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Backwater Cypress Outdoor Blog

Always Be Listening

Sometimes we are so set in our ways that when obstacles present themselves, we have a hard time adjusting our plans. But in order to get the most out of our training, we really need to be paying attention to our pups.

No Time Like Now

Grandparents say things such as “kids grow up before you know it” or “you better take advantage of the time you have.” Until we are put in their shoes, we cannot truly appreciate those views.

One Smart Dog

Sometimes, dogs can surprise you with just how smart they are at figuring out your system!

Keep Them Guessing

This is the second in a series of articles on innocent mistakes we make as trainers, that can teach dogs skills that we do not wish for them to learn. This one in particular is a little bit tricky, because it actually involves a dog that is smarter than I would like for him to be! Truthfully, I am glad he is as smart as he is, it just made training him a bit more challenging!

Avoid Teaching Unwanted Behavior

Sometimes, when training your dog, you can inadvertently be teaching them unwanted lessons. This will be the first in a series of posts on different types of these “skills” that every trainer has been guilty of teaching.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Buck was a beautiful, close to two year old German Wirehaired Pointer that was brought to me for retriever training. The pointing breeds are some of the prettiest dogs out there, and Buck was no exception. Tall, athletic, and one of the best personalities you could ask for in a dog. He was eager to please!

CAREFUL WHAT YOU ARE TEACHING!!

Some dogs are so observant that they might learn certain things you are not intending on teaching them. It is very important to pay close attention to what you might be educating them on.

Always Be Listening

It Is Vital To Always Have Your Attention Focused

Sometimes we are so set in our ways that when obstacles present themselves, we have a hard time adjusting our plans. But in order to get the most out of our training, we really need to be paying attention to our pups.

Keep It Entertaining

Just like people, dogs can get bored easily. And if your dog is bored with your training, you need to look to find a way to spice it up a little. Most of the time this happens when the skill that you’re working is one they don’t need much work on. If you keep doing the same foundation drill like hold work, when the dog is ready for water marks, he will quickly get bored with it and his energy and drive may suffer.

It is important to practice and review the basics skills, but you don’t want to spend too much time on it. You want to keep your dog excited and fired up for training. Read your dog and assess their mentality, and adjust your training as needed.

Going Too Fast

On the flip side, sometimes we think the dog is further along than they really are. We have been working the dog in the yard and the doubles are looking sharp, it appears that he is almost ready for the hunt. But when we take him to the field, where the grass is taller and there is an abundance of deer and rabbit scent, he will probably go wild if he has not been here before.

If you have brought him to the field for work with no lead rope, expecting him to be as calm as he has been in the yard, you may be in for a big surprise!

He very likely will remain steady, but when you send him after that first mark, expect him to go crazy with excitement, running all around while taking it all in.

A good way to combat this is when you make the transition to new territory, put the check cord on him so that you can keep him under control for the first couple of marks. This will remind him of how he is supposed to act. If he shows that he knows how to behave, take the rope off. If he then starts to go wild, put the rope right back on him to reinforce the proper behavior.

Personal Needs

This last one is a little bit different. Sometimes dogs have certain needs that they need to take care of that will take priority over your training plans.

I have a dog right now, Rhett, that falls under this category. The first time I went out to train him, I put the lead rope on him and started walking him at heel. He did good for about 30 seconds, then, all of a sudden he started jerking at the rope and shaking like crazy. I fought it for a minute before I then gave in and let him go.

He immediately ran about 15 yards away and squatted to pee, and pee he did! It seemed to last for over a minute, like he had not gone in over a day. As soon as he was done, he went a few yards away and started going #2, dropping a land mine the size of his head!

Once he finished though, he came straight back to me to resume training. At that point, we went back to work and got in a full session with no issues.

I assumed that was a one time occurance, but the next day, the exact same issue happened. Less than a minute into training, and he gave his all to break free from me. After he succeeded, he did relieved himself in both ways before returning to me to have a great training.

You would think that by the third day I would have learned from him, but I can still be blinded to the signs at times. But after day three of the same exact behavior, I learned from him. This was his routine – his personal needs before going to work. Like me needing my morning coffee before I get going, he needed to take care of his business before going to work!

So on the fourth day, I was prepared and took him directly from the kennel to go have his personal time before we got to work. And like clockwork, that is what he needed. I have found that it does not matter what time I work him – before the sun comes up, mid-afternoon, or in the evening, he always has to have this routine.

If I go out there expecting to get him and go straight to work, I better rethink my plans. No matter how much I am wanting to get going, if I don’t give him the time he needs, training simply won’t happen.

Keep A Close Watch

Even though dogs can’t talk to us, they can tell us a lot with their body language and behavior. It is up to us to watch and “listen” to what they are telling us, and respond accordingly. If we do, we will get more out of our dogs and our training sessions will be more productive.

No Time Like Now

Outdoor Family Endeavors Should Be Top Priority While Nature Allows

Grandparents say things such as “kids grow up before you know it” or “you better take advantage of the time you have.” Until we are put in their shoes, we cannot truly appreciate those views.

Arkansas offers an abundance of outdoor activities to enjoy with loved ones.  Some outdoors enthusiast run into the fact that taking young children along can make outdoor adventures more challenging.  But, sooner rather than later, we hopefully come to realize that the challenge is worth the tradeoff of spending more time with them.

Imagine you are preparing a food plot for deer.  It takes hours of riding a tractor, using a discing harrow and sowing the wheat. The corn feeder is set up and game cameras are in place.  You are eager to finally get a look at what type of bucks are feasting off of your buffet that has been prepared for them.  After your first peek at the pictures, you barely can contain yourself. It is late September and you see quite a few does and a few scraggly bucks, but you also see a group of three big bucks, one of which is a monster.  Opening day cannot get here soon enough.

It’s clear that deer are using the food plot on an almost daily basis. You surely will get a good shot at the big boy!

Ready to Go

When opening morning arrives, you are in the stand well before sunup.  You hear what sounds like deer before the sun reveals what’s out there.As the sun rises, you can see what has been teasing you – three does and a spike. That’s not what you hoped for but you are patient and wait it out. The morning ends with no big bucks crossing your path.    

The evening hunt most likely will present a good opportunity for a big buck – you hope.

As preparations are made, your daughter asks if she can go.  Your instincts immediately think about how difficult it will be to get a big buck close to you while you babysit your girl.  You want to say no but you look into her eyes and think about how much she wants to spend time with you.  You just cannot turn her down.

The two of you reach the stand, making quite a bit more noise than you would have made on your own.  She gets comfortable in her seat, opens her snacks and starts watching for the big boy.  It is not long before a doe walks out to the corn feeder about 25 yards out.  You both see her, but your daughter squeals and says “There’s a deer!” in a much louder voice than a whisper.  As you shush her, the doe looks up at your stand.  You are both quite still and the doe goes back to feeding before long.  You are content watching her while you wait for the buck.  Then you hear the most innocent question.

“Why aren’t you shooting her?”

You were out here to hunt deer and there was one right in front of you.  It is a logical question coming from a 5-year-old.  You weigh the options and quickly realize that if you want her to enjoy hunting and to spend more time with you doing it, shooting the doe is the first step. 

You ask her if she wants you to shoot it and make sure she understands that the deer will die.  She whispers yes, so you line up your shot, and drop the doe.  

“You’re not going anywhere now, deer!” she screams. She wraps her arms around you and give you a big kiss on the cheek. 

By taking the doe, did you miss the opportunity for the big buck?  Yes, but you also made huge memories with your girl that you both will carry with you forever.  You’ve also laid the groundwork for her love of the outdoors.

On the Water

Having a child in tow while fishing can be more work than sitting in a deer stand.  Most fishing trips become more difficult – at least for adults- when kids are in the boat.  

It is March. Crappie are spawning, and you have a Saturday morning planned to try to fill your livewell.  The weather looks to be perfect; you can’t wait to get out there.  There is nothing like being alone in a boat surrounded by the peace and quiet of a lake.  Your boy has also been talking about fishing and wants to go.  After brief consideration, you decide to take him with you.  It’ll be good bonding for the two of you.

Instead of baiting one hook, you are now responsible for two – and he loses more minnows than you can count!  Getting hung up is a natural occurrence during fishing but your boy seems to get a snag every four or five casts!  Sometimes you are able to get him free, although sometimes it requires a new hook.

Between fatherly duties, you are able to catch a few fish, but fewer than you’d land if you didn’t have to take care of him.  Then, all of a sudden, he lets out a yell and you see his rod bent over and his line jerking.  He has a good bite!  He is trilled, and so are you  You coach him on how to reel it in.  After what seems to be a few minutes, actually about 20 seconds, he gets the fish to the boat and you are able to land it with the dip net.

“Dad, that was awesome! Look how big he is!”

Although the fish is not that big, to him it looks enormous.  He is having a blast!  You continue tying his line every few minutes and trying to fish for yourself as you can.  At the end of the adventure, he winds up catching a few fish, while you catch fewer than you would have if you had been on your own.  But you wouldn’t trade the smile on his face for all the fish in the lake.

Busy Lives

There is another angle to the dilemma of quality time. As our parents age, they have a lot more free time on their hands – time they would gladly spend with their grown kids.  My dad, who taught me about and planted in me a love for the outdoors, had as much time as he wanted to go fishing or hunting.  All I would have had to do was pick up the phone and he would have done anything I wanted to do.  But I had a job, a wife and three young kids.  My plate was full.

It was not until his diagnosis with cancer that I realized how quickly time slips away.  Even then, I felt as if we had more time.  I did not feel the urgency as I should have.  My life was still busy but I was able to make some plans with him.  We got in a few good fishing trips, including catching big trout on the White River close to Mountain Home.  On the second day of our trip up there, it rained all day. We still had a blast!

We both expected that we’d have time for more memories like this, but the cancer took him too fast.  It still breaks my heart that I did not make time for more memories with him. 

The Natural State offers so many opportunities for outdoor experiences that we carry with us for years.  It is important, as both parents and grown children, to use these chances Arkansas gives us to spend time with our loved ones.  We might catch fewer fish, shoot does instead of bucks, or get drenched with rain, but times like these help us to build closer bonds with those we love. 

Do not let the opportunity pass you by to get outdoors in Arkansas with your loved ones.  Ducks in the Delta, turkeys in the Ozarks, catfish in the river or anything else, take advantage of the opportunities in front of you.  I promise you will not regret it!

If You Hunt With A Dog, You Never Go Into The Woods Alone

All duck hunters know that this year in Arkansas has been iffy and best.  The duck numbers are not as good as in years past, and they seem to be scattered in different places across the state.  You hear of folks killing a good number of birds, some kill just a few, and some never take their guns off safety. 

       Hunts like that last one, with no shooting and hardly seeing any birds can be frustrating, no doubt.  But if you duck hunt with a dog, it is important to remember just how close of a bond you can have with that ole dog.  Even if you go out alone, without any of your hunting buddies, that dog is your constant companion.

       If you are like most of us, and have other responsibilities such as work and family obligations, your time bonding with your dog can be limited.  Duck hunts, no matter how productive, can be great times to strengthen your bond with your dog.  Set up, eye to eye, you standing in waist deep water and your dog on the stand, you really get close to your pup. 

       Although any experienced dog realizes that you are not shooting any ducks, their main focus is usually you.  They want to please you, but they also value that time spent with you.  It is important to take advantage of this time and not be so frustrated that you allow it to make your relationship with your dog sour.

       If you are not shooting or seeing ducks, you can always turn the poor hunt into a good training session.  What better way is there to have a good training setup than to have an actual hunt set up?!

       You can bring a bumper or two in your hunting bag, and if the ducks do not show up, you can throw some bumpers for your dog.  You don’t have to turn it into a full out training session, but you can throw a few bumpers for him/her, then wait a little bit.  If there are still no ducks, throw a few more.  This is a good way to work on a few skills that sometimes get overlooked.  First, is actually retrieving from a stand in the water, or from a pit, or whatever your hunting setup is.  It is easy to work them in the yard or standing next to a pond, neglecting the actual hunting set up.  This will get the dog more experience with that.

       Another skill this will help with is patience, maybe for the both of you!  When we train, we get the dog out and immediately start throwing bumpers, not making the dog wait.  But, when we get out hunting, obviously there is always some waiting involved, sometimes more than we would like!  This will help the dog to get used to having to wait.  If you wait for the first hour with no ducks, then reward the dog with a few bumpers, that is reinforcing the waiting skill.

       One other thing you can do is if you do happen to kill just one duck, you can use it as a real “bumper” and throw it a few times for the dog.  These will all help, especially a young dog, get used to important aspects of the hunt.

       No matter if you limit out in a half-hour, or go three hours without putting your gun to your shoulder, if you hunt with a dog, you will always go into the woods, or water with your closest hunting companion.  It is important not to forget this, and to appreciate the time you get together. 

About Backwater Cypress Retrievers

Owner and trainer Chris Yielding has been training labs for years. His love of the dogs shines through in his training and in how the dogs perform under his guidance.  His dogs hunt and train hard, are obedient, and love to retrieve. Located in Central Arkansas on 180 acres of fields, woods, and 3 ponds, Backwater Cypress Retrievers works tirelessly to get the most from our dogs. More information can be found at www.backwatercypress.com.

One Smart Dog

This will be the final article in the series about certain mistakes we as trainers make from time to time, and how to avoid them.  Sometimes, dogs can surprise you with just how smart they are at figuring out your system!

Gator was a beautiful, picture perfect black male lab.  He was eager to work and always went full speed on retrieves.  His obedience work went extremely smooth; he was walking at heel, sitting when I stopped, and would come to heel when I called him just like we all want.  Once his sitting hold was solid, it was time to combine the heel work and the hold.

This is the step that I dislike the most.  Usually, the dogs that hold well and heel well, absolutely hate doing both at the same time!  That never made sense to me, but that is how they typically feel.  And Gator was no different!

So when we started this dreaded step, he would shake his head, trying to get rid of the bumper, as I pulled him along at heel.  Eventually, like normally happens, he started to hold better during the heel work.  We would go a short distance, with me holding the lead rope with one hand and rubbing him behind the ear with the other, then I would make him sit and maintain the hold.  Then I would give the “drop” command, take the bumper from him, and praise him.  We were still going short distances because he was still figuring it out.

Once he figured that part out, it was time to move on.  It was at this point, when we were progressing through the hold at heel work that I saw the problem that I had set myself up for.  When we were learning and getting the hold at heel down, I would take about six steps with him holding, while I held the rope and rubbed him, then we would stop.  Well, when I was ready to start having him go further with it, like I always do, he showed me what I had inadvertently taught him.

I would have him sit at heel, put the bumper in his mouth, tell him to “hold” and we started walking with him in the heel position.  Things looked just right, and I was very hopeful.  I intended on going about 20 yards or so, but after six steps, he immediately sat down, while keeping the bumper held tightly in his mouth!  He was smart enough that he realized just how far I made him carry it in the beginning stages, and he felt that was what I was wanting from him!

This was not just a one time thing either; each time I did this, he stopped after about six steps.  It took about a week, but I finally broke him of it.  I had to be ready, and when I saw him start to sit, I had to pull him forward with the rope and reinforce the “heel” command.  Eventually he learned exactly what I wanted, and stayed right there with me, but I had created a hurdle that could have been avoided.  

Out of all the dogs that I have trained, he is the first and only one to ever figure that out about me and my training system.  So now, with every dog I train, I mix it up and go different distances when beginning heel work.  I may go six steps the first rep, then 10 the next, followed by five steps.  By doing this, the dog never learns a pattern and is taught to stay right with me, rather than take a certain number of steps and then automatically stop.

Gator turned out to be an exceptional dog, and I taught him a lot in our training.  But he definitely taught me something too, something I will keep with me and will improve my training for years to come!

Keep Them Guessing

This is the second in a series of articles on innocent mistakes we make as trainers, that can teach dogs skills that we do not wish for them to learn. This one in particular is a little bit tricky, because it actually involves a dog that is smarter than I would like for him to be!  Truthfully, I am glad he is as smart as he is, it just made training him a bit more challenging!

Ruger was a joy to train!  He had a high drive and was eager to please. He learned the basic obedience very quickly and before we knew it, he was delivering to hand. We started doing baseball diamond hand signal drills, and it was like he knew them by heart within a couple of days. It literally took no time for him to be very, very solid with them.

So we progressed to whistle stops. I had been using the whistle for sitting at heel, so he had an idea what the whistle was for. But still, from my experience, this is one of the hardest skills to teach. When a dog sees the bumper land, and is in full drive to go get it, it is extremely difficult to get him to stop when you blow the whistle. Even if you use the e-collar, that usually won’t stop them if they are in hot pursuit of the downed bumper.

Typically, I use a long check cord to force the stop. But even with that tactic, usually, when I take the cord off, the dog ignores the whistle. A lot of times, once dogs know what the cord is for, they will stop on their own when the cord is on them, but take it off and they are deaf to the whistle. They know you can’t stop them and they won’t let up on chasing the bumper.

The first time I lined Ruger up for whistle stop work, I had the check cord attached and was ready to use it. I launched the first bumper, sent him, and hit the whistle when he was halfway to the bumper. I was ready to stop him with the rope, but to my surprise, he instantly stopped and looked at me. I never had to physically stop him. I couldn’t believe it! 

I then gave him the back signal and he completed the retrieve. We did this quite a few times, with a few regular marks without whistle stops between each whistle stop mark. Each time I blew the whistle, he would stop and look at me just like I wanted. I have never had a dog get the whistle stops down so fast; I was in shock!  This was all on the first day!

Soon I began to throw double marks, stopping him on the way to one and sending him to the other. This too was flawless. Everything was picture perfect. I did not feel like I did the same set up everytime, but looking back, I can see that I probably did. Apparently, each time I stopped him, I would send him to the opposite bumper instead of occasionally keeping him on the path to the original one. 

Before long, he didn’t need me anymore. He would be going for one bumper, and when I would hit the whistle, he immediately changed and started going for the other bumper. He did this without stopping to look at me. He had figured out what I was doing before I fully realized it!  I now wanted to be able to stop him and then re-send him, keeping him on the same bumper  But no matter what I did, when I hit the whistle, he changed bumpers and ignored everything else coming from me.

So it was not until after I had him trained on whistle stops that I had to actually use the check cord. The way I fixed this issue was when I made him change directions upon hearing the whistle, I stopped him with the check cord and made him look at me, then I would send him to the original bumper. The good thing was, because of his intelligence, it did not take long for him to figure all of this out. Not a ton of reps was needed before he had understood what I was asking of him. After that, he would stop and look at me when he heard the whistle, just like we all want our dogs to do. And I made sure to change up where I was sending him, to keep him honest with all this work!

This just proves that we have to be careful not to fall into patterns with our training, or our dogs can figure it out before we realize that we have a pattern. And they will start running the pattern instead of focusing on us and following our lead. But, if we keep mixing our training up, it will make our dogs better, and in turn, make us better as trainers.

Avoid Teaching Unwanted Behavior

Sometimes, when training your dog, you can inadvertently be teaching them unwanted lessons. This will be the first in a series of posts on different types of these “skills” that every trainer has been guilty of teaching.

The first example of this is dropping the bumper immediately after coming back to heel. When I say immediately, I mean the dog runs back to you, holding the bumper, comes to heel in a perfect seated position, and as soon as his rear end hits the ground, he drops the bumper, not caring if you are ready for it or not. Why does this happen, especially when he used to deliver to hand perfectly?!

I have found that when training your dog, and I am just as guilty as anyone, that we are so excited when they bring it back just how we want, that we instantly give the “drop” command and grab the bumper. Then we begin to rub him behind the ears and praise him with lots of “good boy!” after “good boy!” And, I am not saying we don’t need to praise, I am highly in favor of lots of positive reinforcement with our hunting buddies!

But when we promptly take the bumper away right when they get back and congratulate them with praise, we are telling them that the drill is over. That all we want them to do is go get it, bring it back, and drop it as soon as they get back.  They do not realize that they are doing anything wrong.

So how do we correct this? When the dog drops it at your feet after coming back to heel, quickly pick the bumper up and put it back in his mouth, and give the “hold” command. Now, make him hold it a bit; 10 – 15 seconds is usually good.  Now, it is important to get more reps doing this. Throw another mark, and if he drops it again, pick it up again and go through the same routine. Do not let him get away with dropping it on his own. 

Before long, he will maintain his hold once he comes back to heel.  Now is the time when we can start reinforcing the extended hold. Do not quickly take it away from him, instead, give a couple of “hold” commands to him and make him hold it somewhere between 10 – 20 seconds. It is also important to change up the amount of time you make him hold it. If you make him hold it 10 seconds every single time, before too long, he will learn to count to 10 and then decide on his own that it is time to drop it. 

To prevent this from occurring, change up the hold time each time he brings it back to deliver to hand. Sometimes, make him hold 12 seconds on the first retrieve, then the next time, make him hold 20 seconds.  You can keep repeating “hold” to help him remember what he needs to do. The main thing is to vary the amount of time you make him hold it with each retrieve, and when he does right and holds until you give the “drop” command, then you need to praise him and make him feel good about himself!

Dogs typically want to please us, that is their main goal. But, when there is confusion over just exactly how we want them to do the task, that is how mistakes can occur. Sometimes we have to put ourselves in the dog’s perspective to see how we have been miscommunicating to him. Then things usually seem clearer and we can adjust how we are trying to teach the skill. 

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Buck was a beautiful, close to two year old German Wirehaired Pointer that was brought to me for retriever training. The pointing breeds are some of the prettiest dogs out there, and Buck was no exception. Tall, athletic, and one of the best personalities you could ask for in a dog. He was eager to please!

The biggest problem with Buck was that he had practically no retriever training. And when you have a dog that old, that can be an issue. The best thing you can do for a retriever is to make retrieving fun for him when he is a pup. Hallway retrieves or backyard tennis ball throws will help to make the dog love retrieving and build his desire for it.

When that young pup brings back that short hallway retrieve for you and you praise him so much and love all over him, it will build that drive for him to want to do it over and over again.

But when that process has been skipped, or even just shorted, it makes training the retrieving skills more difficult. Not impossible, but more difficult nonetheless.

Buck had had a little retriever work, but not enough to get him to really understand what he was supposed to do. But Buck was eager to please, and that helped him out tremendously. He was kind of goofy and awkward at first, but I treated him just like I would a young pup. When he did it right, I acted like he just did the greatest thing ever! Lots of praise, petting and “Good boy!”s. Pretty soon, he figured out what it took to get all of that praise and attention, and that made him very excited for the retrieve and the praise that was sure to follow.

That is not to say that I did not have to make corrections to Buck. He needed lining out on walking at heel, steadiness, and eventually Force Fetch, once we got to that point. But after I had to make corrections to him, I made sure and always took a step back and did something I knew he would do correctly, and gave him the praise he desired. That kept his drive high and his focus on pleasing me.

Eventually, Buck turned out to be a pretty dang good retriever! Even though he got a later start than most dogs do, he was able to get all the skills down to make himself a reliable, good hunting buddy.

Just because a dog does not start at the “ideal” time, does not mean that it is too late for them to learn. One thing about it is, as a trainer, you have to read your dog, and adjust the training to fit him. There is not one cookie cutter training model that works for all dogs. Each dog is different, and needs training adjusted to fit their natural ability, their personality, and their mentality on things.

If you can keep an open mind, and change things up when needed, you can see great gains in a dog that might otherwise not reach his or her potential.

CAREFUL WHAT YOU ARE TEACHING!!

As a dog trainer, I have seen dogs of every skill and ability level, as well as dogs of all intelligence levels. Some that took just a few days to teach whistle stops, and some that took a month and a half to learn “hold”. Each dog brings new challenges, and that is something every trainer has to be prepared for.

I currently have a dog that I am training named Gator. He is a sweet, well mannered young male black Lab, and he has been a joy to work with. He has great obedience; he walks at heel perfectly, sits when I stop, comes to heel when called, and has rock solid steadiness.

Then we get to force fetch. His hold work was great, I mean great on the table! We had no problems whatsoever. Then we moved to the ground, which, judging by the table work, was going to be a breeze. But, we all know how things go when we predict them to be easy, and I knew better than to believe it would be so easy!

The first obstacle was having him hold it while seated next to me, and for whatever reason, he did not want to do that. But we got over it relatively fast, in 3-4 days. Then came the biggest hurdle of all, thus far. The walking hold. This is the hardest part of training any dog, and my least favorite. You have to have the dog hold it, then start to walk at heel, and immediately the dog will drop the bumper to start walking at heel, because for whatever reason, it goes against the dog’s mentality to do two commands at once, Hold AND Heel. Most will walk perfectly at heel, and hold rock solid while seated, but you go to put the two together and it rarely goes very smooth.

After they drop it comes the “fun” part, you have to pick up the bumper, stick it back in the dog’s mouth, and hold it in there while you pull the dog in a heel position. After you have gone a short, ways, like five or six steps, you stop, take the bumper, and praise the dog. This usually takes a week or so for the dog to finally buy into the hold, and understand what you are asking of them.

Gator was very typical in this manner, but he was learning something I did not realize I was teaching him. When I am holding the bumper and the dog and making him carry it in a heeling position, I always make him go five or six steps. That has always been my method. This has worked with every dog I have trained over the years with no issue. That is until Gator!

Once Gator figured out carrying at heel, I thought we had this obstacle conquered, until we went about six steps and he quickly sat down!! He was still holding just fine, but I had inadvertently taught him that we only carry for six steps then we are done!

Looking back, it makes sense from his perspective. I have trained tons of dogs, and he is the first one to ever see the hold work this way. It didn’t take too long to fix this problem, making him carry it further and not sit down when he tried to sit, and it taught me something important going forward. Changing up the training routine can be very beneficial. Dogs can figure out your patterns before you realize you have patterns, and know what you are going to do before you do it!

Now I vary the distance that I require them to carry the bumper at heel. Sometimes it is six steps and sometimes it is 10 or 15. The main thing is for them to watch you and follow your commands, and not just go on their own and stop when they think they should be done!