Oct 19, 2012, 1:02 AM EDT
By Jerry Sather
The dogs and I are now in Mississippi just a short drive from the location of the upcoming AKC National Master event in Demopolis, Alabama. We came down several days early to get in some pre-training for the event in the climate and the terrain the dogs will see when the event gets underway. Again, it’s all about training specifically to what we expect to see in the tests.
To deal with an entry approaching 700 dogs, the judges will necessarily cut the field down to manageable size as quickly as possible. One of the fastest ways to do this is to get dogs to break from the line before they are sent to make the retrieve. Besides hosting the best retrievers in the country, the National Master also brings together some of the best judges in the country. So the tests will certainly be fair, but they will be challenging.
Enticing dogs to break can take on a lot of forms. Among the most common and the most effective is simply to create a lot of movement and commotion close to the dog. This can include lots of shouting like, “rooster, rooster, rooster” before the bird is thrown. Duck calling. Goose calling. When the bird goes in the air fire multiple gun shots in stead of just one. Having guns stay out and visible, but moving and talking.
You can also have the bird land in close proximity to the dog, sometimes less than 20 yards away. If this close bird is a flyer, it’s even more enticing for the dog to break. There are even ways to safely set up scenarios where the flight of the bird is back toward the dog.
Using the dog’s competitive drive is another way to test control. This is what honoring tests are designed to do. A competitive dog is more likely to break when it thinks there’s a chance another dog is going to get the retrieve, so requiring an honor tests the steadiness of both the running dog and the honoring dog(s). Yes, that “s” is there intentionally as the more dogs are required to honor the more intense the feeling of competition. Layer on all of those commotion and proximity complications, and honoring can get tough.
Something unique to a test as large as the Master National is the time dogs and handlers are required to wait in holding blinds. At a weekend test, there’s one, perhaps two holding blinds where the dog and handler “on deck” and “in the hole” wait for their turn to run. At the Master National there are five or more holding blinds to ensure the flow of dogs to the line is smooth and uninterrupted. That means a dog and handler can easily spend an hour in the series of holding blinds awaiting there run. That’s a stressor on both, too.
So you can bet our pre-training here for the event includes every steadiness and patience scenario we can concoct. If the dog has a mental file of the situation to which to refer, then chances are much better it will perform the task put in front of it. That’s the philosophy we are counting on. We’ll let you know how it goes … soon.
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