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Monday, July 19, 2004
Updated: April 26, 4:50 PM ET
Q&A with a professional dog trainer

By Mike Stewart
Owner/trainer
Wildrose Kennels

Editor's note: Mike Stewart has nearly 30 years of experience breeding and training sporting dogs and is currently training Drake, the official Labrador retriever of Ducks Unlimited. To learn more about Wildrose Kennels and the training methodology used by Mike, visit www.uklabs.com. If you have a training question, email Mike and he may answer your question in an upcoming column.

Memory drills

Mike,
Your article on marking in ESPN Outdoors really helped bring to light some problems that I have been having with my dog. He has been struggling in a couple of areas and I can now see that his concentration/focus is the cause.

My dog suffers from a couple of the indicators that you listed in your article. Thanks to your article I can now address these problems. I do have a question for you though. As far as memory drills in particular, what would you recommend? Thanks again for your article and I look forward to more inthe future.

Jeff Watson
Clovis, CA


Jeff,
I'm glad you found the article on marking beneficial. Our memory drills not only build memory, they also promote steadiness and lining abilities. You can even incorporate obstacles quite easily. There are three types of memories that I use:

  • Sight memories — Place the dog at sit, walk out and place single or multiple bumpers. Walk back, hesitate 5 to 10 seconds, then line for the bumper. You can do this along a straight edge like a fence to promote straight lining or you can do this at 90- and 180-degree angles for multiples

  • Trailing memories — Put the dog at heel, walk out, toss the bumper, tell the dog, "No, heel," and walk away with the dog at heel. At the desired distance, turn and send the dog back. You can add diversions as you like.

  • Circle memories — Walk in a circle pattern dropping 2 or 3 bumpers at fixed reference points like a tree, bush or post. As you circle, send the dog back for the oldest bumper. You are virtually working in a wagon wheel pattern running straight through the hub every time.

    Using these patterns, your dog will become very efficient at lining and will soon be ready for short blinds.

    Best of luck!

    Pup preschool

    Black lab
    You dog should be solid on the fundamentals, such as conditioned to hold, before you take it into the field and have it chasing crippled game.
    I have a 7-month-old black Lab. She is a warm-blooded torpedo in water and loves to fetch. She does some blind retrieves in areas she knows well and will even mark doubles. She is doing great.

    I took her out hunting one time this year and I didn't even shoot. I let my buddies take care of that. I let her pretty much just be a dog and was no too concerned with her manners. She did very well chasing down a crippled snow goose and she somewhat fetched it. I was not too concerned with form or lack of delivery, I was just happy that she loved it like she did.

    Each time I had a successful hunt this year — ducks, geese, or pheasant — I would bring home a bird to her to smell and familiarize with. She would pick the bird up and mouth it but, when I would throw it a few feet out in the yard for her to retrieve she would short grab it. In other words she would tear after it but only come up with feathers. It was like she was uncertain on grabbing the entire bird. Granted some of these were large snows and Canadians.

    Is this a concern? Are there steps I can do to help get over this? Is this just a puppy thing that I should not get too concerned about until she does it in the field?

    Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    RJ Hope


    RJ,
    Whoa!! Put the brakes on. Your problems are stemming from the fact that you haven't done the fundamentals.

    You have a 7-month old pup marking on doubles, out in the field hunting and chasing birds and you haven't completed the basics. A common problem among handlers is that they do not complete a basic gundog curriculum prior to moving on to extensive retrieving activities and hunting. Then, little problems become big ones. You have to go back to the basics.

    Go through the Wildrose methods of Delivery to Hand, Part I and Part II
    (Part III). No more retrieving until the course is complete.

    Also, never start a young dog on Canadians! Small birds like teal and woodies and warm water work best.

    Best of luck,
    Mike Stewart