Like with any other formal training program, the fewer, more succinct commands a dog learns to recognize, the better. Dogs develop confidence from their interactions with us. Therefore, the sound development of a working dog should be based on building a firm grasp of a few basic commands for the field and at home. The more you can use these commands in daily life and then work them with consistency through repetition, the better. One of the priorities placed on you as a handler is to develop your dog’s trust in you and your ability to get them to the bird. It is important to facilitate a high level of trust and confidence in your abilities as a handler. We do this by having a deep understanding of the commands and being as fluid as possible in those commands.
The commands and cues they will learn are as follows:
Obedience And Retriever Commands
Sit – Their rear goes down on command. The rear goes down immediately, not in a minute or when they feel like it. Sit is stay, and there is no need to teach another command. If the dog has an adequate understanding of sit, the dog will stay in place for as long as required until they are given a release command.
Here – Dog comes to me by way of the shortest and quickest route. The dog should not stop and sniff, check other things out, or slowly trundle back. This command is a front finish command, meaning the dog comes immediately to me and sits directly in front of me (basically combines “here” with “sit” commands but specifies where the command terminates). Front finish is an important aspect of here/sit because the act of facing us to sit on command (via whistle soon) is the beginning of teaching remote sit on a whistle.
Heel – Dog walks with me, stride for stride. Their head must be within one foot of our knee, in any direction OR dog stays by my side while standing still. You can move the dog from front finish to a side seated heel position by saying heel and giving a hand motion to that side once they have sat in front of you. Your pup must understand that their place is right beside you on either your left or your right.
Kennel – This command is an “in to” and “on to” command. If given in front of their crate, they kennel into. If given in front of a tailgate, table, stand, or anything slightly elevated, they jump on to. If the table is too high, they will tell you. Be fair and assess if they are refusing out of fear or non-compliance.
Fetch – Fetch literally means to pick up what’s pointed out. People sometimes say that they didn’t need to take a dog through “force fetch” because they retrieve every thing. The question is, will they pick up anything on command? Retrieving is impulse, and fetching is compulsion. Does your dog have the ability to receive compulsion to fetch, or will they pick/choose/refuse when they fetch? Fetch is easily the most important command to a gun dog, hands down.
Hold & Give – Easy to understand, they hold no matter the situation until they are told to give. They don’t/won’t drop the bird to shake off when coming out of the water. They won’t chew the bird when running back to you. They won’t try and eat the bird. This is a standard that must be adhered to and held in high regard. Hold a high standard.
Dog’s Name – We send the dog to go get a Marked retrieve on their own name. This removes ambiguity of all dogs going if a common command to retrieve were given. Being sent on their name to go get a downed bird is such a big deal and basically a treat in and of itself.
Back – The dog is sent on the command “back” if it is to be going to pick up a blind. Remember, the word “dead” cues the dog and then the word “back” releases the dog. The Dog shall not stop until the bird is in mouth or they have been stopped by whistle and told to adjust course.
Easy – Simply put, this is a cue that is intended to reward your dogs for calmness and gentle behavior. They should settle down when cued on this and their reward is praise and affection.
Quiet – When they are barking, this cue requires them to stop barking. Do not let them keep barking once you give the cue.
No – This Literally means “stop what you are doing and look at me”. It is preparatory in nature, and something always follows this cue. IE – “No, Here”, “No, Heel”, “No, Sit”. This cue is used when they are not following our commands directly. It also applies to manners and problems, as well. This cue does not mean “bad dog”. If you notice the dog putting their head down or tucking their tail on this cue, you may, in fact, be being too hard on them. Be fair – we are trying to build dogs that are happy and satisfied to work with their handlers/family.
Watch – Dog stops and looks out for the birds. The goal is to facilitate focus and begin to build memory. The better their picture of the bird, the better they will mark. (See Blog – Dogs Remember in Pictures) Watch is a cue that makes them physically look up and out. We are cuing the dog to look for/at the bird(s).
Good – Their body should noticeably convulse/move with joy/happiness when given this cue. We use the cue “good” as a secondary reinforcer, to support appropriate responses to our commands. (See Blog – primary/secondary reinforcers)
OK – We use the Cue “ok” as a release command. They are now free to do what they will, but still must exercise good manners. Every obedience command must be released into something else. “Sit” to “here”, “here” to “heel”, and “sit”/”heel”/”kennel” to “ok” once finished.
Mark – This cue is all about memory recall, bringing to the front of their mind the picture of a specific mark. Mark reminds them there is a bird while telling them to basically grab the picture of where it fell from their memory.
Dead – Only intended for blind retrieves, dead is a distinguishing cue to let them know there is a blind directly in front of where we are pointing them and they are to run in a straight line until stepping on the bird or being told to change course. The Cue “Dead” tells them to focus forward and go where sent.