ground, chest and forelegs suspended, facing the line.
  5. The birdboy attracts the dog’s attention by “hupping” him to get him to look in the direction of the birdboy. Use enough hupping to get his attention, but not to the point it is causing the dog to become out of control.
  6. The birdboy then throws the mark 45 degrees angled back from the imaginary line, in an arc when he sees the pup’s interest peak. Marks are thrown in an arc because they have more “hang time” and the pup is lot more likely to perceive and remember where it fell.
  7. The handler should instantly release the pup when the mark hits the ground, saying the pup’s name as he releases him. Do not “throw” the dog at the mark – simply let go of him when he’s locked on. Use a tone of voice that is exciting to the pup.
  8. At no point should you try to “steady” the pup – just enough time should elapse so that he has perceived where the mark fell.
  9. The birdboy’s responsibility is to make sure the pup sees the mark, the handler’s responsibility is to send him correctly.
  10. The birdboy should rapidly retreat behind the handler as soon as the pup passes his position to avoid the pup coming back to the birdboy with the object.
  11. Do a few repetitions of this to establish the pattern of the straight line back and forth to the point of origin.
  12. Now, do a repetition with the birdboy remaining in his original position completing the visual scenario of the work. If the pup goes to the birdboy, the birdboy should turn away from the pup and hold still while the handler tries to attract the pup towards him by moving away. Don’t rely on the pup coming to you by just repeating “here”. A darting away motion is more of an attractant.
  13. Make sure your birdboy does not have extra bumpers laying on the ground that might distract the pup – keep them put up.
  14. When the pup is comfortable with this scenario, the handler can move back along the imaginary line, adding distance to the retrieve. The birdboy should remain in the same position, throwing the mark in the same place.
  15. Add distance in increments as the pup’s understanding of the task grows. If the pup is not successful at a particular distance, return to the place where success occurred, do a repetition and then move back, splitting the distance in half between the successful and unsuccessful positions. Then when you return to the previously unsuccessful position, the pup should be able to do it.
  16. Teach this scenario in different locations, maintaining the same terrain requirements (flat and open) until you see the pup recognizing the scenario and completing the retrieves with enthusiasm and confidence.

Retriever regards,

John Amico

Deep Fork Retrievers

The Basic Pattern of Work

March 6, 2018

The Basic Pattern of Work

Nowadays, there’s a lot of information out there on training retrievers. To the new student, a lot of this information can seem confusing. So here’s my simplified explanation. All animals are trained to do work in some sort of pattern – take the roping horse as an example. For a cowboy to rope a calf, his horse has to go forward to chase the calf; then when the cowboy throws the rope, the horse stops and starts backing up to take slack out the rope. Then the cowboy jumps off the horse and runs down the taut rope to flip the calf and tie it.  The horse is trained to go forward, stop, and back up – three distinctly different motions and the control of these motions is what caused the work of roping a calf to be accomplished.

Here is the basic pattern of retriever work. As you can see by the illustration, again there are three distinctly different movements – sit, go, and here. These are the movements that we gain control of and by gaining control of these movements, we have control of the work.

You’ll also see that the pattern is drawn in a straight line between the dog and x, the retrieving object. This straight-line pattern is the one that’s always presented to the dog. It’s the reason that you train, to always go straight.

Retriever regards,

John Amico

Deep Fork Retrievers

 

What Makes a Dog Tick?

February 22, 2018

No, I’m not talking about the creepy crawlies. I wrote this post to help you understand a hunting retriever’s natural drives and personalities in order to develop successful training strategies.

For the intent and purpose of retriever training, we need a dog with a high level of prey drive and one that is not spooky. Does it have the instinctual desire to capture and kill prey?  This is the drive that causes the dog to retrieve.  A good retriever is always going forward in its life – never backwards.   A spooky dog, the kind that backs away or runs from new situations, is likely to have problems with some or all aspects of training, water, guns, and even birds.  If your prospect has prey drive and is not spooky, you’re well on your way to success.  Everything else the dog does or doesn’t do becomes a training issue.

Dogs have individual personalities just like humans and to some extent are driven by their emotions. Those emotions are the things people recognize in their dog and have empathy for.  It’s why we like them – we can relate to some of their feelings. They love, hate, fear and have jealousy.  Their individual personalities can be kind and benevolent, or more cunning and willful.  Some are less attentive than others. Some of them require leadership; some don’t care much for it.  By taking all this into consideration, it will be a lot easier for you to understand your dog and make the appropriate augmentations to your training techniques that fit its personality.

Retriever regards,

John Amico

Deep Fork Retrievers

Understanding the Nature of a Dog

February 15, 2018

I think it’s vital to understand the nature of a dog because it’s a key factor in how to teach and train it. A good trainer practices the art of manipulation to make clear-cut comparisons.

All expert trainers of any kind of animal have one thing in common. They understand the nature of the animal they’re trying to train, be it a horse, elephant, llama, or dog. I read an article 30 or 40 years ago in a Tri-Tronics pamphlet called Understanding Electronic Dog Training. At the time I wasn’t really interested in how to use an electronic training collar, but what they had to say about how a dog’s natural drives influence his behavior, intrigued me.

To understand your dog better, look at things from his point of view. He doesn’t have and can never have the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. He is not a moral creature – he is, in fact, amoral. Having a set of morals would require the ability to think.

When referring to the dog’s intelligence, substitute the word intelligence for the word memory.  Another way to put it is a dog doesn’t know something until it’s happened to it. Because he can’t think, he runs off of memory. The dog’s mind operates on memory based on contrasting feelings of what it likes and doesn’t like and then decides between the two, always choosing the memory that was the most pleasant and repeating it.

By understanding this, the use of manipulation to give comparisons is the way to go. Whether you are in a teaching phase or a training phase, this principle always applies. You mold behaviors in a way that is beneficial to your work by making sure that the dog always gets what it wants. A good example of this would be teaching a puppy to sit for food, satisfying one of its natural drives – to eat. First, you put food in your fingers and present it to the puppy in a way that causes his hindquarters to touch the ground. The instant this happens, the food is immediately provided so in a few repetitions, the pup starts recognizing the motion of your hand coming up and begins to sit. Getting fed immediately makes the memory connection that butt on the ground means food. If the pup doesn’t sit, the pup doesn’t get fed. This is a clear-cut comparison using manipulation to gain a response.

Retriever regards,

John Amico, Deep Fork Retrievers

Setting up your hunting retriever pup’s environment to your training advantage

February 7, 2018

If you go to the trouble to find and buy a good hunting retriever puppy, one of the first things you need to think about is how you’re going to keep it. Your pup’s living environment is part of your training strategy. You are not only taking care of his physical needs, but also setting up a controlled training environment.  From day one, the repetitive nature of your daily routine allows you to begin training your pup – the actions of feeding, watering, airing, and training all set the scenarios for this to happen.

The puppy needs an outside kennel that’s clean, safe and comfortable and a size-appropriate dog crate. For the kennel, I’d use welded wire panels to construct a 6x4x10 pen. Pour your concrete pad 8×14 feet for a surrounding 2 foot walkway. The concrete flooring should be broom-finished with an epoxy coating to seal it from bacteria. The kennel floor should slope 1/4 inch per running foot, so that it will drain and dry quickly.  Make a trough-type drain that is wide as a flat tip shovel for easy cleaning.  Slope the trough 1/4 inch per running foot to the sewer.

Clean water is a necessity and stainless steel buckets are the best. Galvanized buckets have the tendency to freeze in the winter and spring leaks and plastic is too porous to clean thoroughly. Hang your bucket in the shade where it won’t get knocked over and high enough for a male dog not to pee in it.

In the summertime, especially in the Midwest and South, make sure your dog has shade during the heat of the day. I’ve never seen a dog die of being cold, but over the years I’ve known several people who lost dogs to the heat.

When choosing a dog house, look for one that’s warm in the winter, easy to keep clean, and takes up as little space as possible in the kennel run.

Always remember, good animal husbandry precedes good training.

You can also use a dog crate as a training tool. The crate, like the outside kennel, is a controlled environment.  Keeping the pup in a crate sets up a routine of cues that establish habits.  Being fed, going out to potty, training, coming back in – all give opportunities for molding behaviors.

Retriever regards,

John Amico, Deep Fork Retrievers

www.deepforkretrievers.com