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What to do in the "off season"? Off-Season Training Tips

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

Hello everyone!! I hope you are having an awesome weekend. For those of us here in the US, I hope you had an amazing Thanksgiving.

This time of year, always leads me to ponder about the upcoming “off season”.

“Off season” training is one of my favorite times. During this period, you can focus on the things that you most want to improve upon. You don’t have to be as concerned about balancing your overall training. Go ahead and bore in on a subject and dissect its finer points. This is the time when you can make the biggest changes for next year. Let’s call it a New Years Resolution. At the beginning of each winter’s training season, I sit down to review each dog’s prior season. The intention is to identify areas that need improvement. The next move is to formulate a plan focusing on the fundamentals that will enable you to execute a thorough plan of action. It all starts with some sort of Basics review. Even if the issues revolve around the water, I will start with a review on land. Many of the sessions start out with a review of Pile Work. It would start with a pile of bumpers about 30-40 yards out. It would quickly graduate into a Long-Distance Pile Drill. The longer pile would typically be around 200 yards. The major goal of the long-distance version is going to be a review of Force & Stop. A commitment to go and a sharp stop is a great place to begin our Off-Season regiment. Other drills that are great to include when the weather turns cold are: Wagon Wheel Lining & Casting, No-No Drills, Bird-Boy Blinds and my “must do” Land Tune-Up Drill.

Without exception, the beginning of each winter’s training season I started with a series of No-No Drills. A No-No Drill is a lining drill intended to teach a dog two things. The first lesson is to teach a dog to take a line over or through an obstacle. The second lesson is to teach your dog to respond to being recalled with a “No” in an attempt to achieve a more precise line. This drill is attrition based and typically does not rely on e-collar corrections. I simply tell my dog “No” with a “let’s try this again” approach. I then would simplify by moving closer to the obstacle. Typical obstacles might include a log, a patch of cover or a side of a mound. I have started using a flexible duct to simulate a log for many of my No-No Drills. It is portable and safe in the event a dog misjudges their jump and runs into it. I have included a picture of a flexible duct below. Another advantage to a flexible duct is that you can vary the length of the obstacle simply by extending or contracting the duct.

I do all the preliminary drills and then incorporate the lessons into the Land Tune-Up Drill. I was first introduced to the value of Land Tune-Up Drills 15 years ago. The lessons learned during this drill are ones commonly encountered throughout the year. I always incorporate a couple of No-No obstacles in my Land Tune-Up. A typical Land Tune-Up will be 6-7 blinds that would include factors like mounds, brush piles, cover strips, gun stations, roads, key holes, tight crisscrossing lines and even a remote cast. This drill should take 15 to 20 minutes to complete. The concentration it requires from both the dog and the handler is of great value. The basic purpose of a Tune-Up Drill is to help dogs get more comfortable running straight lines in challenging situations. Tune-Up Drills help give a dog and handler confidence in working together. When executed properly, dogs learn to relax around areas they have had problems with in the past. This drill should be repeated for 3-5 days. Don’t be in a hurry to use much pressure. Too many corrections will be counterproductive. The power in drill is in the repetitions, not the corrections. I would recommend doing 2 or 3 Tune-Up Drills over the course of a year. The colder season is the ideal time to invest in a detailed Land Tune-Up Drill. Those training for both hunt tests and field trials will benefit from this drill. Without a doubt, incorporating these drills in your off-season will greatly enhance your team’s performance in the upcoming year.

I hope that this has been helpful. I’d love to talk more about this in my 4th free Purina Masterclass on Wednesday December 7, at 8:00 PM EST. Click here to watch the replay

Happy training.

Pat Burns

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