Pat’s Perspective on Land Tune-Up Drills

After completing my first two workshops of the spring up north, I am reminded of the adage “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

 Everyone in both groups, including me, had hoped to take advantage of the great training water in both Michigan and New York.  Mother Nature had a different plan.  The temperature struggled to get out of the forties.  This, combined with cold rain, caused me to nix all plans for water work. 

Upon reflection, I believe plan B turned out to be more valuable!

The decision was made to invest four consecutive days on a Land Tune-Up Drill; it’s not one I take lightly.  In the past, I have never regretted taking the time to complete a detailed Tune-Up Drill.  This time was no exception.  While working at Handjem Retrievers, we always planned a Land Tune-up for the beginning of spring training.  The training concepts reviewed and the lessons learned during this drill are all ones commonly encountered throughout the year. 

I am going to repeat a few details from a previous article I wrote regarding Tune-Up Drills:

·      “The basic purpose of a tune-up drill is to help dogs get comfortable with the difficult geometry of running straight lines in challenging situations.  Tune-up drills help give dog and handler confidence in working together, and if done right, dogs learn to relax around areas they may have had problems with in the past”. 

This drill should be repeated for a minimum of three and a maximum of five days. Do not be in a hurry to use much pressure. Too many corrections will be counter -productive.  The power in this drill is in the repetition, not the corrections.

During the workshops in Michigan and New York, we repeated the Land Tune-Up Drill for four days. In all cases, both the dogs and the handlers greatly improved over the course of the four days.  We took advantage of the unique factors that both properties offered.  We included mounds, brush piles, gun stations, key holes, stone walls, roads, tight crisscrossing lines and used remote casts.  It took each dog between 15 and 20 minutes to complete the series of eight blinds.  The concentration required to maintain focus for both dog and handler was an additional challenge. The increased level of communication became obvious in the marking setups we did after completing the morning tune-up session.  If we had warmer weather, we might not have been able to complete all of the blinds.  So, the colder temps turned out to be an advantage.

I have included a photo album titled “Millbrook Land Tune-Up”.

You will see both an aerial and ground view diagram of last week’s land tune-up.  Also included are ground views of all eight blinds.

Without a doubt, incorporating Land Tune-Up Drills in your training will greatly enhance your team’s performance.  Realistically, we may do two tune-up drills of this nature over the course of a year.  This is not something to be overdone.  Those training for hunt tests or field trials will benefit from this drill.  

I hope this has been both entertaining and educational.  Until next time…

Pat Burns

Running in Your Dog's Shoes:

Recently, Arnie Erwin asked me to write an article about using modern technology to be a better dog trainer for a book he is working on. I would like to share with you some excerpts from that article.

I started training retrievers for field trials a little over 38 years ago. The first thing that was impressed upon me was the importance of putting yourself in your dog’s shoes.  Reading your dog’s behavior in the field requires a clear understanding on what they are seeing at that very moment.

I have found that using today’s technology gives me the clearest perspective of my dog’s intended path. That perspective guides me in my effort to communicate and intervene at just the right time.

I use video from both a drone and a handheld device to preview and review my training sessions. Aerial video provides the trainer and handler the chance to see what the dog’s reaction is to what they encounter in route to their destination. Evaluating that reaction gives us a unique perspective on what and more importantly, why a dog made a certain decision.

Honing your interpretive skills is the key to achieving the desired results. Modern technology allows me to accomplish this more effectively.

Over the course of my career, I have witnessed a dramatic evolution in dog training. We as trainers have learned to better appreciate what our dogs are thinking. We have made adjustments on how to train more sensitive, thoughtful canines. Therefore, we have more sensitive and thoughtful dogs today. They are easier and more user friendly for the vast majority. And that’s a good thing. This is just scratching the surface of what is possible with the use of modern technology. These tools have helped me be a better listener and therefore a better teacher.


Awesome 2016 National Amateur Championship

What an awesome 2016 National Amateur Championship this year in Stowe, VT was!! I am glad and sad at the same time that last week is over. I would like to thank the Retriever News team for inviting me to join them in their coverage of this event. I would also like to thank the spectators, contestants and everyone following our coverage. Please check out my Facebook Pat Burns Elite Retriever Training page and the Retriever News page for all the exciting interviews and posts .

We were able to provide video, aerial photos and diagrams of the test for the contestants and gallery to view. I hope you found my photos and perspective entertaining and helpful.

Congratulations Alex Washburn on winning the 2016 National Amateur Retriever Championship with Coolwater's Hawkeye Legend! Stellar teamwork!!

Pat Burns

Elite Retrievers reporting from the 2016 National Amateur

32 years ago today I was headed to Stowe, Vt for the 1984 National Amateur Championship. I was assisting Rex Carr in pre-national training. The group consisted of 4 women handlers Judy Aycock, Delma Hazzard, Leslie Karnes and Betty Schrader. All 4 handlers were finalists! The winner was Judy with Trumarc's Zip Code. This marked the beginning of my professional career. I am just as excited today on my trek to Vermont.

I am honored to join the Retriever News Team in providing coverage for the 2016 National Amateur Championship.  Here is the latest news flash from RFTN.

"This Year the Retriever News Team has recruited some fresh perspectives. With the likes of Pat Burns from Elite Retrievers & Jamie Woodson a 2016 NARC competitor."


"At the news desk we aim to put our fans in the front row seats of the event. Not only will we give you minute to minute coverage on the competitors performances. We will now offer our fans the ability to ask questions to a seasoned Field Trial Professional of 30 + years & a competitor who is going to step to the line,heart a pounding! How exciting! So to take advantage of this awesome opportunity, jump on the Retriever News Facebook page & send us your questions via Messenger! "

So come join me for the 2016 National Amateur.

What makes a Great Handler

With the 2015 National Championship less than a month away I feel that this subject is quite appropriate.

Thirty years ago in Wisconsin, I attended my first National Retriever Championship. After I arrived, my attention was riveted on a handler, whose outline was framed by the trees, Even though I was new to the sport and did not understand its subtleties or nuances, I knew that this handler was different from the rest. Her presence, composure, and intensity marked her. I couldn’t see her dog, but I didn’t need to. I could feel her control over the moment, I knew the dog could, too. There was something special about the handler.  That handler was Judy Aycock.  Her dog was NAFC Trumarc’s Zip Code.

Since that June afternoon, when I attended my first National, I have devoted considerable thought to the question:  “What makes a great handler?”  In attempting to answer this question, I have spoken to Judy, Danny Farmer, Jerry Patopea, and countless other professional and amateur handlers.  Below is my interpretation of these conversations.

Broadly speaking, I think that the answer can be broken into two categories:   a) Mental toughness; and b) Technical competence.

By mental toughness, I mean:

a)    The ability to ignore all distractions and focus on the task at hand;
b)    The determination to succeed when everything seems stacked against you;
c)    The ability to immediately overcome adversity;
d)    The ability to think creatively under extreme pressure; 
e)    Knowing when you must be conservative and limit your damage on a test; and
f)    Knowing when you must be aggressive and take a risk when running a test. 

By technical competence, I mean:

a)    The ability to interpret a test and determine how best to approach it with the dog you have – at that particular moment in time; 
b)    The ability to line a dog quickly and effortlessly; and
c)    The ability to read a dog (e.g. interpret its posture, breathing, eye movement, and. hundreds of other minute details) instantaneously, and then use the information you have gathered to influence the dog to do what you believe it must do – both when the dog is at your side and when it is moving in the field.

Now that I have peaked your interest,  please look forward for a more in depth discussion in an upcoming issue of Retriever News.

A Recent Article From A Newspaper in New York State:

Elite Retriever Training with Pat Burns
By Joshua Sheldon / Writer & Hunt Guide for Deer, Goose & Turkey

    Most think a dog is trained when it is able to sit, shake, play dead, or speak. This is typically the extent of training a house dog receives. As for the avid bird hunter or retriever enthusiast, hundreds of hours of work will be required to produce a finished partner.

    I love how serendipitous life is at times. It seems the path you take can be a paved road and lead you directly into new life experiences. When moments like these arrive, I have learned to take advantage of them and tend to be rewarded for getting involved. I also enjoy helping others and the satisfaction felt when you fulfill the task. Lending a helping hand can open doors and change lives, if you can be selfless enough to do so.

    I was informed by my sister, who works at the Chamber of Commerce, that I would be receiving a call from a woman about dog training. Her name was Donna Williams and she was looking for information on our town’s eateries and attractions for folks involved in an upcoming dog training seminar.  She was explaining the program to my sister and was informed that I also train dogs. As for most serious handlers, when someone talks about training a dog, you envision someone making a dog sit and giving it a cookie for its efforts.  When my sister mentioned that I use whistles and hand signals to direct my dog to downed game, Donna perked up a bit. She told me how surprised she was when told that I train dogs as they do. We are a fairly small group and love being able to connect with other trainers and be able to learn new training strategies and techniques.

    Donna called me a few days after my sister talked to her and asked me if I would like to attend the seminar. The program was being held by a world class trainer named Pat Burns. I had seen Pat on hunting shows working with dogs and was familiar with his status as a trainer of world champion retrievers. Excited was an understatement! I couldn’t wait to see his techniques and apply them to my next dog. I told Donna I would be there for sure and that I would cover the program in this week’s column. The next day Donna called me with an emergency. They were in need of bird boys and asked if there was any way I could locate a couple. I told her it would be no problem and started thinking of friends that had kids that age.

    It wasn’t hard locating a couple young men, being that most of my friends hunt and happen to have sons the right age. About a year ago, my friend, Jim Root, held a fishing seminar for kids out of Cook Park in Greene. He was assisted by our friend Travis Rifanburg’s son, Dylan. Jim raved about what a good job Dylan had done. I contacted Travis and he said he would ask Dylan if he was interested. Dylan got right back to me and said he would like to be involved. One bird boy down, one to go. I then contacted my buddy, Jay Smith, to see if his son, Peyton, would like to join. Peyton said he would, so my work was done and Donna could feel a little relief. I say “a little” because it takes a special kind of person to be a bird boy. All I could do is hope their fathers had instilled the same work ethic into their children, that they carry themselves.

    I joined the group this past Friday in Edmeston. After a quick photo of Pat and the boys, it was right to work setting up blinds and getting positioned to toss birds. I wasn’t familiar with the job of bird boy, so I was unable to tell the guys what their job would include. I wonder if they would have attended had they known the job description. Simply put, the bird boy shoots a blank gun, and then throws a dead duck or retrieving dummy. The dog and handler are positioned one to three hundred yards out. The handler then points the dog in the direction of the bird and gives the command to retrieve. They use real birds for several reasons, the most important being realism. Many of the dogs are work animals, so to reduce confusion and familiarize the dog to feathers in the mouth, they use real ducks.

    When the bird boys were asked what their least favorite part of the job was, it was obviously tossing the wet dead birds. They both also said it was worth the 10 bucks an hour and were happy to have the work. I enjoyed watching the boys learn about dog training, just as much as watching the dogs. They were both complemented several times by everyone involved. I have to thank Dylan and Peyton for making me look good! I also received many complements about the quality of boys selected.

    As I watched Pat work, something dawned on me. He was equally as good a trainer of dogs as he was with the boys. He joked with and involved the guys in what was going on throughout the day over a loud speaker. Upon reflection, I noticed that nearly every good dog trainer I have met is just as good with kids. This may be because a dog is equal to a two to three year old child in intelligence. Understanding how to reward and dissuade inappropriate behaviors is the route of educating a child or dog. I noticed in Pat the exceptional ability to relate to, and what was expected of, the dogs, handlers, and bird boys, equally. Beyond knowing how to train dogs, Pat had to have the people skills to be able to communicate with and teach the handlers. This is why Pat has been said to be one of the best trainers of dogs and humans in the world.

    Thanks to Pat and Donna for inviting me to see retriever training at its best! I highly recommend to the serious bird hunters and trial enthusiasts out there to join Pat and up their game.  If interested in attending a seminar, you may contact Pat by phone at 920-896-2911, or by email at

    Good wishes and remember a dog is only as good as its trainer.

"Don't Train in Fear"

“Don’t Train in Fear”


I just finished up a fast and furious first month of 2015.  It started out in Thomasville, Georgia and went to Anderson, Texas to Gainesville, Texas and ends up in Camden, South Carolina.


One of the highlights so far this year has to be the workshop I just finished in Anderson, Texas.  I was joined by Judy Aycock and Danny Farmer.  Between the two of them, they account for six National Championships over 5 decades.  One of the themes of the workshop was Danny’s mantra “Don’t Train in Fear”.  What does that mean?  My take is that when you have a strong basics foundation, you don’t have to be worried about addressing problems head on.  The importance of a thorough basics program can’t be overstressed.  As I travel across the country helping people in their quest, the single most crippling thing I see is incomplete basics.  Everyone is in a hurry to speed through this process.  I urge you to take your time and get the job done right the first time.  The investment in a sound basics foundation will last a lifetime!


One of the other items we spent a lot of time on was exploring some of the regional differences in training philosophies.  We covered things like two sided heeling, line manners standards, test designs as well the benefits of challenging dogs and the pit falls of over challenging dogs.  At the end of the day we had some wonderful open dialogue about different styles.  I know I walked away with an appreciation of a successful system and a yearning to continue to explore different methods.  I urge everyone to keep an open mind and pay attention to people that are successful.  Remember “When you are green you’re growing, when you’re ripe you are rotting.”

Home for the Holidays

I arrived home late Saturday night from South Georgia.  I just completed an intense two-week boot camp.  This wraps up a very successful 2014 season.  I worked from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Lakes to the coast of Maine and back to the South.  


I want to send a few shout outs on some successes from last week’s Snowbird Retriever Club trial……  Kevin Cheff with Dodger on his open win, Valarie Marks and Coast with their Qualifying blue, Nancy White and Maddie on a Derby 1st and Ernie Hawkins with Hawk on his Derby 3rd.  Ernie and Hawk’s placement ranks them 4th all time for Golden Retrievers.


I am honored and blessed to have worked with each of these teams.  I appreciate all of the teams I have had the pleasure to work with over the past year.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your journey.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Signing off until 2015


Pat Burns 

The Retriever Connection


Every dog sport has their specialists.  I spent the majority of 2006 in Salcha, Alaska working with sled dogs.  I worked with Dr. Arleigh Reynolds who is a Senior Research Scientist for Purina.  Dr. Reynolds also is the reigning two time International Federation of Sled Dog Sports World Champion.  I was interested in his expertise in conditioning and feeding world-class canine athletes.  In turn, I shared with Dr. Reynolds insight into my years of training competitive retrievers.  Modern retriever training techniques place an emphasis on getting the most effort a canine athlete can achieve. Today’s technology combined with a more advanced understanding of canine athletes has resulted in huge strides in training competitive retrievers.


Over the last few years, I have spent time consulting with Jim Keller. He is the owner-operator of Wild Wind Kennels in Knox, Maine.  Jim is an internationally respected Spaniel trainer and handler.  To add to his achievements, Jim just finished an awesome 2014 season, a year that may never be matched in the world of Springer Spaniel field trials.  Jim took first and second place in the National Open Championship, the Purina high point open award, the Hogan Award for the top professional handler in in Springer Spaniel field trials and took over the lead for the all time high point Springer Spaniel.  Jim is on the cutting edge and is very interested in incorporating several of the techniques we have used to produce accomplished winning retrievers.  


I have benefited greatly myself from the exposure to both these great dog trainers.  I am honored to call both these men my friends.


On another note, I would like to announce that the PRTA Judging Seminar Special Committee Summit is scheduled for January 2015 in Thomasville, Georgia. I am excited to be joined on this committee by Mike Lardy, Dave Rorem, Paul Sletten, Wayne Curtis and Marcy Wright.


"The PRTA's number one commitment is to the future of our sport.  It is our aim to assist and provide financial support towards the continuing education of our judges.  These will be judging seminars by the Amateur, for the Amateur."


I would like to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season!


Until next time….






Wrapping the fall sessions in East Tennessee

Wow! Just wrapped up a whirlwind 3 week training session in Bristol, TN.

A special thanks to Chad and Paige Baker for putting up with us invading their backyard.  This game wouldn’t exist without the generosity of land owners like the Baker’s.  We should never take them for granted!


I like to give a round of applause to my students and their recent success.

George Fiebelkorn and Megan, Margaret Brown and Bug, Elizabeth Wilson and Yankee, Nancy White with Maddie and Dot, Ernie Hawkins and Hawk, Carol Young and Crash, Bob Worrest and Hawk, Julie Luther and Piney, Scott Viering and Abby, Hilda Wood and Dillon, Brenda Lokey and Scarlet, Denise Tarby and Rose and last but not least Becky Mills and Mosby.  Well done team!


Stay tuned to my journal and I will preview my next article for Retriever News.  I wrote the article with Dr. Jennell Appel.

Recurring Training Group; Heading to Michigan for Final Session...

We are heading back to Michigan for the fourth and final training session of 2014.  This state and the property is near and dear to my heart.  I lived in Michigan from 1986-2006.  I designed and developed the grounds in Fenwick, Michigan that we train on.  These grounds are widely used in Central Michigan.  It brings back memories of great dogs, great friends and great times.  

This venue of a “Recurring Training Group” is one of my favorites.  This format allows me to watch the development of my students over the course of a season.  I assign homework items for both dog’s and handlers.  We often correspond regarding their progress.  I am then able to witness their development and travel along in their journey.  Many of the students will follow me south for refresher sessions later in the fall and the following spring.  I have 2 similar formats planned for this upcoming year.  The first will start in Thomasville, Georgia then end up in upstate New York.  The other in its third season,  takes place in Camden, South Carolina in the spring.  And the Michigan group is planning a similar schedule for late spring and summer of 2015.
So until later….

Welcome to our new internet portal!

Welcome to the new website for Pat Burns Elite Retriever Training! Whether you are on a laptop, tablet or smart phone, you now have access to all the latest news and workshop related information about us, our clients and love for training recreational, hunting & field trial retrievers to be their very best.

    Whether you are on a laptop, tablet or smart phone...

We work hard to educate you, and this website demonstrates that. If you would like to discuss how we can serve you, please contact us by clicking here. We look forward to hearing from you.

Pat Burns
Elite Retriever Training