As I mentioned earlier, back in the 1980s I began writing a monthly gun dog column for a state publication, Badger Sportsman. Later, it also ran in another state magazine Woods & Waters. Over the course of more than two decades, several hundred columns went to print. Here are a few of my favorites. As I locate in my files additional columns, I will post them on this link. I hope to publish the best of these in a future book on gun dogs - perhaps called "Kennel Talk".
~~Training Rules to Live By
by Ken M. Blomberg
If you're like me, you can always use a few dog-training rules. Over the past forty-some years of working with gun dogs, I've collected a few training rules to live by. It never hurts to take a good look at our training methods and resolve to;
Keep it simple
Training dogs isn't rocket science. Approaching the task at hand without complicating matters can mean the difference between success, and failure. If you're confused, imagine how bewildered your dog is. Limit the number of commands you teach and avoid buying all the electronic gadgets on the market. There's a time and a place for their use and by seeking the advice of more experienced trainers, you may avoid creating problems that don't exist.
The job of a trainer is to teach our pups manners at home and in the field. A well-bred hunting dog is born with the instincts necessary to locate and retrieve birds. I was lucky with my first gun dog. After getting the upper hand on obedience, I let him hunt on his own. He taught me how to hunt birds and left me with a lasting impression. All the dogs that followed got the opportunity to use the hunting instincts their parents passed on. When they faltered, I stepped in and gave them a hand.
Never give a command that you can't enforce
During the early stages, soft control can be assured with the use of a light check cord. As the dog matures, a heavier hand can be used. Be sure you'll be able to immediately correct mistakes. Never punish a dog unless he knows what he's getting it for. Pretty self-explanatory, but important enough to discuss. After-the-fact discipline can be tricky. A good rule of thumb is to correct mistakes immediately after the infraction. If too much time has elapsed, set the dog up to repeat the offense and then immediately let him know what he's getting it for.
Repetition and consistency
Repeating commands over and over is a key ticket to success. Repetition is critical during early lessons - like teaching a dog his name, being taught the meaning of "No'" and coming when called. Repeat the same command like "Here!" or "Come!" again and again until it sinks in. And it will.
Another key component in training is making sure your dog associates various situations with something pleasurable. For example, by introducing your pup to loud noises while he's feeding, chasing birds, or retrieving training dummies, he will learn that noises won't hurt him. Later, he'll associate loud noises like gunfire with things that are pleasurable, like finding and retrieving game birds.
Shorter is better
Keep your training sessions short and sweet. Multiple ten, or fifteen-minute sessions are much better than longer, thirty minute ones. Keep an eye on your pup's attention span, which grows with age. Loss of interest is a good indication that it's time to end the training session.
Don't rush the process
Most pros will tell you that the first six to eight months should considered "play-training". Beyond that, more formal, "restraint training" should begin. Heeling is a good example. Steadying is another. Applying too much pressure to a young pup can backfire and set the progress of your training backwards.
It takes birds to make a bird dog
Wild birds are best, but in their absence, pen-raised pigeons, quail, pheasants and ducks will work fine. Find a source and keep an ample supply on hand. Check local and state regulations on permits and licenses.
Always end training sessions on a good note
Before you kennel up your dog on a sour note, sit down with your canine buddy and count to ten. Then throw the dummy, or practice a command you know is working and end the session with praise and a hug. It'll make you both feel better.
Join a club
No matter what breed of gun dog you own, there's an organized group of enthusiasts with similar interests. Do some research before the spring training season begins and become a member. Before you pay your dues, a word of warning may be in order. Be prepared to get an earful of free advice. Some good, and some not so good. If you get confused, go back to training rule # I.
First published in Badger Sportsman, January 2006
by Ken M. Blomberg
If there’s a new pup in your life, or an older gun dog in need of a tune-up, now’s the time to decide what training route the two of you plan to take. Buying and bringing home a new dog is the easy part. If you’ve done your homework and purchased a well-bred dog from good hunting stock, the next step involves starting the training process.
Can you do it yourself, or should you consider the services of a professional trainer? Most experienced handlers agree that training gun dogs is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. On the other hand, it isn’t rocket science. The bottom line is be prepared to devote enough time to develop your dog to its full potential.
So, should you train your gun dog yourself, or hire a professional? If you’re considering hiring a professional gun dog trainer, put away your checkbook until your pup matures. Not all dogs learn at the same rate, but by the time they are eight, or nine months old, they are ready for advanced training. With few exceptions, most pro trainers won’t take in dogs until this time. Socialization, basic training, commands, play training and early retrieving sessions can be done by anyone with minimal time on his, or her hands. Short, ten-minute sessions, a couple of times a day, will do the trick.
Early development of all gun dogs – pointers, retrievers and flushers – is basically the same during the first few months of life. Basic commands and play training, prior to more advanced training, can be combined while you build a strong bond with your new pup. Commands should be kept to a minimum, regardless of breed. All puppies need to learn at this stage, is their name and the commands NO and COME. Names selected for hunting dogs need to short and sweet. Single syllable names are best and two-syllable versions also work well. Avoid names that sound like commands.
Pups should associate the command NO with unacceptable behavior. Early physical restrain is associated with this command, comes up during the housebreaking process and will later be reinforced with collars and check cords in the field. The command COME is quite easily introduced to puppies during their first few months. As they grow, this command needs to be reinforced with a check cord. Remember, never give a command you can’t enforce.
Play training is often the stage that’s skipped by the average dog owner. Dog training book in hand, many well-intentioned handlers skip to later chapters too soon. We must let pups develop at their own pace, giving them exposure to the wonderful world of birds and hunting in a positive, enjoyable manner.
Introduction to the field is something that should be done slowly and without much restraint. I let my young dogs drag a short, fifteen, to twenty-foot check cord during their early runs in the field. This introduces them to the cord without restraint. It’s also a great time to fire that first .22 blank shot over your pup when he’s chasing a meadowlark across the field. Gunfire should always be associated with something pleasurable.
Depending on your pup’s breed, introduction to the commands SIT, STAY, DOWN for retrievers, WHOA, STAY for pointers and HUP, STAY for flushers begins during the restraining command process. More advanced training, like blind retrieves for retrievers, pointer WHOA breaking, or flusher whistle-breaking takes place when they reach eight, or nine months of age. This involves equipment like choke collars, check cords, live birds, etc.
Truly “finished” dogs aren’t developed until they’re a year and a half old and have a hunting season under their belt. Should you find yourself up to your neck with problems, lack of know-how, or time, you may want to consider utilizing the services of a professional trainer. Plan on investing much more than the purchase price of your pup. Most training programs involve months, not weeks of dog work. And running a profitable, quality gun dog training kennel operation is an expensive endeavor. But you’ll find that the end result, in most cases, is a hunting dog worth bragging about.
The Badger state has a long history of some famous gun dog trainers and is currently home for many fine full-time professionals. Three past Wisconsin trainers that come to mind with national recognition include Dave Duffey (Bowler), Ray Sommers (Random Lake) and Orin Benson (Eagle). Three active trainers I know include Tom Waite of Dale Creek Kennels (Burlington), Tim Mader of Blue Grass Kennels (Mayville) and Jim Zelienka of Badger Kennels (Coloma). So, no matter how you complete the process, a well-trained hunting dog will bring you many years of pleasure in the uplands and marshes across our state. You owe it to yourself and your dog to bring out the best in both of you.
Ken M. Blomberg
It’s one of those glorious October mornings we all dream about and you just arrived at one of your favorite hot spots. Pulling off the road, you unload the gear and turn the dogs loose. There's frost on the field that by all rights, it should hold a bunch of pheasants. Everything feels good; sometimes you can just sense these things. Today's the day! While you un-case your guns and fill your vest with shells, one of the dogs wanders off. By the time you and your hunting partner are ready to start, the stray dog is out of sight. You call the dog in, but he fails to respond. His bell is ringing off to the north, he's already in the best cover. Calling turns to yelling and screaming, as you watch bird after bird sail across the horizon.
Sound familiar? Your dog is out of control at the most critical time and the hunt has started off on the wrong foot. Tempers flair and the day will never be the same. Blame the dog? No, the fault is yours. It's your responsibility to keep the dog under control at all times. Ask any pro trainer what's the most important phase of dog training and their answer will include obedience. Control is obedience, manners and discipline all rolled into one. I like to refer to control as field obedience.
When you call your dog, he should come straight in, with no exceptions. When you go afield, your dog must be within the range you have established during pre-season training sessions. When you change directions, your dog should respond accordingly. Control is your responsibility. It's the one phase of dog work that you should have complete jurisdiction over.
Pointing, or flushing are natural instincts. You cannot teach a dog to use his nose. You cannot change the nose your dog was born with. The urge, or drive a dog has to search out and locate their quarry comes from hidden desires that have been bred into the dog over generations. Exposing the dog to birds gives him the opportunity to show his stuff.
The first five minutes of the hunt are the most critical. You're talking to your partners, loading the guns and fumbling with gear. All the while, the dogs are blowing off steam after being kenneled up for the past hour, or so. Before you know it, you've lost control. If your dog lacks field obedience you're likely to be in trouble all day. On the other hand, if your dog has regular field obedience workouts during the summer and has learned his lessons well, you can rely on complete control early in the hunt during the fall.
When you let the dog out of his kennel, keep a close eye on him as you prepare for the hunt. If he wanders too far from the vehicle, you should quickly call him in. Better yet, leave the dog in the kennel until you are ready to hunt.
Later, when you return to the vehicle, attend to the dog's needs before your own. Check the dog over for cuts, burrs or particles in the eyes. Give him water and kennel him up. Hunting dogs learn to love their travel kennels. A dog in his kennel is a dog under control.
Control is the most important job that you, as a dog handler, have. It's accomplished through proper obedience training starting when the dog is a pup and continues throughout its life. Without control, a good dog becomes useless. With it, even an average dog makes hunting more enjoyable.
Speaking of kennels, if you haven’t figured it out by now, portable kennel crates and kennel boxes should be standard equipment for transporting your gun dogs. Not only do they put your canine companions out of harm’s way while in a moving vehicle, they serve as a great training tool. Crates come in many varieties, with the plastic ones being most popular. Their portability makes them useful in the house, car, or truck. They’re relatively inexpensive and available at most pet and discount stores. Dog boxes, the kind you often see in the back of pick-up trucks, are utilized for transporting several dogs in one unit. Beyond that, dog trailers can be purchased and used to carry a kennel full of dogs. A Badger State company, Rush River Outfitters of Maiden Rock, specializes in dog boxes and trailers, as well as sporting dog equipment. They can be contacted at 877-944-3100, or on the web at www.rushriver.com.
With warm months upon us for the next few months, remember not to overdo your dog’s training during the heat of the day. Early morning and late afternoon sessions take advantage of the coolest times of the day. If you must train during hot periods, train near water, where you can include water retrieves, which will keep your dog’s body temperature under control. Conditioning your hunting canine companion during the months leading up to the fall seasons is important, and it pays off during the early seasons in September. This year, Wisconsin will have an added bonus of an early September dove hunt, where most breeds of gun dogs can assist with retrieving duties.
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