Working on your working dog’s routine

If you haven't noticed, my dog Chester is a big part of my outdoor life. Dogs – not unlike humans - require regular reinforcement and training to operate at their optimum performance level.

Wow, how the years fly by. Chester is now five and a year from his prime. He has always been a great dog, easy to train, and eager to please. Even though he is fully trained, for conditioning sake and reinforcement purposes, I get him back into a work routine by mid July.

A working dog’s routine is a combination of obedience training, retrieving, and signaling audible and visual. Most new handlers make the mistake of only focusing on retrieving. The byproduct of such one-sided education tends to create a disobedient dog that is only able to retrieve a bird if it is seen going down. A disobedient dog can be extremely dangerous in the field in that they may be unable to hold his position at the moment of truth. By running into a hunter with his finger on the trigger and the safety off, the dog can cause a shooter to tip over and discharge his weapon on accident. The results could be fatal to the dog or another hunter. For this reason, a hunting dog’s training must start with obedience, and only progress once it has mastered the skill.

Nearly all trainers work their dogs a bit differently. Unless you are training a dog to run trials, it's not important how it performs a task, just that it is done safely and quickly. The use of a leash to restrain and coach the dog is needed until it obeys and returns flawlessly. My obedience routine consist of three basic commands: Sit, stay, and heel. I recommend using a whistle and hand signals to give commands, even in the earliest stages of training. This is done because as the dog gets further away, it may become unable to hear your verbal commands.

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