Over the years I’ve spent many days with a wide variety of dog trainers — attending seminars, interviewing them for articles and just hanging out as they worked dogs. The list includes all three of the Tracy’s (George, Mike, and Jeanette), Buddy Smith, George Hickox, Scott Chaffee, Rick Smith, Bob Wehle and Earl Crangle, and many other names that you might recognize. In addition I’ve written reviews of most of the training books that have come out in the last 15 years as well as editing all and writing many of the training articles that appeared in Field Trial Magazine over the years. It always amazes me just how many different ideas and techniques people have developed to basically accomplish the same thing with a dog. There are trainers who preach a sort of Pavlovian repetition method and others that basically let the dog learn its job by doing. Others still ascribe to pretty harsh methods to get a dog to do what they want. Tony and I have trained together for 25 years, even wrote an article together about 20 years ago that was one of the first pieces in print on using the bellyband.
Trainers have developed elaborate contraptions to teach the dog whoa as a bird is dangle in front of them. As well as simple things like the Buddy Stick which is a 10 foot length of PVC pipe with a swivel snap on the end. One I’ve always liked is the “Pigging Rope” that Delmar Smith called the “Wonder Lead.” I got mine at a Rick Smith Seminar many years ago. It’s basically the same piece of rope that calf ropers use to tie the legs of a calf. To make it the Wonder Lead Delmar added a couple of leather buttons — the lower one keeps the loop from springing open and the upper one makes it a little easier to hold onto the rope. You can go on line and find a pigging string for under 10 bucks or you can buy the original Wonder Lead or the renamed Rick Smith Command Lead for $19.95 at Gun Dog Supply and Lion Country Supply. Gun Dog Supply even has direction for using it on their website (see http://www.gundogsupply.com/wonleadbydel.html ).
So, today, now that we’re officially out of the woods for a couple of months, I got down my Wonder Lead and walked LJ down to the mail box (600′) and back and then around the yard. I really think that Rick Smith’s Silent Command Method is as much about training the handler as it is the dog so I followed his instructions and kept my mouth shut. The loop of the lead should be just below the the jawbone with just enough slack so the loop stays up without applying pressure. You start walking and any time the dog is not right next to you with its head up you give a jerk on the lead and release quickly. By the time I got back from the mailbox LJ was heeling like a pro and I could stop him and walk around him without him moving. Other than basic handling my puppies get to be puppies until they are about a year old (LJ was whelp May 4th last year). All the birds he pointed last fall and this spring were just part of his natural ability and instinctive pointing.
I also use a barrel to help teach puppies to pose up and stand motionless. So far I have not introduced the verbal command whoa. That will come later. As he progresses through this stage of yardwork I’ll introduce the bellyband so I can use it on pen raised birds soon and then wild birds this summer. His natural talent and ability to take training make it seem likely that he will well be on his way to being broke by the time he runs in his first wild bird derby stake Labor Day at Cronk Farm.