New Dog Training
This Article was previously published in Outdoor News, written by Mark Strand.
For the most part, training hunting dogs is a timeless art. Ditto for creating a connection between you and your dog, and getting the most out of your canine companion on a hunting trip.
Still, like most other things, the newest and best equipment can really help. When it comes to hunting dog gear, true breakthroughs are rare these days; wrinkles and enhancements create most of the buzz in the industry. It has become a pleasant summertime tradition to sit down with dog trainer Chad Hines and talk about what’s new in gear that can help Outdoor News readers train their own dogs, and enhance hunting situations. As is the case whenever you talk to knowledgeable dog people, there are warnings and urgings that come out as every piece of gear is discussed.
You don’t need a license to buy a whistle or electronic collar, but your dog deserves consistent and confident leadership from you if you are going to assume the position of trainer and master. With that in mind, we wade into what’s new (and tried and true) in the way of gear for hunting dogs this year.
Hey, business people have pagers, right? Many brands of electronic collars have recently begun to feature a vibration function that can be selectively used by the trainer. At the press of a button, the box on the collar will vibrate, rather than producing the more traditional stimulation.
Most collar manufacturers suggest using this vibration as a warning signal that your dog is about to be stimulated unless it responds to your command. But we don't like to use this feature as a warning tone, says Chad Hines. We've found that the more warnings a dog gets, the less consistently they comply with our commands. Chad notes, though, that in training upland dogs, the pager function is proving effective for keeping hard-running dogs inside gun range.
We use it to turn the dog and bring it in closer, he says. It's really good for sending out a reminder that the dog should check back with you, that the two of you need to work as a team. When the dog is getting out of gun range, giving that vibration is much quieter than the voice or whistle command, so you're less likely to spook wary birds.
Never content to simply point out a piece of gear without offering ideas on how to incorporate it into your training and hunting, Chad describes how to use it.
Start out by just taking your dog for a walk, he says. Let (him or her) hunt, or just walk out in front of you. Then, when the dog starts to get out of comfortable gun range, you should turn and change direction, and push the pager button. The dog will turn around and see that you are going a different way, and should start to follow you.
If you need to, also use voice commands or a soft whistle to let your dog know that you want them to stay with you. After a while, you shouldn't need the voice or whistle, and you can use the stimulation to back up the pager if necessary.
Blank pistols are by no means new training gear, but they are important for being able to safely and cheaply imitate the sound of gunfire for multiple training purposes.
And there are a couple new pistols Chad really likes.
The first one is the Alfa, a Smith & Wesson replica with a locking cylinder.
“It’s quite a bit better than any other we have used,” he says. “It’s built like a real firearm and is much more reliable than standard blank pistols.” They cost more than other blank pistols, “but will stand the test of time,” he says.
Another one is the NEF, “which is almost as nice,” Chad says, “but hard to get hold of. Last we checked it was on a year backorder at Lion Country (lcsupply.com).” For many casual trainers, a cheaper pistol can be adequate, and there are lots of models to choose from. “We use blank pistols every day, though,” Chad says with a laugh, “and it’s nice not to have to buy a new one every year. If you have a puppy and will be introducing it to gunfire, I recommend spending a little extra money. If you plan to take the dog to a trainer, but still want a (blank) pistol for reinforcement training, then one of the less expensive ones should work fine. They all make the same noise.”
Chad’s tips in the event you will be introducing your own pup to gunfire:
“Start shooting at a distance from the dog,” he begins. “There is no need to 'see if the dog is gun shy’ by firing the pistol right next to him the first time. If you want to make your dog gun shy on purpose, that’s a good way to do it.”
Bark collars have been around for years, but have not been famous for reliability. With many people living in residential areas where constant barking is potential cause for friction with the neighbors, these collars are increasingly popular.
Fortunately, the latest models feature improved performance. Shop around and get one if your dog needs to be corrected often for making too much noise. The best ones allow you to adjust intensity of the correction your dog receives when it either barks or whines.
At Willow Creek, they use the Dogtra model YS500, some of which have lasted through more than five years of daily use. “We start out on about setting number two,” says Chad. “We let the dog bark, with the collar at the 2 setting, for about an hour. If they keep barking, we turn it up to setting 3 for about an hour. If they still keep it up, we crank it up to level 4, and that’s usually high enough. A few dogs have had to be given level 5 before they got quiet.”
Chad chimes in with additional details that would be applicable for the use of any e-collar.
“When you tighten the collar around the dog’s neck,” he says, “two of your fingers should still be able to fit under the collar. And we don’t leave the collar on for more than eight hours, because rubbing of the collar against the dog’s neck can cause irritation and possible infection.” (They also point out that bark collars, by the very nature of how they work, can also be used to fix other problems involved with vocalization, including 'fence fighting’ or fighting in general.)
The wonder lead, which we wrote about last summer, has become the staple among serious dog handlers for heeling and general obedience.
“Most of the handlers at hunt tests and field trials, at least in the pointer world, are using them,” says Chad. “In our own training, they’ve proven to be the fastest and easiest tool for making progress. We have tried many other leads, and find them to pale in comparison. There are all kinds of gimmicks in the dog world, when it comes to making them walk with us. The wonder lead doesn’t attach to the dog’s face and it has no harness to get tangled up. It’s very easy to use and the dogs respond to it right away.”
Training tips: “It’s important to position the lead right behind your dog’s ears,” says Chad. “That way, the dog applies the correction when it walks ahead of you, because things tighten up. Keep upward tension, so the lead won’t slip out of the indentation behind the ears.” Many dogs fight this lead right away, but give in quickly.
“They quit pulling against you when they figure out that they can take away the discomfort by complying with your wish, that they follow you rather than the other way around,” explains Chad. “When your dog’s head is even with your legs, lagging slightly behind you as you walk, (he or she) has chosen to be submissive, and you are nearing a milestone with your dog.
“You should be the leader and your dog the follower, making you the Alfa in the relationship.”
Another inside tip, as you work toward peaceful walks:
When you see the dog trying to assume the leadership position, deliberately walk into your dog and make contact. You don’t 'kick’ the dog or even bump it hard, “but when the Alfa wolf walks through the pack,” says Chad, “the subordinate wolves move out of the way. By incorporating this into our training, we become the Alfa. We simply need to walk into our dog, and gently bump them with our knees. They instinctively know to move out of the way, and start to lag behind a little. Their head should also drop and they start to watch you, so they can conform their walking (direction and speed) to yours.
“We need a submissive dog, that watches us closely, to make training easier. Doing this, while you’re out for walks, will strengthen your bond so you can work as a team when you’re out hunting together.”
Every summer, the hunting season sneaks up on us while we are still fishing, grilling burgers and wiping sweat off the brow. Every year, as the dog is out there doing its own thing on opening day, a lot of hunters swear they are going to train more next year. Next year is here, now. You cannot buy your way to a better-trained hunting dog. Even if you take the dog to a pro, the lessons instilled must be maintained once you get the dog back home.
The right gear helps. But there will always be a crucial connection between even the most innovative equipment and the dog it is intended to train, and that is you. You have to set up training scenarios, responsibly and consistently steering the ship. That is the way to a happy, hard-running dog that consistently complies with your commands.
Do it now, before there are real guns and other dogs and hunting partners and wild birds ready to run for the horizon.