With the AH annual tradition of a pheasant shoot over President’s Day weekend bearing down on us, things are in full swing here on the farm. With a big dinner the night before, then a lunch for 60 people on Saturday, there’s plenty to do…but one of the most important things not to overlook: prep the pup.
Peat has a reputation around here. Everybody loves Peat…and he knows it. Hmmm. But when it’s time for him to work, it’s important for him to put on his game face and work. The good thing for most working dogs is, when they’re on the job, they’re operating largely on instinct, which makes them focused and happy. So, the key to having a great dog in the field is to ensure that the dog has manners. (Just like with kids, it’s not their fault if they have bad manners…so guess whose fault it is…).
One of the most important things you can ever teach your dog is simple obedience. See the post 3 Little Words to Make Your Good Dog GREAT. Once you’re past the basics and ready to head into the field, don’t rush out there just yet! Here is one simple tip that’s vital to being in the field, and will make all the difference on the manner front. BTW, it’s easy to teach your pup and you’ll be so glad you did.
You must teach him to HOLD.
It’s no fun to be in the field with a dog who’s on a joy ride — running all over (while you look like a knucklehead calling, whistling, even begging him to come back as he steals yet another bird from the poor old guy who hobbled out to pick his up. We’ve all seen it — the person who can’t let the dog off the leash because they don’t know if it’ll run away or rampage the field.)
First and foremost, DON’T TRY TO TEACH YOUR DOG IN THE FIELD with spectators and all kinds of distractions. Teach him in a quiet setting with a dummy or whatever he really likes to retrieve (many purist trainers would kill me for writing that…but you’re not training a field trial dog — you’re working your dog — and he should learn to hold no matter what you’re playing with.)
So here’s what you do. Since he already knows sit and stay, now you just have to reinforce the staying still until you send him out to pick up his toy. Believe me, he won’t want to. Here’s where you’ll have to be firm and consistent. If you’re teaching him by yourself, then stand on his leash when you throw the dummy or even wrap it around a tree, a car door handle, a fence post, whatever is nearby — and DO NOT let him go if he’s pulling.
Start by doing little underhand tosses — just get the toy a little ways out, hold him saying whoa or stay — and just say it once. Don’t keep saying it. At first, just have him hold for a moment, then say “Peat!” (his name) or “back!” and let go of the leash . He’ll run out and grab it and have him bring it right back to you. (If he doesn’t, but instead picks it up and runs around with it, then take off running the other direction and he’ll follow — works pretty well every time.) Repeat. Soon, you’ll be able to toss farther and farther, and have him hold longer and longer — he’s learning to wait for your command. Don’t let him pull on that leash — if he’s pulling, then you’re not teaching him to stay, you’re just holding him. He has to stay there on his own.
When you’re training your dog, only do this for no more than 10-15 minutes each session. You don’t want him to get tired of the game. Like my dad always said, “Leave ’em wanting more!” If you can do it once or twice a day, you should have this in the bag in a short time.
It won’t take long and you’ll have your pup holding like a rock star. The key: consistency. Whether it’s his favorite tennis ball, his training dummy, or a real bird, make him hold! You’ll be so glad you did.