~ IMMERSION ~ Water Specific Training


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Nov 1, 2018
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Aye Mates,

Water work is a critical element of training for the well rounded working retriever. I was recently joined by my friend and training client Barry Gunning , for several days of immersive training focusing specifically on water related skills. Barry is the current President of the First State Retriever Club in Delaware and is a longtime owner of Labrador Retrievers. Barry's interest in both Labrador Retrievers and the retriever games was sparked when he was stationed in the United Kingdom with the United States Air Force while serving as a military air traffic controller. Barry quickly made friends with a number of Brits involved with field trialing along with British style hunts and he quickly became enamored with the Labrador Retriever breed, training, and is now involved with hunt testing.

Barry and his yellow Labrador retriever BROOKS, arrived in Connecticut on Sunday afternoon after their 6 hour drive from Delaware and we took some time to let them settle in before doing some light field work that evening. I have worked with Barry and BROOKS for a few years now and have watched both BROOKS and Barry develop significantly in their improvement as a dog and handler team.

Several weeks prior to his trip up to work with me, I asked Barry what he wanted to concentrate on and he quickly answered "water work". Living in the Dover area, Barry told me that training venues having good access to suitable training waters are hard to come by and many are suspect for blue-green algae and the potential hazard of toxicity to dogs worked in those waters. All said, I planned on providing both BROOKS and Barry with the opportunity to work a variety of the many private training waters that I have access to. We worked different training waters each day of their four day stay, each of those waters presenting the retrievers with a variety of challenges based on their configuration and their habitat types, those ranging from fairly unobstructed technical ponds to those more typical of the waters we hunt waterfowl in, those having lots of emergent aquatic vegetation, submerged obstacles such as rocks and logs, and an abundance of cover along the shoreline.

Barry and BROOKS brought with them a week of incredible weather conditions that were well suitable for our days of training. A light session on Sunday night included allowing the three intact adult males that we would be working with throughout the week get "reacquainted ".

~ TEAM BROOKS ~ Barry is seen with his yellow male Labrador Retriever BROOKS, now four years old as he prepares to send BROOKS across land and into the waters of this technical pond located on the grounds of QUAIL RIDGE KENNELS. Barry and BROOKS train primarily for participation in AKC Hunt Test events. Both BROOKS and Barry have made significant gains since the initial work I did with them two years ago. The team now regularly train with a training group in Delaware weekly. Upon our first experience training together, it was made clear by me to Barry that BROOKS was exhibiting a number of dysfunctional behaviors that would need to be modified if he were to become a successful hunt test dog. Training work was initially conducted with specific recommendations made to be done as "homework", those to include the suggestion that they become involved with a retriever club in their home area. Barry took the ball and ran with it, that having resulted in significant improvements in the efficiency and skill levels attained by himself and BROOKS as a handler / retriever team. Line manners and vocalization on the line are still a challenge for BROOKS and Barry carries on with the work needed to eradicate or at least minimize those negative behaviors, and their has been definite improvements made in that regard.

~ THE HANDLER'S PERSPECTIVE ~ An over the shoulder view catches the perspective of handler Barry as he sends his retriever BROOKS on a blind retrieve to a distant point seen along the left embankment, a dead training bird having been placed there as its location unknown is unknown to BROOKS. During such drills, I provide real time coaching of Barry for the refinement of his skills as a handler. A number of "factors" must be given consideration in getting the retriever from the line, to the bird, and back to the handler. Such factors can include wind direction, scent, water currents, topographical features such as the small island seen between the shoreline and the open water leading to the point. Our objective in this drill is for BROOKS to maintain as straight a line as he is sent on toward the point, and to do that without deviating by "sucking" into the shoreline on the left while making way. Barry's job as the handler is to keep BROOKS "on task" in going straight to the planted bird and back to the handler via the water. BROOKS is seen just to the right of the island. As an added factor of distraction, two adult Canada geese and a brood of eight goslings provided an added challenge for both BROOKS and Barry to contend with.

~ BACK ~ Handler Barry is seen casting BROOKS with a left "BACK" cast in driving him across the water to a blind planted behind the small bunch of emergent vegetation seen in front of the grouping of trees seen directly across the water from the handler. Whistle signals (stops), gestural cues (casts), and verbal commands are used to keep the dog progressing in a straight line from the handler's side as sent and along that same line upon return. Timing of communication between the handler and the retriever is a critical matter in conducting an efficient retrieve while keeping the dog on line. Additionally, we ran a number of drills that included land - water - land retrieves, and "threading" the dog through small constrictions betwixt two features such as that seen between the grouping of trees and the low structure seen on the far shoreline. We set up blind retrieves that required the dog take that rout between the two features noted, and drove the retriever hp the hill behind them to where the blind retrieve was planted as unknown to the dog. The dog was required to take the same line back in return. to the handler. The running of blinds at this level is a testimony to the trust that is developed by both the handler and the retriever in one another.

~ WHISTLE STOP ~ A single peep on the whistle is a signal for the retriever to turn 180 degrees in facing directly at the handler and to tread water whilst waiting for the handler to make the next cast in keeping the retriever on line to the bird. Here BROOKS is seen awaiting his next cast from his handler Barry after having been whistle stopped in the water. I strongly suggested to Barry that he slow his timing in making the next consecutive cast subsequent to BROOKS turning to face him upon the whistle stop. I told Barry that doing so would help to slow BROOKS down and in deterring BROOKS from "auto-casting" rather than taking Barry's specific cast. This critical point made in my coaching of Team Brooks will result in significant improvement of their on water performance and their connectivity as a team.

~ SUCCESS ~ BROOKS having recovered the planted blind (orange bumper), is seen making his way back across the water in return to his handler Barry. Orange bumpers are generally poorly discernible visually to dogs and are therefore used when using training bumpers for such drills. A variety of training bumpers and dead birds were used in the conducting of retriever drills throughout the week.

~ BLIND FAITH ~ In this image, I am seen demonstrating the importance of keeping the dog on line as my gun dog TRAD makes his way to a blind planted at the distant point along the left shoreline. TRAD was sent into the water on an "angle entry" from my left side. Dogs sent on an angle entry are not allowed to run the bank but must cut the angle the handler sends them on in making entry to the water. The retriever is expected to take the same line back to the handler via the water after having made the pick up of the bird or bumper sent to retrieve. I am seen "framing" the retriever relative to the point he is being sent to, that helping to aid myself as the handler in keeping him running / swimming in a straight line.

~ THE EXAMPLE FOLLOWED ~ BROOKS is seen making the return of a bumper set up for the same blind retrieve that TRAD ran in the previous image. Both TRAd and BROOKS performed exceptionally well in not getting "sucked" into shore and off of the line they were sent on via the water. Here, BROOKS remains in the water in making his return of the bumper back to his handler Barry. It was clearly evident that Barry was most pleased with the accomplishments achieved by BROOKS in his completion of some very challenging blind setups. Barry did a great job of working through these drills and communicating with his retriever BROOKS is meeting the objectives sought in each drill.

~ ON RETURN ~ BROOKS is caught "up close and personal" as he makes his way back to Barry with a training bumper. Barry spoke with both pride in and affection for BROOKS as he stated the BROOKS completed both his longest and most challenging water blind retrieves during the four days we spent training together. Along with work conducted on water blind retrieves, sessions conducted daily both during the morning and in the evening included work on multiple marked retrieves and diversion birds. Line manners and steadiness at the line was emphasized during all drills, most starting in a holding blind set up prior to proceeding to the line.

~ VARIETY IN VENUE ~ Both Barry and BROOKS enjoyed the many training waters that we worked in during their stay. Relationships with numerous landowners cultivated over may year, have blessed me with friendships that welcome me onto some truly spectacular properties that provide lands and waters so critical to the proper development of competent retriever gun dogs.

~ TRAIN LIKE YOU HUNT ~ A philosophy I closely subscribe to in my development of gun dog retrievers. Here BROOKS is seen plowing through heavy aquatic vegetation after having made the pick up of a bird requiring him to make a long swim from the line to a point diagonally to the right after his angle entry made into the water. BROOKS encountered heavy vegetation and a number of underwater obstacles that required him to negotiate himself up and over on the way out to the bird, and in returning back with the bird. Time spent working in challenging conditions during training sessions will provide great dividends when they translate readily to successful performances rendered during waterfowl hunts. Challenges of this nature help to condition gun dogs physical and mentally, that building a self confident retriever.

An additional window into my training methods, Barry was privy to watching me conduct several sessions of FORCE FETCH with younger client dogs and some multiple mark retrieve drills on water with an intermediate level retriever. We also ran one evening session of running land marks and blinds with our friend Bill and his retriever ALLIE MAE, she being sired by my retriever TRAD. We had a good evening of work with the dogs but cut it short due to heat and humidity.

My time spent with Barry and BROOKS was most enjoyable and surely was productive in their development of water related skills and in the further honing of themselves as a handler retriever team. During our time spent together, we reacquainted with other mutual friends, met some new friends, shared meals, great conversation, memories, and some fine Irish spirits. Our love of sporting dogs bring people from all walks of life together under most jovial circumstances, this most welcomed during such tumultuous times. I thank God for gun dogs and my many friends that love working with them!

Enjoy every moment spent with ye beloved sporting dogs!


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