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Nutrition & Training Tips

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tips for New Field Trialers

By Jason Givens
Article originally appeared in “On the Wing”, a monthly e-mail newsletter by Pheasants Forever

Maybe you've done Field Trials & Hunt Tests before, maybe not. As a beginner you'll make mistakes and not remember everything that you're supposed to do. The more prepared you and your dog are before you get to the event, the better off you'll be. To help you along the way, I've put together a short list of key factors in performing well in dog competitions.

Make A Good Impression
What makes the best dog? Different judges look for different things. No matter how good your dog is, not all judges will like it. Here is a short list of things that will make a positive impression on most judges in flushing events.
  1. Strong Finds – Fast, positive finds will get a judge to overlook minor faults in other areas. The instant your dog smells a bird, preferably from far away, he should try to get to it as fast as possible. A positive find is much more important then a positive flush.
  2. Effective Pattern – Using the wind to cover the course is much more effective than simply running from gun to gun. As often as possible, your dog should be running perpendicular to the wind and always smelling fresh ground.
  3. Showing Control – Your dog should be able to run with only an occasional whistle. Lots of loud whistles annoy many judges. One or two reminder whistles is okay, but the quieter the run the better.  
These three points are really one main point: Working properly, under control to get fast, hard finds from a good distance is the recipe for success.

Avoid Trouble
You want your dog to have a clean run with few issues for a judge to ponder.  Never make a judge think! The following tips are the obvious things to avoid in order to stay out of trouble.
  1. Hard Mouth – Very few judges will tolerate dead birds. Injury is always a possibility with a powerful flushing dog and sometimes a wing or a rib is broken. If it happens often, though, judges will take note of it.
  2. Excessive Noise – Your dog should be quiet and not whimper or whine while waiting. He should also be patient and not bark at missed birds or yip when sent on a retrieve.
  3. Sloppy Delivery – You shouldn't be wrestling with your dog to get the bird and he shouldn't be trying to grab it from the judge's hand. The dog should come in, give you the bird, and wait for the next command.
Most people are amazed, when they start competing with their dogs, at how many things can go wrong. You need to remember that Field Trials & Hunt Tests are just games we play with our dogs. There are rules to each game that must be followed to achieve success,  but the primary objective always is to be enjoying yourself and your dog. When you have a bad day, just take it in stride and come back the next weekend and show them how good your dog really is.

To learn more about Jason’s training methods, visit

How About A Pager For Your Dog?

By Chad Hines

Article originally appeared in “On the Wing”, a monthly e-mail newsletter by Pheasants Forever

It Works For People
For years, business people have used pagers to maintain effective communication while out of the office. Through sound or vibration, a pager has proven an effective way of letting them know when someone needs to communicate with them. In the dog world, many brands of electronic collars have recently begun to feature a "page", or 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. Why not make use of this new technology to improve communication with your dog?

Send A Subtle Message
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. We've found that the more warnings a dog gets, the less consistently they comply with our commands. Rather than using the pager feature as a warning tone, we recommend using the pager function as a silent and easy way to bring your dog in closer. The pager function is a great way to send your dog a reminder that he needs to check in with you.

As a team, it is important that you have a way to communicate with your dog that he is getting out of gun range. Sending a silent message through vibration is much quieter than a voice or whistle command, so you will be less likely to spook wary birds. This is particularly useful if you have a hard running dog that may have a tendency to get outside gun range.

Pager Training
Teaching your dog to understand the message you are sending is fairly simple. Start out by just taking your dog for a walk and let him hunt, or just walk, out in front of you. When your dog starts to get out of your comfortable gun range, 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 necessary, we encourage the use of voice commands or a soft whistle early on to let your dog know that you want him to stay with you. After a while, you shouldn't need the voice or whistle, and you can use the traditional stimulation to back up the pager if necessary. Ultimately, we have found that most dogs will begin to understand pager conditioning pretty quickly and provide you with one more effective tool in communicating with your dog in the field.

To learn more about Chad and Jodi’s training methods, visit

It's The Training, Not The Tool!

By Susan Barnes
Article originally appeared in “On the Wing”, a monthly e-mail newsletter by Pheasants Forever
While on a radio show, I was told of young pointing dog that was taken out to hunt his first birds, the owner relying on an e-collar (electronic collar) to help keep the dog close.  The dog hit the open field and was gone.  The owner called the dog and pressed the transmitter button to no avail. Their day of "hunting" came to a close with only one find…the dog 4 hours later. Many unsuccessful e-collar stories take on a similar theme and often the collar or dog is blamed for the failure.  As owners and trainers we must understand that our equipment is only as effective as the operator and the training. 

Understanding The Tool
It is important to understand that an e-collar itself is not the answer. Knowing how to use it properly is what creates success.  Simply pressing a button does not install "Microsoft dog".  That would be like suggesting that buying the best shotgun on the market would make a person a skilled hunter and crack shot.  The tool can be VERY effective, but the METHOD, KNOWLEDGE and SKILL of the user are what create success or failure.

Making Your Dog Collar Literate
We start all of our dogs' e-collar training away from the field.  With dogs as young as 6 months, we build a foundation; teaching the dog to understand the language of the "stimulation".  Stimulation is used to get the dog's attention and also to teach the command with which it is applied.  The dog must learn that performance of the command stops the stim, which "marks" the correct behavior or response.

Introduction to the e-collar begins with finding the right level of intensity to get the dog's attention. With the dog on a long line, we allow them to move away from us and tap, tap, tap on the nick button until the dog turns and begins to move toward us.  We may say nothing initially to allow the dog to focus without the interference of verbal associations, but we eventually add the command "here" or "come" to give the behavioral response a name.  As the dog learns, the number of taps should decrease while confidence and consistency increase.

Understanding The Dog's Response
It is important that you understand that the stim is an unknown when introduced and dogs can respond many different ways to the new sensation. Some turn and come immediately, some lie down and others may even freeze. This occurs due to confusion and to get through this you must assist the dog in performing the expected behavior while still applying the stim until the dog is correct. Remember, this can also happen with a dog that knows a command but is not e-collar "literate". Many people make the mistake of assuming their dog should know the way to respond to the stim and instead of assisting and teaching the dog the correct response they either stop the stim (marking the incorrect behavior) or adjust the stim thinking this will motivate the dog to respond. It is important that you recognize that the e-collar is a communication tool and using it incorrectly or inconsistently is no different than speaking on a cell phone with bad reception….its confusing, annoying and the message is usually not conveyed effectively.  

Taking It To The Next Level
Understanding and applying this method to all commands with consistency will produce a top performing dog in the field and in the home. These are just a few of the basics and by no means all that goes into introducing the e-collar to your dog. The next time you pull an e-collar from your training bag, consider whether you are using it to train your dog or just control and correct him.  Making the most of that e-collar will help make your dog successful provided you use it to its potential and employ sound training methods. It is the knowledge, skill and ability in using an e-collar skillfully that creates great hunters, champions and even the best companions.

To learn more about Native Pro Staffer Sue Barnes, visit

Tips for Beginning Retriever Training

By Todd Sterrett
Article originally appeared in “On the Wing”, a monthly e-mail newsletter by Pheasants Forever

Train To Your Expectations
There are many schools of thought regarding the best methods for training a finished retriever. The extent and style of training will often depend on the activities you plan to perform with your dog. For example, your standards of acceptable training may be very different if you plan to do a lot of Hunt Tests or Field Trials versus an effective dog for recreational hunting. We tailor our training to the individual needs of the dog owner.

Most retrievers from good hunting lines will show natural tendencies to hold, carry and retrieve objects in their mouths. Some pups will retrieve directly to your hand with very little or no training. Others will drop things on the ground or just run around playing keep-away. Our goal is to develop a finished bird dog that consistently delivers birds to heel and hand. In order to achieve consistent delivery, force/hold and force-fetching a puppy is ideal around 6 months of age or whenever his adult teeth have come in.

Basics Don't Change
Whether for hunting or competition, there are some basic "Do's & Don'ts" for retrieve training that are fairly constant. These are essential to build the foundation for a well conditioned bird dog that consistently retrieves to your expectations.

Basic Do's & Don'ts
  1. When the pup gets to the point it is no longer returning to you with an object, put a check cord on the pup so they are forced to return to you.
  2. Praise your pup when he returns to you and while he is still holding the object in his mouth. Do not remove the object immediately, let him hold it and praise him.
  3. Watch the corrections you give when retrieving. Higher drive pups can be corrected more while with a lower desire retrieving pup you may need to do less correcting.
  4. Start by throwing retrieves in confined areas. This helps limit distractions and encourages direct returns. A hallway works great for doing this.
  5. Avoid training sessions being too long. Keep them fun and make them successful.
  6. Introduce your pup to birds and feathers as young as possible. Getting a puppy into water at a young age is always a great idea as well.
Right From The Start
If possible, it is much better to avoid undesirable behavior from the start since it is much easier to learn proper behavior when you don't have to unlearn improper behavior first. From a very early age, it is essential to consistently reinforce the behavior you want. If the pup is picking things up and carrying them, use encouragement to get him to bring it to you. When he brings it to you, praise him and let him enjoy the prize with you. The most important thing is to start your pup off right by making it fun to retrieve the right way every time.

To learn more about Todd’s training methods, visit