In April we talked about having the retrieve training in place before we really started working a Utility dog on their duck search work. Hopefully training is going well and the dog is now working on ingraining the retrieve. This is normally built upon some sort of force-to-pile drill.
The tip for May is to leverage your local environment to help you and the dog succeed. When I am working a dog with force-to-pile, I like to start next to a fence, a wall, or even a low mowed path in the field. This corridor helps the dog maintain focus and helps direct them to the pile naturally. These same barriers can be used when working to extend the blind retrieves.
For those with NA aged dogs preparing for their first test, make sure that your pup is willing to swim and finds the water fun and relaxing. For top marks in the NA test, the dog must enter twice for a bumper. If your exposure was started early, this should be no issue for the young dog. If the pup is still reluctant, now is the time for you to get in with the dog to show just how much fun the water can be.
The other sticking point in the NA test is the tracking. If your pup has hunted a season on wild birds (especially pheasants) he will have learned to track on his own. All you need to do is build the bridge to make the pup look for the track on command. When drawing the pup’s attention to the ground, try to remain calm but interesting. Tracking is a mental exercise and requires focus by the dog. As we all know, young dogs are often easily excited. Excited pups will be easily distracted and often lose focus on the task at hand.
If your pup was not hunted, you will want to introduce tracking on lead to ensure that the pup is following the track precisely. I prefer to do this early in the morning in short grass. The heavy due helps me, as the trainer, see the drag; allowing me to keep the young pup on track and moving forward.
The most important thing you can do for your young pup during an NA test is to remain calm. There is no reason to worry so be calm and confident while testing.
Test day is simple. You have either put in the work so the test is just another fun day with the pup……or you have not done the work and no amount of worry will change the outcome of the test.
Good luck to all handlers and dogs!