Field events are some of the oldest of dog sports. Designed around the important roles dogs have performed with humans for centuries, field events mirror the tasks many dogs were originally bred to perform. From signaling the presence of game, retrieving it, or chasing and catching it, we find the origins of many of today’s dog sports from field trials to lure coursing.
While these sports are built around a dog’s natural ability and give us the chance to watch our dogs do what they were bred to do, to earn the title of Top Field dog isn’t an easy feat. It takes hours of dedication and training, at home and in the field. We asked some of the trainers behind 2018’s Top Field dogs for a few tips and tricks on how to train a dog for field, and they offered up some great advice for anyone looking to get into the sport.
Cindy Trudel : #1 Open All-Age Dog (Spaniel)
FTCh. Hearthrock's Mayhem ('May')
Dan Danforth: #1 Overall Combined (Retrievers)
FTCh. & AFTCh. Pekiskos Bow River Littlerocks QFTR ('Pebbles')
Arwen Dabb: #1 Amateur Shooting Dog (Pointing)
WindRip's Turn It Loud FDJ ('Maysa')
What is the most important command you can teach your dog?
There are two big ones; Sit and Heel. They are the basis of everything we do. And when you are training a dog you need to start from the basics, adding a little piece at a time. If you screw up or have a breakdown, go back to the basics and reinforce the smaller pieces like sit and heel.
Sit. That’s where it all the control comes from. That’s how they watch the birds and watch you. If he doesn’t hold sit long enough, he will anticipate where he is going instead of waiting for you to command him. And sit means sit and don’t move until I tell you to. Sit is the number one place to start.
For me, that would be a solid recall. It is the first thing I teach all my puppies. It can be paramount to the safety of your dog in some situations. I start with basic obedience (yard) work—come when called, heel on leash, stop on command (whoa). Obedience is the foundation on which you build all your other training.
What is the hardest command/action to train your dogs to do? Do you have any tips on how to train for it?
The hardest command for us is “back”. When you are training you can teach them the back, but what you must do is vary the length of the back, otherwise they get it in their head that back is a certain distance. The reason it’s hard is because we tend to train in the same places or have huge acreage to send the dogs on long distances. As owners we tend to get into a pattern and rhythm. And we have to remember to always be changing and switching things up. You want your dog to be constantly learning and stretching itself, paying attention to you.
Really there is only three things we ask them to do. Sit. Go when we say to. And then come back. The one that is the most challenging is sit because dogs that are in the field are very excited. You need to teach your dog to maintain its sit despite the excitement and adrenaline when they get out into the field. Also changing a dog’s mind. To change a dog to convince them to work as a team, or go in a different direction comes down to building trust in your dog to believe in you and your ability. That they trust that we are going to do the right thing for them. When you are in the field make sure your attention is 100% on the task and they will start following you.
The hardest thing for pointing dogs is to be steady to wing and shot. The more drive they have, the more they want to catch that bird, as that is what they are bred for. There are few methods for breaking a dog, so you need to know your own dog to figure out what works best. Consistently working your dog and repetition are usually key. You won't get good results if you just train for hours on the weekend and then do nothing throughout the week. Don't try to train for too many things at once.
Are there commands or things people do during their down time at home that can be counter-productive to training a dog for field?
Not maintaining their weight and conditioning. Year-round training is imperative. Some winter weight is understandable in order to brave the climates, but they should still be near their field/hunting condition, especially in terms of weight. Also, you need to be careful what you do in the house in terms of playing with your dog. A simple game of tug with a toy can turn into tug with a pheasant in the field. You always need to be reinforcing that to give up toys to owners. You don’t want to create problems that you later have to train out. Consistency in all things, especially training, is key.
You need to maintain rules and boundaries in the house. Make sure that they honor that you are a team and that you are the team leader. You don’t allow them to have the run of the house, and that they don’t control situations, that you control the situation. Don’t allow them to break basic commands. Especially the sit command.
The only thing I am not big on is "sit". I don't teach sit when I am teaching the basic obedience commands. instead, we work on stand. Sitting in the field for pointing dogs is not a desirable trait in a competition or test.
Are there any specific tools or training devices you would recommend a beginner use?
The number one thing is a place board. It teaches your dog that training is fun, and that it is a safe place. That’s where you teach them to do a sit, where they come back to and be stationary and quiet. This can be translated into the house by using it to ask dogs to stay on a bed, or specific spot in your house. Place means, go and stay there until I tell you other-wise. It’s a wonderful tool because I can go anywhere and tell my dog to place on anything, even a towel on the floor.
A long line is something a beginner should be using to enforce all our commands. Its probably the most important thing to help introduce your dog to hunting and build your connection with them. It helps form a bond with your dog and get them paying attention to you, and reinforces what you want them to do.
A check cord and a friend to assist you. Almost nothing beats the help of a training partner to either hold the dog or flush the birds while you hold the dog when you are breaking it.
CKC’s Top Dogs program celebrates the best competitors in Canadian dog sport. Tallying points earned throughout the calendar year at each CKC-sanctioned event, the Top Dogs winners represent the most dedicated and successful dog-handler teams in each discipline. It is with great pride that CKC releases the official Top Dogs Results each year. Congratulations to our Top Dogs winners and to all competitors as you challenge and inspire each other to the Top. Thank you to our sponsors for their generous support of the Top Dogs program.