Yes, Aaron and I dream of owning acreage (for the Vizslas, of course!) someday. We'd like at least enough land to do 'yard work' like 'whoa', 'heel', 'here', and
practice a trained retrieve. Until this fine day arrives and we make The Big Purchase (Hello, lottery!), we make do with what we have.
Critical to every bird dog's training is a solid understanding of 'whoa', 'heel', and 'here'. None of these commands should be taught on birds. Rather, this is the
boring 'yard work' we all enjoy least. However, the more solidly your bird dog understands these commands, the greater success you'll have in the field. This is true whether your bird dog is your personal hunting companion or you want to play the games such as AKC hunting tests, field trials, and NAVHDA's tests (to name a few).
Obviously, a bird dog need birds (and A LOT of them), but bird contact isn't what this article is about. I was motivated to write this article because I wanted to
share my training ideas with those who live in the city, are full-time desk-jockeys, and don't have acreage for their bird dogs (um...written out like this it sounds
pretty depressing, no?). Can't let my Vizslas read it--they might start looking for a new home!
First, I'll provide a little background on why I believe I have the knowledge to write this article. We live just 5 miles outside downtown Denver and work in the
downtown area. Given my hectic schedule, I try to make my lunch hours as productive as possible. Since we're blessed with so many glorious sunshine-filled
days in Colorado, I'm usually able to work in a few runs a week. As I started my jogging routine, I quickly realized each time I jogged solo I was wasting training
opportunities. While jogging I saw all of the wonderful things the Vizslas could be socialized to as well as learn leash manners and the basic 'whoa' and 'heel'
commands. So, I started bringing a Vizsla or two with me to work. While I work, they rest in the car (in kennels), with plenty of toys, bully sticks, and treats. I
park in a safe, covered garage so I don't worry about strangers harassing them while I'm in the building working. When I get a break in the day, I throw on my
running clothes, get the Vizslas out of the car, and off we go for a jog/training session/socialization.
As we jog, we practice 'whoa' and 'heel' randomly. I run them on flexi-leads and will 'release' them with a 'free' command. Freeing them on the flexi means they're allowed to run out the length of the lead to sniff and investigate (as long as they aren't pulling wildly). As they gain a more solid understanding of 'whoa' and 'heel' I'll look for pigeons and squirrels to proof them on. Initially, I give them a 'whoa' as soon as they see a pigeon or squirrel. I don't make them stand long, rather, I'm just asking them to stop on the 'whoa' command. After they're stopping solidly on a 'whoa' command, I ask them to stay in their 'whoa' for longer periods of time. Eventually, I'm able to keep them in a 'whoa' as I walk toward the pigeons or squirrels and 'flush them'. We even use these city varmints to progress our training further. As they learn to stop instantly on a 'whoa' and stand as I flush, I began to work in the commands 'no bird, let's go', 'easy', and 'this way'.
What a spectacle we are when I have one of the Vizslas in a 'whoa' and I walk forward approximately 20 feet to flush a flock of 10 or more pigeons. Passer-bys
will stand and watch in amazement as my Vizslas stand still as statues while pigeons take flight all around them.
You can design a routine that works best for your work schedule. I recommend blocking an hour on your calendar when you plan to bring your bird dog in with
you. This will help you treat the session as a real appointment and make you less likely to to skip it. I also highly recommend you order John Hann's "The
Perfect Start" DVD and watch it at least 3 times in order to really understand his methods of starting bird dogs. He does a great job of discussing why 'whoa',
'heel', and 'here' are important building blocks. He then teaches you how to train these commands. Take what works and modify what doesn't (as Aaron and I have).
Then, get off your lazy duff and do that 'yard work' EVERY DAY! These commands are basic bird dog obedience commands that can be taught to a young pup
as long as you keep your training sessions BRIEF and FUN! Some are surprised to learn we believe in teaching a pup as young as 5 months these commands. I'm not sure why because we teach these babies all sorts of basic obedience commands at 5 months old. We teach 'wait' to be released to their food or out the door, 'go potty' as they learn house-training, 'kennel' as they learn to go to their crates for some down-time. The key is teaching these commands away from birds and to keep the training BRIEF and FUN for the baby bird dogs. You can gradually increase the training sessions as they get older and gain a better understanding of these commands.
Another bonus of a rock-solid understanding of the 'whoa' and 'here' commands? They can be life-saving. If my Vizslas decide to chase a cat or squirrel that's just
sprinted past them, I can yell 'whoa' and they'll stop in their tracks. They'll wait until I reach them, collar them, and heel them off with a 'no bird let's go'. Also,
given we've proofed their 'whoas' on squirrels, they actually now stop themselves when they see one. They'll remain still until I release them. Pretty cool!