Saturday, December 31, 2011

Retriever Training Group Etiquette

If you want to train your retriever for field trials or hunt tests you will need to find or put together a training group that will meet on a somewhat regular basis.  If you are teaching your dog to mark off multiple guns, do complex combinations of multiple marks and blinds both on land and water, it is absolutely necessary to have lots of help in the field.  Setting up meaningful marks and blinds takes time to plan out, set up and perform.  At least one person in the group should have plenty of experience training and running dogs in competition.  Someone with lots of judging experience is especially valuable.

Successful training groups are generally large enough to allow for flexibility.  Not every person can come to all trainings every time.  Groups thus tend to be porous and fluid.  Some of the things I learned early in my retriever training experience remain extremely valuable today.  Serious members of a group must have certain tendencies in order for a group to survive. 

Some of the most important attributes members need to have are as follows:

Number One:  Willingness and ability to commit to training on a regular basis.  Of course not everyone can come every time, but the commitment to come most of the time is crucial.

Number Two:  If you say you will be there at 9:00 am, get there by 9:15 at a minimum. (Our group meets at a park and ride.  If you don't get there by 15 minutes after the hour, you won't know where we will be.) Occasionally running late with a phone call to let everyone know is fine, but don't make a habit of it.  (Apologizing for being late is always a good idea.)  Everyone is making a Herculean effort to get their own dogs trained and are willing to work for other handlers and dogs in exchange.  Showing up hours late to a training scenario and expecting to run your dog is never acceptable.  (Once you have earned points with your training group and they know that you have always been helpful to others, they will most likely bend over backwards to accommodate you, should you be recovering from a surgery or illness--or any other out-of-the-ordinary thing.  But that is something you earn over time.)

Number Three:  Training with birds is crucial for the dog's development.  Training with live shot flyers is also crucial.  Anyone willing to find a source for birds and arrange for bringing them to training is always greatly appreciated.  And to go along with that, anyone who is a great shot who is willing to shoot birds for others should be treated like royalty!  Find out what gauge gun he or she is shooting and be sure to offer a box or two of shells to that person at the end of training.  And once training is over--the ones who brought the birds should always be able to get their birds back to go back into the freezer for another day.  But if you hear someone say that they don't have room in their freezer, you can offer your own freezer space for the group birds. 

Number Four:  Try to bring your own equipment.  You should own a minimum of 12 bumpers, both white and orange, large and small.  You should also obtain your own starter pistol, folding chair, a set of 5 gallon buckets or burlap bags for hiding birds in while out in the field throwing for others, white clothing for field trial and young dog training, and a set of two-way radios.  All serious retriever trainers in the United States also own a remote (electronic) training collar.  (While you are airing your dogs prior to the start of training, you should be gathering all this equipment up and preparing to go out in the field.  Time is of the essence and if everyone is concentrating on getting set up, training can get underway a lot faster.)

Number Five: If you are training with a professional trainer--or a highly seasoned amateur trainer (many amateur field trial trainers have forgotten more than some of the professional trainers will ever know about training!) and they have a lot of dogs, do every thing you can to offer to run those dogs, in addition to your own.  The more "line time" you get at training, the faster you learn how to train your own dog.  And if you help with both the young pups as well as the super trained older dogs, you will round out your own handling skills very quickly.   Also, regard your time out in the field while throwing birds for other handlers and dogs as every bit as valuable for learning as being on the other side.  Watching people do things right or wrong, is great for learning yourself.  Additionally, if there are picnic (mock) trials or tests in your area, volunteer to judge along side a seasoned judge.  You learn a TON when keeping track of scoring performances.

Number Six:  Learn to let things roll off your back.  The retriever training world is very small and finding a group of people large enough and knowledgeable enough to work--pretty much guarantees that some of the people in the group might not be your "cup of tea."  They might  seem arrogant or cranky or quirky.  (Some of those characters are people from whom I have learned the MOST over the years. )  If you are a fairly new handler, just learning the ins and outs of handling a dog, you do not need to wear a sign that says "NEW."  Everyone will know it.  You will be offered lots of help.  Some of that help might be unwanted.  Depending on your personality, that help might even seem like criticism.   Roll with it.  Relax.  If you can't handle unwanted help from well-meaning people in your training group, how are you ever going to be able to handle the stress of paying big money to enter a competition, follow all the intricate rules and handle your dog successfully in front of two judges and a gallery of onlookers--not to mention all the people waiting for their turn behind you?  How will you handle it when the honor dog breaks on YOUR live shot flyer and screws up your dog's performance?  How will you be able to handle it when you just drove 200 miles and paid the entry fee and got a hotel and the judges tell you to pick up your dog and go home?  Embrace the annoyances of other people in your group and learn to appreciate everything as a precursor to greater challenges in your future.

A retriever training group is a very difficult thing to organize and keep together.  Treat it with great respect.  And get the most out of it by putting the most you can into it. 

1 comment:

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