Updated: Sep 13, 2021
When I started my personal journey into the hobby of retriever training in the early 1980s, I read everything I could get my hands on. I have always been the “all or nothing” type. I wanted all the answers… and I wanted them now! Little did I know what I was in for. I came across a book titled “Charles Morgan On Retrievers”. That book totally frustrated me. I wasn’t interested in philosophies. I wanted recipes. I was looking for a “When dog does A, you do B” approach. Years down the road I came to realize that Charley Morgan’s book was the most profound of all.
During the last Purina Master Class, Ray Voigt and I talked about the ultimate challenge in Retriever Training. We talked for an hour about our thoughts and experiences when it comes to creating a legitimate all-age field trial competitor. I know some of you expressed a similar frustration that I felt some 40 years ago – that we didn’t provide a clear path. I feel your pain. I wish I could tell you this journey would be easy. I wish I could provide you with the roadmap and all the answers. If I tried to paint the picture that was possible, I would be doing you a disservice. So often we ask training questions of experienced amateurs or professionals and are a bit frustrated to always hear “Well it depends.” But truly, “It depends”!
Responding to training challenges depends on many things. Things like age, experience, circumstances, training patterns, tendencies, and behavior on the other retrieves involved just to mention a few. Interpreting intent and reading effort is without a doubt the biggest ongoing challenge we will face. Then try and do it when your dog is 200 to 300 yards away from you when you have a split second to make a decision.
During the Master Class, we were just trying to enlighten you for what you’re in for. I don’t want you to be intimidated. I want you to be excited about the challenge. I want to let you in on a secret. That challenge never ends.
We gave you an example of a classic setup that illustrates the above challenges. Here is another view of the key mark.
In this graphic, I have identified 2 key decision points for both trainer and dog. I also have identified 2 key factors. The factors are the distance and the location of the retired gun’s holding blind. The other key factors are the water, the geography of the land involved, and a right to left crosswind. There also is an out of sight area on the re-entry in Key Decision Point A. All of these things come into play when making decisions on how or if to intervene during your dog’s retrieve. You can’t just simply pick a spot on the shore and say if he is there I will correct him. You must take into account how he got there. Yes, it depends.
Here are a few examples of the working dog’s paths that day. All of these paths required a keen perception on the trainer’s part when making a determination on what they should do next.
Dog A was pretty obvious. Dog A was stopped and handled. Any corrections came after a refusal to cast. Dog B required patience on the trainer’s part. I was tempted to handle on the point and make the dog’s decision for them. I was glad I waited. Dog B made a good decision after reentering the last piece of water. Good Dog! Dog C also required patience on the trainer’s part. I would have handled if Dog C didn’t immediately commit to reentering the water. Good dog. Dog D is the most challenging. Dog D gave 90 % effort. Dog D was being good right until the very end. So do you let the dog go and figure it out or do you intervene and make them swim to the bird? I’ve handled it both ways depending on that dog’s history and behavior on the other marks.
Over the course of my 40-year career, I have learned to be more patient and let things develop. Most of the mistakes that I regret are when I jumped to a premature conclusion. Then you add an ill-conceived e-collar correction on top of it. A training pattern like this is a formula for disaster. When in doubt leave out the collar correction. It never hurts to just stop and handle the dog. If their intent is poor, it will become more obvious. A pattern of behavior will repeat itself. And above all else, do not administer corrections out of frustration or anger!
I want to thank you for indulging me in a topic that consumes me most of the time. Above all be patient with yourself and your learning curve and let it develop. Stay thirsty my friends.
P.S. Digital course, Line Mechanics For Success, is open for registration! Registration is limited, and will close on September 20th or when full! Don't miss this course, it will be the last time it's offered with live, weekly calls.