Field and Obedience Training Together
About the author: Jack Sharkey is the trainer and handler of his
four year old Vizsla: DC AFC NFC Hodag's Hunter,UD,MH who also
is the Vizsla Club of America 1993 #1 Open Gun Dog. Read his profile under Vizsla Owners for a current biography.
When asked by either field trialers or obedience handlers as
to why my dogs have done so well, I answer that the secret to
my success was finding out that field training and obedience
training are very complementary. How did I find that out? By
doing it! I really stumbled onto it as I was looking for a
change of pace after the 1993 Spring trialing season. I decided
to try obedience just to see what it was all about. Being a
relative newcomer to any type of dog training (I bought my first
Vizsla just four years ago), the word at that time was you must
decide what you are going to do with your dog. Hunting tests and
field trialing are just too different to expect your dog to do
well in both at the same time. No one that I knew even mentioned
the word obedience. Well, I believe I have proven that one's dog
can do it all, and do it well, if you put your mind to it and
have the necessary patience.
Probably the most important and absolutely critical element
to success is to have a very close bonding with your dog. Because
of this bonding, I have found that my dogs go overboard in trying
to please. In fact they try to please too much and sometimes
anticipate what you want them to do next which can ruin a good
obedience exercise or field performance. However, that is a
small price to pay for having a dog with a big heart wanting so
much to please its master.
The next element to success is having a dog that obeys your
commands and this is where obedience training comes into play.
field dog is absolutely worthless unless you can get him or her
to do what you want it to do. You don't pass hunting tests or
placements in field trials with a renegade dog. The dog must be
disciplined, but yet show initiative and drive. The same is true
in the obedience ring. Many of the exercises are very parallel
to what you expect from the field dog such as retrieving on
command, responding to hand signals, scenting, heeling, and
As an example, this Spring I had my three year old bitch in
field trials, hunt tests and the obedience ring. She had a
couple of gun dog placements, passed three of five Master Hunter
tests, and got her Companion Dog Excellent obedience title.
Without the obedience training that we started about a year ago,
I know she would not have had her field accomplishments. If I
would have started her obedience training when I started her
field training, I'm confident that her progress would have been
even better. In your training, do you believe in consistency in
commands whether they be verbal or body signals? If you have not
given this part of your training any thought, let me give you
quick examples of how your dog focuses in on you and follows your
commands be they verbal or signal. Recently, I was talking
to a fellow competitor at an obedience trial after my boy,
Hunter, had laid down for the third time (two trials in a row).
This happened after I gave him the hand signal to stand while I
walked to the other end of the ring to continue the signal
exercise. In discussing this with a friend at ringside after the
last time it happened, I was told that it appeared Hunter was
taking a command from me as I walked away. Would you believe
that as I reconstructed in my mind what I had done when I left
Hunter, I remembered that I had dropped my left hand from my
waist to my side as I walked from him and he recognized this as
my normal down signal? The individual I was talking in response
said, "let me tell you my story". She went on to say
her dog would periodically stand instead of sitting when doing
heeling halt, her husband began video taping their sessions and
after reviewing many performances, she recognized that on those
heeling stops that her dog stood, she found herself doing a
little cheat signal by dropping her left shoulder back and in
doing so, her right arm unknowingly came forward and slightly
across her body, which is the beginning of her normal stand
signal and her dog recognized it as a stand. Is your dog taking
unintentional signals from you? Think about it the next time
your dog does something different from what you expected. Do you
use reward or reprimand in your training as the means
of getting your dog to do what you want it to do? Dogs first
have to learn to learn. You do this by working on the
communication channels between the two of you and there are many.
Reading your dog is especially important during bird work in the
field and how he reads you in the ring is equally important. I
personally favor and highly encourage use of the reward
methodology. I can't tell you the number of turkey (they taste
better) hot dogs that I've used in my training sessions. I cut
them into small slices so I can easily carry them in my mouth.
If you carry the reward in your hand, that's where the dog will
focus its attention, whereas by carrying the treat in your mouth,
this forces the dog to carry its head high where it can observe
your eyes as well as arm and shoulder movements. Body signals
are important to both field and obedience handling. Try the
reward method the next time you're doing your yard work and see
if it doesn't make a difference.
One other note on training. Above all else, do not end your
training session on a downer. Do whatever is necessary to get
your dog's tail high and wagging so you both finish on a positive
note, thereby declaring it was a positive training session for
both dog and handler. Remember, you are a team!
What impresses judges and wins field trials? It's a dog
that's under control, needs minimum handling, and is steady on
its bird work. Is this not obedience at its highest form?
what do obedience dogs need to do to perform well in the ring?
They need to possess the same qualities that judges look for in
the field, believe me. I took Hunter to his Utility Dog obedience
title in eleven months from the day we started to practice
heeling, directed jumping and retrieving, retrieving on the flat
and over a high jump, and hand signals to name a few of the
obedience exercises. Are these not the same requirements of a
field dog? Sure they are. But you counter with, I don't want my
dog to sit when he comes back on a retrieve. First off, your dog
can easily distinguish between a feathered bird and a metal or
leather dumbbell. If not, what judge is going to fault an
otherwise snappy retrieve with a sit when the dog places the bird
in your hand. Think about that.
So how do I sum up this article? If you're a field person,
get your dog into the obedience world. If you're an obedience
person, try the field. You'll be amazed and thoroughly delighted
to discover how well your dog will adapt to becoming a winner
in both areas of competition.