A new DVD by Bill Hillmann, reviewed by Dennis Voigt

This brand new DVD is a guide to training your pet on three basic commands – Sit, Here and No – using the electric collar as a reinforcement tool. So what are we doing here in Retrievers ONLINE reviewing a DVD on how to train a pet? The answer is that the author is Bill Hillmann is a successful field trial retriever trainer who is worth studying for his methodology. Studying this video not only gives you insight into how Bill approaches training in general but also insight into his techniques and philosophy. On the principle that you can learn something from everything, I carefully watched this video. Here’s my synopsis.

This DVD shows “real-time” footage over a period of weeks of Bill training a small mixed-breed dog. The dog is like a long-legged Jack Russell, obviously has some terrier, is energetic and yet sensitive. She’s the kind of dog that if you could teach calmness, patience and obedience, the average retriever should be a piece of cake. Bill introduces how he uses food, reinforcement and aversives to teach what he feels are the three essential commands all dogs should know – sit, here and no. He reviews equipment which is two different types of rope leads (a 6’ and a 20’), a pinch collar and the e-collar (for which he makes no specific brand recommendation).

He proceeds to discuss how to start every teaching session, which is basically having the dog in a good, excited frame of mind with good attitude but paying attention to you. He then thoroughly illustrates how he teaches “sit,” how he rewards “sit” and how he reinforces “sit.” He then does the same for the “here” command and the “no” command. Remember that his approach was developed while training retrievers, not developed for pets and applied to retrievers!

Bill then emphases the importance of Practice – not just for repetition but repetition in a variety of distracting environments. He reveals that all commands are developed in a four stage process of Teach, Reward (both verbally and with treats), Reinforce (with e-collar) and then Practice. Bill’s earlier DVD on Training a Retriever Puppy illustrated similar techniques. The most fundamental thing that I got out of the Puppy DVD was the importance of and procedure for developing steadiness and PATIENCE at an early stage. The technique involved a balance of control and excitement or freedom that was controlled by the handler. Again, in this DVD, the biggest impression for me was the development of patience and calmness. Bill does lots of walking around the dog while in a sit position. The dog learns to sit and be patient – everything is calm and relaxed and then contrasted with the excitement of happy bumpers. He talks about having your dog sit there for well over two minutes and eventually much longer. This would benefit many retrievers.

The simplicity of the Hillmann approach is its strength. We see some real life examples of distraction training thanks to a “in your face” cat, an example of distractions in the local town and examples of disobedience by the dog. Bill puts a lot of power in the word “NO” while emphasizing this could save your dog’s life. He uses “No” to stop behaviours, which is technically termed punishment training as opposed to reinforcement training, but he is quick to add positive reinforcement with a treat or “good dog” and he also uses negative reinforcement with the e-collar.

He ends by emphasizing again that Practice is the Key and that Repetition is the Mother of all skills.

This video is well produced and filmed. Mary Hillmann did all the filming and editing and graphics and did a great job. It is not an amateurish production. There is appealing background guitar music throughout, as well as outtakes of the local musicians. I had two critiques of Bill’s earlier DVD: I wanted to hear more of Bill’s voice while interacting with the dog and I wanted to have a more complete manual with the DVD. Both of these occur with the new DVD. Bill still has his voice-over commentary which is valuable. Overall, I give this video a high rating for instructional and entertainment value. There are probably lots of “pet” owners who won’t be able to deliver and get Bill’s results but that’s true of any method and instruction. In this case, it’s not because of a short-coming in the video!

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: www.retrieversonline.com