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Self-assessment for Dog Handlers

Written by Eukanuba Staff

No one needs to be reminded of how much goes into dog training. Handlers always have a lot on their minds when they’re getting their strings ready for field trials, testing programs, and upland and waterfowl hunting. Here are 8 tips from some of the top pros in the country on how handlers can keep their focus and work more successfully with their dogs.

Handler scent training a GSP on a checkcord

Chris Akin, Webb Footed Kennels, AR

“Pay attention to your dog’s needs and desires and not your own. Focusing on the ducks circling overhead is important, but not at the expense of having dogs whimper or break. To get dogs to the next level we owe it to them to focus on their needs and desires. By making sure that our dogs do well in the short term means we’ll have a solid performer for the long haul. Put your dogs in a position for success, even if it means you won’t get in as much shooting. We’re in it for the dogs.”

Al Arthur, Sandhill Kennels, GA

“Develop your dog’s concentration. For dogs to reach advanced levels they’ve got to have full focus. One example that requires a dog’s total concentration is when they’re running marks. When handlers throw bumpers they watch the bumper. Instead, throw the bumper and watch the dog. Get him to focus on that bumper from the time it’s thrown until the time it hits the water. No head swinging is allowed, just 100% concentration on the bumper. When you release that dog for a retrieve, you’ll see 100% effort.”

Brad Arington, Mossy Pond Retrievers, GA

“Practice like you play. If you’re a duck hunter, train for real time situations. Throwing bumpers in the backyard is fine, but to get next level performance from your dog run those drills from the boat or blind. While you’re there, set up decoys so your dog learns how to run around them. If you practice like you play you’ll watch your dog’s confidence increase. When it’s go time he’ll be ready.”

Jeremy Criscoe, Head Trainer at Blue Cypress Kennels, FL

“A lot of handlers run at too high of a tempo. Their dogs pick up on that pace and start running out of control. The biggest thing is for handlers to slow down the pace. A slower pace improves communication between the handler and dog. A handler’s fast tempo gets dogs cranked up, so slow down, take your time, and praise the dog when he does things correctly.”

Bob Owens, Lone Duck Kennels, NY

“Amped dogs need to be slowed down, but slow dogs need to get amped up. To get more performance from a slower, relaxed dog you’ve got to get him fired up. Make training fun, and talk to them in a high-pitched silly voice. That high energy ramps up chill dogs and gets them fired up for training. From that comes drive and confidence that are a solid foundation to build on.”

Hannah Criscoe, Head Trainer at Whistling Wings Kennels, AL

“Consistent commands is key. If a handler isn’t giving consistent commands, then a dog won’t understand what is expected from him. One of the biggest ones I see is changing from “come” to “come here” to “come over here.” Those changes in commands confuses dogs, and when they’re confused, they’ll just do whatever they want. Keep your commands simple and above all be consistent.”

Tracey Lieske, Wild Wing North Kennels and Outfitters, MI

“Don’t talk to your dogs so much. Constant and continuous chatter makes dogs tune out handlers. When they tune out a handler then they’re not listening. When they’re not listening, they don’t hear important commands. Cut down the idle chatter, speak to your dog when you want him to do something, and follow it through. In most instances, less is much, much more.”

Mark Fulmer, Sarahsetter Kennels, SC

“Repetitions make the master, so work on basics until they are second nature for both you and your dog. Forget about being a drill sergeant. Instead, be your dog’s best friend.”

As handlers, we’re in it for the dogs. We’re a team and we’ve all got something to learn. The next time the team breaks down, take a moment to self-assess.


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