Handling Tips for your Gun Dog [Back to Monthly Pro Staff Articles]
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In this month's article, Joe Overby of Candler Creek Retrievers, delivers some helpful tips and reminders for when you're handling your gun dog in the field. Joe has many years of experience in the retriever game and has handled countless dogs to elite levels in both hunt tests and field trials. He not only trains, tests, and trials his dogs, he hunts them too!
During our discussion on handling, Joe emphasized, "There are many different styles and ways to handle a dog in the field. When you're steering a retriever from point A to point B, there are numerous factors to keep in mind." Here are the key factors Joe highlighted.
Eye Contact- "When your dog is sitting on the whistle and looking for the next command, make sure you maintain eye contact. Eye contact exudes confidence and lets the dog know that you know what you're doing. If you don't maintain eye contact, the dog is less likely to believe in you and that you truly know what is best. Think of when a person lies to you, they look away and don't maintain eye contact."
Casting- "You want to be slow and deliberate. Not so slow that your dog can't tell what you are doing but not so fast that you're a blur to them either. Be patient after they sit to the whistle. Let them concentrate on you before you make your cast. When you do make the cast, don't start flailing around and screaming, you're merely telling the dog that you're frustrated, mad, or both and nobody takes the frustrated, mad, flailing trainer seriously. Also, remember to show the dog your hands. The palms of your hands reflect more light than the side of your hands, therefore making your palm easier to see at longer distances."
Stop to the Whistle- "I ask my clients all the time, how much did you pay for that whistle? Most clients respond with "too much, why?" I tell them they need to get their money's worth! Too many handlers are soft with the whistle and deliver light toots. Blow it like you mean it, especially if it's windy."
Momentum- "Sometimes it's necessary to break a dog's momentum. Example: you've given the dog three right overs in a row and the dog has dug back and left all three times. Rather than getting mad and collar happy, try breaking the dog's momentum. Simply whistle the dog back towards you, ten or so yards closer than the first refusal, and then give the over cast again. With many of today's high rolling dogs it's all about momentum and high speed. We, as their trainer, need to slow them down in order to maintain control."
Use the Wind- "Remember to set the dog up downwind whenever possible. Whether it's that 375yard third series water blind or that 375 yard cripple into the standing beans in Arkansas, you're going to want to have them on the downwind side of wherever you "think" the bird is."
- Verbal Cast vs. Silent Cast - "Here are several "most of the time" rules, but like all things retriever related, nothing is 100%.
- Verbal with the wind, Silent into the wind
- Verbal to drive across a factor (ditch, cover, water) but it can push a dog to an old fall or mark, silent should keep them on their line
- Verbal's almost always drive a dog towards suction or back towards previous success
- If you never give a silent cast you'll never get one
- If you need a true "Over", keep quiet and walk in the direction
- Your Background and the Dog's Perspective- "It's as important in a pit blind in Missouri as it is in the fourth series of a field trial. Ask yourself these questions before you "encourage" the dog to do things your way."
- Can the dog see me?
- Is the sun in the dog's eyes?
- What am I wearing?
- Does it contrast with the background?
- How far away is the dog?
- Am I moving when I cast?
"During your next hunt, don't be lazy! Get up from the blind and make sure your dog can see you when he turns and sits to your whistle. If you're sitting in the bottom of the pit, you are not helping your dog be the best he can. Remember, this is a team sport! It's all about you AND your dog working together. Hopefully these tips will help you be a better team during training, during your next hunt, and in the competitive test and trial game."
For any questions on handling or other topics you would like us to cover, please email -firstname.lastname@example.org