Q&A: Holding, bombs, heavy-handedness


Editor's note: Mike Stewart has nearly 30 years of experience breeding and training sporting dogs and is currently training Drake, the official Labrador retriever of Ducks Unlimited. To learn more about Wildrose Kennels and the training methodology used by Mike, visit www.uklabs.com. If you have a training question, email Mike and he may answer your question in an upcoming column.

Bombs and hand signals

Hello Mike,
I have an interesting concept and wondered what you
thought of it. I have a Labrador retriever that we use for
waterfowl. I'm also a police officer in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y.

The idea is to combine the techniques of retriever training used in
waterfowl hunting and adapt them to bomb detection. The technique
would be to send the dog to the suspect package from a safe
distance using the same technique to retrieve a down bird. Once the dog is at the package, a position the dog assumes, i.e. sitting, would determine if the device or package did contain explosives or not.

This technique has several advantages from a police officer's position the handler is not put in as much harm's way as the one used now walking over with the dog to sniff it. Second, the bomb techs would get a idea if the device was real, and could also plan better from a safe distance. Third, as Labs are trained now to detect the odor of nitrates, the same way they are trained to locate downed
game, this seems like a natural transition. It would seem we'd
have more of a problem training the handlers than the dogs. The
dog could also carry over various detection devices in it's collar
or on a harness, to assist the bomb techs.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and give me your input.

Yours truly,
Gerry Grabowski

As an ex-police officer, Chief of Police and Intelligence Officer with the
U.S. Naval Reserves, I have kept up with the training of canines for both search
and rescue and detection.

I think this is a reasonable and realistic
idea. I spoke with a military dog handler, U.S. Army, a couple of weeks ago
when he visited Wildrose as he passed through. He briefly advised me that
such was being taught to detection dogs by the army. They were using
transmitted (voice) receivers on the dog's collar to

Obviously in urban areas or disaster sites, line of sight
handling may be compromised. Weather, darkness, and noise play similar roles
in disrupting the normal whistle and hand signals that control water
dogs. It's quite doable. Handlers can be trained just as they are for
handling any kind of canine discipline. It should be done.

Heavy-handed training?

My husband and I have started our one-year-old Lab on hunting lessons. I like
the trainer very much but the problem comes in with the other members of
the class.

One comes with a crop and often hits the dog when she isn't looking
Once, when she became distracted by the other dogs and began barking, he wrestled her down to the ground and hit her hard three times. We heard the blows even though he was at least 200 yards away.

Other members will give their dogs three commands in a row (sit, stay,
down) and then hit when the dog does nothing.

I have taken many obedience courses with our dog and we also work in
agility. No one has ever advocated this type of treatment in training.

Is this typical hunting training or am I seeing uninformed dog owners?

Curious in Wisconsin

Dear Curious,
This is not a form of dog training anyone should endorse and certainly not
attend or support with their money. The Wildrose methods achieve results
by understanding animal behavior, applying a light touch (minimum force)
and establishing desirable habits through consistent repetition. You will
be better served by finding another professional instructor for you and your

Come see our training methods at the DU Festival in Oshkosh, August
26 to 28. We will have two short courses on Friday and three on Saturday and
Sunday. Bring your dog along! We'll be at the DU Conservation Tent.

Hope to see you in Oshkosh!

Hold conditioning

I am currently using the delivery to hand technique outlined in an
article you wrote on the ESPN Outdoors website. My 8-month-old Lab has
taken to the wooden dowel after the second attempt without me having to
support his chin with my thumb.

Although he will hold the dowel on his
own, when I remove my thumb, my pup gently shifts the dowel to one side
of his mouth, so the dowel is sticking out one side of his mouth. Is
this acceptable for the return to hand training, or should I continue to
place my thumb under his chin so he cannot shift the dowel in his mouth?

I am on day two of the program, and do not want to carry on if this is not
correct, or correct the behavior if it is of no negative consequence.

Thank you for your time and help,
Paul Beeman

Make haste slowly. The process will take about three weeks. Do not allow the
pup to "mouth" the dowel. Keep pressure under the jaw and only briefly
move your hand away after a few days, when the dog understands what you
want. Tap under the jaw if he mouths the dowel. Do not proceed until
your dog has
solid hold of the dowel. A few light taps should do the trick but
give it 5-8 more days with gentle corrections first.

Force fetch and hold

Dear Mike,
I have been using the training methods from Tri-Tronics to
force fetch my Lab. She is 8-months-old and we have worked her on the
table for six days and she refuses to hold. What should I do?


Obviously I don't follow the methods you are using so I can't comment on
where you are in the process. I suggest you refer to my article posted on
this site, "Delivery to Hand."

See the results in Paul's email posted above. Complete every step before you decide whether you need to use force fetch or not.

Off-leash obedience

I have had experiences with puppies that you cannot take outside without
a leash. If the dog is off of a leash it will run away and not let you
catch it. It thinks it is a game of chase or (in a worse case scenario)
just wants to do its own thing and not mind you.

How do you prevent
this early on so that the dog will stay with you and not run off?
Nothing worse than having to chase a dog through the neighborhood.

I dont have a dog at the moment, but will be getting one very soon.

Any suggestions would be great.

Reagan Browning

The key to keeping a young dog under control and responsive to your recall commands is to imprint these behaviors and responses in the pup at a very young age. Start your pup coming to the whistle at 6 weeks old. Most pups at this age want to be with their master. They will readily run after us as we trot away blowing the whistle so through repetition, we imprint the behavior to come to the whistle by lavishing rewards and praise.

Next, add treats at about three months old. Call the pup in a situation where they are likely to respond. No kids. No distractions. Call and whistle the pup rewarding with a treat when they respond. Never call your pup to you for disciplining or to kennel your pup. Recall should be a pleasant experience.

If we have a pup disinterested in coming when called, we simply change our direction and walk away. Most pups will follow. Never chase the pup or you will begin a game that is difficult to break.

Finally, there is the check cord. Let the young dog drag the small, light cord until they become accustomed to its presence. With the dog at sit, step on the cord and recall to heel. If you get no response or the dog bolts, you have control with the cord.

Most likely, you have formed some undesirable habits early in your pup and the pup may possess more of an independent nature. With your new pup:

  • Establish dominance early

  • Do not chase

  • Do not give the pup uncontrolled romps in the woods

  • Reward the recall with a treat or retrieve

    These guidelines apply best to a pup of biddable nature, one willing to please. Look carefully at bloodlines for proven results before you buy.

    Best of luck to you all,
    Mike Stewart