Today’s retriever trainers are fortunate to have a multitude of reference materials at their disposal. These resources provide many opportunities for trainers to add great new tools to their tool box.
One such tool is Training the Retriever Puppy with Bill Hillmann. Bill has been successfully training retrievers since the 80’s. He has achieved numerous Field and Amateur Field Trail Championships and has more High Pointed Derby Dogs than anyone in Field Trial history.
This three hour DVD begins with Bill and an 11 week old Chocolate Labrador puppy named “Nick”. In the DVD Bill trains Nick for 28 days spread over 11 weeks. The DVD includes a brief synopsis of what Nick experienced during this time and the lessons taught on each training day.
Among some of the first things Bill teaches is how to foster a relationship with a puppy. He does so by using a combination of kindness, consistency, understanding and patience. He stresses enthusiasm and excitement then the use of obedience, always balancing between the two. Another important factor he highlights is the trainer’s responsibility to make training fun for the puppy to keep him happy.
One of the differences between Bill’s method and other training programs is how efficiently he teaches several concepts in a very short period of time. You can see how the responses become automatic as the repetitions increase. Trainer’s who have a tendency to try to perfect each command, may want to consider the effectiveness of Bill’s varied approach.
Throughout the first several days Bill balances the excitement for retrieves with lessons of steadiness, use of a lead, and teaching the sit command, continuously shaping the behavior. I enjoyed watching Bill teach Nick what “good dog” means by using voice inflection while simultaneously using touch. To quote Bill, “Touch is the language of Praise”.
Frequently, Bill took Nick for off leash walks and used these excursions to teach new experiences. Whether he was jumping over logs, getting distracted, learning about decoys, etc., he was being exposed to new and different things. This is a great way to naturally introduce a puppy to new situations.
By Day 7 Nick learns early water retrieves, heeling on both sides, begins the remote sit, and receives his first introduction to birds. By Day 14 a short double is introduced, more obedience, the introduction to the hold command, beginning collar conditioning, stopping on the whistle and continued work firming up the sit command.
Overall, Bill does a really good job of showing the puppy what he wants. One of the ways he promotes sitting and steadiness is through the use of his stand alone marksor, as he puts it, “playing traffic cop”. He sits Nick and positions himself between the puppy and a short mark then sends Nick on the retrieve. This counters the method of using a bird boy to restrain the puppy from retrieving, instead promoting excitement for retrieves, not restraint.
On Day 25 Nick experiences his first mark from a remote thrower. First without a shot, then with, while using bumpers, ducks and pigeons. By this time, one can clearly see the benefits of waiting until the puppy has a better understanding of steadiness. It gives him more confidence, builds trust, promotes teamwork and lets the puppy know if he is good, he will get his birds!
Throughout the DVD Bill reminds us, “Don’t let the excitement from the puppy overcome your patience. Do not get mad, just be persistent”. Wise words we should all remember. Bill also recommends that trainers keep a log or journal of their daily training/progress, which I agree is a great suggestion. I find a training log invaluable for tracking my own progress.
I do have a few minor critiques of the DVD. Although the narration during the video is well done, there are times when I want to hear more of Bill’s commands in correlation to the action/response from Nick. Occasionally, it is difficult to tell the timing between the two by just watching the action.
Also, during the later part of training Bill introduces the first few force fetch sessions. He uses low e-collar pressure to elicit a response and suggests the use of the ear pinch method if one is more comfortable with it. This assumes the viewer knows how to use the ear pinch and/or has some experience with e-collars. A short demonstration of the ear pinch and some e-collar basics might be helpful for those who are not familiar with these approaches.
All in all, I highly recommend this DVD. There are several things I learned from watching it that I will utilize to expand my own curriculum.
Whether you are a long time pro or a beginning amateur, I believe anyone would benefit from these sound basic principles and Bill’s insight of early puppy training offered in this DVD. If one considers the importance of getting a retriever puppy started off on the right foot (or paw), it’s really worth purchasing.
Training the Retriever Puppy with Bill Hillmann is available now for $129.00 plus shipping and handling.