~ BLIND FAITH ~ Trust In The Trainer / Trust In The Dog


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Nov 1, 2018
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Aye Mates,

"BLIND FAITH", NO, not the Steve Winwood band from the late 60's, not a stab in the dark, but rather, a concept based on implicit trust earned within the context of a relationship. The relationship of a trainer and a gun dog is one based on the leadership of the trainer as provided for the K9 trainee. That relationship is on one level the demands placed by the trainer on the K9 trainee as required for achieving a specific objective, but a closer examination reveals that the relationship is one that is earned through strategic planning by the trainer in setting up his trainee to succeed. A trainer that knows how to build implicit trust within the K9 trainees he or she works with, will have a dog that will did deep into his own heart and soul to do that which is demanded by the trainer. Such trusts are built with each successive session through motivation, by being fair in teaching the trainee that which is expected thoroughly prior to making unrealistic demands, by setting the dog up to succeed, and by keeping an unwritten promise that the trust built is NOT to be broken, but rather that it can always be relied upon by the dog. These are principals that I strive to maintain in each dog that I work with, and doing so serves me well and those dogs well.

A saying commonly heard uttered by both trainers and bird hunters alike is, "trust the dog". Conversely, I hope that my dogs have an innate voice that tells them I must trust my trainer". I think that as trainers, handlers, or owners that work with and gun for birds over dogs, that we will all reach higher levels of performance by keeping this team approach in the forefront, whether it be while training or while afield in pursuit of birds.

~ BLIND FAITH ~ My gun dog TRAD is seen making return with a bumper he retrieved during a session focused on working on "blind retrieves". When I send the retriever from the line I give the verbal cue "dead bird", this letting TRAD know that I am sending him for a bumper or bird that he has not seen fall, and that he has absolutely not an idea of where said bumper or bird might be. Some would view this as an "unknown" for the retriever, and on face value they would be correct. However, TRAD has been taught through an empirical process to understand that when I give the verbal cue "DEAD BIRD", that there is most assuredly a bird or bumper out ahead of us that needs to be retrieved. Furthermore, TRAD has learned that if I line him and send him, that he needs to trust me, take the line as straightly as is possible, and to go upon my issue of the verbal command "BACK". Just as I trust that TRAD is capable of making the retrieve, TRAD has learned to trust me to get him to the location of the bird or bumper through a series of casts, using my whistle to stop him, and gestural cues coupled with verbal commands to put him on the X. This methodical process is based upon time spent progressively training a number of skills needed for success, all the while building implicit trust. This particular retrieve was 208 yards over land as measured with a laser rangefinder. As both a waterfowl hunting gun dog and a hunt test athlete, TRAD is required to do long and multiple blinds both on land as well as water. The teamwork I develop with these dogs is one of the main factors that keeps me enthusiastic and passionate for training. The devotion and trust that these gun dog trainees have in me, drives me to be the best that I can be for them.

~ THE MAC ATTACK ~ MAC, a gun dog trainee sired by TRAD, is seen exhibiting his typical nitro-fueled jettisoning off of the line given the same cue "DEAD BIRD" my conveyance to him that there is most definitely a bird or bumper for him to be retrieved. Given the "BACK" command, MAC knows that he is to move forward upon the line he is cast on and to continue doing so until whistle stopped for a change of direction by cast, or until he pins the blind. MAC'S enthusiasm off of the line is testimony to the level of trust he has developed in me as a result of many hours of diligent training together as a team. His two rear legs kicking up behind him are akin to the afterburners thrust on an F-16. One can see here that he is low to the ground, leaning in, and going out full bore. What I see as I view him displaying this drive is that he trusts me implicitly. MAC has developed "BLIND FAITH" in me. We work unified and as a team. I send and he goes. Success will be ours. Today, MAC was worked on land blinds and on land - water - land blinds. Today MAC completed his first cold blind out to the 200 yard mark. MAC will be repeatedly worked on blind retrieves of varying distances so that he learns not to overrun, nor under run, but rather, to trust the handler. We are making progress together, that based on the mutual trust developed.

~ STRETCHING OUT ~ That wee white spot seen at 12:OO O'Clock is MAC working a long land blind. We progressively stretch out the distances worked while building confidence and maintaining trust. A bit too far to my right, I whistle stopped MAC and cast him left where I have placed a strip of orange surveyor's tape to mark the location of the blind. I have seeded several orange bumpers in the cover at the marker. After the initial success accomplished on the first blind retrieved, MAC will be sent again, and then once again to reinforce the success achieved. The reward for MAC you ask? That would be for him to get to run another blind retrieve, self fulfilling reward. The reward for me you ask? That would be seeing MAC succeed and our bond as a team solidifying further. Trust building a continuing theme is every aspect of our training.

~ SUCCESS ~ MAC took the left "OVER" cast that I gave him, that sending him directly to the pre-placed orange bumper. Orange bumpers are utilized as they are much less visible to the dogs than standard white bumpers, that making the orange bumper more practical for training on blind retrieves. The pickup made, MAC starts back on his long return run to me where he will SIT at my left side and classically present the bumper for delivery to my hand upon issue of the verbal command "GIVE".

~ ON RETURN ~ MAC is seen returning with the orange bumper he picked up during this session on blind retrieves. I swear that if he didn't have a mouthful of bumper that I might view a smile on his face. My being very pleased with his ongoing development and his more specific work today, I know he sees a big smile on my face as he returns to me with the bumper.

As we move forward in MAC'S training, his ability to competently perform blind retrieves on both land and water will be critical for his success in both the HRC Seasoned Retriever and AKC Senior Hunter stakes. Our objectives well identified, our strategy will be to train to a skill level that is more demanding than required in the stakes mentioned, high standards trained for and high standards maintained will be prioritized in all of our training sessions. The trust that MAC and I have in each other surely translate to confidence on the line at hunt tests. Better yet, the work we do as we train diligently together during the training season, translates to great times and memories made during the bird season.

Nice set. I love #2, who says the subject has to be looking at the camera? I love a good pic of the subject from behind and to see things from it's perspective once in awhile. Some people don't get that I know but that's their loss.
Nice set. I love #2, who says the subject has to be looking at the camera? I love a good pic of the subject from behind and to see things from it's perspective once in awhile. Some people don't get that I know but that's their loss.

A very interesting point you raise, both in relation to the perspective as a photographer and a retriever trainer. A major aspect of retriever training is the development of the dog's "marking" ability. "Marking" being the dog's ability to visually track a flying and falling bird at various distances, from a number of differing angles, to gauge the distance from its point of observation to the area of fall by relying on a honed perception of depth, and to upon send by the handler, go directly as possible to that area fall and make retrieve of the bird.

As a trainer, it imperative that I set up challenging and realistic setups designed to hone the dog's ability to "mark" accurately, and to do that by replicating as closely as possible the conditions a retriever will experience in actual hunting situations. In doing so, I often get down to the dog's level to view that which they will perceive at their height, that being much different from my own while I am standing. I must take into consideration changes in topography, changes in contrast between the sky, forested background, open fields, over water, the dog's point of observation being obscured by the cover it is standing in, changes in lighting conditions, etc., etc. Add to all of that, dogs do not see in color as do humans, rather they see in varying shades of black, white, and grey.

Of course, as a photographer, I am also cognizant of light, perspective, potential obscuring of that which might alter the viewing /picture of the subject focused upon, etc. Further, when trying to convey to those not familiar with retrievers, how they are trained, and what they are capable of, it is certainly beneficial to include images taken fro the dog's perspective.

Mike ☘️

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