Field Training Articles

How to be a Welcome Member of a Training Group

by Glenda Brown

On Retriever Training Forum there was an active discussion about what it takes to become a welcome member of a training group. Ken Bora produced a very good list, which, with his permission, forms the foundation for this article. Others contributed their thoughts. Modifications together with additions were made to the original list.

Ken described how a new member of his retriever club called and asked to join his training group. This new member had a young dog and wanted to expose him to ducks, gun fire, and other things to which he had no access. He asked Ken what he should bring and what was expected of a member of a training group. The following is a list Ken wrote together with the revisions:

Be on time. If you need directions or are sure you will be late, say so before hand.

Take care of yourself. Have proper clothing for the conditions. A chair for the field. Bug spray, sunscreen, water, shade, and a snack for yourself. Be sure and have water for your dogs and anything else they might need to be comfortable.

Let everyone know if you HAVE to leave at a specific time. Everyone will understand and fit you in to throw some and run some. Don’t run your own dogs and then out of the blue say “Well, I have to go now.” This is not a good way to get asked back and can lead to hard feelings.

When out in the field working: before a dog runs, be sure of the set up. The handler should let you know how he/she plans to run his dog, but, if you have questions, ask. Have them show you what hand signals they use (if there are no radios) to indicate “help the dog”, “retire”, “rethrow”, etc. If you have never thrown before, ask someone to show you how it is done, what is meant by a square throw, an angle back, throwing from left to right, etc. If you do not know what they mean when they say “retire” the gun, ask.

Radios are to be used to convey instructions, not to gossip or to tell jokes. Nothing is more frustrating, particularly if you are running a young dog, to have others tying up the airwaves while you are trying to ask for help. In addition, remember the dogs can hear the voices on the radios. This can help or hurt them. There should be radio silence when a dog is running unless the handler is giving instructions or a gun has vital information such as a bird is walking away, a bird has landed on a mound of fire ants, or something such as the dog blinked the bird or is cheating water not readily seen from the line.

Watch the line in case the handler wants to signal for help. Different handlers feel very strongly as to whether they want a dog helped or if they don’t want a dog helped. Be sure to ask. Also, find out just how they want you to help the dog if necessary. Many persons are very good about showing a new person what they want and how to do it, while others are not as good.

Be ready to help. When a signal arrives for a “hey, hey” or taking a step towards the bird or bumper, or throwing a second bird/bumper, be ready. No handler wants you shuffling in a bucket when the dog is heading into trouble. Keep a bumper in your hand behind your back and watch the line.

Guard your birds/bumpers. There will be times when a dog is right in your face asking for one of your birds/bumpers. Be still, try not to interact with the dog, but don’t let the dog “steal” a bumper from you. If asked by the handler, take a couple of steps towards the bird/bumper you threw.

Retire—if you are a retired gun, stay hidden. Sorry for the poor view, but that’s the deal. Someone else will be doing it for you when your dog is ready for a retired gun. When asked to retire on route, that means you let the dog see you while the handler lines up the dog, and once the dog is on its way, put up your umbrella, step behind the holding blind, or whatever is needed to retire. Be ready to come out quickly if the handler should ask. If you can retire while the dog is in a depression, ditch, etc., so he doesn’t see you retire, that is best.

If you are on a winger, be sure you are shown exactly how it works. After you have shot it off, don’t reload it until after the dog has finished running. When using a winger, make a throwing motion with your arm as though you are throwing the bird/bumper.

Be consistent with your throws. Do your very best to put your bird/bumper where whomever did the set up asked for it to land. This is important so the dog can see the fall and so it does not interfere with another throw.

When you are running your dog: Remember not to feel as if this is a competition. You are here to train your dog as well as help others train theirs. You do not need to do that All Age triple just because the dog before you did it. Do it as three singles, or as a double and a single, or whatever way will help your dog the most. If you have to move into the field to shorten it up for a young dog, do so.

Don’t feel rushed. Air your dog well before coming to the line.

Train your dog on the task at hand. Don’t spend 15 minutes working on obedience at the line with four persons and a flyer station in the field ready to throw. Work on that at home. Yes, you can work on line manners, absolutely! Just don’t over do it or the folks in the field will grow weary of you.

Emotion, we all get caught up in our dog’s performance or lack thereof. Try not to lose your temper, swear, or perform inappropriately while on the line. Not only will it distract your dog, it will make you look like a horse’s hind end.

Thank the workers in the field as you leave the line.

Remember to help with picking things up and leave with more litter than you came with. The landowners like it and your fellow trainers will appreciate not having to do everything themselves.

Don’t be afraid to say “No Bird” and heel off line when you get a bad throw. You need to train smart, and “no birds” happen at tests, so use them as a training tool when they happen.

If you have a puppy with you, recognize when other dogs are working and keep your puppy either in its crate or on a lead. Do not allow your pup to interfere with the working dogs. Possibly after the training is over, someone will be kind enough to throw some marks for your young guy—-if possible, find someone else with a young dog and exchange the favor.

One action that will immediately make you no longer welcome in a training group is abuse of training privileges. If you are training on private land, do not approach the owner and ask to train there by yourself. Whatever you do, do not assume you can train there without permission. If you try to circumvent already established procedures, this may lead to the entire group being kicked out. Not only will there be negative feelings from this training group, word of your actions will get around and you may find yourself unwelcome in any training group.

It is a privilege to be a member of a training group. Do not extend invitations to friends or acquaintances to join you without checking with the group first. There may be a reason why they are not in that training group. In addition, many training groups have a limit to the number of members based on how many dogs and handlers it is felt can work efficiently.

Common courtesy combined with a strong work ethic, can make your acceptance into a training group go much smoother.

Miriam Wade added this to the suggestions: “This is supposed to be FUN for dogs and people alike. Give good natured advice when asked and train with folks where the camaraderie is high and the folks get to know you and your dog on a personal level. Respect different training styles. It also is great to train with folks whose dogs are advancing and can offer suggestions as to bird placement, etc. Train with folks you want to hang out with and discuss the day’s training over a cold beverage at the end of the day!!”

One of the best ways you can learn (if you are a rookie), is to try and find a mentor to point things out to you, to watch what needs to be done, and who will help to answer the questions you may have.