Using Pressure

Several years ago there was a group of us training dogs at Rick Bauer’s in Wisconsin. On Friday night we bought six really beautiful rib eye steaks, with a big baked potato and a salad to go along with them. When it came time to do the cooking, Ron Ainley, the well- known trainer and manufacturer of custom dog carrying equipment, declared that he would be cooking the stakes. Several eyebrows went up but he was allowed to grill the steaks.

We were all starved so we waited anxiously for the meal to develop. Ron diligently flipped the steaks while expounding on several aspects of the discussion. I kept wondering why it was taking so long because I had repeatedly made it clear that I wanted my steak VERY RARE. I mean still wiggling.

  1. . . Here we go. I took my first bite, guess what? Gray all the way through. It was virtually inedible, almost like trying to chew the edge of a baseball mitt. But later, I used the occasion to illustrate an important lesson in dog training. Training and pressure are sort of like cooking – – – if you do too much, it’s ruined. If the meat is too rare you can always throw it back on and add more heat.

In training also, if you’re dealing with an issue such as getting in the water or force fetch or taking the correct cast or any other lesson – – -go easy at first because you can always add more pressure later. It is the sign of a poor trainer to use too much pressure right off the bat. The results can be very disappointing and may require weeks of back tracking to get to the point where you were before you even began. Even worse, a dog can be ruined and many have, for life.

There are countless stories of heavy – handed trainers who have done great damage to dogs, some which never recovered. This may seem obvious but watch, it happens all the time . . . too much pressure too soon. . . and the results are usually miserable. It’s a much better idea to use pressure or force, whether it’s a stick or e-collar or choke chain, a little more judiciously than just wading in with both barrels. Be careful and use respect and kindness.

So what is the moral of the story?

The moral is just because you can build a great dog box doesn’t mean you can cook meat.

Training a Retriever Puppy

What could be more exciting than getting a brand new puppy? You have studied the bloodlines, made countless phone calls, talked to breeders, examined the consequences of genetic health issues, looked at photographs of the mothers and fathers of various litters. You have made a decision on whether you wanted a male or a female. A lot of time and effort and planning went into the project and today the new puppy is in your home, you have him, he’s yours.

You’ve made sure you have the right puppy food, a complete assortment of puppy toys and his little dog bed. He is home. This is a very exciting day! You hold him, pet him, take him out on the front lawn and try to get him acquainted with his new surroundings. But wait a minute – what comes next? What about teaching him things he will have to know? Will I be able to train him myself? When can I start training? Will I have to send him to a professional trainer, and if I do, what should he knows before he goes?

Years ago, experts were convinced that no training should begin until the puppy was a year old. The thinking was that they could have their spirit crushed and confidence ruined if early training was attempted. We know today that it is easier to start a puppy early in a very gentle way than it is to try to undo bad habits and undisciplined behavior developed by waiting too long to start the training process. So whatever age you get the puppy, that is the age to begin training.

There are three basic components to each training session:

#1 Chase something

#2 Learn to walk on a rope

#3 Learn to sit

Each day, during the training lesson these are the three things to work on.

Chasing something is what creates excitement. Start with a little squeaky toy, develop great excitement, act silly and get the puppy to go out of his skin. Try to get him to retrieve. It doesn’t matter if he brings it back; just get him to chase the toy.

Next, put a small collar around his neck – just a little puppy collar – attach a very light six foot line to it and let him drag it around for a while. Then take hold of the line and get him to walk with you. Don’t worry about getting him to heel, this will come much later. What is important is that he begins to learn that where you go, he is going to go. After walking on the line for a while stop and kneel down next to the puppy and start the process of teaching him to sit: hold onto his collar, push down on his rump and tell him to “sit.” After you try this a few times get up and walk some more then stop and work on sit again..

Finally, grab your toy, and get silly and try to get him to go into orbit with excitement. Repeat this routine every day while trying to keep a balance between excitement and learning the sit command. Be consistent and in no time you’ll have a puppy that is started well, ready to begin new commands and will already have the right attitude to learn more.

In summary, you can begin training at whatever age you get your puppy. Be kind, gentle and keep him balanced by applying in a careful way the three main principles of beginning training: chase something, walk on a line and learning to sit.

Role Model your Retriever Training

Statics show that it costs $16,400 to raise an average sized dog to reach age 11.

Can you even calculate what it costs to raise a dog for competition? Nobody even wants to know the answer to that question. So wouldn’t it make sense to do the best job possible in the process of training a dog for competition? Yet in my experience many dogs are trained in a haphazard way. There is no plan, no procedure, no way of calculating results other than by a hit and miss process.

The solution is what can be called role modeling. Role modeling is when you pick someone who is getting the results you want, and then you duplicate exactly what they do, in order to get the same results they get.

Some examples of role modeling are, for instance, a friend of yours saves $12,000 per year by putting $250 per week in the bank. You like those results, and you say “Look at the end of the year this guy has twelve thousand bucks. Man, I’m going to do that too.” So you start to save money except you put in $100 per week. At the end of the year he’s got $12,000 and you’ve got $5,200. You didn’t do a good job of role modeling.

Lance Armstrong rides his bike 6 hours a day, does 2 hours at the gym, and doesn’t drink. You want to win like Lance but you ride the bike 2 hrs a day, workout at the gym for 30 min a day, and drink two martinis before dinner and eat a big steak, and top it off with a piece of apple pie. Lance wins 7 Tour de France’s and you don’t make the team.

Role modeling is training precisely the way the person trained from which you want to get the same result. So you can’t take one technique from one trainer and another technique from another trainer, another technique from a third trainer, put them all together and hope to have the same result that you want. You can’t use cookies to train a dog to “fetch” and use maximum e-collar pressure to make him “sit.” You have to have a program that is coherent, one that blends together all the aspects of training. You can’t expect to get good results with a haphazard program modeled after a variety of people that do not necessarily meet the criteria that you are interested in. If you follow one program 70% of the way, you might get 70% of the results that they are getting.

So, in training retrievers, if your hero is Rex Carr or D. L. Walters or any other person, even your neighbor, and you want the same results that they have, do exactly what they do.

Picking a Puppy

One of the most talked about topics when retriever people get together is how to pick a puppy. In fact, it is one of the most common questions that people ask me. As with many topics, there are many opinions. Some people say, and this is especially true of the old timers, the best way to pick a puppy is to just walk up to the liter, bend over and grab a puppy and take it home, and hope for the best. The idea being that picking a puppy is virtually impossible, and so your chances of getting a good puppy by just grabbing one is as good as anybody else’s method, i.e.. it is all luck any way.

Then are those that are very scientific in their evaluation, they have a whole list of tests that they believe will give them insight into which is the best puppy. These are things like stress tests, holding the puppy upside down and seeing which one squirms the most or least, putting the puppy on smooth surfaces, uneven surfaces, different surfaces etc. putting the puppy in mazes, isolating the puppy from its liter mates so on and so forth.

Then there are those that strictly look for the most aggressive puppy. They want the boldest most outgoing most energetic of the liter, thinking that somehow that this puppy will have more to offer than the others. Then there are people, especially people that are not particularly performance oriented, that pick the sweetest puppy, the one that comes to them, the one that is the most loveable, the one that wants to be held the most, thinking that in the end this is the puppy that will become part of the family and have the best temperament for their kids etc.

Also there are those that are looking for the most independent puppy. The one that is off by themselves, that seems to enjoy being alone who seems to be his own little person and is basically uninterested in the other puppies. The thought being that this is the character that will be able to handle new situations, to be comfortable with new places, etc. Even though it may seem obvious to some that this type of puppy may indeed be the hardest to train.

I suppose that there is some value in all of these ideas, but when I carefully thought about the way that I pick puppies it seemed to me that I was somewhat different from the thoughts that I have just mentioned. First of all the single most important factor to me is to determine which of the puppies will look me in the eye. In other words, which puppy do I have eye contact with. This to me is a characteristic that is difficult to describe but I know without it, I will have my hands full in the training process. That one characteristic somehow seems to balance the temperament and intelligence and the probability of a dog that is the easiest to train. Secondly, the structure of the puppy, I want to look at each puppy and see if they are any distinguishing characteristics in their movements and they way they are put together physically. Probably the most important is the balance and the fact that I want their front legs under them, not pushed out to the side like a bulldog. I want to pick a puppy that seems balanced and coordinated in his movement. Certainly you don’t want to end up with a puppy that is somehow physically deficient. Thirdly, in many litters you are trying to in some way duplicate the characteristics of either the mother or the father, so if you have a really strong attraction, as an example for the father, don’t pick a puppy that looks just like the mother. This seems a little odd, but over the last many years I have seen this pattern, i.e.. the way a puppy looks many times gives it many of the same characteristics of the parent that it looks like. Lastly, and something that is hard to explain and maybe can only come with a lot of experience, is to use your instinct. There is no way to describe this, but many times I have been lead to pick a certain puppy, strictly by instinct. It is almost a force that guides your hand towards a certain puppy. A feeling that the one your are reaching for will be the dog of your dreams.

A couple years ago a well-known professional commented to me that based on the number of successful puppies that I have started, I must have a huge percentage of washouts. The truth is I have almost none because I firmly believe that every puppy has ability, especially well bred puppies. The idea of train is to devote yourself to a project that will bring out the best in each puppy. This is complicated and involves the word that I just used, devotion to the training process. That means discovering a weakness and trying to make it a strength, seeing something that you don’t like and turning it in to something that you do like, keeping a strong and positive attitude, having patience, developing skills, and then practicing until you have developed a dog that you have always been looking for.

Lastly, as far as the training process is concerned, one of the best sources of info is a publication called Retrievers ONLINE.

There is more sound training information here than any other source that I am aware of, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to win a field trial or have the best dog at your hunting club.. . . . . make sure you’re giving your dog it’s best chances.

The Dog and Handler Relationship

Dog training is about the relationship between the handler and the dog. The dog looks to the handler for guidance, stability and rewarding experiences. The relationship between man and dog should be based on admiration and respect, not based on fear. In my opinion, one of the first and most important things you can do with your new puppy to begin this process is to take them on long ‘walks’ several times a week.

These ‘walks’ should be at least 30 minutes in length with no training involved. Take your pup out in a safe area where he can run free and is with you and you alone. Leave him off lead walking with you on a trail, through the woods, or in fields exploring as a team. Let him sniff and smell what he likes. Lead him over logs, obstacles and through cover. You are his buddy exploring along beside him. Find creeks and puddles to walk through as a team. Give him plenty of encouragement, touching and praising as you both go along. This will work to establish the team mentality in your dog and is the basis of creating an attitude of a team player throughout his life.

(These ‘walks’ are an excellent idea for older dogs also!)

Training a Retriever Puppy with Bill Hillman -a New DVD

By Dennis R. Voigt

I already know a couple of folks using this brand new DVD to train their puppy. They are all doing well and are really pleased with their progress. As long-time subscribers know, I always play hard ball on these reviews so what do I think? Well I only have two thumbs and this gets “Two Thumbs Up”. I like it and will share with you precisely why in this review.

Bill Hillman has had more Derby Champions than anybody! That alone is enough reason to pay attention to what he has to offer. If you are serious about these games (aren’t we all?) then why would you not want to gain every advantage that you can?

Can Bill get you thinking about how to train a pup? Can he challenge your current approach?

When I first watched this DVD I thought to myself “Interesting”, I do a lot of that – maybe not all but I’ve seen all these techniques before”. BUT, then I began to analyze and re-think this DVD for our subscribers. I began to look at it as a newbie might. I realized that this is NOT conventional. More importantly, I realized there are important merits to this schedule and approach.

In this DVD, Bill shows 28 days of real time training sessions with a puppy over a time span of 2 ! months The puppy is 11 weeks old at the start. At the end of 28 days of training the puppy is 5 ! months old (a time span of 11 weeks). In other words, there are many days which the puppy is not formally trained. Most importantly, the pup during these days gets many sessions of house time and one-on-one walks with Bill or family members.

Family members include Mary Hillman who played a major role in filming an editing this DVD. Together, Bill and Mary have created a DVD that has elements of professional DVDs with assorted nice “mood” introductory scenes and various cutaways throughout. Most of the footage has had sound over narration by Bill describing what the pup and what Bill is doing. This has a nice mood to it as Bill details what is going on and interprets what the puppy is doing. This is done in a quiet and friendly tone which I suspect is exactly how Bill would want you to approach your puppy training. On one day (Day 4) you will hear Bill’s every word as he trains the puppy.

You get to hear his voice inflection and emphasis as well as how he vocally responds to the pup behavior. Actually this turns out to be one of my biggest criticisms this DVD. I would love to hear Bill talking to his pup more often. I want to hear him when he says “sit” and how he says it. I want to hear more on how he praises. I’d also like to know when he nicks the puppy with the e-collar –how much –how often.

Sure I gain a sense of it by studying the DVD but I’m often left guessing. On the other hand I find Bill’s post filming narration to be very valuable as he is able to focus on the key behavior that he wanted to encourage. This gives me insight into his approach to training.

How does Bill start a Puppy?

Answer: By teaching the pup in a fun and exciting way all the skills that the puppy needs before he starts more formal Basics training. I don’t know what Basic program, if any, Bill follows. For sure, his puppy at the end of this DVD is not ready to run/ win a Derby but also for sure his is more than prepared to enter any Basics programs as most of us know it. What does Bill do to foster the superb marking his dogs have demonstrated? We don’t yet know (Bill, give is the next installment now that we know how to start the pups!!!)

This video will really help newbies to exposé their puppy to all the basics that their puppy should have. We see Bill expose his puppy to leashes, sitting, distractions, e-collars, bumpers and birds and guns, coming when called, delivering, dealing with distractions, entering water, watching remote gunners and becoming steady SIT!!!!

OK here’s the buried treasure in my view. Bill teaches his puppies to be very steady and he introduces excitement differently than most conventional training. How do most do it? Most try to encourage and foster excitement and desire to retrieve. Even though we have carefully selected the best genetics in the country we try to foster retrieving desire. Is this really necessary? Don’t the pups have that genetically and automatically? We see those late bloomers but why do we doubt that they have the desire?

So what do we do? We create a high excitement “fireworks” environment every day. The pup soon learns to come out learning and yearning for the fireworks. What does he get? The fireworks! No wonder we have creepers!

What does Bill do? The opposite! He teaches sit very early and soon introduces the pup to steadiness as he throws the bumper himself. He does a routine he calls traffic cop but it is exactly the same as the Stand Alone Mark that Retrievers ONLINE readers have heard about for many years. The trainer throws the bumper, while the pup watches and then the pup is released to get the bumper and eventually delivers to the trainer. Because the handler is located between the bumper and the handler there is a lot of trainer presence and it is easy to get the pup to stay at short distances.

Initially, this is done in a rather low key manner until the pup understands the desired behavior. Gradually the excitement level and the distractions increases. I have done this for years with all my dogs but only after they have started Basics and been though Force Fetch and Collar Conditioning. By then the pup has had hundreds of exciting marks and is absolutely raring to go when he sees a gunner. Bill doesn’t introduce a gunner in the equation until about Day 25 in this DVD. At first even then it is just a quiet hand throw of a hand thrown bumper. Familiar technique? –Yes similar approach? No way. To counter all this steadiness Bill does a lot of happy bumpers to keep the excitement level of the pup high. Thus he is doing a lot of “Yes” go get it and a lot of “No” sit until I say. The pup surely sees the contrast and develops a lot of patience.

Bill has an almost too small mini manual accompanying this DV. It gives a few sentences for each day. Many start with the line “After excitement retrieves”. For some pups this may be critical to foster retrieving drive. For our over the top dogs perhaps not! I wish the booklet was in fact a manual as it is certainly brief. It does provide a simple summary of the 28 days and I did find that very useful to over see the method. This also allows you jump directly to the desired day and stage of training-the joy of DVD’s.

There is much more that I could describe but the issue is will this video help you develop a puppy in a better way? I have heard some comments that this approach (which is in some ways is free-wheeling but requires you to read your pup) might require a more experienced trainer who can read his puppy. That might be true if the novice casually watches the DV but once. I know that is commonplace as I hear people say “I watched the Rorem DVD on handling once” or “Yeah I saw the Lardy DVD-I know what he does!”. You cannot watch any of these videos once and expect to even begin to reap their benefits. You have to watch then over and over and you will see the subtleties that can help you train like the presenters. If you study Bill and the demo puppy, you too will learn how to do it even if you are a relative newbie. Bills day by day process is not a strict formula. I suspect he handles each puppy slightly differently. Study his philosophy, his attitude and his general sequence. Pay attention to how he tries to make the puppy think this is fun while he learns.

Observe his patience but persistence when the pup doesn’t get it. There are a lot of lessons buried here.

In Summary

This DVD will influence how I train my next puppy!!! Enough said after playing with pups for so many years! I liked the format and the voice over. I would have liked to hear even more actual voice by Bill. The manual could have been expanded but is quite useful. I got the feeling mini sessions were missed as suddenly the pup starts sitting much better. Perhaps, more explanation of the e-collar frequency and intensity would help newer folks because that is an area that they always struggle with. If in doubt, less may be best. The video footage is good quality and the sound is certainly good enough. There is a nice mood with background guitar music and some nice photography including slow motion at the end. Overall, I think the DVD is a highly stimulating 3 hours that you can go back to and review segments as desired.

It’s certainly on the pricey side for a puppy video at $129 but if we put things into perspective, it’s a bargain in the long run (1 weekend’s entry for 1 dog!). As I said Two Thumbs Up!

I can’t wait for BIll to produce his next video on “How to Make A Derby Champion!!!

Bill Hillmann: Retrievers ONLINE is invaluable to anyone that’s interested in becoming

a better trainer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hunting dogs or if you are training a dog at highest level of competition. To learn more or subscribe: