The 3 P’s

Dog trainers are a very unique and funny lot. Whether you are a professional trainer that has 75 dogs in your kennel or an amateur with one dog – we all think our way is the only way. The age-old adage of “The only thing that two dog trainers can agree on is that the third is doing it all wrong” is one of the truest statements I’ve ever heard. But there is one thing that we dog trainers can all agree on: three very simple words that can make dog training fun again. No matter the situation, you can always rely on these three words to get you rolling again.

The important part of this equation and the thing that we all have to remember is it’s supposed to be fun. I get so many e-mails from people with training issues looking for a little help. These notes always sound so serious and frustrated, when 99.9 times out of 100 they are easily cured, and with just a little reflection, can be worked out.

The advice that I give may have a little trick that can be applied, but almost always it’s accompanied by three very basic words that mean so much. I read these three words as they relate to dog training probably 15 years ago. Although I have looked again and again, I can’t find who wrote them originally. These three little words have often been referred to as the dog trainers’ angels, and many a great dog trainer has been quoted as saying, “Never go to the field without your three angels.” I may not know whose words they were, but whoever it was had this little deal we call dog training figured out.

The first word and probably the most important is Patience. Dog training should be looked at like a construction project. You can’t put on the shingles until you’ve built the roof, and you can’t put on the roof until you erect the frame, and you can’t build the frame until you’ve poured a solid foundation. It takes time to construct a sturdy house just like it takes time to build a strong retriever.

The second word is our motivational word: Persistence. The word itself is wonderful. It drives us to be better and never accept defeat. The word can make you wake up early and put you to bed late. There’s not a great dog anywhere in this country that hasn’t picked up a triple under a street light, or had to finish up a water blind quickly so his owner could get to work by 8:00 a.m.

The third word is the easiest of them all. The simple word, Perspiration, tells us a good dog is not going to fall into our lap. It’s going to take some sweat to get this thing done. It tells us that every day is not going to be an easy day. It doesn’t mean that a tough day has to be a bad day; it just tells us that we are going to struggle, and that’s OK. It tells us that just like anything worth having, we are going to have to dig in and earn a great dog.

Other than duck hunting or spending time with my family, there is nothing I’d rather do than train retrievers. It’s the single most relaxing and gratifying thing I’ve ever been a part of. Because of that passion we strive to be successful, and sometimes that hunger to succeed can make it tougher than it really has to be. My good friend Cray Stephenson says it better than anyone ever has: “Dog training is not a race, it’s a journey.” If you take those 3 P’s with you, it can be one of the finest journeys you’ll have here.



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I just got back from a trip down to where I’d rather hunt on the White River just outside of a little place called Tichnor. The season is still a couple months away down here in Arkansas. That said, after hearing all the exciting rumors about water levels, I had to take a run and see what all the fuss was about.

Flooded timber

Flooded timber

I put in and ran the down to the Mississippi. The rivers are rolling and the creeks are flooded. Those big oak trees are full of acorns after a wet spring and summer, and if you concentrate really hard, you can see you and your dog snuggled up next to that big Pin Oak waiting for a group of 50 mallards to make their last pass and set up to settle in.

After four hours of my imagination running wild and 10 gallons of gas, I figured it was time to come back to reality.

I started back and stopped by the “Wild Goose” to say hello to everyone. The Wild Goose Store is one of those very special places that you have if you hunt or live in an area steeped in waterfowl tradition. The Wild Goose opens early and has shotgun shells, incredible biscuits & gravy and the world’s greatest fried pies. The folks there always know where the water is on Honey Locust and Prosperous bayous. They can tell you how high the Mississippi is at “Scrubgrass,” and best of all they know who’s got ducks. It’s like having the duck CIA and all you gotta do is ask. It’s an amazing resource and it all comes from a tiny cinderblock building out in the middle of nowhere.

Just a short drive up through DeWitt and you’re in Stuttgart. You don’t go through Stuttgart without a stop at Mack’s. This time I had important business at hand. I had gotten a phone call from Jeff DeVazier. It was short and to the point: “The breathables are in.” I’ve been waiting on these waders for two years. Regardless, no many how many times you go to the “Mecca of Waterfowl,” if you love ducks and dogs, you can never get enough. At least I can’t.

It’s the people and the places that make Arkansas waterfowling what it is. The ducks have come and go over the years, but the people and places and the love for the waterfowling lifestyle are what make it a truly incredible place to hunt, visit and – lucky for me – call home.

As I drove home with a few butterflies circling in my stomach, I chuckled and thought about how silly this is. I’m almost 40 years old and have hunted way more than I should have every year of my life. Will it ever get old?

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Our Time of Year

I would have loved to write some trendy little training or hunting tip…like I’m supposed to.

But this time of year feels so good I can’t focus on anything for more than 3 minutes. All is good with the earth in the fall. Gustav and his friends have brought rains a little early this year and the rivers are already jumping up and down, ducks are starting to stretch their wings up north and every retriever has a little more bounce in his step. Ducks Unlimited committees are digging deep in their banquet planning, football season is here and cool nights are upon us.

Details at work are falling through the cracks and who cares? It’s hunting season; it’s what you and I were put on this earth for.

It’s time! It’s time to take that little belly off your dog and tighten up her obedience. Get out there this afternoon and work on marking, and squeeze in a few water blinds. It’s time to check your decoys and touch up the paint on those emerald-green mallard heads. Dig deep in your decoy bags and make sure those old decoys actually look like ducks or geese. It will matter when times get lean this fall.

It’s time to change the spark plugs on your outboard and check the lower unit oil. Go through your boat with a fine-toothed comb and make sure everything is up to date. Make sure you have plenty of life jackets, extra decoy cord and weights. Change the reeds and corks in your calls, and practice that spit note.

If you are like me, it’s time to pony up for a new pair of waders, and maybe look at a few pieces of Mossy Oak that aren’t faded so badly that it looks like you are wearing a gray sweatshirt in the field. Look closely at your GPS and buy lots of extra batteries for the 16 different flashlights and headlamps you have laying in your boat, truck and every pocket of your blind bag.

Once you’ve done all that, you can sit back and daydream about Canada geese or speckle bellies falling in all around your ground blind and the mallards filtering in through the tiny hole in the timber as you hug that big oak.

It’s OUR time of year and I’m excited!

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First Day – Now What?

You and your pup have come a long way this spring and summer. You took your time and hedged your bets by researching pedigrees and titles, and you finally came up with a winner. The puppy has been all you’ve ever dreamed of in a retriever. He has great desire to retrieve. He’s shown he’s intelligent by rolling through basic obedience. He’s shown courage by staying in there and dogging for birds in cover. He’s made some long swims for birds out to 80 to 100 yards. You’ve collar conditioned and worked through Force Breaking. You’ve conditioned him to gun fire and worked hard on making sure he was comfortable off blind ramps, boats and Ruff Stands. You’ve steadied him on both singles and doubles. You’ve even gone through and worked on diversions a little.

Click image to enlargeGetting acquainted with my new pup, Preacher (black)

It’s taken 6 months of formal training or more to get to this place in time. STOP, and think! After watching the new Chris Akin training video last night, I was inspired to share some of Chris’ highly valuable information with you in a short post about your pup’s first day.

The first couple hunts must be controlled and everybody has to understand exactly the real reason they are on these first couple hunts. They are there to help build a duck dog. If this is done correctly they will receive great satisfaction over the next 10 years and burn a whole lot fewer calories walking for birds and cripples… but you’ve got to sell them on the idea of a little cooperation on this deal.

  1. 1. Your job on this hunt is to handle the dog. My recommendation is to go so far as to leave your gun at the camp. You’ve worked very hard to keep him steady, but real birds with real gunfire and all the whooping and hollering that goes on in a duck blind will take him to a whole new level of excitement. Make certain you’ve brought your trainer’s lead. Expect the unexpected when it comes to this pup’s steadiness.
  2. Be sure to make sure your buddies understand you are looking for singles and doubles only. The worst thing you can have happen is to start “raining” birds all over your new pup and totally blow his little mind. If birds begin to fall everywhere, take a second and slow it all down. If you need to go out and walk to each bird to get them picked up, then do it. Remember we have to take advantage of this situation. Dog comes first; hunters and birds come second.
  3. Do your very best to be certain that your dog is away from muzzle blasts. The real world of hunting is much louder than anything you can reproduce in training. It’s important to take the time to think about this a little. It will take a couple seasons before you will have a truly savvy duck dog — let’s be certain his hearing is still with him once his abilities catch up.
  4. Click image to enlargeWith Yella in the flooded timber

    Keep him out of the elements. Make sure he is comfortable; the worst thing we can do is freeze him out. This may mean a neoprene dog parka/vest and a dry place for him to work from. If you have wind, do your best to get him behind something to keep the edge off.

  5. Above all, make sure your young dog is up where he can mark birds. His ability to see is the most crucial part of his success on these first few hunts. If he can see ’em fall, he’s almost certain to be able to get those birds home. If he can get them back to you, his confidence will soar, and if he’s confident, you will both win in the long run.

All in all, have a great time and enjoy the journey of creating a skilled duck dog.


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